Monday March 27, 2023

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Freedom to Choose is a Matter of Liberty

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 22 March 2023
in Wisconsin

women-healthSenator Smith writes about the importance of protecting reproductive freedom in Wisconsin by repealing the 1849-era criminal abortion ban.

MADISON - The word freedom is tossed around quite a bit. It’s a convenient word to use when trying to make others fear they will lose their freedom. Some politicians will scare voters about losing their freedom to own a gun, or losing control over their children’s education. They beat that same drum and many take the bait.

This time, it’s different. Freedoms for women have been taken away. When the United States Supreme Court made the cowardly decision to overturn the 1973 case that recognized the right to choose when and if they bear children, they stripped women of their freedom to determine their own path. Justices who had declared that they would not rule against past precedent did just that. Justices who hold such a high office in the UNITED States divided us by which state we live in. Now a woman’s freedom is determined by where they live or their financial status and ability to travel.

women-1849Wisconsin is one of 28 states that ban or severely restrict abortion. A law outlawing abortion was adopted by Wisconsin in 1849 – 70 years before women were finally granted their voting rights. This law was designed to control women at a time when women did not have a voice in this country.

Every credible poll I’ve seen shows most people believe women should have the choice whether to carry a pregnancy or not. Most recent polls show sixty percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Seventy percent believe the government should butt out of this issue, and voters should decide through a ballot initiative. 1

I realize that this is a divisive issue that many are passionate about. We all know someone who has been personally affected. Many of you have been in touch with me with diverse takes on this issue, and I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

But repealing Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban is a matter of personal liberty. This past Sunday, I attended the Rally for our Rights in Eau Claire. At this event and many others, I have been honored and grateful that so many shared their stories, some of which broke my heart. Hearing these heartfelt personal accounts, it saddens me that so many have used this issue as a political gambit.

jeff-smithI have said for many years that reproductive freedom has been transformed into a wedge issue, designed by unscrupulous politicians to garner votes and hold on to power. These politicians – overwhelmingly men – have cynically harnessed people’s strong emotions around this issue to accumulate power and influence.

They didn’t really think it would actually happen, but now that the Supreme Court has reversed 50 years of precedent Republican responses are all over the place. The voters have told them that they should repeal the abortion ban. Already this session, some have offered very limited exceptions, but anything less than full repeal is simply unacceptable.

Half measures get us nowhere. Either you have reproductive freedom or you don’t. Either ALL men AND women are equal or we aren’t. Either we all have freedom to choose our life paths or that freedom can be denied us.

I will continue to oppose Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban because by doing so, I am doing my part to protect Wisconsinites’ personal liberties. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but no one is entitled to control over another’s body.

1 Most Americans say overturning Roe was politically motivated, NPR/Ipsos poll finds,” NPR, Jan. 22, 2022

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High Court Spending Continues Record Soar

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Monday, 20 March 2023
in Wisconsin

money-behind-politicsThe flood of money continues, as outside groups have spent $18.1 million on reported independent expenditures and secret phony issue ads in the Supreme Court race, more than three-and-a-half times the previous record.

MADISON - Two weeks away from the April 4 elections, candidate and group spending in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court stands at more than $20.2 million – smashing state and national records for spending in a judicial contest.

Outside group spending for Daniel Kelly now exceeds that for Janet Protasiewicz by $4.2 million.

About 30 outside electioneering groups have spent $18.1 million on reported independent expenditures and secret phony issue ads in the race, more than three-and-a-half times the previous record. Groups backing Kelly or opposing Protasiewicz have doled out $9.9 million. Groups backing Protasiewicz or opposing Kelly have spent $5.7 million. (About $2.5 million in group spending was directed at the two candidates who lost in the primary.)

The top-spending groups behind Protasiewicz were:

A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund, $5 million on television and online ads and mailings;

Wisconsin Conservation Voters, $785,836 on campaign literature and brochures and payroll expenses;

Organizing Empowerment PAC, $532,500 on phone and other voter mobilization activities;

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, $476,755 on radio and digital ads, canvassing, and mailings;

One for All Committee, $450,000 on videos and online advertising.

The top-spending groups behind Kelly were:

Fair Courts America, $4.6 million on television and radio ads and mailings;

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), $3.1 million on broadcast advertising;

American Principles Project PAC, $795,894 on digital ads;

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, $600,000 on television ads;

Americans for Prosperity, $374,531 on online advertising, mailings, and canvassing.

Both WMC and the Alliance for Reform spent most of their money on television ads. In two instances – here and here – the groups used the same television ads, which accused Protasiewicz of handing down a light sentence for a man convicted of kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl.

The most recent reports filed by the candidates showed they spent a total of $2.12 since they entered the race last year, through Feb. 6. Spending was led by Protasiewicz who has doled out $1.37 million, which is nearly six times the $237,719 spent by Kelly.

Whoever wins will determine the ideological balance of the court, which is currently controlled 4-3 by conservatives. Protasiewicz, who is viewed as a liberal, and Kelly, a former conservative Supreme Court justice, are vying to replace a retiring conservative justice.

Protasiewicz and Kelly moved on to the April ballot because they were the top finishers in the Feb. 21 primary, knocking off two other candidates who had spent a combined $507,699 through Feb. 6.

matt-rothschildThe next batch of fundraising and spending reports by the candidates are due March 27 and will likely show that several million dollars more in candidate spending. (Other news outlets, such as WisPolitics, have reported higher figures than the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Our numbers are based only on figures already reported to the state by candidates and independent expenditure groups or that we could estimate from so-called “issue advocacy” groups.)

But spending to date has already surpassed the record $10 million spent in 2020 on a Wisconsin Supreme Court race as well as the national record of $15 million spent on an Illinois judicial race in 2004.

For more information about all of the groups involved in the 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court race, please visit the Democracy Campaign’s Hijacking Campaign 2023 feature. For more information about candidate fundraising and spending and their top contributors, please go here.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Sunshine and Justice!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 17 March 2023
in Wisconsin

wdcMADISON - I hope your week is going well. Here are a couple of great articles that my colleague Iuscely Flores has written for us in the past few days.

The first is essentially the text of a brief talk she gave in Milwaukee at a press conference on the need to make legislators retain all of their records:

new-sunshineWisconsin Democracy Campaign Supports New Sunshine Law

And the second is a story she wrote after attending an inspiring event in the Wisconsin Capitol:

econ-justice-wdcState Reps Hong and Shelton Reintroduce Economic Justice Bill of Rights

For my part, I’ve been giving talks to several groups recently about all the money in our Wisconsin Supreme Court race and how we got in this predicament. Here’s one version of it:

Recusal and the Wisconsin Supreme Court

And if you’re free this Saturday, please attend the Wisconsin Grassroots Festival. My colleague Carlene Bechen will be giving a talk during the morning breakout session about fair voting maps as a path toward representative government, how every issue that faces Wisconsin is impacted by the heavily gerrymandered voting district maps, and what we can do to end gerrymandering. The festival starts at 9:00 a.m. and is at Wisconsin Heights High School, 10173 US Highway 14.

Have a nice weekend!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Ending Pay Inequity Will Lift Up Working Families

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 March 2023
in Wisconsin

working-women-aflcioWhile women make up a growing majority in the workforce, their pay lags behind that of men doing the same jobs. Senator Smith discusses what we can do to move towards pay equity.

MADISON - “WHEREAS, Equal Pay Day occurs each year on the day that symbolizes how far into the new year women must work full time to earn the same wages that their male counterparts earned the previous year…”

That’s the beginning of a joint resolution I recently coauthored with my colleagues in the legislature. The resolution recognizes Wednesday, March 15, 2023 as Equal Pay Day in Wisconsin. I was proud to sponsor this resolution in 2021 and 2019 and co-author equal pay legislation during my service in the State Assembly.

Although it’s only been in the last several decades we have been bringing attention to the pay gap with Equal Pay Day, the fight for equal pay has been going on for well over a century now. While there are states that have explicitly recognized equal pay for equal work, Wisconsin is not among them.

womenPaying women less than men for the same work is wage theft, plain and simple. The gap is even more significant for women of color, women with disabilities and women who did not graduate with a high school degree.

In 2009 the Wisconsin Legislature passed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, of which I was a co-sponsor. That law increased penalties for people and businesses that break workplace anti-discrimination laws. It protected women from discrimination, but also covered anyone who encountered discrimination in the workforce. Unfortunately, Governor Walker and a Republican legislature repealed the law just two years later.

There’s not much chance of similar legislation passing in this legislature, but the people of Wisconsin have put their trust in us to do the right thing. That’s why we must do all we can to right this wrong and ensure equal pay for all. That includes taking thoughtful and concrete action to address very real problems for women and families in the workforce.

We are going through a serious crisis that disproportionately affects women and helps contribute to pay inequity. We have a serious problem with child care availability, both in Wisconsin and on a national level. It’s simple: parents can’t work if they can’t find anyone to take care of their children. Child care must be high-quality, accessible and affordable.

childcareDuring the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan Act provided supplemental funding so child care centers across the nation could afford to keep their doors open. With the end of the emergency declaration, that funding will end, and child care centers are wrestling with how to avoid passing that cost onto the families.

Governor Evers proposed a $340 million investment to make this support permanent with a portion of the $7 billion surplus. Child care is a public good and child care providers are the backbone of our economy. We can give working mothers and fathers the support they need to excel in the workplace and ensure the well-being of their kids.

Another big driver of pay equity is education. Women are now participating in higher education in growing numbers and make up the majority of college graduates. Education is a proven source of economic mobility. We must make sure that higher education is accessible to all.

jeff-smithLife happens. Sometimes, a person can’t go to school full-time because they are caring for a child, a family member or a loved one. If your care responsibilities prevent you from taking classes at least half-time, you won’t qualify for some types of student aid. Governor Evers’ budget increases eligibility to those who are going to school at least a quarter time. It also allows for aid to be used over the span of more semesters, reducing barriers to entry for those caring for family members and loved ones.

We are working for a world in which equity can be achieved, but first we must name our goal and take bold steps to accomplish it. Equal pay for all is long overdue – we must do everything we can to make it a reality.

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Seven Billion Dollars!

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 March 2023
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSenator Smith writes about how Wisconsin can use our projected $7 billion budget surplus to fix past shortfalls in state funding and improve services and infrastructure for all Wisconsinites.

MADISON - Seven billion dollars!

To anyone, that is a huge number, difficult to visualize or comprehend. But that’s the amount of Wisconsin’s projected surplus over our next budget period. Often people joke that such a surplus will be met with 133 different spending proposals – one each from the 99 members of the State Assembly, 33 State Senators, and one for the governor.

This, of course, is an exaggeration. There are many paths to agreement between legislators and the governor, but finding a solution will be a long and perhaps contentious process.

We need to approach this budget with a keen eye for what our most important needs are. A surplus is temporary, and we can’t go wild with ideas that cannot be sustained once the money is spent. The surplus must be treated as an investment. Tax breaks for the rich or subsidizing private school tuition for wealthy families is foolish. We must invest in tax breaks for the middle class and in much-needed infrastructure projects that better the everyday lives of Wisconsinites.

internet-appsGovernor Evers’ plan to invest $750 million for broadband expansion makes a huge stride in connecting all of Wisconsin access to high-speed internet. Connecting those households that are hardest to reach in unserved areas of the state will be a terrific boost to our economy, making it easier for folks to access healthcare, education or create home-based business startups. We only need to make this one-time investment for the improvements to be evident decades from now.

road-repair-wiIncreasing road aids to local towns, villages and counties is another example of one-time investments that will reap long-term benefits. Many of our roads and bridges are in disrepair or need replacement. Making investments in our physical infrastructure will increase the safety of our roads and bridges and reduce damage to vehicles from aging infrastructure, sparing families and businesses costly repairs.

In areas like local government, inadequate funding has led to local referenda just so communities can continue to fund essential services like law enforcement and fire protection, or pay assistant district attorneys. With Governor Evers’ one-time injection of funds for local revenue, we can begin to fix that formula to be fair and to meet the needs and expectations of communities instead of yearly property tax increases.

teaching-studentsAnother example of a failed funding formula is the one that supports our Pre K-12 public education system. This problem dates all the way back to 1993, when a “temporary” revenue freeze was made permanent. Districts that happened to spend a lot in 1993 were able to continue collecting that higher level of revenue, leaving districts that were relatively more frugal behind.

Over thirty years, the gap between wealthier districts and poorer districts has only grown with every referendum that passes. Because there is such a disparity between the two, policymakers have struggled to fix the funding formula, thinking the only way would be to cut funding for high-revenue districts to shore up the low-revenue districts. Now, a one-time injection of funds could allow low-revenue districts to catch up to their high-revenue sister communities.

jeff-smithThroughout the entire state, the lack of affordable childcare has caused problems for working families. We aren’t alone – this is a national problem, and has been exacerbated by closures stemming from the pandemic. Most brain development happens in the first six years of life, and support for young children yields dividends years down the road as they attend school and venture into the working world. It’s only right that we do what we can to ensure safe and reliable child care so Wisconsin can become a national leader in early-childhood learning.

This budget presents us with an amazing opportunity to make a very real difference in the lives of Wisconsin’s families. We must set aside political sideshows and make sure we do not waste this opportunity to do good things with our $7 billion surplus. Governor Evers introduced a budget that, along with the biggest middle-class tax cut in state history, will keep us moving forward as a state. The Republican leaders of the Legislature have an opportunity to be partners instead of obstructionists. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll see how it all plays out.

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