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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

August 20, 2018

Kenosha News, Aug. 19

State shouldn’t dictate when school starts

We are now into the last half of August, and that means the start of school is not far off.

But it’s a lot farther off in Wisconsin than many other places.

While kids are already back in school in other areas, in Wisconsin, school won’t start until Sept. 4. And that’s because it’s a state law. Schools can apply for a waiver and those on a year-round schedule, a very small fraction statewide, can start earlier.

In 2000, the state Legislature dictated that public schools can’t start any earlier than Sept. 1. The rationale was that this would boost the state’s tourism industry, which lobbied hard to get the law enacted.

The thinking was more families could get in a last-minute vacation (though they would have to stay in Wisconsin to benefit the state’s tourism industry) while teenagers in tourism-related jobs could keep working.

When the law was being debated, some Kenosha County schools polled parents and found that many preferred starting school before Sept. 1.

“What’s best for people living in the Dells and those of us living in Kenosha may be two different things,” Kenosha Unified School District Superintendent Michael Johnson said in 1999 when the bill was being debated. “Each district should be able to decide what’s in its best interest.”

And how many families are squeezing in late-August vacations? With school looming and fall sports already well underway — high school football teams will have played one-third of their schedules before school opens — the timing isn’t good.

The result of this law means school goes past Memorial Day, and sometimes as late as the second week of June.

Apparently Memorial Day weekend tourism isn’t as important as late-August tourism.

And then there’s the Labor Day weekend. If this is all about tourism, shouldn’t the law state that school can’t start until after that three-day holiday weekend? It seems odd that some years, school is open for only a day or two before this three-day weekend comes along.

Republicans, in general, pride themselves on being supporters of limited government and local control. As both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office are controlled by Republicans, it seems they would favor ceding the school-start decision to the local level. However, a push in 2017 to end the law failed.

For some schools, starting later and ending later may be preferable. For others, the opposite may be true.

And that’s the point: The start of school should be decided on the local level, by those who know the families and needs of the community the best; it shouldn’t be dictated by the state.

It’s time for the Legislature to toss out this heavy-handed law and let local school boards do what is best for their districts.

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The Capital Times, Aug. 15

Paul Ryan has a constitutional duty to demote Devin Nunes

House Speaker Paul Ryan swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

This oath requires the Janesville Republican to remove Congressman Devin Nunes, R-California, from his position as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Ryan has the authority to remove Nunes. With the chairman’s admission that it is his intent to use his position to thwart oversight of the Trump administration, it is the speaker’s duty to restore proper order and functioning in the House.

If Ryan fails to act, immediately, then he shares full responsibility with Nunes for creating what must be understood as a constitutional crisis.

That crisis came into stark relief last week, when media outlets revealed the existence of a tape on which the chair of the intelligence committee explicitly signaled that his first loyalty was to President Donald Trump, and to the protection and preservation of Trump’s presidency at any cost.

The tape identified Nunes as precisely the sort of politician that the authors of the Constitution compelled us to guard against.

The rebels against monarchy who established the United States had many fears for their republican experiment. But their greatest was of a partisanship so rigid that it would replace respect for the rule of law with loyalty to a rogue president who might — with the assistance of a pliant Congress — make himself an “elected despot.”

The authors of the Constitution did not want their battle against King George III and his royalist cabal to end in the creation of an American kingdom — with all the intrigues, and all the corruptions of empire, that had so recently been dispatched.

James Madison warned of the faction that would “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Thomas Jefferson fretted that consolidation of power “will invite public agents to corruption, plunder and waste.” Thomas Paine counseled against “the sort of influence public or private” that might overwhelm “the influence of reason and principle.”

The Constitution that Madison and his compatriots outlined in the summer of 1787 established a system of checks and balances that was intended to thwart an imperial presidency that might replace the rule of law with the rule of a president who might seek to make himself “a king for four years.”

But the system cannot function when members of Congress are more committed to sustaining a monarchical president than to upholding their oaths to support and defend the Constitution.

Nunes made his misguided loyalty clear when he announced at a party fundraising event that Republicans must retain control of the House in order to protect the president. “If (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions won’t un-recuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones (who can protect Trump),” the California Republican explained on a tape obtained by “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Describing the prospect that a Congress led by Democrats might force Trump and his associates to answer for their wrongdoing, Nunes told donors at a lavish gathering, “We have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

The intelligence committee chair’s disregard for duty has been on display since Trump took office, as he has sometimes covertly, sometimes overtly collaborated with the White House in efforts to undermine inquiries into allegations against Trump and his associates. But the bluntness with which Nunes described the strategy — and the urgency with which he begged for financial support for an effort to retain power — exposed the committee chair as the sort of congressional miscreant that the founders most feared.

“Under our Constitution, the duty of Congress is not to clear the president. The duty of Congress is to be a check and balance on the executive branch, and to pursue the facts wherever they may lead,” California Congressman Ted Lieu, a former military prosecutor, explained on Thursday. Lieu, a Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, concluded that “Devin Nunes should resign for perverting the oath he took.”

Lieu is correct.

Unfortunately, Nunes is clinging to the position that allows him to serve Trump. That’s where Ryan’s duty kicks in.

Writing in Politico, Mieke Eoyang, a veteran who previously served as a professional staff member on a variety of national security-related congressional committees and who now serves as vice president of the National Security Program at Third Way, recently argued: “Ryan bears ultimate responsibility for Nunes’ bizarre and counterproductive behavior.”

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) “is one of the few remaining ‘select’ committees in Congress, meaning the speaker alone picks the committee chair and the membership for the Republicans,” explained Eoyang, who noted: “Under House rules, the speaker may, at any time, remove any member of a select committee at his or her discretion. In the past, members have been stripped of their committee assignments for causing problems for the leadership. Thus, unlike other committees, where the caucus or a steering committee has a say in the committee leadership, HPSCI is effectively under Ryan’s thumb. So he owns Nunes’ shameful handling of the Russia probe, and his hijinks on behalf of the White House.”

Will the speaker take the necessary steps to remove his colleague as chair of the intelligence committee? We understand why those who have followed Ryan’s miserable attempt at a speakership would be skeptical. Despite his pathetic protestations to the contrary, Ryan has proven to be Trump’s willing accomplice on issue after issue.

Now, however, Ryan faces a stark question: Is he more concerned with defending Trump and promoting Trumpism than he is with defending the Constitution and promoting the rule of law?

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Leader-Telegram, Aug. 19

Marijuana, driving a risky combination

Recreational marijuana may never be legal in Wisconsin.

That decision ultimately will be made by the people and their elected representatives in Madison. Nine states and Washington, D.C., however, have legalized the drug’s use.

Even in states that haven’t made the move, there’s a growing sense of acceptance surrounding marijuana. In fact, a Gallup poll last year showed that 64 percent of Americans support legalization.

Our initial concern is in regard to impaired driving. Last year in Wisconsin there were more than 24,200 traffic convictions for impaired operation of a motor vehicle.

That’s too many.

“While alcohol-impaired driving remains a concern, many states including Wisconsin have seen an increase in drugged driving,” the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said in a recent news release, “people whose ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is compromised by legal or illegal drugs including opioids, prescription and over-the-counter medications.”

A recent San Diego Union-Tribune editorial called for improved roadside testing of marijuana. Pot is legal in California.

The editorial cited a recent accident in saying it was “the latest incident to illustrate the absolute need to develop tests that can reliably detect marijuana intoxication. It’s crucial to public safety.”

We agree.

The Union-Tribune reported that San Diego police use Drager DrugTest 5000 machines that rely on oral swabs to confirm the presence of drugs in the body. Follow-up blood tests are conducted on positive tests.

However, the editorial also said the machines have “plenty of skeptics.”

“Some authorities in Australia and Ireland have lost faith in the devices’ accuracy and reliability,” the story read. “Closer to home, last year, an official with the Orange County district attorney’s office voiced similar concerns, citing unacceptably high numbers of false test results.”

The Eau Claire Police Department does not employ roadside testing for marijuana, but that doesn’t mean incidents of impaired driving due to pot are not on its radar. State law does not limit operating while intoxicated infractions to alcohol. Blood tests are the primary tool for determining the type of drug used and its concentration.

“We at the Eau Claire Police Department are looking for impairment regardless of what substance is used,” spokeswoman Bridget Coit said.

The ECPD also has two drug recognition experts who can be tasked with an investigation. Wisconsin has 276 of the experts overall, which is among the most in the nation, according to WisDOT. It added that 3,800 Wisconsin law enforcement officers have been trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE).

Hopefully, relaxed attitudes about pot will not translate to more cases of impaired driving. Whether or not recreational marijuana use ever comes to fruition in this state, it cannot become socially or legally acceptable to drive while high. If new approaches to roadside testing are called for in some jurisdictions, so be it. The potential cost — loss of life — is simply too high.

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