As I See It

As I See It

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

The issue goes to the very heart of our democracy. Voters in Wisconsin are finding their votes don't matter much. That is because the current legislative boundaries drawn by our lawmakers in Madison have been so gerry-mandered they have been declared partisan and unconstitutional by a judge. The boundaries, which determine in which legislative district people vote, are so rigged that republican candidates have an unfair advantage. They draw up the districts so they are safe for their candidate, moving democratic voters to other districts. Many people who may be considering a run for the state Assembly or Senate don't even bother because they don't have a chance to win. That is not how it should be. We should be choosing our candidates for office, not the other way around. We have urged our lawmakers to adopt the Iowa model of redistricting. In that state, they use a group people, not politicians to draw the maps after each census. It is a fair system, with no look at past election results, or voter registrations. Not a single lawmaker is able to weigh in, or even get a sneak peek. The Iowa model is a model for the nation, and should be for Wisconsin as well. Wisconsin lawmakers should finally give up their stranglehold of power, and let the will of the people, not partisan politicians, decide who represents them.

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College is a time when many people shape their world view, when they identify the issues they are passionate about, and speak out about them. In Wisconsin, that could soon get them kicked out of college. Some Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would punish those students who protest speakers who are paid to give talks at schools in the UW System. Any hecklers could be suspended from school, or even expelled. The policy would apply to any student at any UW school who engage in “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct” which interferes with someone's free speech rights. Such behavior is not further defined. But the wording is so vague that even the author admits the bill probably is not constitutional. Backers say this protects the free speech rights of those hired to speak at a UW school. Clearly, this is designed to crack down on speech these lawmakers don't like. It comes on the heels of students shouting down a speech by a Breitbart columnist at UW Madison last year. This law is not needed, and certainly doesn't protect the free speech rights of students who pay to attend UW schools. It is also rather Draconian. Students should feel free to speak their minds. If they go too far and break the law, there are already ways to deal with that. This bill is not needed, and it certainly is not about protecting all free speech. Just the kind they don't like.

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It is called the prevailing wage law, and some Wisconsin lawmakers think it is time for the law to go. Prevailing wage laws require governments to pay those who secure contracts for public projects pay their workers whatever the prevailing wage is there. That is designed to ensure those companies hire skilled workers, and pay them a fair salary for their work. But some argue that inflates the price of public projects, and they have introduced legislation to end the prevailing wage law for state projects, just as they did for bids on local government building projects two years ago. This would clearly result in wage cuts for laborers, and likely would send Wisconsin workers to other states which still have the prevailing wage law to look for work. Critics of the law say ending the prevailing wage requirement could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, but an estimate by the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau finds the impact of prevailing wage laws on construction costs to be inconclusive. But those legislators who want to end prevailing wage are proving to be hypocrites. These same legislators just voted to increase their per diem payments, allowing them to collect even more of our money to cover their costs of travel, dining and lodging in Madison. Apparently they think it is ok for the average Joe to see a cut in wages, while they keep increasing their own.

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Thursday - April 27, 2017 10:57 am

Cookie bill looks tasty

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Finally, some common sense in Madison. Lawmakers are considering ending the state's ban on the sale of home-baked goods. The legislation is called the “cookie bill.” If passed, it would allow people to sell their homemade treats, like breads, muffins and cookies. It is not clear exactly why it is illegal now. Wisconsin and New Jersey are the only states which prohibit the for-profit sale of baked goods made in a home kitchen. It has prompted a lawsuit against the state filed by some home bakers who argue the state's ban on home-baked goods is unconstitutional. Some health advocates say the current ban is designed to protect public health, but this bill addresses that, requiring sellers to register with the state, and to take a food safety class. They also would have to follow a number of requirements, regarding labeling, and keeping track of their sales. The bill would also limit income from the cookie sales to no more than $7500 a year. This bill should win approval from lawmakers. It allows us to sample some tasty treats, and encourages people to start their own business. But this idea has come up before, and despite bipartisan support in the Senate, failed to pass in the Assembly. Let's hope this year, just like the muffins and cookies, this batch comes out just right.

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Wednesday - April 26, 2017 9:03 am

Referendum on voucher schools?

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School referendums are in the sights of some Wisconsin lawmakers. They want to make it harder for public school districts to hold referendums, considering legislation that would limit how often and for what reason they could ask voters to approve more money for education. These lawmakers also want to punish school districts which do approve referendums, withholding a portion of their state aid. Of course, this makes no sense. If voters in the La Crosse school district or elsewhere place a high value one education, and are willing to pay more to support it, that should be up to them. They know better than some legislator from Brookfield. But the focus seems to be only on public schools. What about voucher schools? They are expanding in the state, and taxpayers are funding them. In fact, these voucher schools get more state aid money than public schools, and now the money that goes to private schools is coming directly from public school budgets. So another group of lawmakers think what is good for the goose is good for the gander. They hope to approve a law that would only allow the state to take money from public schools and give it to private schools if voters in that district approved it in a referendum. This would not end voucher schools, it would simply level the playing field. Because if we get to have a say on how public school dollars are spent, we should also get a say on how our tax money is spent on private schools.

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Tuesday - April 25, 2017 9:36 am

Make it easier, not harder, to vote

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The election was rigged. We heard that throughout the course of the recent presidential campaign. It wasn't true of course. There is no evidence of millions of illegal immigrants casting ballots, or felons voting in droves. But, as it turns out, there were many ballots which were cast in Wisconsin, but which were never counted. That is because of a new state law, which requires absentee ballots to be received by election day. Previously, absentee ballots only had to be postmarked by election day. This was the first major election with the earlier deadline in place, and a number of potential Wisconsin voters missed it. 1028 absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin in the November election were received late, and thrown out. That is more than double the number of late ballots from the 2012 presidential contest. This new law is part of a series of efforts by our lawmakers to make it harder to vote in Wisconsin. They reduced opportunities for early voting, tried to get rid of special registration deputies and have made us show an ID in order to exercise our right to vote. Now the state has thrown out more than 1000 ballots from legal voters, many of whom, given the contentious nature of the election, may have waited until the last minute to decide for whom they would cast their ballot. If we really want to ensure the election is not rigged, and that every vote counts, we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.

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Monday - April 24, 2017 9:15 am

WI Supco for sale to highest bidder

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There can no longer be any debate. Justice is for sale in Wisconsin. Certainly that is the case on the state's highest court, which has rejected a call for justices to recuse themselves from cases that involve their political donors. A group of 54 retired judges submitted a petition that sought to ensure that our high court justices aren't able to bend the rules for their fat-cat friends. It would have forced members of the Supreme Court to sit out any cases in which their donors are litigants or attorneys. Justice Shirley Abrahamson argued that forcing justices to recuse themselves from cases in which they may have a conflict of interest would help restore integrity to the court. But the petition failed by a 5-2 margin. So our most prestigious judges, supposedly of high ethics, can continue to rule on cases in which those who give them money are involved. Not only did they reject the request, they seem hurt it was even made. Justice Rebecca Bradley claims Wisconsin justices should be offended by the petition. But even if our high court justices aren't acting improperly, being unwilling to recuse themselves certainly can give the appearance of impropriety. And for those who claim their moral compass is always pointing due north, that should be enough of a reason not to rule in cases involving their cash cows.

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Thursday - April 20, 2017 9:23 am

La Crosse County's lame logo

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Branding can be important for a business. It can help them stand out from their competitors. But is it important for government as well? La Crosse County apparently thinks so, spending $60,000 on a new branding campaign that includes a new logo and tagline. But, boy, is it boring. Even a number of members on the county board voted against the new logo, calling it nondescript and unexciting. The new logo features a square with the letters “LC” next to another square which reads “1851” a reference to the year La Crosse County was founded. Beneath the logo is the tagline, “Exceptional services. Extraordinary places.” Huh? According to the dictionary, a logo is defined as a graphic representation or symbol of a company often uniquely designed for ready recognition. This $60,000 logo is hardly uniquely designed, or readily recognizable. Shouldn't the words La Crosse County appear in the new logo somewhere? Perhaps a picture of the bridge or the bluff, or the river, something that screams La Crosse? As one board member points out, 'If you showed this logo to a passerby, they would have no idea what it is to represent.' That makes it a bad logo, and in the case of La Crosse County, a rather expensive one.

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Wednesday - April 19, 2017 10:19 am

Beer summit needed between La Crosse courts, cops

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It is the type of thing they tend to talk about only among themselves, perhaps over coffee or beers. But some top La Crosse police are now being openly critical of the La Crosse County judicial system. Assistant Police Chief Rob Abraham calls it “ridiculous” that people are being arrested, pampered by the courts, set free with a slap on the wrist, who then go on to commit more crimes. We have seen evidence of that in two recent La Crosse shootings, allegedly committed by people who have been in trouble before, but let off with much less than the maximum penalty. Police are frustrated, and no longer staying silent about it. Their concerns are understandable, as we all want a safe community. The criticism seems to be that judges are soft on crime. But there is more to the story than that. Many times deals are made between prosecutors and defense attorneys, where people plea to a lesser crime in exchange for avoiding a trial, which can be costly to taxpayers. Judges are also bound by state-imposed sentencing guidelines, so even if they wanted to lock someone away for life, they may not be able. It is important that our law enforcement and judicial system work together to keep La Crosse a safe place to live. But it is more than just our judges being soft. There are a lot of issues in play. We suggest that local police and court officials sit down, perhaps over beers, and work to find common ground, or at least a better understanding of the other's role. Because we want to make sure that only those who truly deserve them get second chances.

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Tuesday - April 18, 2017 9:23 am

Local taxpayers know best how to fund schools

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It is clear that Wisconsin citizens value a good public education. We see that in the number of referendums voters statewide have approved to provide the money needed to educate our children. Since 1990, Wisconsin school districts have approved more than 1600 school referendums worth more than $12 billion. That comes in the face of declining state aid for public schools. But some lawmakers in Madison want to severely restrict when school districts can go to voters in a referendum. This is unneeded, and unnecessarily punitive. The bills would not only limit when and how often local school referendums can be held. And school districts which convince voters of the need for more money for education would be penalized by the state. If this legislation is approved, if voters in the La Crosse school district approved a $5 million referendum, they would lose $1 million in state aid. Sponsors of this legislation say they would use that money to reward other Wisconsin school districts which are able to live within their means. Wisconsin schools shouldn't be punished for following the will of their citizens. If people in a school district agree to provide more money for education, because they want good schools, they shouldn't be penalized for that. Local voters know best, and should make their own choices about what is best for their schools and their tax dollars.

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