Journal Times, Racine, Sept. 27

Stop the politics and help Kenosha

Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., made headlines together recently, sending a letter to President Trump asking him to make good on his pledge to send federal funds to Kenosha.

The state’s two top Democrats reminded Trump of his commitment, made during his visit here to view the rioting damage and meet with law enforcement, “to help the city and state recover and rebuild … You told local business owners you would help them rebuild completely and also help with economic development.”

Evers and Baldwin questioned the funding announced, saying it cannot be used for rebuilding. They pointed out the $4 million to support small businesses is part of CARES Act money to recover from losses related to COVID-19, and the $42 million to support public safety statewide does not represent new money.

“We look forward to your plan to support a complete rebuild,” they wrote, “because the Kenosha community deserves more than empty promises.”

Asked to respond to these the letter, U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., gave an entirely partisan non-answer that is so common in politics these days.

“When asked, President Trump immediately agreed to send resources to bring public safety to Kenosha,” the GOP congressman said. “Those resources and that leadership likely saved lives and prevented more damage from occurring.

“The administration acted quickly by bringing initial assistance to Kenosha, and going forward I will continue working with the administration to provide additional resources to help our community come together and rebuild.”

So we really still don’t know whether the points made in the letter are valid and under review, but what we do know is Kenosha businesses and the Kenosha community need money. And fast.

And we also know that it’s well past time that Evers, Baldwin, Steil and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., worked in a bipartisan manner for Kenosha. That should have started the day after the riots and fires left millions of dollars in damage.

Instead, we’ve had partisan statements and now letters, visits by Evers and Steil, and not much from either senator.

These four should begin today working for Kenosha in a bipartisan manner that is so absent in politics today. They can start by getting a meeting with the administration — Steil and Johnson should be able to arrange that, perhaps with the president himself — and reviewing funding needs and federal funding available.

They can hold a joint press conference and report what is coming here. They all can take credit.

Kenoshans are looking for leadership and they deserve it from the state’s top elected officials. And now.


Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Sept. 27

University, local officials should stop pointing fingers

The governor and Legislature squabbling over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is nothing new or surprising. We’ve suffered through that show for months.

But when local officials and UW-Madison start blaming each other for a rise in COVID-19 cases, our community is really in trouble.

“It’s long past time to stop arguing,” UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank said recently in a statement, calling on Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to stop criticizing the university’s reopening plan and instead collaborate to reduce infections.

Parisi wasn’t impressed.

“They created this problem in the community, and now they’re turning to us and saying, ‘Fix it,’” he told the State Journal.

Easy, guys. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s acknowledge that the novel coronavirus has been hard to control, and no one is really sure where the pandemic is heading. We hope a reliable vaccine will emerge soon.

Until then, trying to work together to promote public health with a unified front should be the goal.

Parisi and other local officials wanted UW-Madison to offer online classes only. Instead, UW went with some limited in-person classes, and it opened dorms.

That decision hasn’t worked well, given a surge in COVID-19 cases in Dane County. The increase has been fueled largely by young adults. UW has had to quarantine some frat and sorority houses as well as dorms because of outbreaks.

Yet many students would have come back to Madison — or never left — even if all classes were entirely online. That’s what happened at Michigan State, which asked students who live in dorms to stay home. Many returned to East Lansing, renting off-campus apartments. Within a couple weeks, an outbreak occurred.

Limited classes with students spaced apart aren’t really the issue. The problem is bars and house parties, where alcohol reduces the distance between people while increasing the volume at which they talk without masks. That can fuel greater spread of the virus because it travels through the air on respiratory droplets.

Chancellor Blank stresses that UW doesn’t have the authority to shut down large gatherings of students off-campus. Parisi counters that the county doesn’t have the money to “create a party patrol” to crack down on irresponsible behavior. Parisi called for dorm residents to go home, but that would risk spreading more of the disease across the state.

We get that each institution’s role is different, with competing interests. UW wants to keep students learning and experiencing campus life. Dane County wants to keep cases down so businesses and schools can fully reopen.

Nobody has an easy answer on how to move forward because the virus isn’t fully understood. But this much is clear: University and local officials need to work as partners to slow the spread as best they can.

Stop fighting. Sit down and talk. Then act together.


Wisconsin Capital Times, Madison, Sept. 23

Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended voting rights in Wisconsin

There can be no question that Sen. Tammy Baldwin was correct when she said, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived an inspiring and historic life, and her work has shaped America for the better.”

Yet, as we recall the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died at age 87, we reflect on the many instances in which this remarkable justice stood up for Wisconsin during the 27 years she served on the high court.

Nowhere has that been more true than on the issue of voting rights in this state, where Republican legislators and right-wing judicial activists have sought so frequently, so destructively, to diminish those rights.

In the spring of this year, when Gov. Tony Evers sought to assure that the April 7 election would be safe and fair — in the midst of a pandemic — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, resisted and they won the support of their judicial allies on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Justice Ginsburg dissented. She was the one who spoke for the health and safety of Wisconsin voters, and for democracy itself, when she warned about the “massive disenfranchisement” of people who had applied for absentee ballots and not received them — because of the overwhelming number of demands and because of mail delays — in time to participate in the election. The justice argued that voters who had applied for absentee ballots should be given a chance to cast them, writing, “If a voter already in line by the poll’s closing time can still vote, why should Wisconsin’s absentee voters, already in line to receive ballots, be denied the franchise?”

Speaking to the practical and moral issues of that disenfranchisement, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “The majority of this Court declares that this case presents a ‘narrow, technical question.’ That is wrong. The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following Election Day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance — to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the nation.”