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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

November 26, 2018

The Journal Times of Racine, Nov. 25

We must find solutions to school absenteeism

We have said it before, and it bears repeating: You must be in school to succeed in school. It sounds obvious. But in reality, it’s a real challenge and it’s one that our community needs to address.

It’s an issue that will need action from school and city officials as well as nonprofit organizations and families.

This month, the state released report cards that indicated absenteeism is an issue for Racine Unified School District as well as districts throughout the state.

At the start of this school year, The Journal Times published a two-part series on the struggles some students go through getting to school. Current law says that those who live farther than two miles from school must be provided transportation. But anyone living fewer than two miles from school must figure out for themselves how to get to school.

This is a challenge for parents who don’t want their children to walk that far in the cold and in the dark. Some parents have work commitments that prohibit them from driving their children in the morning. Others may not have a car or are unable to drive due to restrictions or health reasons.

In that same series, The Journal Times reported that more than a year ago, the Racine City Council passed a resolution that aimed to make city transportation more affordable for Racine Unified students who don’t receive free busing. But since the passage of that resolution on Aug. 2, 2017, no plan for Unified students to use the city’s RYDE bus system has been implemented.

That is a program that needs to be put in place. A new bus pass program will not solve the problem entirely, but it would help.

At one Milwaukee school, a new program called a “walking bus” was initiated, according to a Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service report.

All Lincoln Avenue School children on the “walking bus” route are hand-picked by school staff, including social workers, because of spotty attendance. The school plans to continue to monitor attendance patterns and invite families that would benefit to join the program.

According to Yaribel Rodriguez, the school’s principal, students who have been going to school more because of the route have been submitting more classwork and getting higher grades.

And some of the biggest endorsements come from the kids: “It’s fun,” said Jonathan Alvarado, 10. “It motivates me. I like to go to school more.”

That sounds like an idea worth trying here.

At the same time, another look should be taken regarding penalties in place for high school students who skip school. Can more be done to provide incentive for them to be in school? What if the consequence for not showing up to school during the week was community service on Saturday and Sunday?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to school absenteeism. But it’s one that needs to be addressed and taken seriously by the whole community.


The Capital Times, Nov. 21

Don’t let GOP’s aversion to democracy mangle spring elections

Two sets of facts tell the story of the 2018 midterm elections:

First: The nationwide turnout was roughly 49.2 percent. That’s the highest level of participation in a midterm election since 1914. In 2014, when Republicans experienced a “wave” election that gave them control of the Congress and statehouses across the country, turnout was 37 percent.

Second: The 2018 election saw a Democratic “wave” hit. Democrats won more than two-thirds of the contests for U.S. Senate seats. They secured the largest swing of U.S. House seats since the Watergate election of 1974, and took control of the chamber. They also won seven governorships that had been held by the Republicans. And they flipped at least 336 state legislative seats in an election that saw the party gain control of at least eight new legislative chambers.

These two sets of facts point to a conclusion: When turnout surges, Democrats win.

“Democrats outvoted Republicans by more than 4 million,” noted The Washington Post, which observed: “Democratic votes were high, even compared with the 2016 presidential election. Midterm elections typically have lower overall turnout than presidential elections. However, when comparing votes in this year’s House races with votes in the previous presidential election, 13 states had Democratic vote counts that surpassed those in 2016.”

The states with the highest turnouts saw Democrats scoring big wins in key contests. That happened in Wisconsin. Despite the efforts of Gov. Scott Walker and his Republicans allies to suppress the vote — with restrictive “voter ID” legislation and assaults on early voting and absentee voting — 61.2 percent of the “voting eligible population” cast ballots. And Democrats won every statewide race.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made the connection with its postelection headline: “The Scott Walker era of GOP dominance in Wisconsin ends with the election of Tony Evers amid massive midterm turnout.”

The reaction of Republicans, who because of gerrymandering still control the Legislature, was a sustained temper tantrum.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced that Republicans were suddenly interested in limiting the power of the governor.

But that was nothing compared to what came next. Shaken by a steady pattern of defeats at the polls this year — special election defeats, the loss of a conservative seat on the Supreme Court, the statewide wipeout — the Republicans signaled their intention to rig the game before they lose again.

Wisconsinites traditionally elect Supreme Court justices each spring, in nonpartisan voting on the first Tuesday in April. Municipal and school board elections are held at the same time. It’s a busy election day. And it gets busier each four years, when Democratic and Republican presidential primaries have historically been held in conjunction with the state and local voting.

That was the case in 1980, when Ronald Reagan carried the Republican presidential primary and Justice Donald Steinmetz won one of the closest court races in Wisconsin history. That was the case in 2000, when George W. Bush won his Republican primary victory and conservative Justice Diane Sykes, a favorite of then state Rep. Scott Walker, won a court term. That was the case in 2016, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump as conservative Rebecca Bradley, a Walker appointee, was narrowly elected to a full term.

If pattern holds, Wisconsin should have a Supreme Court election and a pair of presidential primaries on April 7, 2020.

That prospect scares Walker and his partisan cronies. Walker’s appointee to the high court, Daniel Kelly, is an uninspired jurist and an untested statewide contender, who must seek a full term in 2020. Walker and his legislative henchmen fear that a wave of Democratic primary voters — inspired by a nomination fight that could include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — might reject Kelly.

The Walker machine could respond by running a better candidate. They could even suggest that Kelly up his game.

Or they could game the system in a way that would lower turnout for the Supreme Court contest.

Guess which option they are considering?

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Legislative leaders have been discussing moving the April 2020 (presidential) primary, possibly to March.”

Walker seems to like the idea. “I always thought it odd that (candidates) seeking nonpartisan office were on the ballot the same time as there were partisan elections. It just seemed a disconnect to that.”

Wisconsinites may be excused if they do not believe Walker when he says he has “always” thought the state should reorganize spring elections. After all, he was a powerful governor with solid legislative majorities before the 2016 Supreme Court election, which coincided with that year’s presidential primaries. Yet he failed to decouple the elections.

Now, however, as a lame-duck governor whose conservative project is tanking, Walker suddenly realizes that he “always” wanted to upend Wisconsin elections so that voters could be forced to cast ballots in a nonpartisan February primary for the court, a partisan March primary for the presidential nominations and a nonpartisan April general election for the court — and then a partisan primary for state and federal posts in August and a partisan general election in November.

The move Walker and his wrecking crew are pondering would cost taxpayers millions of dollars. But it would also cut turnout for Wisconsin’s April 2020 Supreme Court race. And that, of course, is the point. A high turnout election might attract voters who Walker and his cronies would prefer to keep away from the polling places.

We all know why the soon-to-be-former governor does not like high-turnout elections: He just lost one.

But Scott Walker’s aversion to democracy should not be allowed to mangle Wisconsin’s spring election schedule.


The Janesville Gazette, Nov. 24

Our state’s chance to rise above tribal politics

For the first time in many years, Wisconsin has an opportunity to govern from the center. We hope the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers decide to rise above tribal politics and work together for the common good.

That would be refreshing.

The postelection atmosphere is admittedly discouraging with a lame-duck Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leaders in the Legislature threatening to weaken the governor’s office before Evers’ inauguration. That’s no way to welcome a new governor, but perhaps Evers will be the bigger person in this situation and begin Day One of his administration by reaching out to the opposition.

To succeed, Evers will need to win over Republican leaders, and we encourage him to consider the state’s long history (before Walker) of bipartisanship between the governor and Legislature. Specifically, Evers should study up on how former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson ran his administration. Thompson had many Democratic critics, but he also recognized the importance of getting Democrats’ buy-in on important measures. Notably, Thompson appointed in 1987 then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sen. Tim Cullen to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

As Cullen explains in his book, “Ringside Seat: Wisconsin politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker,” Thompson made the appointment not out of kindness but a pragmatic realization that Democratic support would pay political dividends. Of course, some people scorned the appointment, but it was the kind of move that allowed Thompson to build his legacy as one of this state’s most effective governors.

Most important, Thompson accomplished much of his agenda without pitting the two parties against each other. He governed through the middle.

For his part, Cullen had a similar attitude. He worked with Thompson in pursuit of an agenda that — from the Democrats’ perspective — wasn’t perfect but was better than the alternative: nothing.

Walker believed being “bold” meant refusing to compromise on policy initiatives. Evers has an opportunity to be “bold” in a different way. He could follow Thompson’s lead by appointing a moderate Republican to his cabinet, demonstrating he’s serious about governing from the center.

Regardless of his cabinet picks, Evers should turn to Thompson often for advice and use him as a bridge builder between Democrats and Republicans.

Thompson has some good ideas, in particular, on prison reform. He wants to give inmates more educational opportunities and work with the private sector to help inmates re-enter the workforce. He’s also advocating for more alcohol and drug treatment programs.

Despite Republican leaders in the Legislature trying to undermine Evers before he takes office, we see opportunities for bipartisanship on several issues, including public education funding and infrastructure.

Some legislators might still be smarting from Walker’s defeat and are letting off steam. But once Evers takes office, we hope these Republicans shape up and negotiate with Evers in good faith. We want both sides to compromise and make a sincere effort to end tribal politics.

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