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As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

Wednesday - August 15, 2018 5:58 am

Walker waits to back Harley Davidson

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It is a delicate dance that Governor Walker is performing over the President's threats toward an iconic Wisconsin company. President Trump has singled out Harley Davidson as he continues to impose tarrifs on a variety of imported products. The European Union has raised the stakes in the ongoing trade war by imposing tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles made in the U.S. but sold overseas. Harley has responded by indicating it will move production of motorcycles sold in Europe overseas. President Trump has responded by threatening to raise taxes on Harley, and has even called for motorcycle enthusiasts to boycott the Milwaukee based company. It is unfortunate that the President has singled out this company, and perhaps unprecedented that he is calling for American consumers to boycott an American made product. Governor Walker remained silent on the tiff, until finally issuing a tweet saying he doesn't want a boycott. But he went on to suggest Trump is right that the trade war will eventually lead to no tariffs on any products. To be fair, Trump painted Walker into a corner. But Walker should have been more quick to respond, and more forceful in his disagreement with the President. We should not criticize any American company that sells fine products that people like. To do so is simply not very American.

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Tuesday - August 14, 2018 5:57 am

A quick guide to today's Wisconsin primary

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Much is to be decided in today's primary election in Wisconsin. Chief among them is determining which of the democratic candidates for Governor deserve their party's nomination. It is a crowded field. The names of eight candidates will appear on today's ballot in that race. Do you know who they are? It can be easy to lose track, especially since very few have spent much on advertising to make themselves stand out. Only one of the democratic gubernatorial candidates, Tony Evers, is polling in double digits. A Marquette University Law School poll shows 31% of voters surveyed plan to vote for Evers. Undecided scored better, at 38%. Some say the list of choices is too long, and that voters may end up playing eenie meenie minie moe when they go to the polls. Here then is a quick synopsis of the candidates. Tony Evers is the State Superintendent of Schools. Kelda Roys is a former state legislator who attracted national attention for breastfeeding her child in a campaign video. Mahlon Mitchell is head of the state firefighters union. Matt Flynn is a former state democratic party chairman, and a lawyer who has been criticized for defending the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during the abuse scandal. Kathleen Vinehout is a state lawmaker and farmer from Alma. Paul Soglin is the longtime mayor of Madison. Mike McCabe is the former head of a state watchdog group that tracks political financing and corruption, and Josh Pade is a lawyer who once interned with Russ Feingold. There is more to these candidates than these descriptions, but if you know even that much, you are in the minority. See you at the voting booth.

Comment

Governor Walker has taken to referring to himself as the education governor. That has prompted a few eye rolls from those who point to the Governor balancing the budget on the backs of teachers. It is a bold claim that Walker is a friend of education, but at least he isn't trying to champion himself as the Governor of Corrections. Because it is the state's corrections department that has become the focus in the days before this week's primary election. During his first two terms in office, Walker has not made a single visit to a state prison. And he recently said he saw "no value" in doing so. This is despite the fact that the Corrections Department eats up a big chunk of the state budget. Even in the midst of an FBI investigation into allegations of abuse at the state's youth prison, Walker didn't bother to step foot in the facility. Meanwhile, the former Secretary of Corrections has written a tell-all book claiming Walker wouldn't eve meet with him during budget deliberations. and most of the democratic candidates for Governor suggest some state prisoners should be released to save taxpayers money. Governor Walker may claim this upcoming election is about education, but it seems more and more it is about how best to run our prisons.

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Friday - August 10, 2018 6:02 am

A victory for open records in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin's top law enforcer is standing up for access to public records. Attorney General Brad Schimel is issuing a reminder to all state and local government agencies to charge a more reasonable price for requests for open records under state law. State law is clear that the public should have access to any government record that is deemed to be open. It doesn't matter who is requesting the minutes of a government meeting or why they want a copy of it. But some government agencies say they are willing to provide the documents requested, but they charge exorbitant fees for the time it takes to locate and copy the documents. A typical fee is 25 cents per page, but some say it will cost records requesters much more. Sometimes that is simply an excuse to keep the person requesting the records from getting their hands on them. Other times, it become a money maker for the government agency. Schimel is reminding these governments that they should only charge 1.35 cents for a black and white copy of a document, and 6.32 cents for a color copy. Schimel is telling all levels of government in Wisconsin that they can only charge for locating documents, reproducing them and mailing them. They cannot charge for the time taken to black out portions of the document considered sensitive, nor not covered by open records laws. It remains to be seen whether governments will follow the Attorney General's recommendation, but it is good to see him stand up for public access to public documents.

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Thursday - August 9, 2018 5:58 am

State, not city, should pay to fix La Crosse roads

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It is another example of how poor a job the state of Wisconsin is doing in fixing our roads. The city of La Crosse could join a growing number of Wisconsin communities in adopting a wheel tax. This new tax, just in the discussion stages in La Crosse's City Hall, would generate money to pay for local road work. No one disputes the need is there to fix our roads. Our roads are crumbling, and given the lack of state support for road work, projects are delayed and it would take about $100 million to repair roads in La Crosse County. So La Crosse is considering charging drivers a wheel tax, which Mayor Tim Kabat says could be about $20 to $25 per vehicle registered in the city, per year. That would generate the money needed to get more road work done than is currently scheduled. But such a tax would only be imposed on those whose cars are registered in La Crosse, not all who drive on our roads. It is a better idea than the tax La Crosse County proposed, as much of the revenue generated by that would be paid by city of La Crosse residents, while road repairs would be done primarily in areas outside the city. All of this finagling to find road money shows just how poor a job our state lawmakers have done in identifying a sustainable, long-term way to pay for better roads. It should not be up to cities like La Crosse to come up with ways to pay for roads. That is the state's responsibility. Rather than adopting a wheel tax, La Crosse should pressure lawmakers to do their jobs, and figure out a way to pay for roads that don't threaten to swallow our cars when we drive on them.

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It is an issue that has seen a seismic shift in public opinion in recent years. But despite the growing public support for the idea of legalizing marijuana, Wisconsin state lawmakers still aren't willing to even debate the issue. There have been attempts in the Wisconsin legislature to pass laws dealing with marijuana. In the most recent legislative session, lawmakers considered a number of cannabis related measures, including decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot, as well as legalizing the medical use of marijuana. They failed. So too did an attempt to put an advisory referendum on the statewide ballot asking whether marijuana should be legalized. Apparently our lawmakers don't even want to know what we think of the idea. The polling however is clear. A majority of people in Wisconsin, 59%, support the legalization of marijuana. And not just for medicinal purposes. They favor legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin, just like alcohol is treated. But our lawmakers still won't touch the idea. So a number of Wisconsin communities, including La Crosse county, are putting advisory referendums on the ballots asking voters what they think of legalizing cannabis use. The idea is to show lawmakers the level of support for the idea. But if history is any guide, our elected representatives in Madison will continue to stick their heads in the sand and not recognize who those who pay their salary feel about the issue.

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Our elected officials deserve plenty of blame for the state of politics in America today. They make promises they can't or won't keep. They lie about their opponent. They greedily stuff their pockets with campaign cash. And when they do get elected, they tend to focus more on getting re-elected than serving those they represent. Meanwhile, issues facing our various levels of government remain unresolved. But it is not just the politicians who deserve blame. So do voters. Or at least eligible voters. That is because so few people bother to exercise their civic duty and go to the polls to cast an informed vote on election day. In the most recent election in the spring, voters in our area didn't exactly beat a path to the voting booth. Turnout in the April election barely topped 28%. Less than one-third of voters took a few minutes out of their busy day to go to the polls. In the 2016 fall primary, of the 71,000 eligible voters, only 7400 people bothered to vote. The next fall primary is one week from today. Are you planning to vote? Do you know who the candidates are and what their stance is on the issues? Being part of a democracy requires some effort on our part, at least if we want it to work effectively. If you still don't know who you will vote for, do a little research. The information is easily available online, if you find a trusted source. If you aren't registered to vote, or don't know where to vote, there is time to find out. The politicians deserve plenty of blame for the state of politics in America today, but would-be voters also shoulder plenty of blame.

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Leave it to the politicians to figure out how to do more. For themselves. In Wisconsin, our legislature draws a full-time salary while spending only a few days in session each year. They get a valuable pension and money for meals and lodging. And what have they done for us? They sure haven't fixed our roads. What they have done is to make themselves richer, and paved their path for re-election with plenty of campaign cash. More than ever before. Apparently our state lawmakers felt they just weren't able to raise enough on the campaign trail, so they changed the rules. Blew them up actually. They passed laws increasing donation limits for individuals and political action committees, while allowing corporations to donate directly to their campaigns for the first time. It is no surprise then that the amount of money are lawmakers are raking in on the campaign trail have skyrocketed. In the first six months of this year, Wisconsin's Republican and Democrat parties raised $4.9 million in campaign contributions. That is three times as much as they raised two years ago, and five times as much as they raised four years ago. Our elected officials have gotten very good at getting re-elected. They sure spend a lot of time on it. Way more than they actually spend working for us. It seems their real full-time job is raising money for themselves, while we continue to pay them a full-time salary for their other job.

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Friday - August 3, 2018 5:57 am

Media not the enemy of the people

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It is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. But it is under attack like never before. A free press is vital to our country, but it is being labeled as an enemy of the people by no less than the President of the United States. President Trump has been the chief cheerleader against the media since his campaign started and that continues now that he is in the Oval office. At a recent rally in Florida, Trump singled out a CNN reporter who was there to cover the event, and the crowd ate it up, shouting “fake news” and “CNN sucks.” It was a mob mentality, with the raucous crowd jeering, pointing and flipping the bird. But the press is not the enemy. The press play an important role in telling people the truth, even the truth they don't want to hear. It is important that the press hold our leaders accountable, and serve as fact-checkers, a job that has become more difficult with all the mistruths spoken by the President, more than 5000 since he took office, an average of more than 7 per day. Trump's attack on the media is Orwellian, trying to convince people that the only truth comes from him. We know that is not true. The press is not the enemy of the people, as Trump claims. It is a foundation of our democratic principles. The fact is, an attack on the free press is an attack on our democracy, and these attacks need to stop.

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Thursday - August 2, 2018 5:59 am

Compromise key to resolving Hiawatha dispute

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Sometimes, there are just no easy answers. No answers that satisfy everyone. That is when compromise is needed. And compromise appears to be the key to resolving the dispute over the Hiawatha statue in La Crosse's Riverside Park. The statue has stood proudly in the park for decades, but in recent years, critics have labeled it as insensitive, a caricature of native Americans. They say it doesn't belong on city property. Now the family of the artist who created the statue say they are open to the idea of moving the statue, perhaps to some farm property. That gets it off public property, and should satisfy critics. But we shouldn't just hide the statue where no one can see it. If it is to be moved, it should be moved to private property, but not a location where no one travels. There are plenty of good locations in the city of La Crosse where the statue could stand. There are no doubt many property owners who would be proud to host Hiawatha. That would get the statue out of the park, but keep it visible for those who want to see it. It may not satisfy those who think the statue should be torn down, or those who think it should be able to remain where it is, but it seems a good compromise.

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