- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wisconsin State Journal, March 4

Lawmakers right to scrutinize arena request

A local sales tax in Milwaukee and four surrounding counties paid for Miller Park, home of the Brewers.

A Brown County sales tax - approved by county voters - helped renovate Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

So where is the financial commitment from the Milwaukee area to help build a new arena for the Bucks? And how much will that be?

Those questions need answers - along with the total cost and scope of the project - before the state pledges any financial support.

Republicans who run the state Legislature are right to press team and local officials for more detail, and to scrutinize $220 million in state borrowing the governor has included in his state budget for a Bucks arena.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says his city will pay for streets, utilities and parking around the new arena, perhaps by creating special tax districts. That sounds promising. But it needs to be quantified.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele suggests the county could donate land. That might work, too, if such a donation proves substantial.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said this week he wants the owners of the Bucks to kick in more of their money, which seems reasonable. So far, team owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry have pledged $150 million. That’s a lot.

But how much of the project will that cover? The public hasn’t seen a firm price tag.

A team source pegs the cost at between $450 million and $500 million, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yet the team just last week named an architectural firm, so construction estimates are fluid.

Former Bucks owner and retired U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million, which is wonderful.

So what’s left? And what if any burden will fall on state taxpayers?

Gov. Scott Walker suggests state income taxes charged to NBA basketball players who use the new arena can cover the $220 million the state would borrow for the project.

Maybe. But that assumes player salaries will continue to soar, and that the NBA will reap considerably higher profits on TV contracts in the future.

State lawmakers should be cautious and ask a lot of tough questions before committing any tax dollars.

The Milwaukee Bucks don’t mean as much to Wisconsin’s identity as the Brewers and Packers. Yet all of Wisconsin should want to keep the Bucks in our state, which will require a new arena, according to the NBA.

The Bucks help brand Milwaukee as a big-time city, especially when the team is winning. The Bucks have a big economic impact on Downtown Milwaukee and surrounding communities.

Those who benefit the most from having a professional sports team in the state’s largest city bear the most responsibility for making a new arena become reality. They need to step up in significant ways before state taxpayers ever will.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 3

Wisconsin legislators should end gerrymandering for good

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a closely watched case testing Arizona’s nonpartisan redistricting commission. At issue here is how far the people may go to prevent partisans from carving up their states to maximum advantage. We hope the court recognizes the right of the people to adopt smarter, less partisan means to redraw district boundaries every 10 years.

More than a dozen states now use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines - and all of them are at risk in this case.

Wisconsin still relies on legislators to do the job, though it has flirted with a different model that stands a better chance of withstanding constitutional scrutiny. Senate Bill 58, which was introduced last Friday, would adopt a model pioneered by Iowa.

The bill would take the task of redrawing political maps away from the partisans in the Legislature and give the job to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. But unlike the independent commission model, legislative approval would be required. We urge legislators to get behind this idea. The 2011 redistricting process, which was run by Republicans, cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 million and left voters with no competitive House districts and very few in either the state Assembly or state Senate.

In Arizona, voters approved a ballot measure in 2000 to amend the state constitution and give most redistricting duties to an independent commission made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairman. The state is made up of 35% registered Republicans, 35% independents and 30% Democrats. The congressional map the commission came up with had four safe seats for Republicans, two for Democrats and three that were competitive.

That wasn’t good enough for Republicans, who first tried to boot out the commission chair and then launched the court case that now has reached the Supreme Court.

Republicans in Wisconsin, likewise, killed reform efforts in the last session. But Democratic hands are hardly clean here or elsewhere. When Democrats held the advantage, they made no serious attempts to reform Wisconsin’s partisan system. And in Illinois, Democrats imposed on voters a highly partisan set of maps the last time around.

Arizona Republicans are arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives them the right to draw their own districts; they point to Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution that gives legislatures the power to decide “the times, places and manner of holding elections.” And that, they argue, should trump any ballot initiative.

Based on oral arguments on Monday, some observers believe the Arizona law is in trouble. As Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, noted at his Election Law Blog, “From my read of the transcript, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito, and Justice Kennedy all seemed skeptical that the word ‘legislature’ used in the Elections Clause could refer to an initiated redistricting process in which the legislature is not involved.”

Gerrymandering has contributed to the hyperpartisanship witnessed both in Madison and Washington, D.C., in recent years. When politicians have to fight for all the votes, they have to listen to all the voters. And when they don’t have to fight for all the votes, the opposite is true. With so many “safe” seats, the real election is in the primary, which attracts a more partisan electorate and leads to more partisan representation.

Redistricting isn’t the only factor in increased partisanship and gridlock. But it’s one that lawmakers can remedy. Politicians hate the idea of nonpartisan mapmaking. It’s more work for them. And it puts their jobs at risk. But it’s the right thing to do. Legislators should adopt the Iowa model of reapportionment.


Leader-Telegram, March 2

Mainstream Muslims must speak up loudly

President Barack Obama’s verbal gymnastics to avoid calling the wave of ghoulish beheadings, bombings and burning alive a Jordanian pilot as the acts of Islamic extremists has gotten much news coverage.

The reason for Obama’s reluctance to utter those words is his apparent concern that doing so would alienate the vast majority of the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims who abhor these terrible acts as much as the rest of us.

What’s hard to believe, however, is that peace-loving Muslims would take issue with Obama stating out loud the obvious fact that such horrific violence is being done by people using isolated passages in the Quran to justify their sadistic behavior.

How bad does it have to get before Obama and peace-loving Muslims identify the enemy by name and drop the story line about similar zany behavior by militant Christians centuries ago?

Perhaps the most disgusting report of all came last week and was reported as follows:

“A girl as young as 10 blew herself up in a busy market in northeastern Nigeria, killing herself and four others, and fueling fears that Islamic extremists are using kidnapped girls as suicide bombers.”

Anyone who remotely connects this unthinkable act with “religion” is likewise seriously deranged.

Sadly, it appears the extremists are having some success recruiting vulnerable young Muslims from the United States and elsewhere on the Internet.

The New York Times quoted an Imam in Virginia who said he was trying to convince a teenager being recruited online by the Islamic State to reject its sales pitch.

“The recruiters wouldn’t leave him alone,” Imam Mohamed Magid told the Times. “They tweet him at night, first thing in the morning. If I talk to him for an hour, they undo him in two hours.”

The militant Islamists continually troll the Internet for impressionable Muslims, often youths. Officials estimate about 150 Americans have traveled or tried to travel to fight with ISIS in Syria, the Times reported. The number of recruits is even higher in France and England, where it is believed hundreds have taken up with ISIS.

The danger is that “home-grown” terrorists may not be on any watch lists and have passports to fly overseas for “training” and then return to unleash a terrorist attack. Homegrown terrorists have struck in Paris, Canada, Denmark and Australia, raising concerns that copycats in America might follow suit.

The Muslim community has a key role to play to counter the terrorists luring their children and other Muslims with their garbage about building, as the Times put it, “a puritanical utopia.”

Bombs alone won’t squelch the threat without a strong message by the mainstream global Muslim community that the poison being spewed by a small minority of those hijacking their religion is the antithesis of how true Muslims view those of other faiths.

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