Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

Buy Local

It is not a bad idea to buy local. I just don’t really understand why it would take state action and state money for a local school or a local business to buy local. It seems that they could do that perfectly well themselves.

Evers signed two executive orders shortly after the address, creating a new committee specialized for the issue, and calling lawmakers to the Capitol next week to take action on the $8.5 million package of bills.

Notably among the plans are funding efforts to increase dairy exports, not only across the country, but locally, with funding for farm-to-table and farm-to-school programs.

On Thursday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes spoke on what these efforts might look like for the La Crosse area.

“This is what the people are calling for,” Barnes said. “People feel comfortable spending their dollars locally, but we want to be able to make that as simple a process as possible.”

The programs and funding would help local farmers partner with area businesses to get healthier, closer products to tables and schools.

What to do with a surplus?

Boy, if this story doesn’t perfectly illustrate the state of politics in Wisconsin. Tax collections are way up thanks to a booming economy under President Trump and policies put in place by Wisconsin Republicans. Republicans want to give the surplus back to the people. Democrats want to spend it. Evers is playing pickleball.

MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin tax collections are expected to come in more than $818 million above projections made last summer, an increase reported Thursday that will fuel the push to make an election year tax cut.

Republicans who control the Legislature are discussing a tax cut, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has been more cautious and voiced concerns about meeting other priorities and warding against a future economic downturn. Senate Republicans, whose leader Scott Fitzgerald is running for Congress, are pushing to lower property taxes. Assembly Republicans also support cutting taxes, but aren’t fully behind lowering property taxes.

Fitzgerald said he will continue to work on a property tax cut that can be passed before the Senate adjourns for the year in March.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Republicans would not ‘‘grow the size of government’’ but instead would look at paying down debt or cutting taxes.

He didn’t specify which taxes or debt might be targeted.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said any surplus should be used to address areas of urgent need, including bolstering school-based mental health and funding for the University of Wisconsin System.

Evers did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. What a debacle.

We have seen this movie before. Filled with wrath and vim, parents and students crowd a school board meeting to bewail budget cuts to their beloved programs. Only this time there was a surprise ending. The budget was never cut, and, if fact, the school district had used discretionary funds to cover overspending. The story is instructive for several reasons.

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

There is also the issue of the fiscal controls and financial decisions being made in the school district. The two forensics teams overspent their collective budget by 33% last year and are already running out of money this year. That does not happen by accident. It is a choice. Last year, the high school principals decided to cover the overage with some other pile of money. This year, Kirkegaard has said that “for the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect 2018-2019 expenses.” In short, there will be no accountability for the people overspending their budgets by over 30%. Instead, their overages are covered and the administration will just amend the budget to match expenses. It is no wonder that the adults did not take this opportunity to teach the kids about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. They are incapable of it themselves.

Finally, at the Jan. 6, School Board meeting, board member Nancy Justman beclowned herself in response to the hullabaloo. Instead of getting the facts and representing the interests of the all district stakeholders, Justman took the students’ characterization of the issue that there was a “budget cut” at face value and immediately took up their cause. Justman harangued the superintendent to bring her details of the budget (Hint: School Board members decide on the budget), demanded that the administration find the money somewhere, and called it “shameful, very shameful” that the students were being told that they would not be able to take a trip. Justman behaved like an aggrieved PTO parent instead of an elected school board member charged with serving the whole community’s interests.

In the wider perspective of the school district’s $70 million annual budget, this is a minuscule expense and small problem. It could have been easily fixed by good fiscal management and a few reasonable choices. Instead, the way in which it was bungled and manipulated from the School Board to the parents indicates a deeper, systemic dysfunction at work.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today. I take a look back at the kerfuffle over “budget cuts” at the West Bend School District. Here’s a taste, but go buy a copy for yourself:

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

West Bend to Choose a New Mayor

Since the blog was down on Tuesday, I forgot to post this. Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier in the week.

The citizens of West Bend will choose between two candidates for mayor on April 7. Rich Kasten and Chris Jenkins are both conservatives on West Bend’s Common Council. I supported both candidates when they ran for city office. Both candidates have committed to continuing the trajectory of conservative leadership in West Bend. Where they differ is on experience and priorities.

Chris Jenkins is a 2007 West Bend West graduate, husband and father of five children, and earned degrees in theology and political science. Jenkins has been active in the community and his church throughout his adult life. After working in the private sector for a few years, he accepted the job of the village administrator, clerk, and treasurer for the village of Elmwood Park in 2018. Jenkins also serves as the president of West Bend Early-Risers Kiwanis, president of Musical Masquers, public affairs specialist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the elected positions of District Four county supervisor for Washington County and District Four alderman for the city of West Bend. He is not running for re-election for county supervisor and he has another year left in his term as alderman.

If elected, Jenkins has said that his focus will be on launching a collaborative community-driven process to refresh the city’s strategic plan modeled after the Value Task Force used at the dawn of former Mayor Kraig Sadownikow. From there, Jenkins is committed to fiscal discipline and conservative leadership. Rich Kasten graduated from Marquette University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1991 and moved to West Bend with his wife 21 years ago to raise their three children. Kasten has worked in the private sector in technical and management roles having spent the last 11 years at a Wisconsin cheese company. He is finishing his third term as the District Five alderman for the city of West Bend (my current alderman) where he chaired the Finance, Public Works, and Long Range Transportation committees. As alderman, Kasten earned a reputation as a fiscal watchdog with a deep knowledge of the underlying data. He also worked on the team to negotiate union contracts on behalf of the city, volunteered for the West Bend Crime Prevention Patrol, and worked on a Citizen Financial Advisory Committee for the West Bend School District.

If elected mayor, Kasten wants to work with Washington County on a plan to share the county sales tax with municipalities and leverage his experience on transportation issues to develop creative ways to stretch the city’s transportation and infrastructure dollars. Like Jenkins, Kasten wants to get more members of the community involved in developing the city’s strategic direction.

Since there are only two candidates, there will not be a primary election for mayor. Each candidate will have until April 7 to make his case to the voters. As we look forward to the next chapter in West Bend’s history, there are challenges and opportunities that the next mayor will need to tackle.

West Bend has been a city in transition. Since the manufacturing heydays of the 1970s and 1980s, the city’s economy has blossomed in the financial services and technical industries. With the recent annexation of land for a new industrial park on the south side, the next mayor will need to be a passionate and effective ambassador to lure businesses. Part of that will be ensuring that the city’s core infrastructure remains satisfactory.

Another area of focus should be preventing crime and punishing criminals. The West Bend police do a phenomenal job, but their jobs are getting harder. West Bend is not a sleepy Mayberry. It is a vibrant community with people moving in and out of it to work and play. The highways that connect us to the rest of the state also serve as conduits for criminals, drugs, human trafficking, and other contagions to augment the local criminal element. West Bend needs to be proactive and energetic in ensuring the safety of the people and property of West Bend.

The city has done a good job in the last several years of putting the city’s fiscal house in order. The mayor and Common Council have dramatically lowered debt, improved the city’s bond rating, kept spending and taxes stable, and avoided the worst of the long-term unfunded liabilities. But that was after decades of increasing spending, increasing taxes, and running up debt. It only takes one vote to squander years of good fiscal management. The next mayor must never relent in protecting the taxpayers from the worst impulses of people who relish spending other people’s money.

Chris Jenkins or Rich Kasten will have the privilege of leading West Bend into what could be a transformational decade. It won’t be easy. Who is ready for it?

West Bend Shool District Considering Increasing Capital Maintenance Budget 40%

Interesting

WEST BEND — The West Bend School District capital improvements budget is projected to increase about $600,000 for the coming 2020-21 year in an effort to address some referendum related issues. But this increase does not cover everything,

including aging facilities that concern some district staff.

District Facilities Director Dave Ross said now is when he plans for summer projects, but this year is a little different with some pressing facility needs.

The capital budget has increased about four percent for approximately the last 10 years, he said. But this year the administration proposed a budget of $2.1 million, instead of the four percent increase, which would be about $1.5 million. The projects are primarily at the high school, with the library project about half the total projected budget.

As the West Bend Private School Task Force illustrated, this is needed. The district’s capital maintenance budget is underfunded and needs to be increased – probably more than double what it currently is. But there are two other things that the task force found that also need to be considered:

  1. The Task Force illustrated a way to address the district’s capital needs and increase this budget without increasing spending or taxes. It is unclear whether that is the intent here. This is a $600k proposed increase in one part of a $70 million budget. That’s a less than 1% increase. I would expect the School Board to find savings elsewhere to accommodate this increase and keep overall spending and taxing neutral.
  2. I still don’t see an actual district-wide plan for their capital infrastructure. So they will increase this part of the budget and tackle a couple of needs. OK. Then what? Is the plan to increase this budget a bit more and just whittle down the list of needs over the next several years? That would be fine, but I haven’t seen that articulated. I haven’t see any strategic direction coming from the School Board since the referendum failed last year. The stakeholders of the district deserve more.

Assembly Fails to Override Veto

That’s a shame. The unions still hold sway. Patients will suffer… maybe somebody you love.

State Assembly lawmakers attempted and failed Wednesday to override Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of a bill that would have decreased state training requirements for nurse aides.

Legislators voted along party lines, 63-36, on the veto override. All Republicans voted in favor of the override; all Democrats voted against. Veto overrides require a two-thirds majority to pass.

Evers vetoed the bill in November. Under the plan, certified nursing assistants would only be required to complete 75 hours of training, the federal minimum, in Wisconsin. Current state law requires 120 hours.

Students Lament Budget Cuts to Clubs, but There Weren’t Any

What a fascinating little story. Here’s the nub from Washington County Insider.

January 15, 2020 – West Bend, WI – During the Jan. 6, 2020 meeting of the West Bend School Board students packed the board room.  High school students and parents spoke about funds being cut for clubs like forensics and debate and the school music program was even mentioned.

When students in attendance were asked where the information about funding cuts came from, none could answer.

You can follow the link to see video of the students’ complaints and the board’s reaction.

So here’s the thing… there weren’t any cuts. None. At all. The school district budgeted the same amount for this year as they did last year. The Superintendent shared that what actually happened is that the Forensics/Debate clubs massively overspend their budget last year and just rolled into this year assuming that they could spend the same amount. They hit a wall and ran out of money and just assumed that their budget was “cut.” I posted my exchange with the superintendent at the bottom for more explanation, but here are a few thoughts about it:

  • How does a club with a $6,700 budget overspend it by $4,062? That’s a variance of 61%. Who signed off on that? What financial controls are in place? Is anyone being held accountable? I’m still hoping for answers to those questions.
  • Think about how this became an issue… students, clearly encouraged by their teachers and parents, flooded a school board meeting to complain about “budget cuts.” Where were the adults to teach these kids critical thinking? Did anyone of them actually look at the budget and expenditures before making that claim? Did anyone ask the administration or anyone else before going straight to the board? Were the adults that disinterested or too stupid to ask those questions themselves? It appears that the adults here were more interested in their kids being activists than in teaching them critical thinking, financial skills, or dispute resolution. These kids were really let down by the adults in their lives.
  • Perhaps worst of all was the reaction by school board member Nancy Justman. Without any evidence, facts, or, apparently, knowledge of the budgets that she voted for, she instantly took up the cause of the kids. She harangued the Superintendent to find the money and decried how deplorable the “budget cuts” were. She behaved more like a PTO member than an elected member of a public board responsible for the sound management of an entire school district.

There are still more details to uncover, but this story was very revealing from several angles. Here are more details from my conversation with the superintendent. This is a public record.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 2:59 PM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Hi Owen,

I am not sure if this answers your questions or not but do not hesitate to reach out if you have additional questions or need additional clarification.  

Where individual line items within our chart of accounts are monitored regularly for appropriate activity, our schools and programs are given an allocation for distribution and that allocation balance is monitored much more religiously than individual line items both by school administration and district administration.  

As both East and West high schools were well within their allocations, we were confident that the overage for forensics was able to be absorbed within the schools’ expenditures.  Further, this was not just one line item in our accounts but several; hence, there was not one large overage but rather several smaller ones which does happen on occasion.  

You are correct in that a budget is a financial plan and that plan changed slightly for this overage for forensics this past year.  This is why discussions occurred dating back to August and into the fall to be proactive as their season approached and to be financial stewards of their club allocation.  As stated in my earlier email, we’ll continue to work with our groups to make sure we maintain proper protocols for budget-to-activity monitoring.

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 10:25 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Thanks, Don. Can you walk me through the process of how a budget gets overspent? Are their financial safeguards in place? Who authorized it? I assume that someone had to authorize the expenditure. Was that at the club level or admin?

Thanks. Budgets are always an estimate, but if they were going that far over budget, I’d just like to understand how that could happen.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 10:46 AM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Good morning Owen,

This is a complicated budgeting process.  There are district funds and district transportation and club funds.  Both East and West have separate allocations for forensics and debate is a combined activity.   I believe you are correct in that what was overspent in the past was actually consider the budget instead of the actual budget amount.  This spring we will look at the entire budget process.  In the case of forensics either the budget need to be adjusted to reflect the expenses or the expenses needs to be adjusted to reflect the budget.   For the 2019-20 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect the 2018-19 expenses.   Actual budgets were not decreased for the current year.

East and West each have a Forensics budget of $6,700 plus transportation.  Forensics are separate but debate is combined.  Last year, West had expenses that were $356 over the budget and East had expenses that were $4,062 over budget.  There may have been some expenses that were miscoded from West to East and East attended several more events than West.

We are going to make it work for the current year and have more in the future.

Thank you,

Don Kirkegaard

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Good morning, Don.

I’ve been following with interest the kerfuffle over extracurricular club funding. The story in the paper did not have any specifics. Could you please tell me:

–        What was the budget for extracurricular clubs last year?

–        How much did they overspend?

–        Who overspent? Which club(s)?

–        What is the budget this year? Same?

I understand from the story in the Daily News that the overage was covered by a budget surplus last year. Is the whole issue here that they overspent and thought that was the new budget?

Thanks,

Owen

Corrupt Former UWO Officials Reach Plea Deal in Criminal Cases

This better not be a sweetheart deal. Public corruption involving millions of taxpayer dollars needs to be severely punished.

OSHKOSH – The public will have to wait until Wednesday to learn more about the plea agreement two former University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh executives made in a criminal misconduct case stemming from their involvement with the university’s private foundation.

Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner, who have been free on $10,000 signature bonds since their first court hearing in June 2018, reached a deal with prosecutors, Assistant Attorney General Richard Chiapete said this week in a letter to the court.

Winnebago County Circuit Judge John Jorgensen on Friday granted a request from Sonnleitner’s defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic, to seal the agreement until the end of Wednesday’s plea and sentencing hearing.

[…]

The Wisconsin Department of Justice charged Wells and Sonnleitner in April 2018 with five counts each of misconduct in office in excess of their authority as a party to a crime after negotiations stalled in the lawsuit, which the UW System filed more than a year before. The Justice Department also represents the UW System in the civil case.

The criminal complaint, which largely mirrors the lawsuit, claims Wells and Sonnleitner improperly funneled $11 million in taxpayer money into five foundation building projects: the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel; the Culver Family Welcome Center; two biodigesters, which turn waste into electricity; and the Oshkosh Sports Complex, which includes Titan Stadium.

The complaint also outlines how Wells and Sonnleitner wrote a series of “comfort letters” to various lenders, assuring the banks the university would help out if the foundation was unable to make loan payments. The DOJ says money can’t go from the university to the foundation under state law. Attorneys for both men argued the letters did not constitute legally binding commitments.

Palmyra-Eagle School District to Remain Open

What the heck?

The Palmyra-Eagle Area School District will live on.

That’s after a state panel rejected an order from the Palmyra-Eagle Area School Board to dissolve the district.

The School District Boundary Appeal Board, a panel made up of school board members from around the state and the state superintendent’s designee, voted 6-1 to deny the dissolution at its meeting Thursday afternoon at the Palmyra-Eagle Middle School gymnasium.

[…]

The dissolution process officially started April 8, 2019, when the Palmyra-Eagle Area School Board approved a resolution to consider dissolution of the school district.

But the wheels started turning six days earlier when 61% of district voters rejected a four-year, $11.5 million operational referendum that district officials said was needed to keep the cash-strapped district running.

On July 1, the school board took the next step, ordering the district’s dissolution.

A non-binding advisory referendum on the dissolution, triggered by a community-led petition drive, was held Nov. 5, with 53% of voters saying they wanted to see the district dissolve.

This is another example of the arrogance of those in government. The people of the district voted down a referendum with the clear understanding that doing so meant that they would have to dissolve the district. Then the people voted in an advisory referendum to dissolve the district. The school board – elected by the people in the district – voted to dissolve the school district. In a brazen act of self-governance, the people could not have been more clear.

And yet, after all that, an unelected state board comprised of people who do not live in the district vote to keep the school district open.

Insane.

We are going to see this again and again. Enrollment across the state is declining and it is sensible to consolidate school districts to adapt to those trends. But the push against it is coming from entrenched government bureaucracy that is more interested in maintaining the status quo than in managing taxpayer resources to provide the best education for the most kids.

Evers Welcomes McIver

Hmmmm… curious. This appears to be yet another case of Evers and his staff being on different pages – with the staff’s view being reality. Who’s really running the show over there?

MADISON, Wis. (Jan. 10, 2020) – The MacIver News Service sued Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in August 2019 for barring its reporters from a press briefing and purposefully withholding press notifications from the journalists. Since then, Evers’ attorneys have defended their restrictions on the MacIver reporters in court.

But in an interview that aired on FOX 11 this past Sunday, January 5, Gov. Evers made statements about the lawsuit that run contrary to the arguments being made by his own attorneys in the case. In the interview, Evers suggests that the MacIver journalists have as much access as other statehouse journalists and that the governor desires no restrictions on them or any other journalists.

In response to the interview, Liberty Justice Center attorney Daniel Suhr sent a letter to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul highlighting the inconsistencies between the governor’s public statements and his legal defense, and encouraged the governor’s team to adopt into practice the openness to press that Evers conveyed in the FOX 11 interview.

Trolley in Memphis

I was in Memphis for a couple of days this week and noticed a couple of things. I stayed downtown near the convention center on main street. My hotel was about a mile from Beale Street and the entertainment district. I enjoy getting out of the hotel to explore, so I headed down the Beale Street a couple nights for dinner.

Memphis has a trolley that runs down a good length of Main Street from the transit center north of the convention center to a block north of Beale Street. It’s one of those trolleys on rails that is powered by overhead wires. The trolley is just a dollar to ride, but I chose to walk from my hotel to Beale Street twice because I enjoy walking. It also gave me the chance to observe the trolley in action and make a few observations.

  1. It was weeknights without much going on. Downtown was sparsely populated in the evenings, so I don’t think ridership was reflective of a busy time with a convention or something in town. Still, I only saw one family ride it. It was empty the rest of the time.
  2. Each trolley was driven by a driver. Plus, there was a guy who say in a Gator. Every time the trolley passed him, he got out and used a tool to shift the tracks. All told, they were paying at least 5 guys to run the system at any given time.
  3. The trolley did move faster than walking, but with the stops and waiting to board, it was still faster to walk.
  4. As it happens, the convention center was empty because it is currently undergoing a massive renovation (perhaps something to watch to see if it was worth it before Milwaukee spends money redoing theirs). This caused them to close a block of Main Street and block the tracks.

What that means is that to ride the rail trolley to the end of the route, you had to ride the rail trolley to the end of the block, get off, board a wheeled trolley, and then that trolley would take you around the detour to the other side.

In other words, while the railed trolley might be interesting, the infrastructure and personnel to run it are far more expensive than the wheeled version AND the wheeled version (A.K.A. decorated bus) is far more practical because it can adjust to circumstances on the road.

I wonder how much this system is costing the good taxpayers of Memphis per rider. Someone else can try to look that up.

Evers Assigns “Homework” to Legislature

What a condescending prick.

WAUSAU – Gov. Tony Evers today sent a letter to Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature assigning legislative homework and asking the Legislature to pass several key pieces of legislation before adjourning this year.

The legislature is a coequal branch of government. The Governor is treating them like children. He truly has proven to be a terrible governor with no ability to build consensus or advance his agenda. There are plenty of issues on which the governor and some Republicans could find common ground, but Evers is intent on crapping on them every chance he gets.

Governor Evers Wants to Let Crooks Out on the Street to Commit More Crimes

No.

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers and fellow Democratic lawmakers have introduced a series of proposals designed to reduce overcrowded prisons, but without support from Republican leaders they are unlikely to gain traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Evers told the Wisconsin State Journal in an interview published Thursday that he hoped the bills would spur a bipartisan discussion on the need to address the state’s rising prison population, which is expected to reach 25,000 inmates by 2021. Evers campaigned on the pledge to cut the state’s prison population in half.

[…]

The bills would set incarceration limits for non-criminal supervision violations, extend earned release eligibility to include vocational or educational programs and expand on a compliance credit to allow for shortened community supervision options. The measures, introduced by Rep. Evan Goyke and Sen. Lena Taylor, both of Milwaukee, applies only to nonviolent offenders.

Setting a target prison population is not a rational or moral goal. The population of our prisons is a function of how much crime is being committed and how we choose to punish people. If we can reduce the number of crimes being committed so that the prison population declines, then great! If the prison population increases because more people are committing crimes, then so be it. But to just let criminals out on the street to commit more crimes in order to reach an arbitrary number of people in prison so that Evers can feel good is dangerous and immoral.

In my experience, the vast majority of people are decent, law-abiding folks. They might speed or double park every now and then, but they are good people. A tiny slice of the population are wretched human beings who commit the vast majority of the serious crimes. Those people are just bad, and they will continue to commit crimes for as long as they are able to because they are criminals. That’s just what criminals do. Bakers bake. Farmers farm. Drivers drive. Criminals commit crime. The only way to reduce crime is to remove the criminals from society as often as possible and for as long as possible.

Changes coming in 2020

Here is my full column that I wrote for the Washington County Daily News this week.

2020 will prove to be an eventful year. Much of the year will be consumed with Americans choosing a president. The United Kingdom will finally leave the European Union after the people were compelled to return to the voting booth to reassert their will. The Middle East will continue to roil with unpredictable consequences. While world and national events are important, the changes happening in our state and local communities also have a big impact on our lives. Here are a few changes that will happen in my local jurisdictions and some results that I would like to see.

The city of West Bend will get a new mayor. Late last year, Mayor Sadownikow stepped down to avoid a conflict of interest with his business, but he had already signaled that he would not run for re-election. Under Sadownikow’s leadership, West Bend enjoyed years of solid conservative fiscal management. Taxes were kept flat. The city greatly reduced its debt. The mayor helped negotiate labor contracts to protect the city’s taxpayers from future unfunded liabilities. Economic development thrived and city services improved. It was a good run.

The new mayor of West Bend should learn from Sadownikow’s example and continue that trajectory. This will be no small task. Immediately after Sadownikow stepped aside, the Common Council voted to raise property taxes and the city Water Utility passed a substantial rate increase. Sadownikow’s absence was immediately felt and the liberal tax increasers got their way. The new mayor will need to use all of his or her wiles to thwart the efforts of the newly insurgent liberals on the council.

Washington County will also get its first county executive after voting to restructure county government. As the first county executive of Washington County, he or she will have the opportunity to set precedents and a tone for the future. The new executive should collaborate with the county’s municipalities to tell the world that our county is “Open for Business,” to steal a phrase from former Gov. Scott Walker. There is an economic boom happening in our state and nation and Washington County has a lot to offer businesses that move and grow here.

The West Bend School District is also facing a year of change. The steady decline in enrollment that has been happening for years has accelerated and shows no sign of slowing. Meanwhile, the school district is saddled with heavy infrastructure and labor costs that are increasingly unaffordable. With big challenges come big opportunities to make bold changes. Act 10 gives the School Board vast discretion to rebuild the school district on conservative principles of educational excellence, fiscal restraint, and forward- looking innovation. As the Private Task Force demonstrated, this can be done while reducing spending and taxes. The citizens of the West Bend School District deserve nothing less.

For the first time in a couple of generations, the good folks in the 5th Congressional District will have a new representative in Washington. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is serving his final year in office. He has been a conservative lion in the House of Representatives and helped cultivate and lead a generation of conservative leaders throughout the state. While Sensenbrenner’s successor will undoubtedly assume office with a different style and priority, the people of the 5th have earned the right to be represented by someone who will continue to champion conservatism in the House.

Finally, the board is set for 2020 in the state of Wisconsin. The Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will remain a devoted liberal Democrat. For conservative Wisconsinites, it is unrealistic to expect the continuation of the conservative renaissance that we have enjoyed for the previous decade, but they can expect that Republicans in the Legislature hold on to the gains. Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of conservative leadership with a booming economy, stable budgets, rising wages, high employment, protections for our rights to freely associate and bear arms, and so much more. Hopefully 2020 will end without Wisconsin regressing.

By the time 2021 dawns, the landscape will look very different around here. We have work to do to make sure we will like what we see.

 

Changes coming in 2020

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I take a look ahead at 2020 and some of the changes coming at my local and state level. Here’s a taste:

For the first time in a couple of generations, the good folks in the 5th Congressional District will have a new representative in Washington. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is serving his final year in office. He has been a conservative lion in the House of Representatives and helped cultivate and lead a generation of conservative leaders throughout the state. While Sensenbrenner’s successor will undoubtedly assume office with a different style and priority, the people of the 5th have earned the right to be represented by someone who will continue to champion conservatism in the House.

Finally, the board is set for 2020 in the state of Wisconsin. The Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will remain a devoted liberal Democrat. For conservative Wisconsinites, it is unrealistic to expect the continuation of the conservative renaissance that we have enjoyed for the previous decade, but they can expect that Republicans in the Legislature hold on to the gains. Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of conservative leadership with a booming economy, stable budgets, rising wages, high employment, protections for our rights to freely associate and bear arms, and so much more. Hopefully 2020 will end without Wisconsin regressing.

By the time 2021 dawns, the landscape will look very different around here. We have work to do to make sure we will like what we see.

Bill Moves Ahead to Require Teaching Cursive in Wisconsin

Hmmm

Introduced by state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, the bill would require schools receiving state money — public and private — to teach cursive so students can write legibly in it by fifth grade.

“Surprisingly to many, cursive writing can lend a hand in the process of improving reading,” Thiesfeldt told the Assembly Committee on State Affairs during a public hearing Nov. 6. “This bill isn’t just about nostalgia of being able to read grandma’s letters and primary source historical documents.”

The state Senate Committee on Education recommended on a 5-4 vote Dec. 20 to send the bill to the full Senate for passage. The Assembly committee has not yet acted on their version of the bill.

The linked story does a good job of laying out the arguments. The issue isn’t whether or not we should teach cursive. Personally, I think we should, but I can understand the opposite view. The issue is whether or not the state should mandate it. The state mandates all sorts of things to local school districts – both big and small – but should this be left to local school boards to decide? Or is there a valid state interest in including cursive teaching as one of the list of things that are required as part of a standard Wisconsin education? I’m on the fence.

 

Senator Stroebel: “The judicial order was clear”

Yep

Madison, WI – The Wisconsin Election Commission continues to ignore state law, and a judicial order, by refusing to update our voter rolls. The fact that Democratic members of the Elections Commission are disobeying a judicial order is troubling for anyone concerned with elections in our state.

Senator Stroebel made the following statement in reaction to the Election Commission’s refusal to follow Judge Malloy’s Order:

“The judicial order was clear, the Wisconsin Elections Commission must maintain voter lists as per state law. This law is clear and the judicial order leaves no room for the Democratic members of the Election Commission to find excuses.

“My constituents expect fair and transparent elections and disregarding state law and a judicial order undermine those expectations.”

Wisconsin continues to have same day voter registration. This means that any citizen who is eligible to vote and can register to vote almost any day between now until Election Day, whether they have moved or are voting for the first time.

2020 Predictions

A bunch of jackasses made predictions over on RightWisconsin. Check it out.

Governor Evers Issues Record Number of Executive Orders

To be fair, I doubt he actually knew what half of these orders were for.

Gov. Tony Evers issued more executive orders in his first year than any other guv in Wisconsin history.

He signed 61 executive orders through mid-December. Not only is that a record for a first-year guv, but it’s more than any single calendar year going back to 1965, according to a WisPolitics.com review.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the number of executive orders was a sign that Evers has been “ineffective” in working with GOP lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation. As an example, Fitzgerald cited an executive order the guv issued that replaced all references to “mental retardation” in state language with “intellectual disability” and “intellectually disabled.” Evers issued the order shortly before lawmakers released legislation to largely accomplish the same thing.

“He has completely failed to develop a relationship with the Legislature, even when he had numerous opportunities to do so,” Fitzgerald said, “He used one of those executive orders to purposely copy a piece of legislation that should have been an easy bipartisan win. I’m hopeful that we’ll start off better next year, but I’m not holding my breath.”

A spokesman for Evers didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

[…]

More than a third of Evers’ executive orders were directives that flags at state buildings fly at half-staff. Beyond those 21 orders, 13 created committees, councils or advisory boards, and eight were for emergency declarations.