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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

August 19, 2019

Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Aug. 18

Don’t skimp on protecting the 2020 elections

Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the last presidential election, has been emphatic about the need to protect our democracy.

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller told a pair of House committees in Washington last month. “They are doing it while we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

So what’s the closely watched state of Wisconsin, which could decide the 2020 race, doing about it?

Not enough.

Hundreds of local clerks who oversee polling places across Wisconsin have outdated computer systems or aren’t installing security patches, The Associated Press reported Aug. 9. If those computers aren’t protected, they will create “tremendous risk” when logged into the state’s election system, Tony Bridges, the state’s election security lead, wrote in a memo to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. A cyberattack could expose confidential information, stop absentee ballots, destroy records and prevent display of election results.

“The strength or weakness of any one workstation could affect the security of the entire state’s elections infrastructure and the public’s confidence in the integrity of the Wisconsin elections,” Bridges wrote.

That sounds serious. Yet the partisan Wisconsin Elections Commission last week refused to fund a significant part of Bridges’ proposed solution.

The commission wisely agreed to purchase software to test the vulnerability of computers that log into its system, which could cost $69,000 annually. It also authorized a technical support position that could cost $100,000, and an educational ad campaign at $341,000, the AP reported.

What the commission rejected was a staff request for $300,000 for 250 loaner computers for local clerks. Instead, it authorized only 25 machines, with some commissioners quibbling over cost and contending local clerks who fail to upgrade on their own shouldn’t be rewarded with new computers.

We get their point, but the integrity of our election system is at stake here. Ensuring a fair presidential primary and general election next year is much more important than trying to save a few bucks.

Mueller’s lengthy report to Congress specifically cited Wisconsin as one of several battleground states that former Trump campaign manager (and now convicted felon and prison inmate) Paul Manafort discussed with a Russian political consultant during the 2016 race.

The Russian government targeted Wisconsin’s voter registration system in 2016. Luckily, the hackers didn’t gain access.

The Elections Commission, to its credit, subsequently installed more authentication requirements to its system. But it shouldn’t skimp on further enhancements. The state still has some of a $7 million federal grant to help it improve security.

Mueller, who ran the FBI for more than a decade, told Congress he’s seen many threats to American democracy during his long career.

“The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious,” he warned.

Wisconsin must rise to the challenge with an intense and sweeping defense of next year’s votes. The Elections Commission should error on the side of safety, even if that requires more and better computers for local clerks at greater expense.

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Kenosha News, Aug. 12

Senate should finish job on legislation that would control prescription drug costs

It was a snapshot of partisan gridlock, our weekly roll call report of key votes in Washington.

Last week’s report showed the House was on recess but the Senate had 10 key votes. Most concerned judges in different states but others were about U.N. ambassador and the budget plan.

Looking closely at it, Wisconsin’s two senators could not agree on a single vote. Not one.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the Democrat, voted no on all but the budget and Sen. Ron. Johnson, the Republican, voted yes on all but the budget.

Most weekly roll call reports show some agreement, at least on one or two votes, but not this time. And really, this one told the story of Washington on many, many issues.

Given the great partisan divide, can we encourage our senators, and all members of Congress, to find a couple of issues to rally around? Issues that matter to Americans.

While everyone is talking about gun issues and whether Washington can do anything about it this time, there’s another obvious issue that merits action.

The escalating cost of prescription drugs — a topic of two columns on this page last Thursday — already is gaining some bipartisan support in Washington. And for good reason.

The average drug price increase in the first six months of this year was 10.5%, wrote Sam Wilson, AARP state director. He encouraged Baldwin and Johnson to lead the way and support the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, which passed the Senate Finance Committee with strong support in July.

“In March AARP launched a nationwide campaign called ‘Stop Rx Greed’ to rein in prices for all Americans,” Wilson wrote. “The bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drugmakers whose price hikes outpace inflation.”

In the other column, first published in The Los Angeles Times, two writers discussed the Trump administration’s initiative to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

“The latest initiative would allow states, pharmacies and drugmakers to seek federal approval for demonstration projects to import drugs that are similar or identical to drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” wrote Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, and John J. Cohrssen, an attorney.

It sounds good, but many Republicans oppose this and the Trump administration’s previous attempts at some form of price controls have failed.

This is an issue, unlike many, that has people on both sides of the aisle interested in getting something done.

The Senate can finish the job on the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when it returns from recess, and we look forward to seeing yes votes by Baldwin and Johnson. That would be progress on an issue that matters to Americans.

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The Capital Times, Madison, Aug. 12

ICE leaving children in tears offends our values

The images of children crying out for their missing parents after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 680 immigrant workers after raids at food processing plants across Mississippi were horrifying. And it is vital to ensure that this horror not be echoed in Wisconsin.

The Mississippi raids should be understood in context, as Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of the Wisconsin-based immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, reminds us.

“In less than a week we’ve seen mass shootings rooted in white nationalism, and a mass raid of hundreds of immigrant workers and parents,” explained Neumann-Ortiz. “These events have been directly and indirectly provoked by the Trump administration. They are intended to intimidate, degrade and incite further violence and separation of families.”

Neumann-Ortiz said, “Our answer must be to continue to grow and escalate our resistance to raids and a toxic culture of xenophobia and racism. We encourage people to get involved in efforts, to publicly condemn these actions, use civil disobedience and direct action to prevent ICE raids, and demand that our U.S. congressional representatives defund ICE and CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection).”

The United States needs comprehensive immigration reform. That reform should include enforcement mechanisms. But it cannot reflect the failed policies and the failed values of ICE and CBP. Agencies that casually separate families, that leave children crying for their parents, are out of touch with this nation of immigrants.

Wisconsin’s representatives in Washington should follow the lead of Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, who said that “by voting to abolish ICE, Congress can help countless terrified families experiencing abuse at the hands of this rogue agency breathe a sigh of relief, while making our country safer from actual threats.”

Here in Wisconsin, officials should take whatever steps they can to prevent the Trump administration from coercing local government and local law enforcement into facilitating abuses by ICE that might mirror what we have seen in Mississippi.

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