Quotes of the Week

This trial made clear that when authorities fail to utilize appropriate resources to protect public safety, violence and destruction often follows. The destruction in Kenosha did not need to occur. The events covered in the trial were avoidable if proper steps were taken last summer to reestablish public safety.
– U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, who faced charges for shooting three people, killing two, during unrest in Kenosha last summer. 

We must have peace in Kenosha and our communities, and any efforts or actions aimed at sowing division are unwelcome in our state as they will only hinder that healing.
– Gov. Tony Evers, who called for those who plan to protest the verdict to do so “safely and peacefully.”

See more reaction on the WisPolitics.com press release page.

I think probably, but I’m not a district attorney. I’m certainly not a lawyer. But I certainly think anybody who breaks the law should pay the ultimate price to say I won’t do it again. And you either plead guilty and you say I understand that was a mistake or you go to court and defend yourself. So I assume that that will be the process that plays out there.
– Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, suggesting Wisconsin elections commissioners could be charged for their votes suspending special voting deputy requirements for nursing homes.

I now find myself in the position of, in the worst-case scenario, choosing to be subject to either potential federal criminal prosecution or a finding of contempt by the Legislature and the threat of imprisonment in the Dane County Jail. As a state employee, I hope you can understand that this should not be the reality of public service for election officials in Wisconsin.
– Madison Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl on whether she should comply with a Senate subpoena to let state auditors physically handle election records. Witzel-Behl has cited Department of Justice guidance in denying auditors’ request to handle the records. She’s since suggested auditors be observed or be sworn in as election officials to handle the materials. 

I invite you to work together on this initiative to right the most egregious injustice we have seen in our time. Then we can move forward together with confidence in our most sacred process, without disenfranchisement of our most sacred right, the right to elect our representation.
– Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, in an email asking lawmakers to support his resolution to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results. 

This is truly unhinged theater of the absurd from the Legislature’s QAnon caucus. It clearly isn’t based in reality or facts. But the fact that this rhetoric is coming from elected Assembly Republicans makes it even more dangerous to our democracy.
– Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. 

Political Stock Report

-A collection of insider opinion-
(Nov. 13 – 19, 2021)

Rising: Overdose deaths

Mixed: Frederick Prehn, Tim Ramthun, marijuana, Wisconsin schools

Falling: COVID containment


Overdose deaths: Reflecting a national trend, the number of drug overdose deaths in Wisconsin reached 1,599 in the 12-month period ending in April, increasing nearly 22 percent over the prior year based on federal estimates. That’s slightly behind the 29 percent increase nationally as the U.S. reported more than 100,000 overdose deaths for the first time during a 12-month period. In the prior 12-month period ending April 2020, Wisconsin had 1,313 drug overdose deaths, estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. That number has largely been increasing year-over-year since at least 2015, with the exception of 2019 when it dipped slightly compared to the previous year. Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the rise, as did an increasing use of fentanyl. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, accounted for around 64,000 of the nation’s 100,000 deaths.

For more, see the WisBusiness.com story here.


Frederick Prehn: The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could decide whether the Wausau dentist has to step down from his post on the Natural Resources Board — and possibly overturn six decades of precedent. The case also will once again put the focus on conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn as legal insiders try to discern what may swing the key vote on the court in yet another high-profile case. Prehn’s term expired in May, but the appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker has refused to step down from his post, citing precedent that has allowed appointees on some boards to continue serving until their replacement is confirmed by the state Senate. His continued presence has kept him in his post as chair and the board controlled 4-3 by Walker appointees. And with Gov. Tony Evers’ appointment of Sandra Naas going nowhere in the GOP-run state Senate — it’s still sitting in Senate Org — it looks like Prehn would be able to continue serving indefinitely. In rejecting Dem AG Josh Kaul’s suit in September, a Dane County judge ruled she was bound by a 1964 state Supreme Court ruling that allows Prehn to continue serving and it would be up to the justices to change that. Now the Supreme Court will have that chance, though there’s no guarantee it will. The court granted Kaul’s request to bypass the appeals court and hear the case. There’s some side drama in that move because Hagedorn and the court’s three liberals have shown an unwillingness to take original action in some suits or to bypass the appeals court before briefing is completed at that level. In a concurring opinion, Justice Rebecca Bradley is joined by fellow conservatives Annette Ziegler and Pat Roggensack in complaining the court has been inconsistent on granting petitions to bypass the appeals court. Bradley wrote the court has previously deemed premature petitions to bypass prior to the parties filing briefs with the appeals court and cited other cases the justices have declined to take. Justice Rebecca Dallet, joined by fellow liberal Jill Karofsky, argued in a concurring opinion of her own that this case warrants an exception because DOJ alleges “an ongoing injury that threatens the functioning of an important state agency.” That procedural tiff aside, the key question to insiders is where Hagedorn will come down in a case that involves the powers of the executive and legislative branches. The justice has confounded conservatives at times with his willingness to break with his conservative colleagues on high-profile cases, particularly a ruling that struck down the Evers’ administration’s extended stay-at-home order during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have described him as an executive branch conservative, pointing to his time as Walker’s chief legal counsel for shaping some of his views. Court watchers point to experience with numerous boards filled with gubernatorial appointees who serve past their allotted terms because nominating their replacements aren’t high priorities for a guv. And if there were some hard rule that their seats became vacant the moment their terms ended, it would create some logistical headaches. Still, while Dane County Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn rejected Kaul’s suit, she also wrote in her decision that Kaul had valid arguments in his suit and “one logical interpretation of the statutes is that a fixed-term appointment results in a vacancy after the term ends.” But she added since the state Supreme Court had held otherwise, she was bound by that precedence.

Tim Ramthun: The Campbellsport Republican lawmaker has won a new fan in Donald Trump. But his resolution to decertify the results of the 2020 election — something Leg Council says isn’t possible under state or federal law — becomes fuel for those who believe the election was “stolen.” It also, insiders say, keeps Republicans talking about 2020 rather than keeping their attention on inflation, President Biden’s poor poll numbers and how to beat Gov. Tony Evers next fall. Ramthun has been among the most adamant believers that something was amiss with the 2020 election despite various proclamations — like from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau — that there was no widespread fraud. But while his fellow Republicans largely would like to focus on the legislative and administrative changes that LAB suggested in its report, Ramthun invites his colleagues to back his resolution and “work together on this initiative to right the most egregious injustice we have seen in our time.” But a couple of big issues loom — beyond the disputed contention there was anything fraudulent about Wisconsin’s 2020 election. One, there is no mechanism to decertify the state’s electoral votes, according to Leg Council. Two, GOP leadership isn’t interested in the proposal. While Trump heralds Ramthun’s resolution, he falsely claims it only needs one co-sponsor in the Senate to force votes in both chambers. But as the former president asks, “Which American Patriot from the State Senate will step forward?” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, slaps down any notion that the resolution will advance in that chamber. He tweets the resolution doesn’t follow the law and the focus will be on “uncovering any instances of fraud and irregularities in order to ensure the security of the electoral process.” Republicans have spent the past year trying to appease a segment of the base that is convinced something amiss happened with the 2020 election and wants something done about it. That includes trying to walk some supporters through the various steps Republicans have taken to overhaul election laws over the past year only to see Evers veto them. Republicans say those efforts are sometimes upended whenever something new pops up on social media or Trump makes some outlandish claim. To Dems, this is becoming more and more of a farce. Add in Rebecca Kleefisch calling for “mercenaries” for the 2022 elections, the Trump-aligned Racine County sheriff calling for felony charges against members of the Elections Commission and the work for former Justice Michael Gableman at the behest of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Dems see it as a full frontal assault on democracy. Then there’s U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, continuing to suggest GOP lawmakers should simply take over administration of federal elections and tell local officials to simply ignore the Elections Commission. For some, it’s almost too surreal for words. It also continues to beg the questions: “When will it be enough?” and “When will Republicans be ready to move on?” Some in the GOP base will never be satisfied unless the results of the 2020 election are overturned and Trump is somehow returned to the presidency. That’s not anything based in reality, insiders note, and some believe Republicans are playing a losing game by trying to placate those supporters. Others believe Republicans have to at least show those supporters they share their concerns and are doing something about it or else those voters won’t turn out next fall. Some downplay that suggestion. The base is so fired up about Biden and Evers that they’ll turn out even if they’re still not satisfied Republicans have done enough to address 2020, they argue. Those insiders point to the results in Virginia to argue voters who have doubts about the results of the 2020 election can still be motivated to hit the polls. But insiders also wonder how — and if — Republicans can wrap up all these competing threads about 2020 in a way that satisfies the base without alienating others — and have it done relatively soon so that the focus moves to looking ahead, not behind.

Marijuana: The discussion over pot in the state Capitol is largely detached from a public that is overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana and solidly supports legalizing it for recreational use. A bipartisan group of lawmakers pitches their marijuana bill as a way to bridge the divide by giving neither side a “win.” But insiders say that also gives little incentive for either side of the debate to come off its position. So legislative observers don’t expect the latest proposal to move the needle. The new proposal from Reps. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, would create a $100 civil forfeiture as the new state penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana. That is well below the misdemeanor penalty of up to a $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both. The bill also would preempt local ordinances that have penalties of less than $100 or more than $250 for possession of less than 14 grams. To legalization advocates, it makes little sense for those in places like Madison and Milwaukee that have already lowered the fine to jack up the penalty for possession of something they believe should be legal, period. It’s even more confounding to some that Ortiz-Velez is backing the bill when she helped lead the charge as a Milwaukee County supervisor to reduce the penalty to $1. She argues the trade-off is worth it because it would eliminate a patchwork of fines in place now and lower the penalty in many communities. But 11 of the 15 members of the Milwaukee Common Council issue a statement criticizing the bill, saying it would essentially wipe out the city’s ordinance that sets fines of between nothing and $50 for first-time tickets for possession. That, some say, underscores the tough sell the bill is to those who want to move toward full legalization. There’s no incentive for them to jack up the penalty on their constituents just so the penalty is smaller in other areas of the state. On the other side, there are no signs that GOP leadership is warming up to anything that looks like moving toward legalization. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, caused a stir when he originally said he’d be open to medical marijuana as a way to cut down the reliance on opiates. But that idea hasn’t gained much ground with Senate Republicans even with new Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. He told a WisPolitics.com luncheon in April that he doesn’t back legalizing medical marijuana without FDA approval. He also said there wasn’t enough support in his caucus for medical or recreational marijuana. Some Republicans are open to changes on pot laws, and it’s expected a GOP medical marijuana bill will surface yet this session. The hope for some is to at least get the conversation rolling. But there are concerns opponents would send it off to a committee to die without a public hearing.

Wisconsin schools: Some argue you have to make allowances for schools to account for the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. But they also question how valuable it is for the Department of Public Instruction report cards to suggest the same percentage of schools met, exceeded, or significantly exceeded expectations compared to two year ago even as test scores were down. In releasing the report cards, DPI cautioned against reading too much into them for a number of reasons. That includes a dip in the number of students who took the tests in the first place during the 2020-21 school year as many schools allow a virtual option for those who didn’t want to be in the classroom amid the pandemic. Overall, about 87 percent met or exceeded expectations in the 2020-21 school year, equal to the mark for 2018-19, the last time DPI released report cards due to the pandemic. Critics question how valid that is when Milwaukee Public Schools, for example, saw its overall score drop to 58.1 out of 100, compared to 58.4 two years ago. But MPS went from meeting few expectations in 2018-19 to meeting expectations for last school year. DPI tweaked the report cards this year, including creating a new priority area to measure how students with low test scores are progressing. It also changed how deductions for things like absenteeism fit into the calculation. To some, it suggests DPI was trying to make things look better than they really are. But the agency isn’t saying much, largely declining to answer media questions as it presented the scores. So now what? Republicans have been increasingly moving toward a call for funding the student, not the system. It’s a reference toward efforts to make it easier to get into voucher programs and open enrollment options so students can move out of districts their parents feel aren’t meeting their children’s needs. Dems, meanwhile, see an effort to undercut public schools, which they believe were underfunded by Republicans during the eight years under Gov. Scott Walker. They say fundamental issues in some districts aren’t being addressed. The political reality, insiders say, is with a GOP-controlled Legislature and a Dem guv, there’s little chance of compromise to make big changes to the state’s educational system. And so far, new state Superintendent Jill Underly hasn’t shown signs she’ll propose radical changes.


COVID containment: The state is experiencing another November spike that is filling ICU beds and stressing the health care system yet again. There’s even a new study that shows the disease is spreading among deer, prompting health officials to urge hunters to take precautions while in the field for the annual hunt. Some snicker at the suggestion of wearing masks and gloves while field dressing deer. But the statistics on human cases are stark yet again. The number of people hospitalized has reached its highest level of 2021. Though about half of the 2020 peak in late November last year, the trajectory of new cases and hospitalizations is growing rapidly. As of today’s update from the Department of Health Services, Wisconsin’s seven-day average is again more than 3,000 new cases per day, levels not seen since last year in mid-December as the state was starting to come down from the surge in late 2020. Then, the state was averaging 51 deaths and 300 hospitalizations per day. But with the COVID-19 vaccine widely available, it’s 15 deaths and 161 hospitalizations even with the rise in cases.


Johnson leads most Dem rivals in share of contributions from Wisconsin donors

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is pulling a higher percentage of his itemized contributions from Wisconsin donors than most of his top Dem rivals, according to a WisPolitics.com review of campaign finance reports.

He’s also getting a bigger chunk of his individual contributions from those giving less than $200.

Among his top Dem rivals, Outagamie County Exec Tom Nelson is the only other Senate candidate who has raised more than half of his individual donations from Wisconsin residents, according to the filings.

Meanwhile, Dem Alex Lasry is gathering a larger chunk of his contributions from out-of-state donors than others in the field. What’s more, just under half of his donations were from those living in his native New York.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has yet to significantly ramp up his fundraising operation ahead of a possible reelection bid in 2022, though he has said a decision could come within weeks. While he ponders his political future, his Dem rivals are jockeying for donors in a crowded field.

The FEC just finished processing individual, itemized contributions the top candidates reported for the third quarter. WisPolitics.com then reviewed donations between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 to look at where the candidates are getting their money. Campaigns aren’t required to report information on those giving $200 or less, though some still do, so the donations don’t give a complete picture of where candidates are raising their money. 

Here’s an overview of the fundraising by the top candidates:

*Since Jan. 1, Johnson has reported $2.3 million in individual donations, including $1.2 million from those giving $200 or less. 

Of Johnson’s more than $1.1 million in itemized contributions he’s reported, more than $600,000 came from those living in Wisconsin, or about 53 percent.

Florida residents were a distant second at more than $77,000 in itemized contributions this year.

In his 2016 reelection bid, Johnson knocked Dem Russ Feingold for not continuing a pledge he made in 1992 to raise a majority of his funds from Wisconsin donors. Feingold’s campaign argued the campaign finance landscape had changed since he first made that promise.

Altogether, Johnson reported over $2.65 million in receipts this year from all sources, including political action committees. 

*Since getting into the race in mid-February, Lasry has reported $2.1 million in itemized contributions. 

Of that, more than $930,000 was from those who listed New York as their address. Wisconsin donors gave him $335,000, about 16 percent of the itemized donations he reported. They accounted for the second-highest share of his individual contributions.

Less than 10 percent of Lasry’s individual contributions were from those giving $200 or less. Meanwhile, more than 100 donors have already maxed out to his campaign, accounting for more than $620,000 of what he’s raised from individual donors so far.

In addition to what he’s raised from individuals, Lasry has loaned his campaign $800,000. He reported $3.15 million in total receipts this year from all sources.

*Dem Mandela Barnes raised $680,000 through itemized contributions during his first quarter of fundraising, including more than $215,000 from those living in Wisconsin. That accounts for about 32 percent of Barnes’ itemized contributions and topped California donors, who have given him $168,000 in contributions of $200 or more. 

Of what he raised, almost 38 percent was from those giving $200 or less.

Barnes reported $1.13 million in total receipts from all sources. 

*Dem Sarah Godlewski listed $587,000 in itemized contributions since getting into the race in April.

Of that, more than $123,000 was from Wisconsin donors, about 21 percent. California residents were No. 2 at more than $107,000.

About 28 percent of the state treasurer’s individual donations are from those giving $200 or less.

Through the end of September, Godlewski had put just more than $1 million of her own money into the campaign. She reported nearly $1.88 million in total receipts this year from all sources.

*Nelson listed itemized contributions of $517,000 since Jan. 1 with about 54 percent of that coming from Wisconsin donors.

California donors were No. 2 at $78,000.

Twenty-eight percent of his individual donations came from those giving $200 or less.

Nelson reported $726,965 in receipts this year from all sources. 


Racist, profane language, drug slang among reasons for personalized plate rejections

Racist references, drug slang, sexual language and profanity led to more than 180 personalized license plate request denials in 2020, a WisPolitics.com review of state DOT records shows.

Several references to racial terms and slaves, such as “WHTPWR” and “XSLAVE,” were among the list of denied personalized plate requests obtained by WisPolitics.com. Applicants were also denied for requesting plates with “KUNGFLU,” “SASSH0L,” “420B0I” and “B0SSBIH.” The state Department of Transportation denied 183 personalized license plate requests last year for objectionable content, according to a list DOT provided.  

That’s slightly up from the 180 personalized plate requests DOT shot down in 2019. Both years fell below the 225 rejected in 2018.

A DOT Division of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman told WisPolitics.com requests were denied “because the message was determined to be misleading or offensive or had letters that are difficult to distinguish.”

Three versions of “EXFIB” were also denied this year, though a WisPolitics.com reporter witnessed one Wisconsin license plate with “XFIB” displayed while gathering information for this story. 

According to DOT’s latest numbers, specialty license plates such as the recently launched Road America design have generated $3.63 million between June 1 last year and the same time this year. Most specialty plates cost $15 on issuance, while some also come with a required donation to a nonprofit.

Personalized plate fees generated $3.3M, which comes from a separate $15 fee that’s paid annually, according to DOT data. 

There are 52 specialty plate options, such as those for military service, endangered resources, fishing and hunting groups, sports teams and others, according to DOT. See the list here.

Specialty plates requiring drivers to donate at least $15 to nonprofits generated roughly $1.8 million for nonprofits during the same time period. Money from those fees goes toward the group represented on the plate. Celebrate Children Foundation specialty plates require drivers to donate $25 per year to the organization, for example. 

Responses to emails to all members of the Legislature revealed several Wisconsin lawmakers have personalized plates.

Among them is Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, whose plate reads “V0TE 4 G.” 

Also Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, whose vehicle displays a plate emblazoned with “WI4WRD,” which stands for the state’s motto, “Forward.” 

Sen. Howard Marklein also has a personalized plate.

The Spring Green Republican has “HLM-CPA” on his vehicle, which stands for Howard L. Marklein, Certified Public Accountant. 

Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, has “DOYLE” on his plate and Rep. Samba Baldeh, D-Madison, has “BATCH S,” which Baldeh said refers to his name. 

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, also has a personalized plate.

The former state lawmaker could be seen driving around the Capitol with his “TAXCUTR” license plate before he joined Congress. 

See the complete list of denied plates here.


Political TV

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show features reaction to the KYLE RITTENHOUSE verdict.
*See more about the program here.
*Also see a recap of the show online each Monday at WisPolitics.com 

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and WisPolitics.com, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode, WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS and CBS 58’s EMILEE FANNON discuss redistricting, GOP guv candidate REBECCA KLEEFISCH’s lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission, COVID-19, bipartisan marijuana legislation and the latest school report cards.
*Watch the show here.

Check out WisPolitics.com’s Midday, which offers insights into the state’s top political news.
*Listen to the podcasts here

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. This week the two handicap the Dem U.S. Senate field.
*Watch the video or listen to the show here.

“In Focus: Wisconsin” airs Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on Spectrum News 1 on channel 1. This week’s program with host PETE ZERVAKIS features U.S. Rep. GLENN GROTHMAN, UW-Madison associate professor CLIFF ROBB and Kenosha Unified School District counselor JESSICA FESKO on the growing student loan debt crisis in Wisconsin.

PBS Wisconsin’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. This week’s program with anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG features Black Leaders Organizing for Communities Executive Director ANGELA LANG on the KYLE RITTENHOUSE trial, Mayo Clinic Dr. MELANIE SWIFT on COVID-19 and REBECCA COOKE on her campaign for the 3rd CD. 

“Capital City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. This week’s program with host A.J. BAYATPOUR interviews UW Health’s Dr. BILL HARTMAN, Dem U.S. Rep. RON KIND and JANET ZANDER, of the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources.

Names in the News

Join WisPolitics.com, WisBusiness.com and the Wisconsin Technology Council for the fourth 2021 trade policy virtual event Dec. 7 from noon to 1 p.m. The topic for the free event is: “The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Post-COVID – How Trade Helps the North American Recovery.” Panelist include: AARON ANNABLE, representing the Canadian consulate in Chicago; JULIAN ADEM, representing the Mexican consulate in Milwaukee; and STANLEY PFRANG. Register here.

*Video from the Nov. 18 WisPolitics.com luncheon with panel discussion on Wisconsin redistricting is now available at Wisconsin Eye. The panel features three former legislators who have deep experience in legislative map-making — Republicans SCOTT JENSEN and JOE HANDRICK plus Democrat CHUCK CHVALA — along with ELIZABETH TREVIÑO, Wisconsin state director of allontheline.org. Jensen and Chvala are the WisOpinion Insiders. See some of their commentary on redistricting and other political topics here.

Former Gov. MARTIN SCHREIBER will discuss his book, “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver,” at a Nov. 19 presentation at the Marquette University College of Nursing.

Gov. TONY EVERS appointed Crandon Police and Fire Commission Chair RONALD SKALLERUD as Forest County sheriff.

Endorsements: The following is a list of recent endorsements, based on emails received by WisPolitics.com:

U.S. Senate

MANDELA BARNES: Center for Popular Democracy Action and CPD Action Network President JENNIFER EPPS-ADDISON.

State Treasurer

ANGELITO TENORIO: Nineteen endorsements from current and former state legislators.

Lobbyist Watch

ELEVEN changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list.

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