Be WIZM INSIDER

* indicates required
 
As I See It
As I See It

As I See It

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

It is bad enough that Wisconsin's Attorney General spoke to an organization accused of being a hate group. What is worse is his efforts to cover it up. Attorney General Brad Schimel traveled to a California resort to be among the speakers at a convention of the group Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization. That group has in the past supported the idea of criminalizing homosexuality, leading to calls that they are a hate group. Financial disclosure filings show Schimel's $4100 trip was paid for by Alliance Defending Freedom. But apparently he didn't want us to find out about it. He told his staffers his attendance at the conference was personal, not work-related, and that no portion of his travel should be considered public information. He insisted the agenda for his talks not be made public. That is troubling. As Wisconsin's Attorney General, Schimel oversees state laws regarding transparency in government, and he has made improving government transparency a prominent part of his campaign. How can he effectively do that if he is trying to hide from the public the fact that he accepted a free trip to speak before what many consider a hate group? It appears that when it comes to government transparency in Wisconsin, the fox is guarding the hen house.

Comment

It would almost be easier if they just stopped pretending. Pretending to do something to make sure the nation’s schools are safe. Oh sure, President Trump has appointed a commission on school safety. It was formed in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shootings, designed to find ways to prevent mass shootings in schools. So, how is it going? The commission, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has met just twice in the three months since it was formed. The most recent meeting was last Thursday, one day before 10 more lives were lost in a school shooting in Texas. Two meetings in three months is hardly making solving the problem an urgent priority. The commission is filled with politicians, all cabinet secretaries under President Trump. Those who spoke at Thursday’s briefing were so-called experts, primarily consultants. There are no educators represented, and no parents. One might think this whole commission is simply designed to serve as a stall tactic, delaying the thorny debate over gun control. Meanwhile, there have been 10 school shootings in the U.S. since Parkland. If our government is only going to appoint a commission that rarely meets and doesn’t represent all points of view, it seems we are a long way off from completing the goal of putting an end to mass shootings in our schools.

Comment

Friday - May 18, 2018 6:00 am

Resume talks about regional fire department

Written by

It is a sensitive subject for sure, but there couldn't be a better time for resuming discussions about creating a regional fire department in La Crosse. La Crosse has held talks in the past with neighboring communities about the regional fire department concept, and those talks haven't always gone well. But those talks should resume again. A regional fire department could lead to better response times. A weekend fire in the town of Campbell saw Campbell's volunteer firefighters responding in seven minutes. Had La Crosse been called to help, they could have been there in three minutes. Our firefighters say they would be happy to help. And both Holmen and Onalaska are currently searching to fill vacant fire chief positions. That makes this the perfect time to resume discussions. And the city of La Crosse is considering building new fire stations in the city. That is still a ways off, but it makes sense to talk about regional fire service before we determine whether to build any new firehouses, and where they would be located. A regional agency could save taxpayer's money and reduce response times. Let's put the politics aside and be willing to consider the idea. Now is the perfect time.

Comment

Dozens of people got on a bus the other day for a trip around La Crosse County to find out just what conditions our roads are in. To no one's surprise, they found our roads are in really bad shape. They probably didn't need to get on the bus to figure that out. It was really more of a demonstration to bring attention to our rough roads and to plead for more state money to fix them. The trip, dubbed the Rough Road Tour, was organized by the Transportation Development Association, one of six planned across Wisconsin. It is no surprise that those on board found our roads to be in poor shape. But we did learn that buses in the West Salem school district are seeing bent rimis, shattered glass and mirrors flying off when they carry the kids over all those potholes. But still there are no plnas to provide more money for roads. La Crosse County maintains 282 miles of road, and more than 50% of those roads are in need of improvement. Some, like the city of La Crosse, are taking matters into their own hands, paying to fix state highways that Madison will not. We didn't need this tour to know our roads are bad, but it was a stark reminder of just how bad they are, and how far we are from being able to fix them.

Comment

It can no longer be debated. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is more concerned about not raising the state's gas tax than he is in fixing the state's crumbling roads. Walker didn't even mention transportation needs as a priority when he spoke at last week's Republican party convention and outlined his plans for a third term. Perhaps that is because Walker doesn't have a plan to develop a long-term solution for identifying road funding money. This is hardly a new issue. Five years ago, led by the then DOT Secretary, a commission confirmed what two prior studies had found; that the state's roads are rapidly deteriorating and there is not enough money to fix them. And things certainly haven't gotten better since. The fight over transportation spending ground debate over a state budget to a halt last summer. While a number of key lawmakers, including republicans, have called for raising the gas tax or creating toll roads as a way to raise needed revenue, Walker continues to dig in his heels. He refuses to recognize that borrowing to pay for only the most essential road work and putting off other projects only means the costs will go up in the future. Meanwhile, our roads continue to get worse. It is estimated that without more money, 42% of Wisconsin's state highways would be considered poor or worse condition by 2023, nearly double today's rate. We won't see any improvement until Walker finally decides to get his head out of the sand and provide real leadership on this issue.

Comment

It is clear we need to do a better job looking out for one another. That is because in Wisconsin, and across the country, pedestrian deaths are on the rise. In fact, pedestrian fatalities increased sharply last year. The Wisconsin DOT says there were 59 pedestrian fatalities in the state in 2017, up from 49 the year before. That mirrors what is happening across the country, where pedestrian deaths are also on the rise. Nearly 6000 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads each year. There are likely a number of factors, with both drivers and walkers sharing the blame. People who are intoxicated may choose to walk to get home safely, but impaired pedestrians may not be aware of their surroundings. Some are too glued to their phone or tuned out with their earbuds in. Drivers too are on the phone too much, or just refuse to yield to pedestrians, or speed through red lights. And in La Crosse, more and more people are choosing to live downtown, increasing the likelihood they will be walking rather than driving to many of their destinations. We can all do better. As drivers, we need to slow down for walkers, yield to bicyclists, put down our phones, and generally observe the rules of the road. Walkers need to pay more attention to their surroundings, and only cross in well-lit areas. We can reverse this trend of increasing pedestrian deaths, if we just do a better job looking out for one another.

Comment

It was as swift as it was surprising. The Wisconsin Department of Justice wisely wasted no time in clarifying the rules on hemp farming in Wisconsin. Attorney General Brad Schimel declared that Wisconsin farmers can continue to grow hemp, and extract and sell CBD oil from the harvest. That was anything but certain over the past month, with Schimel warning hemp farmers they could be prosecuted for selling CBD oil to help those suffering from a variety of ailments. Those farmers can breathe easy now, with no more uncertainty about whether they would be heading to jail. But more importantly, this decision came quickly. Schimel met with the authors of the legislation legalizing hemp farming in Wisconsin, as well as the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. They didn’t have to appoint any blue ribbon commissions, or hold hearings. They simply gathered the people who authored the law and asked what they meant when they wrote it. Schimel didn’t take months to render a decision. It came instantly. This is how government should work. Those involved deserve credit for making Wisconsin hemp again.

Comment

Even for politics, this is a new low. United States Senate hopeful Leah Vukmir of Wisconsin hopes to replace incumbent Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin. And apparently she thinks she is a terrorist. Vukmir has issued a news release comparing Baldwin to the man behind the 9/11 attacks. It even features a photoshopped picture of the two side by side. It labels Senator Baldwin and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as part of “Team Terrorists.” The release criticizes Baldwin for remaining silent on whether she will support President Trump's nominee to head the CIA. Gina Haspel is being criticized, by both democrats and republicans, for role in the torture of those accused of terrorism, and of destroying tapes which should suspects being waterboarded. For her part, Baldwin says she hasn't decided whether to vote for Haspel's nomination because she hasn't had a chance to meet the nominee. Baldwin is free to vote however she wants on the nomination. That is not the point. The point is that United States Senator Tammy Baldwin is not a terrorist. She has never been a terrorist. And it is beyond unfair to label her as such, even in a political fight. That is beyond the pale. Vukmir should apologize for her outrageous comments. They are unbecoming for someone who hopes to represent this state in the U.S. Senate.

Comment

Thursday - May 10, 2018 9:21 am

Hemp farming rules clear as mud

Written by

A new Wisconsin law is about as clear as the mud in which farmers are planting hemp seeds. Wisconsin lawmakers removed a ban on hemp farming six months ago. Farmers can grow and sell it for the first time in 75 years. Wisconsin now has its first hemp store, a place called Priceland Hemp in Black River Falls. The store opened two weeks ago, and it was clear early on there is a demand. Nearly 1000 people visited Priceland Hemp in its opening weekend. But now store owner Joel Peterson is being warned by Wisconsin's Attorney General that he may be operating illegally. That is because in addition to selling hemp bracelets and other products, he is also selling CBD oil. The state says selling or posessing CBD oil, which comes from hemp and is used as a natural remedy for a number of ailments, including cancer, is illegal. Many of the customers at Peterson's store are people seeking relief from their pain. But the Attorney General's ruling means Peterson's store could be shuttered, or he could face criminal charges. That is not what lawmakers intended when they passed the law, and there is too much confusion about what the law really says. Wisconsin legislators should get back to work and provide clarification so that hemp farmers are allowed to sell CBD oil. Those who want to buy it aren't looking for a high, as it doesn't contain enough THC for that. They simply want to finally get some relief from whatever ailments they suffer from. The state shouldn't get in the way of that.

Comment

Finally, the nation's longest standing judicial vacancy could be filled. But it should have been done long ago, and it shouldn't be done this way. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has had a vacant seat since 2009. No court in the nation has had a seat open for that long. The 7th Circuit court covers Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. A vote in Washington this week could end that vacancy. The Senate Majority Leader has scheduled what is referred to as a cloture vote for this week, meaning debate on the nominations would be cut off. That would clear the way for Milwaukee attorney Michael Brennan to fill that seat, an appointment for life. Brennan was nominated by President Trump after two previous nominees by President Obama failed to receive a vote in the Senate. The Brennan nomination bypasses a tradition that several republicans, including Brennan, defended when Obama nominated candidates they didn't like. Once again, they are ignoring the rules to further their own interests. Nominating federal judges should not be a partisan game. Senators should, without delay, hold nomination hearings for appointed judicial candidates. And they should do so without regard to who nominated them, but rather their qualifications for the job. It is good this longstanding vacancy may finally be filled, but it should be done much more quickly and more fairly.

Comment

Page 1 of 41