Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
The Capital Times, July 31
Republicans should stop attacking cities (like Baltimore and Madison) that see through them
Donald Trump is not the first Republican politician to condemn an American city. But with his dismissal of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” Trump is providing a particularly crude example of this foul politics.
In an effort to trash House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who is examining the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump trashed the city that Cummings represents as a “very dangerous & filthy place.”
Baltimore, the president tweeted, is so indefensible that “no human being would want to live there.”
In fact, more than 600,000 Americans live there.
So what’s going on here?
It happens that Cummings is an African American congressman, and Trump goes out of his way to attack people of color who serve in Congress.
It also happens that Baltimore is a city where the overwhelming majority of its residents are people of color, and Trump has a long history of smearing communities, countries and continents where people of color live.
Trump is a racist. And a xenophobe. And that is truly indefensible.
But Trump is also a practitioner of one of the cruelest forms of politics: the deliberate demeaning of communities where people who do not agree with him politically reside. In this regard, he maintains a penchant that has become rather too well established in the Republican Party.
Madisonians know something about Republican politicians demeaning cities that back Democrats. We are not talking about harmless jibes, like that of former Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who took a poke at the state’s capital city with his 1978 line: “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality.” Madisonians soon embraced the criticism as a compliment and, by 2013, former Mayor Paul Soglin proposed to make the line — with a necessary spatial correction — the city’s motto: “77 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality.”
Other attacks have been cruder. When former Gov. Scott Walker learned last year that Soglin was pondering a statewide bid, the Madison-bashing governor blew up. “The last thing we need is more Madison in our lives,” growled the governor, who claimed that “businesses have left and murders have gone up” in Madison. In fact, Madison had (and has) low unemployment and a low crime rate.
Walker was lying in order to paint a city that did not agree with him politically in a bad light. Congressman Sean Duffy, a Republican from northern Wisconsin, did the same thing in 2016. When the close results of that year’s presidential election in Wisconsin were being recounted, Duffy griped on Fox News about the meticulous way in which Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell was conducting the review of votes cast in Madison and surrounding communities. “It’s a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy complained. He then described Madison as a “progressive, liberal, communist community.”
Soglin dismissed Duffy as a “moron” and then corrected himself, explaining: “I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan.”
This editorial page offered the congressman a political geography lesson. “It is true that Madison and Dane County reject Trump. But it is also true that many towns, villages, cities and counties in Duffy’s 7th District reject Trump,” our editorial noted. “While a clear majority of voters in Dane County opposed the Republican presidential ticket this year, so too did majorities of voters in counties such as Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas — all of which Duffy is supposed to represent.”
We concluded: “If Duffy was attacking Dane County, he was also attacking Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties. If Duffy was attacking Madison, he was also attacking 7th District towns, villages and cities that continue to embrace Wisconsin’s progressive values and immense potential as America’s laboratory of democracy. And, for that, apologies are due. No member of Congress should so disregard and disrespect his own constituents and his state.”
It is the job of newspaper editorial pages to come to the defense of communities that are unfairly attacked by members of Congress and governors and presidents. This is one of the many reasons why maintaining local newspapers with strong editorial voices is vital. And we tip our hat today to one of the greatest newspapers in the nation, The Baltimore Sun, which responded brilliantly to the president’s attacks on the city.
“It’s not hard to see what’s going on here,” the paper’s editorial page declared. “The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream.”
True. But truer still was the editorial’s concluding observation that “while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”
Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 4
Madison shouldn’t confuse affordable housing with high-rise penthouses
The Madison City Council shouldn’t confuse the serious need for more affordable housing in the city with high-rise penthouses.
Nor should it further complicate the massive Judge Doyle Square development Downtown, after years of troubling obstacles and discarded plans.
The city has an opportunity to approve 78 apartments for lower-income renters as part of Gebhardt Development’s proposed nine-story, mixed-use tower above a city-owned parking structure that’s part of Judge Doyle Square south of Capitol Square. Gebhardt has offered twice as many lower-cost housing units than competing developers. But some city officials want Gebhardt to scatter the subsidized apartments throughout the tower — including top floors with sweeping views.
Really? When did the goal of encouraging more affordable housing in Madison morph into demands for panoramic scenery from high above the central city? Most people would consider living on the top floors of a Downtown tower to be a luxury, not an affordable option.
Gebhardt, a Madison company, wanted to keep the less expensive units together in its roughly $50 million building so a nonprofit could own them as a single condominium, which would have made financing easier. The affordable units still would have had similar quality and comparable design to the more than 100 market-rate units, and all residents would share access to the building’s amenities.
That’s a sweet deal if you are a family of three earning $54,240 or less a year, which would be the eligibility level. The affordable units would be rented at no more than 30 percent of what occupants make for a living.
But that wasn’t good enough for some city officials, who worry that people in the affordable units might feel separated from the folks who live higher in the tower.
Hey, welcome to the real world, where wealthier people often live in prime locations with fancy perks because they can afford it. Most of the rest of us are fine with a nice place that suits our needs. The idea that everybody — low-, middle- and upper-income people — must have equal access to the top of a new Downtown tower is utopian folly.
Then consider the economics of such a city demand: If a small family earning less than $50,000 annually must live next to people making multiple times that, then the logical result is that the city will have to subsidize more of the cost and create fewer affordable units.
That’s not fair to taxpayers and fails to maximize the impact of city efforts to house more people of modest means.
The developer, one of two working on the larger two-block Judge Doyle Square project, is trying to accommodate the city. But Gebhardt has had to drop efforts to secure federal tax credits because dispersing the lower-cost units throughout its building would have little chance of securing credits.
The city’s Finance Committee this month will consider adding as much as $2.4 million in cost to the project, reducing the number of affordable units by nearly half, and raising the eligibility requirements.
The smarter decision would be to maximize the amount of affordable housing that’s created without greater cost, even if working people with modest incomes can’t gaze across the skyline from above.
The Janesville Gazette, Aug. 4
Addicts need treatment, not waiting lists
Nobody struggling with drug addiction in Rock County should have to think their best hope for recovery is 1,422 miles away.
But it happened to Nikolas Graves and Seth Stricklin. Both 23 years old, they traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida, and ended up overdosing within months of their arrivals. Graves died Dec. 22, 2018. Stricklin died July 14.
Rock County has treatment facilities, but the help isn’t always immediately available. Some addicts have to go on waiting lists, which they cannot afford to do, Brooke McKearn, Graves’ mother, explained. “When you’re addicted, you don’t have 12 weeks to wait. You don’t have six weeks. You need help immediately. This is life and death we’re talking about,” she told The Gazette.
McKearn encountered barrier after barrier trying to get her son the treatment he needed to kick his Xanax addiction, she said. Rockford, Illinois, has one of the closest inpatient treatment facilities, and Graves went there. But his health insurance covered only a 28-day stay, and he turned next to an outpatient facility in Beloit, but it didn’t accept his insurance, McKearn said.
McKearn didn’t give up.
She made calls to several local providers, but they all had waiting lists. She looked elsewhere, and Graves checked into an inpatient treatment center in Florida. He left after 103 days and then fell victim to an insurance fraud scheme, landing in a sober home without the proper oversight and support he needed to recover. A similar thing happened to Stricklin, who died at another sober home only blocks from where Graves stayed.
Rock County has resources to beat addictions, but it’s a patchwork of government and private agencies.
On the government side, a Rock County Human Services walk-in clinic helps people without health insurance or inadequate insurance. The clinic evaluates clients and then refers them to other agencies for treatment, according to Brenda Endthoff, program supervisor. Resources are limited, however, and many people seeking inpatient services don’t qualify. Top priority is given to intravenous drug users and pregnant clients, Endthoff said.
Endthoff said the area has a shortage of certain services, such as doctors who are willing to prescribe medications to help drug users quit. There’s also a need for more sober living facilities.
No single organization failed Graves and Stricklin. The system as a whole did.
Too many addicts aren’t getting the help they need at the different points in their recovery process. In Graves’ case, he successfully completed detox but then couldn’t find the support he needed after leaving the Rockford inpatient facility.
The good news is some Rock County organizations are becoming more responsive and smarter in how they treat addiction. A new program, Lifeline 2 Recovery, is continuing the effort started by a defunct program to send recovery coaches to hospitals when someone is admitted for an overdose. The coach will work with that person while they wait to get into a treatment program, program coordinator Mike Sheridan said. The idea is to fill any gap in the addict’s path to recovery.
Rock and other Wisconsin counties need robust systems that support addicts throughout their recovery journey, regardless of how long it takes or the type of insurance they have. Leaving addicts in limbo, whether by putting them on waiting lists or outright denying them services, is like playing Russian roulette. It puts addicts and their families in a desperate situation. So desperate, in fact, some go all the way to West Palm Beach.