Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
Wisconsin State Journal, Oct. 1
Russian hacking attempt in Wisconsin unsettling
It took the U.S. Department of Homeland Security a year to inform Wisconsin officials that the Russian government had targeted the state’s voter registration system.
And when federal officials finally did convey the information this month to the state Elections Commission, state officials offered conflicting statements about what had actually happened.
The confusing episode was troubling, to say the least, and prompted questions about what the state has done and must do in the future to protect the integrity of Wisconsin’s vote.
Thankfully, no evidence so far suggests Russian hackers gained access to voter registration information here. Wisconsin also forbids its voting machines from being connected to the internet, making them very difficult to access or manipulate.
Still, the very idea that Russia would be targeting Wisconsin in any way, for any reason, should prompt state officials to redouble their efforts to protect our computer data and systems. State leaders also should ensure that election officials have the resources they need to defend against any further meddling.
Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-run Legislature dismantled the state’s strong, independent and nonpartisan Government Accountability Board last year — just a few months before the presidential election, and only a month before Russian scanning of state computers began.
That was poor timing for such a big change, because the GAB oversaw elections.
GOP leaders replaced the GAB with two partisan commissions — one overseeing elections, the other in charge of ethics. The new entities have fewer resources and less power to investigate and spend money. And last month, Gov. Walker vetoed funding for several Elections Commission positions from the state budget.
That was unwise.
State officials last week stressed that Wisconsin’s Division of Enterprise Technology routinely blocks scanning attempts of state computer systems, and it successfully stopped a potentially malicious ad from appearing on an Elections Commission computer that otherwise could have connected an unsuspecting user to “Russian government cyber actors.”
Wisconsin was one of 21 states that Russian entities targeted for computer vulnerabilities, according to Homeland Security.
Whatever the Russians were trying to do, their attempt to mess with Wisconsin’s election administration is highly disturbing. Moving forward, state officials must ensure that voting data and machines stay safe. And if that costs more money, voters should support higher expense for greater security.
For starters, the Elections Commission should encrypt the state’s voter registration website while strengthening its password protections. Election officials also should step up their monitoring of voting machines and any private vendors who service them.
The integrity of Wisconsin’s election system must be an even higher priority now that Russian hacking attempts have been uncovered so close to home and at the heart of our democracy.
The Capital Times, Sept. 27
Shame on Scott Walker for playing politics with public education
Scott Walker has led the state of Wisconsin for most of the past decade.
During the course of that decade, Walker has peddled nonsense theories about public education that would make Betsy DeVos — Donald Trump’s absurdly unqualified and destructive secretary of Education — wince. Walker is so far on the fringe of the education debate that he began his tenure as governor in 2011 by attacking educators and their unions. Then he claimed that deep cuts in school funding were necessary, even as he and his legislative allies found more than enough money for crony-capitalist boondoggles that benefited his political allies and campaign donors.
Walker has not neglected public education. He has been at war with public education.
And the damage has been done.
“On school funding, we must face the reality that for too many budget cycles public school funding has not been the priority for those in control. A decade ago, Wisconsin spent nearly 40 percent of its general tax dollars on public schools. Today, it has fallen to 32 percent. Obviously, this is a question of priorities,” explained Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in his annual State of Education address.
“And for the first time in my memory,” Evers continued, “Wisconsin has fallen below the national average in how much we spend on our kids’ education. While other states have aggressively restored funding for public education after the Great Recession, we have remained stagnant. Wisconsin has a long way to go to catch up.”
Because Evers has announced that he will challenge Walker in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Walker’s apologists rushed to dismiss the criticism. They actually claimed that funding for public education in Wisconsin has declined because Walker has been so successful in cutting benefits for teachers.
If Walker and his hectoring minions would actually talk to teachers and school board members, students and parents, they would be embarrassed to mount a “defense” of the governor that is not just laughable but cruel. They want to play politics, but Wisconsin schools are hurting — and the only reason they are not in worse shape is because voters across the state have supported referendums to fill at least some of the gaps created by the governor’s anti-education cuts.
As a political careerist who has been running for and occupying various public offices for a quarter century, Walker has never bothered to take a serious interest in education policy. Nor has he bothered to take seriously the expression of policy in the form of attention to detail when it comes to budgeting.
What Walker knows is politics. He knows how to raise lots of money from out-of-state billionaires. He knows how to run viscerally negative campaigns with that money. And he knows how to present himself at election time as a more sympathetic figure than the political opportunist that he is.
Walker plays on the right side of the political field because that’s where the money is, and for years he and his legislative allies have taken money from right-wing donors who promote the diminishment, downsizing and privatization of public education. He knows this is not popular, so he is always looking for ways to foster the fantasy that he is on the side of public school students, parents and teachers.
That’s what he has done with the current budget. Recognizing the reality that people are angry about the blows to local schools that have been inflicted by this administration, Walker and his legislative allies included a grudging increase in support for school districts in the budget — $639 million in a $76 billion spending plan.
It is not a sufficient restoration of funding.
It is not a sufficient investment in the future.
It is Walker playing politics. And don’t doubt for a second that, if he is re-elected, Walker will make more cuts.
Walker is so determined to play politics with education funding issues that he actually scheduled his campaign-style budget signing events for the day that Evers was delivering his State of Education address.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, slammed the governor for his petty political ploy, arguing, “Nothing says more about how little Governor Walker cares about schools in our communities than the fact he decided to sign his state budget right in the middle of a report on the state of schools in Wisconsin. After seven years of his administration’s cuts to education, the demonization of school teachers, and the belittling of intellectualism, this move is quintessential Walker: He puts politics before governance and self-preservation before the public good.”
Sargent, a parent with a long-term commitment to public education, was right to call the governor out.
She was also right when she declared: “Our kids deserve better this and the calamitous mess Governor Walker has made of public education in Wisconsin over the past seven years.”
The Janesville Gazette, Oct. 1
Better laws needed to curb drunken driving
When the Tavern League of Wisconsin supports a bill to “crack down” on repeat drunken drivers, that’s probably a sign the measure doesn’t go far enough to address the problem.
The bill in question calls for revoking for at least 10 years the driver’s licenses of people with four drunken driving offenses or those with two or more OWI offenses and two or more other “qualifying convictions,” such as vehicular homicide.
But the bill’s problem is that many repeat offenders already drive without a license. Why should the Legislature expect people with a track record of poor judgment to stop driving for lack of a valid driver’s license?
Local legislators asked about this bill offered other ideas for combating drunken driving.
“It is true that suspending or revoking a driver’s license won’t guarantee that the offender will not drive again,” said Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton. “When a person has repeat offenses of driving while intoxicated, it is an indicator of a serious addiction. Most people learn from a first mistake. Repeat offenders obviously do not. I believe we need to get tough with repeat offenders by requiring intensive treatment and rehabilitation over a period of years rather than weeks.”
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said the Legislature created during its last session a 24/7 sobriety program that’s led to meaningful reduction in drunken driving in other states with the same program.
She and Vruwink are on the right track with their emphasis on treating addiction, not criminalizing the addict.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, also advocates for treatment and proposed this session a bill that would help expand the number of sober-living residences in Wisconsin. He has also advocated for closing a loophole in state law related to ignition interlock devices.
Treating addiction isn’t a new concept, though many voters and politicians still believe punishing people with multiple drunken driving offenses is the way to go. Oddly enough, many legislators have opposed criminalizing first-time offenses and blanch at any bill to mandate ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders.
The Legislature takes a contradictory approach to drunken driving, seeking to severely punish repeat offenders but mostly leaving alone first-time offenders. While repeat offenders get the most attention (their mugshots appear regularly in The Gazette), first-time offenders cause the most crashes.
A 2014 Mothers Against Drunk Driving report, based on Wisconsin Department of Transportation data, found three out of four drunken drivers involved in serious or fatal crashes in Wisconsin from 1991 to 2002 didn’t have a record with a previous drunken-driving offense. (Politifact analyzed MADD’s claim and found it to be true.)
Even if all repeat offenders were removed from the road tomorrow, that wouldn’t solve Wisconsin’s drunken driving problem.
While more laws won’t necessarily stop drunken driving, better laws could discourage it. Laws are, after all, a reflection of cultural norms, and the inconvenient truth is Wisconsin drunken driving laws have been ineffectual because the culture prefers it that way.
A major hurdle to enacting effective laws is the myth that the state’s drinking culture benefits the economy, and groups such as the Tavern League of Wisconsin push this myth. But the opposite is true, as a 2013 study, “The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin,” highlights. It shows alcohol-related problems, from health care issues to lost worker productivity, cost the state $6.8 billion each year, or about $1,200 per person.
Awareness of alcohol’s devastating effects is growing, but the culture is changing too slowly. Legislators should show leadership by advocating for laws that would reduce the number of drunken drivers on the road.
Revoking the driver’s licenses of repeat offenders might play well with voters on the campaign trail, but let’s not pretend such a law actually discourages drunken driving.