Tag Archives: one wisconsin now

One Wisconsin Now rolls out ‘Rebellion’ activist calendar

One Wisconsin Now this week rolled out an online calendar for activists to post events and to find out what’s happening all across the state.

“There’s incredible energy and determination by the hardworking people of Wisconsin to fight back and to have their voices heard,” One Wisconsin Now program director Analiese Eicher said in a news release. “What we’ve put together is a great tool for people to use to publicize their events and to connect with other activists and work together.”

The calendar is at onewisconsinnow.org/rebellion/.

Using an online form, organizers can post information on the page hosted on One Wisconsin Now’s website about what, when and where they’ll be holding events and actions on national, state and community issues.

Events will be listed chronologically and users can access information about events that may be going on near them from a map of the state.

The calendar also allows users to sign up to attend actions and a notice will be sent to the event organizer.

Eicher said, “Our calendar is one more way to help people get out, speak up and fight back for our country, our state and our communities. The special interests may be getting their way with the Republicans in charge today with their lobbyists and their campaign cash. But that only works if we let them get away with it by staying home and staying quiet.”

Wis. Supreme Court urged to bar judges from cases involving their donors

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week postponed an open meeting about whether to bar judges, including those on the high court, from hearing cases involving people who donated significantly to their election campaigns.

The Supreme Court, whose 5-2 majority leans conservative, was scheduled to take up a petition on March 16 from 54 retired Wisconsin judges pushing for the rule change.

But the open meeting was postponed until April 20 after Brian McGrath, a lawyer for the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, emailed the court to say his group intends to show that the petition “should be dismissed without a further and wasteful investment of judicial and public resources” and plans to submit its arguments in writing in the next 30 days.

Jenni Dye, a research director at the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said in a statement she’s not surprised the court accommodated the group.

“The coalition of retired judges asking for this rule change were concerned about corruption or the appearance of corruption on the court,” she said. “That the court would go along with this request from a conservative group is further proof the rules need to change to insulate the justices from influence of special interests.”

The institute’s president, Rick Esenberg, said the court is doing what it should by waiting for input from various points of view.

“What could possibly be the problem with taking the time to listen to a petition from someone with another perspective?” he said.

Esenberg said his group plans to argue that tightening the rules would inhibit free speech by steering individual supporters away from contributing to campaigns and amplifying special interest groups.

“Speech cannot happen without resources,” he said. “If we’re going to have elections, we need to be able to have a public conversation.”

The postponement came the day a national campaign finance watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, sent a letter to the court urging it to adopt stricter rules, arguing that Wisconsin lags behind other states in preventing judicial conflicts of interest.

The Brennan Center for Justice also sent the court a letter this week urging a review of the rules.

Currently, donors can give up to $20,000 to Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates and a court can’t force judges to recuse themselves from cases with possible conflicts of interest.

Former Milwaukee County Judge Michael Skwierawski, who helped write the petition, said he’s troubled by the influx of money to judicial campaigns.

“It puts judges in a difficult position when all that extra money is forced on campaigns,” he said, adding that even judges who act in good faith risk having the appearance of their independence tarnished.

“Someone cannot simply pay for a judge’s election and expect the public to believe the judge could be fair on a case involving that party,” he said.

The petition suggested requiring judges to recuse themselves if they have received campaign donations from any parties in the case of varying amounts, ranging from $10,000 for state Supreme Court justices to $500 for municipal judges. The proposal would include in the total any expenditures made to influence the outcome of an election, including those to third parties, though Esenberg expressed doubts about whether this would be viable. If more than four judges are recused for a case, the proposal suggests allowing an appeals court judge or retired Supreme Court justices to hear a case to ensure four judges.

Candidates currently are also free to coordinate with outside interest groups who spend money on so-called issue advocacy but stop short of endorsing specific candidates. That stems from a 2015 Wisconsin Supreme Court case centered on whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside interest groups.

Now-retired Justice David Prosser, one of three conservative judges to halt the investigation, acknowledged at the time that some groups under investigation had helped his campaign, but he refused to recuse himself, saying the spending happened years ago.

 

DeVos supporter emerges from primary to run for Wisconsin schools chief

As in the rest of the nation, Wisconsin’s public school system is under assault from corporate America and the religious right, who’d sacrifice the nation’s youth to an educational theory that puts the market in control of academic quality.

Fortunately, on Feb. 22, voters went to the polls and rejected the radical agenda of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her Wisconsin acolytes. In a three-way nonpartisan primary race, incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a champion of public schools, won 69 percent of the vote over two DeVos enthusiasts.

Lowell Holtz, retired superintendent of the Whitnall School District, came in second in the race with 23 percent of the vote. Former Dodgeville school administrator John Humphries placed third with 7 percent of the vote.

But Evers still has a general election to face on April 4, and far-right interests could pour unseemly amounts of money into defeating him. While he’s gained wide respect among moderates and liberals during his two terms in office, we have seen in the state how strong of a force dark money can be in elections, especially in down-ticket races.

We urge readers to get behind Evers’ campaign now and encourage others to study the issues and facts in this vital race. Ravaged by budget cuts and social injustice, our public school systems need an experienced, competent leader such as Evers rather than another flak beholden to corporate interests.

Both of Evers’ primary challengers supported DeVos’s plan to starve the public school system of funding by redirecting tax dollars to for-profit voucher and religious schools that operate free of standards, regulations and union protections for teachers.

DeVos was highly successful at developing charter schools in her native Michigan. Most of them, however, have recorded student test scores in reading and math below the state average.

DeVos was the chair of the American Federation of Children, which since 2010 has spent at least $4.5 million on campaigns in Wisconsin to elect Republicans and other school choice advocates, according to One Wisconsin Now.

Among the many problems with voucher schools: They can use taxpayer dollars to support religious institutions and their beliefs to students. For instance, they could take taxpayer dollars and use them to replace the teaching of science and evolution with the teaching of “creationism.” They could eliminate sex education and promote the view that homosexuality is a sin and women must obey men.

They could teach history courses that overlook slavery, the contributions of immigrants and other issues despised by right-wing revisionists.

DeVos told The Gathering, a philanthropic group that promotes fundamentalist Christianity, “Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Do we want a state superintendent who supports that line of thinking? Holtz is in awe of Donald Trump’s choice of DeVos as Education Secretary. He called it a “great opportunity to help schools across the nation by reducing regulatory burdens.”

Education experts disagree. She’s never stepped foot inside a public school. She’s never been involved in education. She’s so unqualified for the position Trump gave her that two GOP senators voted against her confirmation, resulting in an evenly split vote of 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote giving her a position that puts the nation’s entire K-12 education system at risk.

UGLY SPECTACLE

In addition to his misguided adulation of DeVos, Holtz comes with other baggage. During the primary, he and Humphries battled publicly over a backroom deal they were working on with an undisclosed “business leader.” The deal’s goal was to get one of them to drop out of the race in exchange for a bribe worth $500,000.

When the deal negotiations went public, the two candidates turned against each other with a vengeance, each blaming the other. It was an ugly spectacle, unworthy of candidates seeking great influence over Wisconsin’s youth.

“Both revealed their willingness to jettison ethics and commitment to public service at the slightest hint of political advantage,” said One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross.

Perhaps this is the sort of decadence that defines the Trump era. But Wisconsin is better than that. Go to tonyforwisconsin.com and learn what you can do to help.

 

 

Judge strikes down Wisconsin election laws that thwart Democratic voters

A federal judge has thrown out a number of Wisconsin election laws passed in recent years, ruling they’re unconstitutional and serve no purpose except to unfairly benefited Republicans by making it more difficult for Democrat-leaning groups to vote.

Unlike rulings against similar election laws enacted by Republicans in North Carolina and Texas, U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s ruling did not eliminate Wisconsin’s voter identification law. But he ordered the state to quickly issue valid voter credentials for anyone who seeks a free photo ID but lacks documents, such as birth certificates, that are required under the Republican law.

Peterson call the state’s current process for getting free IDs to people who lack such documents “a wretched failure,” because it left a number of overwhelmingly black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs, The Associated Press reported.

Peterson also struck down election laws limiting municipalities to one location for in-person absentee voting and limiting in-person early voting to weekdays. He said that denying the right to vote on weekends intentionally discriminates against blacks in Milwaukee.

Peterson also struck down: an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days; a prohibition on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote; and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email.

“Wisconsin has the authority to regulate its elections to preserve their integrity, and a voter ID requirement can be part of a well-conceived election system,” Peterson wrote. “But … parts of Wisconsin’s election regime fail to comply with the constitutional requirement that its elections remain fair and equally open to all qualified electors.”

Peterson’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by two liberal groups — One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund Inc. They argued that the election laws were unconstitutional and discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters — all of whom are more inclined to vote Democratic. They presented evidence at trial to show that Republicans passed the laws not in reaction to voter fraud, which is not a problem in the state but rather to suppress Democratic turnout.

Defense attorneys countered that the laws, all passed since Walker and Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2011, have not suppressed turnout and that the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.

“We argued Gov. Walker made it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat, and the judge agreed,” said Scott Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, an arm of One Wisconsin Institute.

Hillary for Wisconsin released a statement praising Peterson’s decision..

“Attempts to restrict the democratic rights of Americans were defeated,” said Jake Hajdu, state director. “Now, Wisconsin residents who are eligible to vote, will be able to participate in our democracy and cast their constitutionally protected ballot.

“Hillary Clinton believes we must do everything we can to make it easier — not harder — for Americans to vote. And we cannot take our democratic rights for granted. The stakes are too high in this election. It is a choice between building walls between us and tearing people down or an optimistic and unifying vision where everyone has a role to play in building our future.”

The changes ordered to the laws cannot be implemented in time for the Aug. 9 primary elections in the state. But Peterson ordered them to be in place by the November general election.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s  Republican leaders are not giving up their fight to make it harder for likely Democratic voters to cast ballots. The state Department of Justice, which defended the laws, told AP that the agency plans to appeal to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

[UPDATED: Adds response to the decision from Hillary for Wisconsin.]

Pro-Walker group expanding focus nationally

A conservative Wisconsin group that’s filed lawsuits in defense of several of Gov. Scott Walker’s most contentious proposals announced plans to expand its work nationally.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s new Center for Competitive Federalism will focus on filing lawsuits and issuing policy statements targeting what it sees as federal overreach, leaders of the effort said at a Capitol news conference.

Three right-wing Republican office holders in the state — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Sen. Duey Stroebel and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga — participated in the announcement and praised the group’s work.

Likening the federal government to “Big Brother,” Stroebel said he hoped the initiative would bring about a national effort to reject federal government overreach “so we can all push back together.”

Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and chief attorney, said the national push would be funded over three years with $800,000 from the Bradley Foundation, which until his retirement this year had been led by Michael Grebe, Walker’s former campaign chairman.

The foundation is providing an additional $300,000 to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which is partnering with WILL on the new center.

Noting the connection to Walker, the leader of a liberal advocacy group said WILL’s new venture was created to advance the governor’s agenda.

“All the lawsuits and propaganda they file isn’t going to change the fact that Gov. Walker has failed the people of Wisconsin over and over and over again,” said Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now.

WILL has been active in helping defend some of the highest-profile, conservative laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker in recent years.

The group fought against lawsuits filed by unions that tried unsuccessfully to stop Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

It also sided with Walker in a lawsuit seeking an end to a secret John Doe investigation into his 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups that supported him. That probe ended after a conservative state Supreme Court declared nothing illegal occurred.

Esenberg, at the news conference, took a jab at the presumptive presidential nominees in both parties, saying if either of them were involved in trying to draft the Constitution today it would be a “hot mess.”

He and others at the news conference cited numerous examples of what they said was overreach of the federal government, including initiatives by President Barack Obama to enact clean power plant laws, expand Medicaid and guarantee transgender public school students access to bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

“We’re seeing the results of the federal government gone wild in the United States of America,” Stroebel complained.

Ross said the arguments made against powers of the federal government were “exactly the same as those made in the 1950s and 1960s by those trying to deny African Americans the same protections as white people under the law.”

Right-wing money starts pouring in for Rebecca Bradley’s Supreme Court bid

Outside groups have started pumping money into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

The conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent at least $234,660 on a statewide ad buy supporting Justice Rebecca Bradley, according to research released by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform released a 30-second issue ad this week touting Bradley’s merits. A supporter and donor of Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley is a former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group. She’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association.

She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

Groups don’t need to report spending on such ads to the state. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice compiled a spending estimate using files television broadcasters have uploaded to the Federal Communications Commission.

The researchers didn’t find any groups spending on behalf of Bradley’s opponents, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and 4th District Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. They also didn’t have an estimate of how much Wisconsin Alliance for Reform may have spent on cable buys; the FCC doesn’t track political ads on cable systems.

Justice at Stake is a national nonpartisan group that focuses on keeping courts impartial. The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan institute in the New York University School of Law.

Liberal group One Wisconsin Now said its research shows Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent closer to $400,000 on ads. One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne said the group queried every Wisconsin television station and cable system. He said the group didn’t search for groups supporting Bradley’s opponents.

Outside groups have spent millions trying to influence the last three Supreme Court races, according to estimates from government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. They spent $4.5 million ahead of the 2011 election between incumbent Justice David Prosser and Kloppenburg; $1.2 million in the 2013 race between incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone; and $169,000 in last year’s race between incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and challenger James Daley. That race was far quieter and drew far less attention than the two previous contests, however.

Bradley, Donald and Kloppenburg have a Feb. 16 primary, with the top two advancing to the April 5 general election. Wisconsin Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, although Bradley has ties to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed her as a Milwaukee County judge and an appellate judge before tapping the inexperienced justice to replace Justice Patrick Crooks after he died suddenly in his chambers last September.

Justice at Stake spokeswoman Laurie Kinney said outside spending in state Supreme Court races raises questions about justices’ impartiality and whether they feel beholden to groups that support them.

“If you have a justice who arrives on the bench courtesy of millions of dollars of spending by an outside interest group, what is the effect going to be on that person’s professional performance?” Kinney said. “It’s deleterious to the administration of justice.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform describes itself on its website as a “coalition of concerned citizens and community leaders committed to creating greater economic opportunities for Wisconsin families.” Asked why the group had chosen to back Bradley, spokesman Chris Martin said by email that she embodies the leadership and courage the group expects from justices.

That raises the question of where Bradley has demonstrated courage and leadership. Walker appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of experience on the bench, to every judicial position that she’s held in her career, which dates back only four years.

Despite her glaring lack of expeience, Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due. To most people, that suggests a crony-style inside track on the job rather than anything resembling leadership and courage. 

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

More outside spending looks to be on the way. Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month that the group plans to get involved in the race. The group spent nearly $2 million on ads supporting the conservative-leaning Prosser and Roggensack, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group spent nothing to help Daley.

Manley didn’t immediately return a telephone message The Associated Press left at his office. In September Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Vice President Jim Pugh called Bradley “the leading conservative for the high court,” suggesting the group’s spending this time will go to support her.

Complaint filed over Walker’s denial of requests for public records

A Wisconsin open government group filed a complaint Monday against the state’s Public Records Board, saying it improperly approved changes that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has used to deny requests for text messages and records of visits to the governor’s mansion.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the group has been “troubled by the broad application” of the board’s action, which included changing the definition of “transitory records.”

“I don’t think it’s clear the board intended to give the Walker administration authority to destroy text messages and a visitor’s log at will,” he said.

The complaint alleges the board didn’t provide sufficient notice of the content of its August meeting and that members didn’t record motions or roll call votes. “They didn’t go about this right,” Lueders said.

Transitory records are deemed to be of such temporary usefulness that they don’t need to be retained for any specific period, according to the filing.

One day after the Aug. 24 board meeting, the rule changes were cited in the denial of an open records request from the Wisconsin State Journal. The newspaper was seeking any texts pertaining to a $500,000 loan that a state agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., gave to Building Committee Inc., a struggling construction company run by a Walker donor.

The rule changes also were raised in response to a request from One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group seeking a list of visitors to the governor’s residence. The Department of Administration released a partial list and said other records had been deemed transitory and hadn’t been retained.

The complaint was filed through the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutor Ismael Ozanne didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Monday that the governor’s office willingly complies with open records law and noted that the Public Records Board receives no direction from Walker’s office.

Neither Georgia Thompson, who heads the Public Records Board, nor the Department of Administration immediately responded to phone messages seeking comment. A phone number listed for Building Committee Inc. had been disconnected.

Lueders said that given the scope of their impact, the changes shouldn’t have been made by the Public Records Board. Instead, he said, they should have been handled by the Legislature or through a formal rule change, both of which would involve public comment and debate.

“They need to go back to square one,” he said, “and begin again.”

Did Walker use governor’s mansion as ‘de facto’ presidential campaign headquarters?

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration said Thursday that Capitol Police did not maintain records of who visited the governor’s mansion prior to the filing of an open records requests by a liberal advocacy group.

One Wisconsin Now asked in April for copies of the visitor log dating back to Nov. 5, the day after Walker won re-election. The group is investigating whether Walker was illegally engaging in fundraising for his presidential campaign in the mansion.

Walker’s administration on Wednesday released visitor logs between April 8 and Aug. 26, but not those from Nov. 5 to April 7, as requested.

In an email to One Wisconsin Now sent Thursday, Walker attorney Elisabeth Winterhack said the visitor logs are transitory and not required under the law to be kept beyond the next day. She said it was an aberration that Capitol Police just happened to have the logs going back to early April so those were provided. But nothing earlier than that exists, she said.

“Their own behavior in retaining months of these records belies their own ridiculous argument,” said One Wisconsin Now director Scot Ross.

Walker’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email asking for details on why the records through Aug. 26 that were turned over to One Wisconsin Now had been kept, or whether such logs are currently being retained.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the records fall under a section of the open records law that requires “Calendars, schedules, diaries and/or meeting logs used to document meetings and appointments” to be retained for three years and then archived.

Walker and Republican legislative leaders secretly tried to eliminate the state’s open records law earlier this year, but pulled back after their plans were made public, setting off a public outcry.

Lueders said it was “mind blowing” that a sitting governor who was running for president wouldn’t have records showing who visited the mansion.

“If Nixon could get in hot water over an 18 ½-minute gap in audiotape, Walker has some serious explaining to do about the loss or purposeful destruction of five months’ worth of executive residence visitors logs,” Lueders said.

He also criticized Walker’s office for waiting six months to fulfill a request that Lueders said should have taken six hours.

The records that were released show Walker’s presidential campaign staff routinely visited the executive residence, located along the shores of Lake Mendota in the Madison enclave of Maple Bluff, in the months leading up to the July launch of his candidacy. Those regular visitors included Walker’s presidential campaign manager Rick Wiley, communications director Kirsten Kukowski and other advisers Tom Evenson, Bridget Hagerty and Mike Gallagher.

Walker turned the mansion into a “de facto campaign headquarters,” Ross said.

State law allows for the governor to meet with his campaign staff at the taxpayer-funded mansion, as long as they don’t engage in campaign fundraising there. Walker complied with the law during the visits, said his spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster.

Walker officially launched his presidential campaign on July 13 and quit on Sept. 21.

One Wisconsin Now: ‘Walker is whistling Dixie’ on Confederate flag debate

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to declare his candidacy for president later this summer, declined over the weekend to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds in South Carolina in the aftermath of the racially-motivated killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

Walker said the matter was a “state issue.”

And the progressive group One Wisconsin Now responded.

Executive director Scot Ross said in a news release, “Scott Walker is whistling Dixie when he calls the flying of the Confederate flag on government property a ‘state issue.’ We’ve heard that rhetoric before — it was used to defend the worst abuses of power and shameful discrimination in our nation’s history.

“There’s no denying the racism and oppression represented by the Confederate flag and there’s no defense for its display in public, on public property. It is appalling that Scott Walker is so blinded by his political ambition he’s willing to abide the flying of a flag that symbolizes racism, hatred and oppression.”

Governor-Scott-Walker

Scott Walker wished Jewish man “malatov”

Whether it’s an issue of cultural misunderstanding or a case of spellcheck run wild, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a grand faux pas in responding to a letter from Jewish Milwaukee attorney Franklyn Gimbel.

The liberal group One Wisconsin Now found the undated letter among thousands of documents released in August from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor’s campaign ethics.

In the letter, Walker responded to Gimbel that he’d be happy to display a menorah celebrating “The Eight Days of Chanukah” at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Walker went on to ask Gimbel to have someone contact his secretary to work out the details.

Walker closed the letter by saying, “Thank you again and Molotov.”

Walker said that he meant to write, “mazel tov,” which means good luck in Hebrew and is used by Jews as a congratulatory phrase.

The word “molotov” is generally used in conjunction with “cocktail” to refer to a homemade bomb made with a bottle.