So Raise The Damn Gas Tax All Ready!

Wisconsin continues to debate how to increase funds for transportation (in Wisconsin that translates to build more freeways) as gas tax revenues continue to fall as cars get more fuel efficient or don’t use gasoline at all. Instead the governor continues to put highway construction on the credit card or extends the completion dates for major projects (which increases their costs through inflation and often overlooked, loss of utility and increased travel times for users) to balance the transportation budget.

There have been a number of discussions in the legislature around increasing the gasoline tax, vehicle registration and just recently, converting state freeways into toll roads.

Of course Governor Walker continues to stick to his no tax increase pledge by threatening to veto any gas tax increases if they aren’t balanced by tax cuts in other areas. This brings up a number of points. If gas increases are balanced against other tax cuts, those paying increased gas taxes aren’t necessarily the people getting the new offsetting tax cuts. I can’t imagine that will make drivers very happy.

And second, how is reducing other taxes to balance gas tax increases not essentially the same as using general funds to pay for transportation? And isn’t using general funds for transportation now verboten? I am sure many of you can either correct me on that or support my statement.

So about those toll roads…that is a very very slippery slope. Somebody is going to have to spend the initial capital to build the infrastructure to measure and collect tolls. Where’s that money going to come from? Wisconsin already doesn’t have the funds to fix the roads, build new ones, etc….how can it add tolling facilities? (this all assumes the federal government would permit the conversion of freeways to tollways…not unlikely under the President Trump regime)

But the talk is that private investors would pay for the new infrastructure…and then reap benefits from the tolling. And how many years would it take to implement? If we look at the Zoo interchange, years maybe decades. Hmmmm. Who controls the fees and determines the profit margins when private enterprise controls public utilities?

But if you are going to be ‘Open For Business’, you had better have first rate infrastructure, not just a low tax rate…businesses need to get their employees to work on time, need to get their raw materials to their businesses, and need to get their finished products to market. Subpar streets, roads and highways don’t work for them.

So for the quick and dirty, the current Wisconsin gas tax is 30.9 cents a gallon. Take a quick 5.1 cent increase and gas tax revenue jumps 16.5% and takes a lot of stress off of the transportation budget. Increase it 10.1 cents and it’s an increase of 32.7%. When I first suggested this gas in Milwaukee was around $2.00 a gallon and even now at $2.29, a 5 or 10 cent hike isn’t going to be that discernable.

You want some simple background into the issue, please read Ernst-Ulrich Franzen’s article on the resignation of the Secretary Mark Gottlieb from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation…he apparently got tired of speaking truth to power.

The Election Season of Magical Thinking: STOP IT!

I don’t think I can remember and delineate all of the wild suppositions and conspiracy theories and miracle side steps that were tossed around in the past year as favored candidates fell by the way side. And I don’t have the energy to go back and search them all out…it sucks the life out of my soul. But from the Bernie Bros to the super delegates to the emails to the rigging to the ‘devious’ DNC to the Russians to the FBI to goodness gracious what next!

But tomorrow, Donald Trump will be elected President of the United States. Some faithless electors may cast a ballot for someone else other than Mr. Trump, but it won’t be for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump will win the electoral college vote tomorrow. Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 20th 2017.

Stop thinking otherwise. Now is the time to get involved and oppose his agenda. Now is the time to support those electeds who will provide leadership in government. Now is the time to work with potential candidates for 2018 and 2020 who can step into the breach when the Trump regime fails.

But stop thinking the electoral college will do anything of historical significance tomorrow. (and I mean you too DFA who just sent out a stupid email suggesting we can sway the EC…sheesh…this shit is why we lost)

Impeach Governor Scott Walker!

No, not over Act 10 which gutted the rights of public employees and their unions, not over Act 14 that gutted the authority of the Milwaukee County Board, not the meddling in the Milwaukee Public School System, not Right to Work Legislation, not budget cuts to public schools, not budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin system, not the ineffective DNR, etc., etc., etc.

But Wisconsin Governor Walker should be impeached…now…for his total failure to protect the young people incarcerated at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls and the total ineptitude and arrogance of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Since the closing of the Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales just west of Milwaukee in Waukesha county, all minor males sent to the state for incarceration have been sent to Lincoln Hills near Merrill WI over 200 miles from Milwaukee.

There is a laundry list of mistreatment of inmates, lack of trained medical personnel and a chronic shortage of trained staff…resulting in overtime and overworked state employees. There is in fact little or no reason that this should exist and it can no longer be tolerated…and the blame goes right to the top…the office of Governor Scott Walker.

I suggest that you read this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But here are some excerpts:

For years, officials knew or should have known about the thicket of problems at Lincoln Hills and its sister facility on the same campus, Copper Lake School for Girls.

“It all went on in plain view of the Department of Corrections, but nobody at the Department of Corrections knew how juvenile corrections worked or how Lincoln Hills operated or what was going on,” said Troy Bauch, who until recently was the union representative for workers there.

The sweeping criminal probe, now nearly 2 years old, is examining allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records. A separate internal investigation uncovered four incidents where inmates’ bones were broken.

The crisis at Lincoln Hills is rooted in systematic breakdowns, lax management, confusion over policies, a lack of communication and chronic staff shortages, a review of more than 1,000 pages of records and dozens of interviews by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found.

Officials trained staff improperly, failed to preserve video evidence, didn’t document serious incidents, and often shirked their duty to report matters to parents, police and social service agencies.

The shortcomings intensified in 2011 when the Walker administration shut down two youth prisons in southeastern Wisconsin to save $25 million a year. The move put all of the state’s serious teen offenders in one facility — hundreds of miles from most of their families.

“The entire climate went from mildly hellish to the ninth ring of hell,” said Timothy Johnson, a former guard.

While a developing crisis quickly became apparent, no one moved to address it.

After nearly six years in office, Walker has yet to visit Lincoln Hills.

(emphasis mine).

There is absolutely no reason that young people should be treated like this while under the care and control of the State of Wisconsin…no matter what reason sent them to Lincoln Hills.

What is the governor’s most recent response to the issues al Lincoln Hills and the Milwaukee County Boards reluctance to continue to send juveniles there? Build a new prison in Milwaukee County as long as the county pays to run it.

Gov. Scott Walker is considering having the state help fund building a Milwaukee County juvenile corrections center, but the county would have to pay for running it.

Milwaukee County officials have sought a way to keep more teen inmates closer to home instead of sending them more than 200 miles away to Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

The two secure facilities share a campus north of Wausau and have been under criminal investigation for nearly two years for prisoner abuse and child neglect.

But nary a word about fixing the issues as Lincoln Hills…so why wait until the criminal investigations bring back the records of wrongdoing and indictments…IMPEACH GOVERNOR WALKER NOW!

WI State Senator Jennifer Shilling Will Not Challenge Walker for Governor

This apparently is of little or no interest to Milwaukeeans since the local media hasn’t touched it, but the rumored run for Wisconsin governor in 2018 by State Senator Jennifer Shilling is a non-starter:

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling says she has no plans to run for governor in 2018 and will spend the next four years focused on her role in the Senate.

“I am not running in 2018,” the La Crosse Democrat said Tuesday. “I’m really happy with the role that I have and the district I represent and serving in the state Senate.”

Shilling, who was elected last month to a second term as minority leader in the Senate, had been frequently included on the short list of Democrats expected to make gubernatorial bids. In numerous campaign mailers, the Republican State Legislative Committee labeled her a “Madison insider” intent on climbing the political ladder.

Saying she was flattered to be considered as a contender, Shilling did not rule out a future run.

AG Schimel Should Go To Jail

Yeah, I know that’s a provocative headline and no I don’t really think that Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has done anything that deserves incarceration.

But I am embarrassed that I haven’t written about this subject before. Four people have died while incarcerated in the Milwaukee County Jail in 2016. The jail run by County Sheriff David Clarke. Now deaths by inmates in custody in county jails do happen from time to time…but four is a pretty egregious number in less than a year. And two of them are particularly troubling. One male inmate with mental health issues died from dehydration after having the water turned off in his cell. The other was a newborn who didn’t survive the night when jail personnel ignored the mother’s statement that she was going into labor. By the time they checked her in the morning the baby was dead.

But as far as the public can tell nobody is investigating it. A recent law was passed in Wisconsin that requires that investigations of civilian deaths in police custody or by a police officer be carried out by an outside law enforcement agency. Unfortunately when this bill passed it intentionally excluded deaths of inmates in county jails. So the investigative agency for these four death in the Milwaukee County Jail are being carried out by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, the same department that runs the jail.

There have been a number of calls for outside investigations from the media and the families involved. There have been a number of calls for Sheriff Clarke’s resignation by elected officials. But nothing is moving forward as far as we can tell.

So I would request that AG Schimel send a team to Milwaukee and visit the jail and investigate these four deaths in particular and the general overall handling of the jail. And if anything is amiss to bring charges against those responsible. It’s been long enough without action and the Wisconsin Dept of Justice is the appropriate agency.

Side note to the state legislature: Fix the loophole that allows deaths in custody at county jails to be investigated by the jailors!

Democratic Senators Side With Trump?

The Washington Post reports that six Democratic senators from states that went for Donald Trump are supporting punishing corporations that outsource labor.

Six Democratic senators from Rust Belt states won by President-elect Donald Trump called Tuesday for a swift congressional crackdown on U.S. companies that send manufacturing jobs abroad, claiming common cause with Trump’s crusade against outsourcing.

Trump on Sunday tweeted that “any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence, is WRONG!” He threatened to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods those companies seek to import.

I don’t think that this is sound economic policy…whether Mr. Trump is saying it or my senator is saying it…and what I find troubling is…my senator is saying it.

The Democratic senators from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin stopped short of calling for a protectionist tariff regime. But in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, they applauded “the recent attention President-elect Trump has brought to the issue of outsourcing and its impact on middle-class families” and called for legislation that would penalize companies that send jobs abroad.

Those penalties, they say, should include taking into consideration any history of outsourcing while awarding federal contracts and potentially keeping outsourcers from receiving tax breaks and other federal incentives, and “clawing back” those incentives if companies later ship jobs out of the country.

“The loss of manufacturing jobs in our states has contributed to the decades-long trend of the declining middle class,” the letter reads. “We believe these principles — which we intend to introduce as legislation — are critical to our shared commitment to encourage companies to invest in the United States and in American workers.”

Yes it is time to have a national discussion on economic issues in this country…a discussion on trade…on tariffs…on sanctions…on inducements. But there needs to be sound discussions. Educational discussions. Not shoot from the hip emotional reactions. There is far more going on in corporate decisions that deserve to be examined and discussed.

But I have to wonder if the six senators are serious? Or calling Mr. Trump’s bluff? Or patronizing their local constituency who voted for Mr. Trump? All three possibilities make me even more uneasy about the future relationships between Congress and the White House.

The lead signer of the letter was Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who praised the decision last month by Carrier Corp., under pressure from Trump, to reverse its decision to send hundreds of Indianapolis manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Also signing the letter were Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Christian Schneider Proved Gerrymandering Exists in Wisconsin.

Ironically GOP shill and right wing apologist, JSOnline’s Opinion blogger Christian Schneider recently set out to damn the federal court ruling on WI redistricting and prove gerrymandering didn’t exist. When in fact he proved that it does.

In typical Mr. Schneider style book meanderings he starts off with something that has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. And as most of us know, statewide elections whether it be for president or senator or governor hasn’t a thing to do with voting districts. But he digresses with:

It goes without saying that Donald Trump’s victory in Wisconsin nearly two weeks ago was unexpected. But according to a three-judge federal panel who just declared Wisconsin’s legislative maps unconstitutional, Trump’s stunning victory would have been all but impossible.

When you guys figure out what that has to do with the price of corn in Iowa county, let me know.

After throwing out chaff to put everyone off the scent, he got off track and proved the fact he was intent on disproving. And after talking about how assembly districts couldn’t have possibly have been designed to favor republicans, he goes exactly here:
.

A good number of Democrats win large victories without a Republican challenger, which artificially inflates their share of the statewide vote.

Now the last half is meant to deflate the rational that Democrats get the majority vote in the state but don’t hold the majority assembly seats…but in those districts without a Republican challenger there aren’t ANY Republican votes. Yes, that is all kinda round and roundy logic and you can see it from either perspective you want.

And the big BUT is “A good number of Democrats win large victories without a Republican challenger…”. Why do you suppose that is? No Republican challenger? Because the GOP leaders in Madison did in fact gerrymander all of those pesky Democrat voters into their own little safe blue districts. Far far away from the red districts just so they couldn’t muck up the Republican incumbents.

So yes, the WI redistricting was in fact gerrymandering…and this helps support that…if the other clues in the mass media weren’t already proof enough!

Christine Welcher: The 2016 election is over – where do we go from here?

The election is over. My mind is slowly coming out of its frozen, numb state. I’m beginning to do some deep soul searching as to what happened on Tuesday. While many are mourning over Trump’s election, my tears have been for the State of Wisconsin. Dems did not pick up any seats, in fact we lost some. Russ, our progressive leader, lost to a do-nothing candidate. I lost to an even worse do-nothing candidate. How could this have happened?

I declared my candidacy for Representative to Wisconsin’s 32nd Assembly District in December of 2015. We knew we needed time to build our reputation and get the word out about our campaign and our message of bi-partisan reform. From the very beginning I found myself fighting with the state party and the local, county party over resources, access to the VAN and training. I finally realized none would be coming and I honestly think that’s what saved my sanity through the next 10 months.

We formed a grassroots movement made up of fabulous letter writers, activists and volunteers willing to knock doors and make phone calls and people willing to make videos for us and design websites, flyers and banners. We held listening sessions starting in February. We attended community events and fundraisers. We knocked doors every weekend and even during the week, all while I worked 40+ hours farming and teaching at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. During the last 2 months we upped our game. Wednesday and Friday we held signs and waved at busy intersections throughout the district as people were coming home. Thurs, Sat and Sun we knocked doors to build relationships and let our neighbors know we were going to be there, right by their side, until things improved. Whenever I got a few minutes I worked on my call list of targeted possible Trump Supporters. You see, we knew the stats and reality. Dems can’t win in these districts by only getting out the Dem vote. WI isn’t the 5th worst gerrymandered state in history because of unwillingness to vote. It’s the 5th worst because they (the GOP) did a damn fine job making sure they would never lose a seat.

Even with all of this, I lost. The silver lining is we did do better than both Hillary and Russ in our district so we know we are on to something. This year the anti-establishment craze was so strong, no one even remotely connected to it was safe. My sin was I had a “D” behind my name. Hillary Clinton has 30+ years of ties to Washington and government. While in most years that would be seen as an impressive resume, this year it was the cement shoes that sunk us all. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but some of us have been saying this from the beginning.

I know this will ruffle some feathers, but I don’t blame the people who voted for Trump. I blame the DNC and the DPW. I especially blame the DPW because we all knew how much we needed to pick up some seats in both the Assembly and Senate. There was no mention or support for Assembly or Senate races in the Monday Messages, or the weekly Chair’s Report. Nothing! At the county level, things are so disorganized and short staffed the parties just stood back and let the coordinated campaign take over. Somehow with their fancy “science” and numbers they (The Coordinated Campaign – CC) was able to convince local people, who know the breakdown of D vs R, that it’s ok to just target Dems because, “When people turn out, Dems win!” YAY!!!! Except that didn’t happen. Not only did that not happen, but somehow the GOP got the majority of new voters to come out and vote against someone, instead of for someone, for the first time in a long time.

There were not voter registration drives in my area. There were no listening sessions or town halls to try to spread a message of empowerment and togetherness. Hell, we didn’t even try to talk to people on “the other side” because it was seen as “a waste of time.” A waste of time??? A waste of time to try and pitch your side? To try and see where they are coming from and give them a better option? I was pretty much blown over when I got that response from my local CC organizer. That’s the day I stopped coming into the county office and decided I was officially 100% independent of the party and their support.

Where exactly does the blame lie? I don’t know. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how this whole party thing works. I was naive enough to think if you put yourself out there and sacrificed a year of your life Dems would support you as best as they could. Turns out you have to be in the “inner circle” or a “sure thing” in order to get support and that’s really sad. I honestly don’t know what we could have done differently. We worked our butts off and my opponent literally did nothing.

That’s been the hardest pill to swallow. The fact that an incumbent can have a reputation for not attending district meetings, not responding to citizens’ concerns, and then not even attempt to campaign and still be elected by 20+ points. The reputation of the Democratic Party is so tarnished in the rural areas that a good candidate with an amazing team can’t even have a shot at winning. Where do we go from here?

1) Stronger County Parties
In my experience, county party boards last for a few years, get burnt out and then everyone quits. There are so few volunteers or members the same handful of people gets stuck doing everything. When they do quit there’s no records or continuity so the whole county has to start over. This is the same for candidates who try to run. No notes on where to leave signs, who’s willing to organize, make calls, knock doors, etc. Even though I declared in December of last year, it really wasn’t until July/August that we finally got things semi-figured out and organized. That’s a lot of wasted time.

The state party needs to re-allocate their budget. All counties should be able to apply for grants and assistance to keep an office open all year, every year. Parties and party members should get involved in the community on off years by volunteering, helping with community fundraisers or holiday meals, you name it. The more active the party is with their community the more support and resources they get from the state. We need our neighbors to see we value them every day, not just 2 months every 4 years.

2) More resources for training and outreach
We need a new message. We need big ideas and we need the courage to stand behind them. This is going to take a whole new approach to messaging, outreach, and basic community building. We need our neighbors to know we are just like them. We, too, want a brighter future for our kids, roads that don’t send our cars to the shop for alignment problems, better paying jobs.

We need monthly workshops on communicating with other viewpoints, on messaging and organizing. We need committees for aspiring writers who can channel their pain and anger into letters to the editor or opinion pieces. We need small subgroups to keep people involved, engage and active. I don’t know about other areas but we go from 200 members in an election year to 80 members a year later. This has to stop. We have to keep our members and continue to grow our county parties, especially with younger blood! (Sorry, not sorry!)

3) Whole New Approach to Elections
We cannot continue to pander to people for their vote. We need to start building relationships, lasting relationships. Not just to get through the presidential elections. We also need to change our focus from top of the ticket to bottom of the ticket! We need the majority of resources going to local and state races. The presidential candidates can raise their own money and can pay for their own volunteers. We are going to keep ours!

We live in this state. We don’t get to move back to some other area once the election is lost. Start investing in Wisconsin! Start emphasizing the importance of local candidates, assembly candidates, senate candidates. These are the people who are responsible for the majority of legislation that affects our daily lives. Once we turn the focus to local elections and make people understand how important they are, we don’t have to worry about low voter turnout in mid-term years. Every year is important!

This might be a good place to start, but the important thing is we start. If the state party won’t listen, we do it ourselves. What happened on Tuesday can never happen again! Democrats either need to become the Party of We, the People, or we need to replace them with a party who will. I have to say at this point I’m fine with both options. I’m done talking and thinking and “let’s see-ing.” I want change and I want it now.

Christine Welcher
East Troy, WI

Campaign Training for Potential Progressive Candidates

In a number of fairly recent posts I have been urging new faces to get involved in party politics. Well the other shoe in that equation is to run for elected office at the local and state level to help make the changes that you want to see. But that is a daunting task for those who aren’t quite sure how it all works. So if you have any interest, here is how you find out how to do it:

Wisconsin Progress is the premier campaign training organization in Wisconsin. Over the past five years, we’ve trained hundreds of candidates, volunteers, and local elected officials on how to run for office and on how to be more effective in their roles. From Superior to Racine, the support and feedback for our trainings has been great!

Now, more than ever, local elections are the best way to affect change in your community, and we want to give you the tools to run an effective campaign that will allow you to be the change you want to see in the world!

Upcoming Training Opportunities:

Saturday, December 10, 2016 – Webinar – 1 PM

Saturday, December 10, 2016 – Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Saturday, December 17, 2016 – Madison, WI

Saturday, December 17, 2016 – Fond du Lac, WI

Saturday, January 7, 2017 – Appleton, WI

Saturday, January 7, 2017 – Reedsburg, WI

Sunday, January 8, 2017 – Menomonie, WI

Sunday, January 8, 2017 – Marshfield, WI

Saturday, January 21, 2017 – River Falls, WI

Saturday, January 21, 2017 – Platteville, WI

Sunday, January 22, 2017 – Wausau, WI

Sunday, January 22, 2017 – Racine, WI

If you, or someone you know is running for office this April, this is the training to attend!

This training covers everything from how to organize your campaign to how to raise money to fund it.

RSVP: http://www.wisconsinprogress.org/trainings

And for those of you not inclined to run for office but want to support new candidates consider this request from Wisconsin Progress:

P.S. We in-kind our trainings to candidates, which means candidates pay nothing to attend our trainings. But to keep these trainings free of cost, we need support from people like you. CLICK HERE to donate to our campaign training program!

Federal Court Blocks WI Gerrymandered Districts But Now What?

Some transitory good news came out yesterday when a federal court voted 2 -1 to block the gerrymandered Wisconsin legislative districts.

Here is a synopsis:

A dozen voters sued in July 2015, arguing the maps unconstitutionally discriminated against Democrats by diluting their voting power. They called it the worst example of gerrymandering — a term for dividing districts to gain an unfair advantage — in modern history.

Attorneys for the state countered Wisconsin is trending Republican and argued there’s no legal way to measure gerrymandering. They added that partisanship should be expected when one party draws legislative boundaries.

Of course the GOP will appeal this to the US Supreme Court so nothing is going to happen in the short term…and the outcome may totally depend on who is sitting on the court given the Trump presidency.

But what should the Democrats in the state legislature be doing in the meantime? They should be drafting and presenting a bill that requires that future redistricting be handled by an independent agency with the consent of the legislature similar to provisions in Iowa. Something that seems to be going swimmingly in Iowa right now!

Will it fly in Wisconsin? Probably not…particularly given our recent experience with the destruction of the Government Accountability Board and the new better partisan election commission….the GOP will stop it dead in its tracks. But it should be brought up anyway…and the GOP made to defend their position once again in the light of day under the dome…and be forced to say they are against one person one vote and equal representation.

But that won’t happen either as the minority will just wimp out and hope the US Supreme Court saves their posteriors…