- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, June 4

Trump’s bad decision on climate accord won’t stop progress

The president’s rejection of an international climate agreement last week was disappointing but expected. He already had signed executive orders in March to dismantle the previous administration’s limits on carbon emissions from power plants, which was central to America’s compliance with the Paris Accord.

Yet as much as President Donald Trump, with all his bluster, wants to steer America backward - pretending our nation’s future can run on the dirty coal of the past - reality will prevail.

Trump won’t have the last word on protecting our environment and economy for future generations. Instead, private businesses, entrepreneurs and energy users will continue to innovate and adapt. And to prosper in the global economy, our nation will have little choice but to pursue increasingly affordable clean energy solutions.

Here’s reality: Lots of power companies, including Madison Gas and Electric locally, are still planning to meet the goals for lower carbon emissions to ease climate change, as set by former President Barack Obama. And some utilities are going much further, doing today what Trump seems to think is impossible.

Iowa’s largest utility, MidAmerican Energy, is investing billions of dollars in wind energy with the goal of increasing its renewable power production from 55 percent today to 90 percent within a few years. And it’s promising not to raise its rates for more than a decade.

At the same time, Iowa - a state Trump won in 2016 but will have a hard time winning in 2020 by touting coal - counts more than 6,000 jobs in the wind industry.

Nationwide, wind power employs more than 100,000, while solar energy accounts for 374,000 jobs, compared to coal’s 160,000. Jobs in bioenergy now top 130,000.

Further expansion of renewable energy will help ease our warming climate, which poses serious risk to our economy and way of life. The conservative approach should be to plan ahead and to hedge against risk. Instead, President Trump is recklessly ignoring scientific evidence of a serious and growing threat.

His own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson - the former CEO of an oil company that supports the Paris agreement - had recommended Trump stick with the international accord. Doing so would allow America to lead on the issue, rather than cede global influence to China, as the president is doing.

In Trump’s dark vision, America will suffer blackouts, businesses will halt and millions of jobs will be lost unless our nation clings to the dirty coal that powered the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago. Trump oddly views international cooperation on a nonbinding goal of reducing the carbon emissions linked to climate change as a devious plot, rather than part of the solution it is.

Because the Paris agreement is largely symbolic, Trump’s rejection won’t halt our nation’s or the world’s progress. As Tillerson said Friday, America will continue to reduce its emissions. It also must invest in research and technology.

Trump predictably got it wrong last week. But America will still get it right.


The Journal Times of Racine, June 3

High court has chance to reject gerrymandering

My, my, how time flies when we are having redistricting fun.

Just look at the calendar - it’s 2017, and another U.S. Census is just three years down the road. And that means Wisconsin will have another chance to redraw its electoral maps for congressional and statehouse districts.

That’s probably a good thing, because the fight over the last redistricting, done after the 2010 Census, is still working its way through the courts - and has finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin case poses, for the first time, the question of whether “packing” and “cracking” voters into districts for purely partisan advantage violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Packing” is the term for lumping as many voters who have historically favored one political party into a district in order to keep those voters from influencing the results in a neighboring area that might be more competitive.

“Cracking” is drawing the lines of a district to spread voters who favor one party over a wide area to lessen their influence.

Both techniques are used by political parties as they draw gerrymandered maps with the sole intent of maximizing their chances to gain seats and political power.

It’s not new - both Democrats and Republicans here in Wisconsin, and elsewhere, have drawn the political maps to try to win as many districts as possible for decades. The objective being to control Congress and state legislatures when they have been in the majority and have wielded the redistricting stick.

It’s about power - political power: Keeping control of statehouses and congressional districts, making them less competitive and taking away the rights of voters to decide whom they want to represent them.

In the last electoral redraw - the one that is being taken up by the Supreme Court - Republicans discarded the historic district lines in Racine and Kenosha counties and lumped the cities of Racine and Kenosha into the same state Senate district, creating one “safe” Democrat-leaning district while lessening the impact of the voters here to influence or win seats in two districts.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has taken up numerous cases over race-based redistricting - the most recent, just last week in North Carolina - where it rejected the packing of two congressional districts with predominantly black voters in order to minimize their votes in other districts.

But the high court had been reluctant to take on the issue of purely partisan redistricting until it agreed to consider whether the Wisconsin Assembly district map violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; it was drawn to neutralize the votes of Democrats, depriving them of representation.

Over the years, political parties have gotten better and better at gerrymandering to their advantage, thanks to better voter data information and computer technologies that allow better mapping.

And they have gotten bolder about their power-grabbing designs. A recent Chicago Tribune article noted that in the North Carolina dispute, 30 percent of the state’s voters are registered Republicans, but the party holds 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. As GOP lawmakers drew up their maps, one was quoted as saying the goal should be to stack 10 districts to favor Republicans “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

We would hope the Supreme Court takes the Wisconsin case as an opportunity to reject the idea that politicians can - or should - use redistricting for their own partisan political gain by choosing their voters and instead affirm the idea that it is the voters who should choose the people it wants to represent them.

The criteria for electoral map-making should be communities of interest, geographical proximity, existing political boundaries, social and economic connections - and not the tortured, byzantine, stretched shapes and disconnected areas that politicians have created to grasp political advantage.


USA Today Network-Wisconsin, June 2

Abandon the budget smoke screen

Leaders of the Wisconsin Legislature’s powerful budget committee deserve praise for pledging not to use a secretive procedure - a 999 motion - to slip proposals into the state budget in the 11th hour.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, told the Wisconsin State Journal last week they don’t want to use the 999 motion in the 2017-19 biennial budget.

Yet we think they can appreciate how President Reagan’s wisdom to trust but verify applies to their pledge. The temptation to use a 999 motion will remain strong.

The process allows legislators to submit motions to the Joint Finance Committee anonymously, which means they can sidestep accountability. Representatives and senators who put forth bills and amendments have to sponsor them. Not so with the 999 motion.

Two years ago, a measure that would have dismantled the state’s open records law was tucked into a 999 motion. We joined citizens and journalists across Wisconsin in advocating against it, and thankfully, public outcry forced lawmakers to abandon the changes.

The measure’s timing also has been questionable. The 2015 proposal was released before the July 4 weekend - how convenient - and the 2013 proposal came in the middle of the night.

Furthermore, policies in 999 motions don’t get public hearings like other measures in the budget, and legislators are asked to approve them quickly. Public policy items should not be in the state budget in the first place, but since that’s not going to change any time soon, they deserve public scrutiny at the very least.

As troubling as all that is, what concerns us most is the increasing breadth of policies in the budget package.

Analysis by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council found that the motion averaged five pages and 15 proposals in the five budget bills before 2011. With the 2011-13 bill, it rose to 11 pages and 54 proposals. In the 2015-17 budget bill, it grew even more with 24 pages and 81 proposals.

Featured in the 999 motions of the previous two budget cycles were proposals to remove public access to deliberative documents, to create an income tax deduction for private school tuition and to replace the phrasing of “living wage” in state law with “minimum wage.”

These are not small potatoes policies or minor tweaks. They have far-reaching impact and deserve to be debated in a public forum, not boiled down to bullet points on a memo before the budget goes to the Senate and Assembly.

We agree - it’s time to abandon the smoke screen.

We deserve lawmakers who take ownership over their proposals, who give the public a fair shot to voice opinions and who don’t slip big policy issues into the budget at the last minute.

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