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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

July 30, 2018

Wisconsin State Journal, July 25

Cop question needs open, civil debate

Whether Madison should keep police officers in its high schools is an emotional issue involving the safety of our children.

But that emotion is no excuse for jeering at speakers during a public meeting, or blocking the public from recording what is said and by whom. Difficult decisions require civility and transparency so the best points and differing perspectives can be heard and considered.

That’s not what happened last week when a school committee meeting devolved into shouting and near fights between speakers. The disturbing and embarrassing display should not be repeated.

Our editorial board strongly favors keeping a school-based officer in each of the city’s main high schools to encourage safety and respond to calls for help. These officers, known as education resource officers, or EROs, get to know students so they can better defuse difficult situations that might otherwise lead to violence. Fights and classroom disturbances are increasing, school officials say, and a school police officer disarmed a student with a gun in February. With heightened fears of school shootings across the country, parents deserve the peace of mind an officer in a school building provides.

Critics claim the officers unfairly target minority students and criminalize behavior that could be better dealt with by school officials. We disagree, and so does most of the community. Last spring’s School Board election was the best indication of public sentiment, when a former police officer who strongly supported EROs defeated an incumbent board member who sounded skeptical.

Nonetheless, we respect the right of police critics to have their say. But they also should be willing to listen — and let others see and hear what is said.

A handful of disrupters at last week’s school meeting tried to block a conservative blogger from filming students who spoke. They stood in front of his cellphone camera and tried to block it with their hands and objects.

That was wrong, as the meeting’s chairman reminded attendees after a recess to try to calm the mood. Under state law, public meetings are just that — public. They can be recorded by anyone, unless committee members cite a narrow exemption for closing a meeting, which didn’t happen.

Those who worry about students being recorded at a public meeting should remember that the city itself routinely broadcasts proceedings, though not this one. And anyone can access the city’s footage on the internet. Moreover, news reporters — including our own — filmed parts of last week’s heated interactions. That’s the news media’s job: to let the public know what happens.

This decision requires more than public input. It requires calm and careful consideration, and respect for an open process that lets everyone assess varying views.

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The Capital Times, July 25

Why is Walker’s amen corner so afraid of Sarah Godlewski?

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his amen corner still haven’t gotten over the fact that Wisconsinites want an elected state treasurer — and that, by all accounts, voters would like to see the watchdog powers of this constitutional office renewed and expanded.

Republicans in the Legislature devoted themselves to trying to eliminate the treasurer’s office, and when the issue finally came before the voters in April — in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment — Walker was an enthusiastic campaigner for the change.

The voters had a different idea. They voted by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin to keep the treasurer’s office. The state’s most conservative counties voted with the state’s most progressive counties to keep it. And at least some sincere conservatives explained why, with state Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, saying, “I’m concerned about pulling a constitutionally authorized office away because I like having separation of powers. I like having independence. This is a role that, if you look at a lot of other states, they use it so that you can have good independent transparency into the government, into the finances of a government.”

Kapenga was right, but the Walker bots are still grumbling. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider just ripped into state treasurer candidate Sarah Godlewski for proposing to use the office to “double-check the Legislature” and to make sure companies like Foxconn “hold up their end of the bargain.”

He even suggested that Godlewski, a leading advocate for keeping the office, is not interested in cutting waste because she is seeking an office with limited powers. The trouble with this cheap shot from Walker’s cheering section is that it neglects the fact that Godlewski, a finance expert and small-business owner from Eau Claire, who worked for the undersecretary of Defense on projects that cut government waste, knows exactly how to make the most of the office.

Godlewski wants to use the treasurer’s office as a bully pulpit to talk about financial issues. And, at the same time, she wants to work with Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to expand the scope of the treasurer’s duties.

If we’re reading the will of the electorate right — and we are quite sure that we are considering the overwhelming vote to retain the treasurer’s office — it looks like Godlewski is proposing to give the people what they want. And what they want is a check and balance on politicians like Walker.

Which, we suspect, is precisely why Scott Walker wanted to eliminate the office, and why his cheerleading section is so critical of reformers like Sarah Godlewski.

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La Crosse Tribune, July 29

Find compromise to move, preserve statue

Since 1961, the “Hiawatha” statue has stood where three rivers meet at Riverside Park in La Crosse.

To some, the 25-foot statue created by a local artist is a symbol of our Native American legacy. To others, it’s an offensive caricature.

In the coming days, let’s hope it becomes a very important symbol for our community’s future.

Here’s hoping it can become a symbol of compromise, an example of what can happen when all parties get together to discuss solutions instead of grievances.

We understand why a number of family and friends don’t want to see the work of artist Anthony Zimmerhakl destroyed, but it may well be past the time that the statue find a new home.

We also understand those who find the statue — especially in its current location — disrespectful.

Mayor Tim Kabat, members of the Zimmerhakl family and members of the Ho-Chunk Nation met last week to explore options for moving the statue to private land elsewhere in the city.

As the mayor told Tribune reporter Jourdan Vian: “The big point, and one I think that everybody is in agreement about, is the desire to preserve the statue because of the fact that it was created by an artist. Regardless of whether people wanted to keep it in place or see it relocated, the statue should be preserved.”

But if we truly wish to honor Native Americans, we need to listen to concerns expressed by representatives of the Ho-Chunk Nation who say they find the statue offensive and demeaning.

Nostalgia aside, times change. We need to respect the objections.

As Ho-Chunk Nation member Tracy Littlejohn said, moving and preserving the statue “is a great compromise. That way there’s less hurt for the family, because I don’t want them to feel like I’m out to destroy their family’s artwork legacy. ... It’s not appropriate anymore, but I can appreciate wanting to keep that preserved.”

There are plenty of details that need to be worked out, from the cost of a move to a potential new location.

But it seems family members and Ho-Chunk representatives are open to ideas for preserving yet moving the statue.

Our community and our region have a great deal to accomplish in the coming months.

We need to find the best way of expanding the La Crosse Center and building on the momentum of a growing downtown entertainment district and the revenue it brings.

The solution requires a broad spectrum of constituencies working together to develop a collaborative plan.

We need to figure out the best way to improve service and cut costs by determining the best ways of regionalizing fire-protection and emergency services.

We understand area officials hope to meet again soon to continue the discussion.

Again, the spirit of compromise is important.

Maybe forging a collaborative approach to moving the “Hiawatha” statue can serve as a model for a variety of challenges our region faces.

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