- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 2

Free review of state vote isn’t so bad

Critics say the unprecedented statewide recount of Wisconsin’s vote for president is a waste of time and money.

They’re half right.

The elaborate task of tallying - to a large extent by hand - nearly 3 million ballots will certainly tie up county clerks across the state, distracting them from other duties. And it’s hard to justify the two-week exercise, given no credible evidence of tampering or irregularities at the polls Nov. 8.

But the cost isn’t a big deal, at least for taxpayers, because they’re not footing the bill. Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign is funding the effort, as prescribed by state law.

That means Wisconsin is essentially getting a free review of its voting system, which isn’t so bad. And we fully expect it will show the election results were correct, which will help build public trust.

There’s some value in that, following a long campaign in which Republican Donald Trump, who won Wisconsin and the White House, repeatedly trashed the process as rigged and corrupt. Even in victory, the president-elect - offering no evidence - has wildly claimed millions of people voted illegally across the country. Usually when you win, you don’t whine about the vote being unfair. But Trump is the most unusual and chaotic presidential winner in modern American history.

County clerks across Wisconsin started recounting ballots Thursday and have until Dec. 13 to complete the elaborate task. About half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, including Dane, plan to tally their votes by hand. Others will run their ballots through machines or employ some combination of hand and machine counts.

Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes, which is 0.75 percent of all ballots cast. That wasn’t close enough for the state to pay for a recount. Instead, Stein is covering the estimated $3.5 million cost.

Stein won barely 1 percent of the vote, so her demand for a recount is little more than a publicity stunt. Nonetheless, Stein is following state rules, so this gratuitous exercise in double checking must proceed.

That’s fine.

The recount should show the public that county clerks across Wisconsin do a great job of carefully and accurately tallying ballots. And in the unlikely event the review finds something awry, then this process will definitely be worth it. Any problems, from small to stunning, can be fixed before the next election.

But don’t get too excited or troubled. Even if a recount showed that Trump had lost Wisconsin because of a clerical mistake or computer hack, Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton would still need to flip Pennsylvania and Michigan to put the national election in question.

The chances of that are beyond slim.

So make the best of your recount, Wisconsin. You’re getting a free test of the state’s voting system that we’re confident will produce reassuring results.


The Capital Times, Nov. 30

Wisconsin knows Betsy DeVos is a horrible pick for education secretary

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has sought for years to undermine public education as an advocate for irresponsible and discredited schemes to steer money away from the programs and the public school students that need them most.

She’s a special-interest power player who has used her money to warp the politics of Wisconsin and states across the country in order to advance an education agenda that is as unworkable as it is irresponsible.

Now, President-elect Donald Trump wants to make DeVos his secretary of education.

Trump could not have chosen a worse nominee than DeVos, who American Federation of Teachers President Randy Weingarten identifies as “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.”

Weingarten, who has worked closely with teachers and parents in Wisconsin and states across the country, objects to DeVos because of the billionaire’s advocacy for an agenda that the AFT president says would put the focus of the Trump administration on “privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”

But Weingarten also notes another problem with the DeVos nomination: “DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan.”

That’s a vital detail to be considered by senators who must determine whether to approve the DeVos nomination.

DeVos is a political operative, not a serious thinker regarding education.

Interviews with DeVos report that she is interested in “(helping) people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms - reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.”

The problem is that DeVos is not promoting honest debate about whether her proposals would actually benefit elementary and secondary school students. She is playing politics in the ugliest and most irresponsible of ways.

A former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos and her husband Dick (a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate) have directed tens of millions of dollars into the ideological and electoral infrastructure that supports school privatization. “Nowhere is the impact of the DeVos family fortune greater … than in the movement to privatize public education,” declared a People for the American Way study, which explained how the DeVos political operation has used a family fortune to “create an intricate national network of nonprofits, political action committees and federal groups known as 527s that effectively fund the political arm of the school voucher movement.”

The DeVos operation has warped politics not just in Michigan but in Wisconsin. It has actively supported Gov. Scott Walker and his allies for years.

Walker got $70,000 in direct contributions to his 2010 gubernatorial race from “choice” advocates. But even more money was spent on so-called “independent” campaigning by groups that poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into promoting Walker and his legislative allies and attacking supporters of public education.

All of this has made Betsy DeVos incredibly influential.

But not in a good way.

One group with which DeVos has been associated, the political action committee All Children Matter, was fined a record $5.2 million by the Ohio Elections Commission after it was charged with illegally shifting money into the state to support candidates considered friendly to private-school “choice” initiatives. It was also fined for political misconduct in Wisconsin, where the secretive group’s 2006 campaigning violated campaign finance laws by expressly urging voters to cast ballots against legislative candidates who were strong backers of public education.

Those troubles led to the evolution of All Children Matter into the American Federation for Children, which has collected money from a who’s who of right-wing millionaires and billionaires, including the political operations of right-wing donors Charles and David Koch.

An ardent backer of Walker’s agenda, the American Federation for Children has poured millions of dollars into Wisconsin election campaigns since 2010. That spending has played a critical role in keeping Walker and his allies in power. But it has not improved education in Wisconsin. In fact, the group One Wisconsin Now noted that “we have seen her school privatization playbook in action in Wisconsin, and the result is more failure and less accountability.”

“Betsy DeVos has been a driving force for the privatization of our public schools. She’s used her family’s wealth to reward politicians who support her agenda across the nation, including Scott Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin,” said One Wisconsin Now’s Scot Ross. “Being a billionaire whose hobby is underwriting campaigns to steal our public school dollars and send them to unaccountable private schools disqualifies her from being our secretary of education.”

That’s an all-too-accurate assessment of Betsy DeVos, and we urge Wisconsin’s senators to oppose her nomination to serve in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.


Kenosha News, Dec. 1

Not easy but not impossible

It’s clear the transportation budget will be an important topic in the next legislative session in Wisconsin. What’s not clear is what the Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office plan to do about a budget that’s about $1 billion short of the amount needed for already planned new projects and maintenance.

Some leaders, notably Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have said they want to keep “all options on the table,” which means he is willing to consider increases in the gas tax or in registration fees. Gov. Scott Walker has said he won’t raise taxes or fees without comparable reductions in taxes and fees elsewhere.

With gas prices low and the unemployment rate low, there probably will never be a better time to raise gasoline taxes.

But if the politicians in power insist on cutting taxes elsewhere, let’s see a plan for that.

What state residents don’t want to see is another year of ignoring a problem that has been obvious for years. The state government actually made this problem worse in 2006 when it took away the indexing of the gas tax, which allowed the tax to rise with inflation.

That’s just one reason the gas tax doesn’t raise enough money for the transportation budget. The main reason is that cars are more fuel-efficient now, so people can drive more and pay less in gas taxes.

None of this is new. In January of 2013, a bipartisan transportation commission unanimously endorsed increases in the gasoline tax and registration fees to cope with the looming transportation budget deficit. The tax and fee increases would have amounted to about $120 per vehicle per year.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian was on that commission, although he was not mayor at the time. Antaramian said then that without revenue increases, the state would not be able to keep up with infrastructure needs.

None of the commission’s recommendations were enacted, and the problem is becoming more urgent each month.

Speaker Vos, in a report to Assembly Republicans called “No Easy Answers,” said, “Transportation is a bigger concern for job creators looking to locate a business than Right to Work, tax incentives or environmental regulations.” He’s probably right.

He’s also probably right about the answers not being easy. But the solutions are not impossible, either. What’s needed is for elected leaders to commit to a responsible course of action.

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