Racine Journal Times. December 17, 2021.
Editorial: Legislature should act, finally, on UW pay raises
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations is the state body officially charged with signing off on pay increases for UW System employees and tradespeople that are in the state budget.
Lately, it’s been a very distant relation.
The committee has not met since February 2020 — closing in on two years now. A check of JCOER’s website this week shows a calendar with “no meetings scheduled.”
That’s raised concerns among UW employees who are slated to begin receiving a 2% pay increase beginning on Jan. 2 and raised the ire of tradespeople who are still awaiting action on a 1.8% pay boost for 2021 – that’s right, this year, which is coming to a close – and a scheduled 1.2% pay hike in 2022.
Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson cautioned this week that the Jan. 2 pay increase for System employees could be delayed if the legislative committee does not meet and said it is “unclear” if the wage boost would be retroactive if the committee doesn’t meet until later in 2022.
Tradespeople — some 450 electricians, carpenters, steamfitters and others — who work on UW campuses have already received smaller pay increases than nonunion employees in recent years because Act 10, signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. Scott Walker, restricts how much a public-sector union can negotiate in base wage increase to the rate of inflation, according to news reports this week.
Jac Weitzel, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin, said the tradespeople “feel very underappreciated, overworked and singled out for being part of a union.”
“They were deemed essential workers and worked through the pandemic. Yet the committee just doesn’t feel like meeting to give them a small raise.”
Given that inflation is roaring along at a rate of 6.8% last month and that wholesale prices in the past 12 months rose 9.6%, those pay-increase percentages seem slim — but slim is better than nothing.
A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Vos, R-Rochester, who co-chairs JCOER with Sen. Chris Kapenga, said this week Vos views the raises for tradespeople as “reasonable” and that he hoped to schedule a committee meeting in the next few weeks.
We hope so, too.
Surely Speaker Vos and Sen. Kapenga can find a day or two in their busy holiday schedules to catch up on old business and sign off on these wage adjustments — particularly for the tradespeople who have kept UW buildings up and running during the pandemic.
At the very least, JCOER could meet by February, the second anniversary of their last meeting. It could be quite a celebration.
Madison State Journal. December 20, 2021.
Editorial: Ron Johnson spouts his worst idea yet
Wisconsin’s conspiratorial U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has spouted plenty of garbage in recent months — that mouthwash has been proven to kill COVID-19, that unvaccinated people are being put “basically into internment camps,” that climate change is “bullsh-t.”
But the Oshkosh Republican’s worst idea among many doozies went like this: He wants his partisan pals at the statehouse in Madison to take over the administration of Wisconsin elections.
Republicans who control the Legislature have already gerrymandered voting districts in Wisconsin to give conservative candidates an unfair advantage in elections. Johnson isn’t satisfied with that because the rigged maps won’t help him. He has to run statewide for his U.S. Senate seat.
So Johnson wants his colleagues to go further. He called on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and other GOP leaders to all but count the votes following elections so Republican candidates are more assured of victory.
Republicans in other states are similarly trying to seize control of election administration. They hope to decide close races in their favor by manipulating voting rules before and after Election Day. If a Democrat narrowly wins, for example, just throw out some of the Democrat’s votes on a subjective technicality.
Wisconsin should reject and prevent such devious attempts to undermine our democracy.
Johnson recently accused the Wisconsin Elections Commission of “systematically” violating laws for running the 2020 election, and he suggested that Vos and Co. unilaterally usurp the WEC’s powers, regardless of what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers might think.
“There’s no mention of the governor in the Constitution” when it comes to running elections, Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It says state legislatures. And so if I were running the joint — and I’m not — I would come out and I would just say, ‘We’re reclaiming our authority. Don’t listen to WEC anymore. Their guidances are null and void.’”
The WEC is far from perfect. Though its staff is professional and nonpartisan, the commissioners who oversee that staff are split into two partisan sides: three Republicans and three Democrats. Sometimes this forces bipartisan agreement on election rules that both parties can accept.
But often it doesn’t. A recent State Journal analysis showed that commissioners deadlocked 3-3 on important decisions 32 times during the 2020 elections. Split votes can leave local election officials and candidates without clear guidance on how to properly handle ballots and run campaigns.
The WEC is a poor substitute for its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board, which was overseen by retired judges who were nonpartisan and insulated from state politics as much as possible. With sweeping bipartisan support following scandals more than a decade ago, Republicans including Vos created the GAB. It did a fine job of staying above the political fray and issuing clear and fair decisions.
But when Vos didn’t like some of the rulings the neutral GAB made, Vos and other Republicans replaced the GAB with the WEC, whose partisan members are appointed by legislative leaders and the governor. Now Vos is complaining that the WEC isn’t subservient enough because it doesn’t always do what he wants.
Enter Johnson’s bad idea.
Not only would putting the politicians in charge of elections allow them to further rig the rules for voting and campaigning in their favor, it also would destroy public trust in fair elections. Wisconsin needs neutral or at least balanced referees overseeing our democracy — not participants in elections setting election rules on the fly to help them get reelected. That’s obviously a conflict of interest.
Johnson and Vos have incessantly run down Wisconsin’s solid election system to try to appease former President Donald Trump, their failed presidential candidate who still refuses — more than a year later — to concede defeat. So Johnson’s latest ploy is no surprise.
To his credit, Vos downplayed Johnson’s proposed power grab, saying Vos didn’t know if the Legislature had the authority to follow Johnson’s advice.
Yet Vos recklessly called for the resignation of Meagan Wolfe, the WEC’s nonpartisan administrator. Vos faulted Wolfe and the WEC for allowing shut-ins at nursing homes last year to vote without special voting deputies on site, as required by law. Instead, the bipartisan WEC — which includes a former GOP lawmaker appointed by Vos — agreed to let these frail residents vote by absentee ballot without voting deputies present. They did so for a very good reason: Wisconsin was in the depths of the worst pandemic in a century. Many nursing homes wouldn’t let the special voting deputies enter their facilities because of public health restrictions.
That was a reasonable decision that neither Johnson nor Vos objected to when the WEC voted at a public meeting last year to allow the exemption. Johnson and Vos are only complaining now to further appease Trump, whose support they think they need to stay in power.
Johnson faces a difficult reelection next fall if he runs, so he’s searching for every possible advantage.
Wisconsin should reject his self-serving call for partisan-tilted election administration. Instead, voters should question Johnson’s fitness for office if he seeks a third term.
Kenosha News. December 22, 2021.
Editorial: This holiday season, know when you’re too drunk to drive
David Hanaway killed himself and two other people on Madison’s East Side on Dec. 14. Hanaway was the driver of a silver sedan that was speeding west on Cottage Grove Road at about 9:20 a.m. when it ran a red light and T-boned a black SUV occupied by Mark A. Brylski and Kathy A. Brylski, killing them, Madison police spokesperson Stephanie Fryer said.
The sedan was driving about 60 mph at the time of the crash, more than twice the speed limit, according to witnesses, Fryer said. A passenger in the sedan admitted he was drinking alcohol in the vehicle while Hanaway was driving, Fryer said. Hanaway has a lengthy criminal record that includes four OWI convictions.
A Cambridge, Wis., man pleaded guilty on Nov. 18 to charges for the drunken driving deaths of two people who were in his car that crashed after he fled from a traffic stop last year. Lonzo J. Simmons was charged in September 2020 with causing the deaths of Kara J. Cloud, 28, of Madison, and Clinton W.G. Harvey, 27, of Sun Prairie, after driving away from a Sun Prairie police officer who had initially stopped Simmons. Simmons’ blood alcohol concentration was 0.21 percent, nearly three times the legal limit for drivers in Wisconsin. Data retrieved from the car indicated Simmons’ car was going 61 mph one second before the crash, and that the brakes were not engaged for eight seconds before the crash.
In September in Racine County Circuit Court, Keisha Marie Farrington was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of driving drunk when she struck and killed Clarence A. Ellis, 64, on July 30, 2019 as he crossed the street at the intersection of Marquette and Sixth streets. Farrington had been arrested in 2015 for second offense OWI causing injury, after she hit a friend with her car. When that collision occurred, she was traveling with her infant daughter. Farrington had been arrested for third offense OWI just 20 days before the collision that killed Ellis.
Statistics show that someone is killed in an alcohol-related traffic crash every three hours in Wisconsin. Drugged driving also is a growing problem in Wisconsin. Last year, there were 6,050 alcohol-related crashes, including 167 deaths, and alcohol contributed to more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities.
As we enter the heart of another holiday season, we’re here today to ask you to know when you’ve had too much to drink, to know when it’s time to ask for a ride.
Be forewarned. The Kenosha Police Department is joining other law enforcement agencies across the state during the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign that started last week and runs through New Year’s Day.
By boosting law enforcement patrols to get impaired drivers off the roads, the national campaign focuses on preventing tragedies during the holiday season.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin’s SafeRide program has as its stated objective to “eliminate drunk driving on Wisconsin’s roadways. Its members encourage your bartender to ask about the SafeRide program. You can locate your nearest Tavern League member and SafeRide provider at https://www.tlw.org/saferide/find-a-saferide-member/. Or you can download the free TLW mobile app. The app shows you which members are nearby, in order of location.
During the holiday season, and after it, there’s no good reason for you to drive when you know you’ve had too much to drink. Get home safely, and do your part to make sure everyone else gets home safely, too.