- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 22

What Gov. Scott Walker needs to do now

Scott Walker really began running for his dream job on election night last November. His victory speech the night of his re-election to a second term as governor had almost nothing to do with Wisconsin. Instead, it was an attack on “the folks in Washington” and their “top-down approach.”

Walker checked out of Wisconsin that night to pursue the presidency, and the state has been led largely by the Legislature ever since.

Now that Walker’s presidential campaign is over, the governor needs to check back in. He has relationships to repair back home, even within his own party, and many will have doubts about his commitment to the job. But his party still controls every lever of political power in Wisconsin so it is not likely to be a rough homecoming.

That raw power, which Walker has been unwilling to check in the past, is now manifest in bills to gut the state’s elections watchdog - the Government Accountability Board - and to revamp the John Doe investigatory process. And the hubris that typically accompanies one-party rule also was evident in the secret attack on the state open records law, on the eve of the Fourth of July, by Republicans led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), with Walker’s compliance.

If Walker wants his second term to mean something, he should commit his administration to pursuing the highest ideals of his party while, at the same time, reining in its worst impulses.

In Walker’s brief statement Monday, he bemoaned the negative tone of the presidential campaign, which, he said, had degraded to personal attacks. In an unmistakable dig at front-runner Donald Trump, Walker said he felt called to quit the race “to clear the field so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field.” He called on others to do the same.

A winnowing needs to happen, but Walker himself still would be in the race if he had the money to continue. He had built up a large campaign apparatus, but donations were drying up as he dropped in the polls, and Walker did not have billionaire Trump’s means to self-fund a campaign.

The governor may have been hurt more than other candidates by Trump’s flamboyant and often outrageous campaign. But Walker hurt himself with a series of gaffes - refusing to answer a question about evolution; appearing to favor ending birthright citizenship, then correcting himself; talking about the need to secure our border with Canada. He changed his positions on immigration and government subsidies of ethanol as he chased conservative votes in Iowa. On foreign policy, he looked uninformed and out of his element.

His signature issue - that he had stood up to organized labor and won - might have appealed to certain wealthy donors but didn’t resonate as much with GOP voters nationwide. It’s no coincidence his slide in the polls started after he suggested his political victory against noisy but law-abiding picketers in Madison showed how he would defend the country from bloodthirsty Islamic State murderers.

Walker’s Republican brethren in Wisconsin are welcoming the governor home after his quixotic odyssey.

Said Vos: “I look forward to working with Governor Walker on additional reform measures throughout his second term in office.”

We will be watching to ensure their “reform measures” include no more attempts to take power away from the citizens by hiding records that reveal what public officials are up to. Or crippling the agency that oversees political and government shenanigans.

We don’t need any more havoc wreaked here.

We don’t need any policies imposed on Wisconsin in order to appeal to a national constituency for a future run for federal office.

We do need a governor who loves Wisconsin and who will work with citizens, across party lines, to make this an even better place to live.

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The Janesville Gazette, Sept. 19

Republicans should rethink ban on fetal tissue research

Republicans controlling the state Legislature should scrap plans to ban the sale of tissue obtained from aborted fetuses.

We say that in part because Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce opposes a bill that recently passed an Assembly committee while admitting our publisher, Sidney H. Bliss, sits on that business lobby’s board of directors.

However, our opposition goes much deeper.

Rebecca Blank, UW-Madison chancellor, said the legislation could force researchers at her school who use fetal tissue to leave the state to continue their work. That, she argues, would cause a domino effect involving other scientists who collaborate with them.

The bill would ban research on aborted tissue obtained after Jan. 1 of this year. Blank says that would harm her school more than the $250 million in budget cuts the UW System faces in the new biennial budget.

“This is a direct hit,” Blank said last week during a UW Board of Regents meeting at UW-Whitewater. “This is a threat to one of our strongest areas in terms of our reputation in the sciences.”

The full Assembly could vote soon. The lead sponsor, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, suggests UW officials are making “ridiculous” statements and exaggerating potential harm.

Maybe so, but we trust Blank much more than a partisan politician on the outside looking in. Opponents argue the legislation would make Wisconsin less competitive and risk thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity. They say the state could prohibit profiting from aborted fetuses without criminalizing research.

Support for the bill appears solid in the Assembly. It’s weaker in the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that his goal is to pass a ban this year.

Fitzgerald claims he doesn’t want to be “kneejerk,” but that’s what Republicans are doing.

This debate stems from conservative outrage over undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials talking about the sale of fetal tissue. The videos indeed show a crass, offensive, cavalier attitude, but the organization denies making illegal profits.

Scientists have used cells from the fetal tissue for decades to develop crucial vaccines and treat ailments from vision loss to cancer to AIDS, the AP reports. Because fetal cells divide rapidly and hold other valuable research qualities, scientists deem them ideal and believe they offer great promise for more lifesaving advances.

Similarly, WMC successfully fought a 2006 bill to limit embryonic stem cell research.

“At a time when Wisconsin is seeking to succeed in the new knowledge-based economy, it is irresponsible for us to turn our backs on this lifesaving research,” then-President James Haney wrote in 2006.

A Gazette editorial back then concluded: “Tens of thousands of Americans suffer from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart troubles and spinal cord injuries. Keeping the door open to embryonic stem cell research offers these people the best hope that scientists can find cures.”

Likewise, Republicans should not slam the door on the research dollars, jobs and research potential of tissue obtained legally from aborted fetuses -tissue that otherwise would be discarded.

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The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 20

Keep state superintendent an elected office

The Republicans control the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature and (in effect) the state Supreme Court, but one Republican isn’t satisfied. State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, is circulating for co-sponsorship a constitutional amendment to change how the superintendent is selected.

Presently, the head of the Department of Public Instruction is elected by voters for a four-year term. Tony Evers has held the position since 2009.

“Wisconsin is one of only 12 states in the country that elects its state superintendent of public schools rather than have that person appointed by the governor or state school board,” Sanfelippo said. “Nearly every other state agency in Wisconsin is led by an appointed administrator, so it makes sense to treat DPI the same so we can have a more cohesive state government.”

Sanfelippo, The Capital Times reported, said the state’s students should not be “held hostage” for four years based on the winner of a “popularity contest.”

Based on Mr. Sanfelippo’s phrasing, it could be suggested that the residents of his Assembly district are being held hostage by his winning a popularity contest. But that is what elections are.

Wisconsin’s superintendent office is nonpartisan, but elections have traditionally featured a candidate supported by Democrats and public school officials and another backed by Republicans and supporters of private-school vouchers, charters and other public school alternatives.

Sanfelippo’s proposal comes after a string of contentious state budgeting cycles during which Republican lawmakers and Evers have clashed - over how public schools should be funded, measured and held accountable for students’ academic achievement.

We presume that Sanfelippo’s push is connected to Evers’ insistence on running the Department of Public Instruction the way he thinks best, and to the one area where Evers, or any other state superintendent for that matter, could exercise veto-proof authority: Administrative rules. In 2011, the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker passed a law that allowed the governor to veto administrative rules developed by the state superintendent. A state appeals court ruled that provision unconstitutional in February.

We’re reminded of the immediate aftermath of President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, when there was a move in some Republican-majority legislatures to change those states’ Electoral College delegations to the congressional district method rather than winner-take-all, the idea being that Obama had been the beneficiary of 48 of the 50 states being winner-take-all. We editorialized then that the Electoral College suited Republicans just fine when Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were cruising to overwhelming election-day victories, that the problem in other presidential elections was with the Republican candidate and his campaign, not with the Electoral College.

Furthermore, events in recent years in Wisconsin make a change to appointed state superintendents seem unnecessary. Walker and Sanfelippo’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature have demonstrated considerable ability to effect change in Wisconsin public education through Act 10’s substantial weakening of teachers’ unions; expansion of the voucher program to enable students to attend private schools; and, specifically in Racine County, the imposition of a change to districts for Racine Unified School Board seats instead of at-large elections.

Evers opposed Act 10 and voucher expansion but had no power to stop either from happening. Reverse the roles - a Republican-leaning state superintendent and Democrats in control of the governor’s office and Legislature - and the outcome on legislation the Democrats wanted would surely have been the same.

Evers holds office because the people of Wisconsin put him there in 2009 and re-elected him in 2013. When the people of Wisconsin decide they want a change in state education policy, they will use the power of the ballot box to effect that change.

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