September 22, 2014

Soglin ramps up efforts to assist voters

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has launched a full-out push to help people vote. Citing what he terms ‘impediments’ in the form of voter ID and restrictions on absentee voting hours, Soglin said Monday that every effort will be made – and he’s counting on people to respond.

“I’m hoping everyone in our community sees this as an act of defiance that they are determined to carry out – that they will vote,” Soglin said.

The mayor said there are concerns that many older voters still don’t have the proper ID to vote, and Madison Senior Center Director Christine Beatty said there’s a lot of confusion. “You know, we’ve had to have the ID, and we haven’t had to have the ID, so there’s a great deal of confusion, and this kind of effort is going to help,” she said.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, and the city clerk’s office has staffed more than 30 locations around the city, to help people do that. “There are over 800 people in the community who have volunteered . . . to become trained to register voters,” said city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. “By registering to votge early, you’re going to save yourself time at the polling place, and also free up some poll wotkers who are going to be needed to check IDs. It’s a lot easier to register in advance.”

With voter ID now in place in Wisconsin, Soglin and Witzel-Behl said 273 more workers will be needed at polling places in the city. Soglin said he’s looking into having city employee help out if necessary.

AARP Wisconsin opposes utility rate hike requests

Senior advocates are pushing back, on proposed electricity rate hikes. Helen Marks Dicks, state issues advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin said seniors, as well as utility customers in many parts of the state, could lose control of their energy bills, if a request from We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas & Electric for an increase in fixed customer charges gains approval from the state Public Service Commission.

“The electrical utilities are trying to significantly up the charges on what they call the fixed rate. That’s how much money you pay just to get the electricity to come into the house. That’s before you turn on the lights,” Marks Dicks explained.

Marks Dicks said WPS is requesting the largest increase in fixed rate fees, going from $10.50 a month to around $25, and We Energies wants to boost them from $9.50 to $16. “We think this is bad for seniors, we think this is bad for low-income people. We thinks it’s a step in the wrong direction,” Marks Dicks said, adding that WPS charged a fixed rate of $5.70 just two years ago.

The Public Service Commission held a hearing in Madison this week for the WPS request, and has additional hearings scheduled in Madison and Milwaukee next month, on the MG&E and We Energies requests.

‘We need to cool our jets,’ Marshfield forum seeks civility

It seems like a quixotic quest in an era of supercharged partisan rancor and bitterly snarky posts in on-line comments sections, but some Democrats and Republicans in central Wisconsin want to bring civility to politics.

The Marshfield Civility Project held its first forum on Wednesday. It’s the brainchild of Marshfield alderman and former Wood County Democratic party chair Chris Jockheck.

“We need to get the undecideds educated on issues. We need to get them to feel comfortable, and knowing what and why they should be voting,” Jockheck said at the forum, which was held at the UW Marshfield-Wood County campus. “The more you know, the better your decisions are going to be, and it’s hard to do that when you get only one side.”

Jockheck teamed up with Dan Wald of the Wood County Republican party. “We need to cool our jets, if we’re going to actually get down to the heart of the matter on what some of these issues are,” Wald said. “We’ve seen it over the last number of years, whether it’s issues on the federal level (or the) state level, where we have family members that aren’t speaking to one another anymore, which is quite unfortunate.”

Eric Giordono from the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service told the crowd in Marshfield that we don’t have to do politics as usual if we don’t want to. “Really, what this is about is to consider the different ideas and options, and talk with one another, listen to one another, and see if . . . there is actually some common ground on how we might fix the American political system,” Girodono said. “Call it and experiment. I don’t know that we’ll solve anything tonight, but maybe we can decide whether or not this will give us the impetus to work together civilly when we have to deal with issues.”

A forum next month at the Marshfield public library will tackle advisory referendum questions facing voters in November, dealing with the minimum wage and whether the state should accept federal Medicaid dollars.

Thanks to Mike Warren, WDLB

Republicans detail concerns over ballot redesign

Vos, Fitzgerald

Vos, Fitzgerald

The campaigns of two Republican Legislative leaders have filed suit, over the redesigning of ballots for the November elections. The new ballots have no lines separating the offices and the first candidate.

“I think the assumption would almost be, by the voter, that somehow that’s the incumbent, or somehow the ballot is limited to just one candidate for that office. It’s definitely confusing,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday. “If you look at the old ballot, which I thought was very clear and very well done, it had kind of a dark black box that identified the office, and then below that the candidates. That’s gone now.”

The newly designed ballot was adopted by the state Government Accountability Board, under a process which Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called “slipshod at best.”

“They did not consul with the Legislature. They did not consult with their own board. They had very limited contact with clerks, who are directly responsible for the elections and making sure that ballots are out to voters,” Vos said. “We didn’t even realize this was happening until last week, because of no public hearings, no opportunity for input, and now in one of the most important races in our state’s history, they’re changing the entire ballot design.”

With less than 50 days to go before the elections, the suit by Vos and Fitzgerald are seeking to force a return to the ballots used for the past twenty years. The two held a press conference at state Republican Party headquarters to discuss the legal action.

GAB Director Kevin Kennedy defended the design on Tuesday. Kennedy said GAB staff dedicate themselves to being “fair and impartial.” But he added that even he had some concerns with the design. “I have quibbles with the way some of the things came out, but I don’t think the issue that’s been presented is anything other than something to gin up a lot of partisan activity on this,” Kennedy said.

Erpenbach assails Walker drug testing plan

Erpenbach WRN file photo

Erpenbach WRN file photo

There’s some criticism for the governor’s drug testing plan. Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to require drug testing for adults getting unemployment and food stamps is drawing fire from at least one Democratic lawmaker.

“You really have to take a look at why that proposal would even be there,” said state Senator Jon Erpenbach of Middleton. “It might sound good to someone, until they lose a job and have to go urinate in a cup to get food stamps.”

Erpenbach believes the proposal would do nothing to create jobs and could end up costing the state money. “This is an expensive proposal in the name of job creation, which won’t create a single job. If you’re going to do this, how are you going to pay for it?”

If elected to a second term, Walker wants to require drug testing for childless adults requesting unemployment and food stamps. They’d also be required to participate in employment training or part-time work. “Our economy is hurting here in the state of Wisconsin, and the governor wants to drug test someone who’s just lost their job in order to get their food stamps,” Erpenbach said.