By The Associated Press

Kenosha News. March 22, 2023.

Editorial: State symbolism can go a long way

An official Wisconsin state rifle.

Of course, we say sarcastically, that’s just what the state needs. Why didn’t someone think of this before?

We noted with interest last week that Republican lawmakers were circulating a bill to designate a lever-action rifle produced in Rice Lake by the Henry Repeating Arms company as the official state rifle.

Specifically, they’re talking about the Henry All-Weather .45-70, a utilitarian rifle that has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,246 and has no doubt helped keep the ravaging deer herds in the state in check for years. It can also bring down bear, hogs, moose and elk at 100 yards.

The impetus for the legislation comes from state Reps. Dave Armstrong, Treig Pronschinske, James Edming, and Sen. Romaine Quinn, from the Rice Lake area and Mondovi in west central Wisconsin.

They say the proposed bill is a way to recognize a Wisconsin company as well as honor the state’s hunting traditions. “The nice part about this bill is that it simply honors a longstanding tradition that many Wisconsinites enjoy,” said Rep. Pronschinske. “Something that pays homage to many generations of hunters is in no way political and should not be framed as such.”

State Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, scoffed at the bill, saying, “Are you kidding me? Why? Why? You know there are mounting problems in our communities that people are facing. It seems silly we’re trying to go down a path of trying to designate things that are just bumper-sticker signals to a base.”

Whoa. Easy there senator, we’re not talking about Uzis or AR-15s or weapons of choice in mass shootings. This is a well-made lever-action rifle that’s seen a lot on state farms and in the woods during hunting season. Not only that, it won the Wisconsin Manufacturer’s and Commerce’s “Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin” contest in 2019.

But, before the area legislators take up this chance to boost the Henry All-Weather rifle and to chum for points with gun supporters, why couldn’t lawmakers take a broader view and make a few amendments to the proposed bill.

Over the years, the state Legislature has officially recognized a wide variety of state symbols. They include the state tree – the sugar maple; the state fish, the muskellunge; the domestic animal, the dairy cow; the beverage, milk; the dance, the polka; the fruit, the cranberry. Even, Racine has a piece of the action with the official state pastry – the kringle (although Kenosha demands a recount for Paielli’s cyclops doughnut).

But to our knowledge, the Legislature has not, until now, considered honoring a commercial brand like the Henry All-Weather rifle.

To be fair to residents of southeastern Wisconsin, we would urge State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, to add a few plums recognizing products from our area. If we’re going to do this, we should be getting our “piece of the action.”

There could be official state mosquito repellent – DeepWoods Off, from SC Johnson. Maybe even add an official state bug, ant, wasp killer like RAID, also by SCJ. And it would be nice to see the Legislature fete Racine’s much-loved hamburger establishment – Kewpee’s (and no we don’t care what the people of Seymour, WI have to say about their claim to be the birthplace of the hamburger). Why not keep going, with an official state deli by designating Tenuta’s in Kenosha, an official state tool from one of the many lines put out by Snap-on, or even, can you imagine it, an official state underwear from Jockey.

The possibilities are endless.

Not only that, but the Legislature could monetize the state symbols into a new revenue stream to fill state coffers for years to come. The state budget may be flush right now with a $7 billion surplus, but that won’t last forever. If the Milwaukee Brewers can get $4 million a year for naming rights to American Family Field, imagine how much revenue would roll in from an official Wisconsin State pizza, an official Wisconsin State brand name beer or brandy?

Or an official Wisconsin state rifle?

While we’re not encouraging it, if we’re going to sell state symbols, we should at least get a good price for them.


Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. March 22, 2023.

Editorial: La Follette resignation leaves questions

There’s something about last week’s resignation by Doug La Follette, Wisconsin’s longtime secretary of state, that doesn’t sit well with us.

First and foremost, though, the state owes its thanks to La Follette. He served 10 full terms in office, a mark that isn’t likely to be approached by anyone in the future. And, at age 82, it’s hard to argue with the fact he’s clearly earned his retirement.

Secretary of state isn’t a job that generally draws a lot of attention. That has changed in recent years. Wisconsin voters rejected an attempt to abolish the office in 2018, and it did so by a convincing margin. Legislative pressure on the office is clear. Many of its powers have been taken away, and both its budget and staffing are lower than what they were in prior decades.

La Follette pointed to those issues in his letter of resignation.

“After many years of frustration, I’ve decided I don’t want to spend the next three and a half years trying to run an office without adequate resources and staffing levels. After decades of public service, I must now focus on my personal needs,” he wrote.

The issue we have is that none of those issues are new. All were in place prior to last fall’s election. And the Legislature hasn’t passed new items that would significantly change the office this term.

We’ll grant that people reach their breaking points at different times. It’s not as if mental and emotional strains follow a schedule. But it’s also difficult to think La Follette’s frustrations weren’t in place well before last year’s elections, or that he didn’t consider whether he should decline to run.

To us, running for office is a promise to voters. Candidates pledge that, barring unusual circumstances, they’re prepared to see the term of office through. When they leave early, without a clear and convincing event that precipitates such a decision, it’s fair to question why they ran. That’s especially the case when the resignation takes place a scant four months after the election.

It’s also, to our minds, unfair to the outgoing official’s successor. There are inevitably questions asked about whether the transition was a prearranged deal, and indeed such accusations are being leveled against the newly-appointed secretary, Sarah Godlewski. Some have linked her appointment to her decision to bow out of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, which was won by former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

We’d be surprised if this week’s changes were planned out that far in advance. It strikes us as far more likely Godlewski’s decision last year was linked to intra-party machinations over future campaign support and funding than the change here.

But such is the climate today. When officials use theoretically neutral positions to openly espouse partisan goals it becomes easy enough for people to see things in the shadows, regardless of whether they’re there. Worse, it becomes easier to believe those claims.

It’s a shame that we’re in this position today. La Follette deserved to have his departure from office celebrated for his long and dedicated work, not overshadowed by conspiratorial accusations. He first held the post in the early 1970s, stepping away for an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. He returned in 1982 and stayed there until earlier this month. His 40 consecutive years in office meant he was the longest-serving statewide elected official in the country.

It’s a self-inflicted error that tarnishes an otherwise impressive legacy.