- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 14

4 things Barack Obama and Paul Ryan must get done this year

Even lame ducks have been known to fly.

Teddy Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon a national monument in his final year as president.

Ronald Reagan steered a historic reduction of nuclear weapons through the U.S. Senate while communism was collapsing.

Bill Clinton oversaw a record budget surplus.

Expectations are understandably low for the final year of Barack Obama’s second term. A highly partisan presidential election will only encourage further gridlock in Washington.

Yet with help from House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, some big things can still get done.

Obama, of course, is a Democrat, while Ryan is a Republican. The two were rivals in 2012, when Ryan ran as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee.

But big differences on policy and politics shouldn’t stop progress for America. Where agreement does exist, legislation should move forward, with both leaders benefiting from accomplishment.

Ryan has little interest in enhancing Obama’s legacy. But approving popular measures with bipartisan support will improve the GOP’s chances of holding swing seats - and majority control - in the House this fall.

Obama highlighted several promising goals for the coming year during a recent White House meeting with Republican leaders, followed by a private lunch with Ryan. Four of Obama’s priorities can and must be achieved, with the Democratic president staying open to GOP suggestions for cooperation:

1. Approve the free trade agreement with a dozen Pacific Rim countries.

This won’t be easy because several Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are stoking economic fears for electoral advantage. But free markets are the most effective way to lift prosperity in America and abroad. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will let the United States guide the rules for global trade, rather than China. That will mean more protection and opportunity for innovators, labor and the environment with stronger economic growth.

2. Commit more resources to fighting cancer.

The president called for a “moonshot” effort to cure cancer in his State of the Union address. The goal deserves more resources for research, including promising studies at UW-Madison. If new dollars can’t be found, then existing federal spending should be reprioritized.

3. Confront heroin addiction.

Bipartisan support for stopping this scourge is strong, as evidenced by several smart laws the Wisconsin Legislature has adopted in recent years. This includes stricter monitoring of pain medications, better data to improve deterrents, and wider availability of a drug that counteracts overdoses.

4. Overhaul the criminal justice system.

Ryan seems especially interested in this goal as a way to reduce poverty. He and the president have expressed support for flexibility on sentencing nonviolent drug offenders, and doing a better job of reintegrating inmates back into society, including federal help in finding work.

Obama has less than a year remaining in the White House. But that’s enough time to get these four goals done.

___

Green Bay Press-Gazette, Feb. 13

Reid Ribble’s promise is 8th district’s loss

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble is keeping his campaign promise.

The Republican from Sherwood announced on Jan. 30 that he is not seeking re-election for the 8th Congressional District seat.

Keeping campaign promises is rare for some politicians and keeping one that means you’re out of a job is even rarer among all the career politicians.

When Ribble ran for Congress in 2010 he said he’d serve only four terms at the most.

When Ribble’s third term ends, Congress will lose one of the few representatives who isn’t afraid to work on a bill with whomever else supports it, whether that person is a Democrat, Republican or independent.

It has been a refreshing change from the lawmakers who oppose proposals from those on the other side of the aisle simply because the other party proposed it, not because they disagreed with the merits of the measure.

It has been refreshing, but not surprising: Before the 2010 election, Ribble told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “I’m a conservative more than I am a Republican.”

Professing that is one thing; following through is another.

Ribble followed through.

He joined the No Labels group, a bipartisan movement with a goal of putting aside party propaganda and focusing on solving problems that all Americans faced, both Democrat and Republican.

Last year, Ribble reintroduced the John Tanner Fairness in Redistricting Act and the Redistricting Transparency Act of 2015. The goal was one the Press-Gazette Editorial Board has been behind for a number of years: Restore transparency to the process of drawing up political boundaries every 10 years and end gerrymandering, which is the act of rigging a district so that it favors one party over any others.

There have been few Republicans on board with these acts, probably because the GOP is in power, in Congress and in the Wisconsin Legislature. (To be fair, it’s an issue the Democrats in Wisconsin could have addressed when they held the Legislature, but they didn’t.)

Ribble has been an ardent supporter of Marinette Marine, he has sought solutions to phosphorus pollution in the bay of Green Bay, he backed efforts for a mandated timber harvest in our national forests, and he fought against unfair trade practices that put the U.S. paper industry at a disadvantage on the world market.

There are no candidates you will agree with 100 percent of the time, but Ribble has earned the benefit of the doubt because he acts on principle, not on fear.

For example, in October he quit the House Freedom Caucus because of its role in House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation.

In December, Ribble said he wouldn’t endorse Donald Trump if he became the Republican presidential nominee.

Many of his peers might be thinking the same thing, but they’re not saying anything; instead, they’re willing to kowtow to party politics rather than make a responsible, reasoned decision on their own.

More so than other lawmakers, Ribble went a long way to bridge the gap between parties and find common ground. “Reid has always operated by the theory that we should find out what we have in common and get those things done,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison said after’s Ribble’s announcement.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette Editorial Board endorsed Ribble when he ran in November 2010 and when he was up for re-election in 2012. (We did not endorse any candidates in 2014.) We said we liked his ability to stand for what he believed in even if it went against the grain of consensus.

We will always support those who vote based on sound principle, strong ethics and what is best for their constituents and taxpayers, not those who vote based on what is best for their political party.

Ribble did that much better than most of his peers.

___

La Crosse Tribune, Feb. 14

Avoid temptation to seal court records

Imagine the horror of being wrongly imprisoned for a heinous crime you didn’t commit. In Wisconsin, that has happened to an estimated 40 people in the past 25 years.

In addition to setting the person free, how much financial compensation will the state provide for that crushing error? The maximum is $25,000 - an embarrassingly low amount.

A bill that has passed the Assembly and will be considered in the Senate would increase the payout to $50,000 a year, to a maximum of $1 million, plus provide additional assistance to the wrongly convicted.

While the state could never truly return those years behind bars, the additional compensation is long overdue.

Sadly, there’s a component of the legislation that we can’t agree with - and it’s troubling on more than one level.

The legislation would require the court to seal all records of the criminal case involved in the wrongful verdict and remove records from the state’s online court records database if the wrongfully convicted person requests it.

While that may seem like the fair thing to do, it is not. It isn’t fair to the victim. It isn’t fair to the rest of us.

Our judicial system isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system we have.

Mistakes happen. Juries and judges can get it wrong. And, with the increasing use of sophisticated technology, new evidence can change the result of a case.

We should all have the right to know about and examine the cases in which errors occur. Democracy can be a messy business. Having the ability to openly scrutinize that public business - regardless of the branch of government - is a crucial tenet of democracy.

Let’s also consider the person who was wrongly imprisoned. On the surface, sealing all records of the criminal case may seem like a humane approach.

The legislation allows “records sealed under this section shall be accessible to the person but may not be available for public inspection or through the consolidated court automation program case management system.”

But after all the publicity involving a criminal conviction, what happens if the person can’t refer a friend or a prospective employer to the court record - either in the court file or the digital record through the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, known as CCAP, to prove that the conviction was in error?

You can’t expunge all of the information about the conviction from Internet searches, so why would you seal the record that proves innocence?

Why doesn’t the state - in bold words listed on court records and on the online court files - let everyone know that the person was wrongfully convicted of the crime and has been released from custody because of the error?

That truly is the most humane way to treat the person who was wrongly convicted. And it’s the most transparent way to admit that justice isn’t always accurately served.

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