November 24, 2014

New Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas ornament unveiled

Capitol_Christmas_Ornament 2014

Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas Ornament 2014 depicts the Assembly chamber. (Submitted photo)

The program began in 2004. Each year, the souvenir focuses on a specific aspect of the state’s historic Capitol building. The 11th annual ornament features a replica of the Assembly chamber, its large mural, and Civil War mascot Old Abe above the speaker’s chair looking over the chamber.

Cate Zeuske is the ornament designer and former state Treasurer. “We wanted the largest mural — the first and largest mural — it’s 37 feet across. To me, it’s the favorite in the state Capitol,” she says. “It’s called, ‘the State of Wisconsin: its past, present, and future’ and I think it really does capture our rich history.”

AUDIO: Zeuske talks about the mural on the wall of the Assembly chamber, above the dais.   :30

Zeuske believes this limited edition decoration will be a keepsake. Only 1,900 ornaments were purchased. She notes, the goal is to promote and educate others about the beautiful and historic state Capitol building, rather than just raise money. That’s why the $16 price tag hasn’t increased since 2005.

It’s a labor of love for Zeuske, who volunteers her time. All proceeds go to the State Capitol Restoration Fund. “That’s a fund that is used to be able to purchase things perhaps outside of state government that may be retained for historic value in the Capitol or to give the public an opportunity to really view and experience the state capitol.”

Just recently, a glass perch was constructed up inside the Capitol dome to offer visitors a bird’s eye view of the rotunda using some of those funds.

Wisconsin State Assembly Chamber (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin Assembly Chamber (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Since 2004, more than $50,000 has been raised for the fund through the sale of the collector’s item.

Zeuske hopes to continue the tradition for at least a few more years. She explains, the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Capitol building comes in 2017. So, she says, it seems like a good time to mark the milestone.

All the ornaments are made in America by the Chem Art Company of Rhode Island, the same company that also produces the annual White House ornament. The Capitol keepsake is set in a special gift box, in which buyers will find some historical information about the Wisconsin landmark. It sells for $16.

The 2014 state Capitol ornament is available for purchase at the Wisconsin State Capitol Information Desk, the Wisconsin State Historical Society Gift Shop and online store, and the Wisconsin State Veteran’s Museum. They are also on sale at the Monona Terrace Gift Shop, Orange Tree Imports in Madison and Tis the Season Gift Shop in Middleton.

Walker criticizes Obama on immigration reform at RGA

Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Governor Scott Walker is in Florida for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. He says immigration reform has always been a “political tool” for President Obama.

“If he was serious about it … he would have dealt with it when he had the House and the Senate. This has been a political tool for this president all along. He brings it out when it comes up the time to get him elected or someone else elected when he thinks it serves him well.”

Obama is expected to sidestep Congress and sign an executive order to protect from deportation millions immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Republicans say it’s unconstitutional and amounts to amnesty.

Walker explains how the president enacted ObamaCare without overwhelming support, and could have done the same thing with immigration reform if he was serious about it.

“I think it is a cynical ploy to try drawing attention away from the huge successes Republicans had connecting with the American people one state at a time and looks what’s happening. Instead of talking about the huge things we have on the agenda, we’re talking about immigration.”

Walker says immigration reform is important, but the vast majority of Americans would much rather hear about the economy, taxes, energy, education, welfare, and securing the border.

The panel, with four other Republican governors, also discussed Common Core academic standards and Medicaid health care programs for the poor.

Pope Francis will come to America

Pope Francis (PHOTO: Vatican)

Pope Francis (PHOTO: Vatican)

Pope Francis confirms that he’ll visit the United States next year to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The papal visit is expected to include Washington and New York, where the pope would address world leaders at the General Assembly.

“There’s been a lot of interest in having him come ever since he was appointed, but the question was ‘who could get him to come?'”

William Thorn, PhD, is associate professor of journalism at Marquette University. He’s been working with the Vatican since 1982.

In response to reporters questions, Thorn says the pontiff might talk a little about gay marriage, clergy sex abuse, and abortion, but notes Francis has repeatedly said the Catholic church encompasses much more than just a couple issues and won’t focus on those few hot button topics.

“We have a much broader agenda than that. It includes the hungry and the homeless, immigrants and labor rights and a much broader Catholic social teaching agenda.”

AUDIO: Immigration will likely be a topic of discussion, Thorn says. (1 minute)

The mayor of Green Bay back in February had officially invited the pope to visit his neck of woods, using the Shrine of our Lady of Good Help as a selling point. It’s the only Marian apparition site recognized by the Catholic Church in the United States. Mayor Jim Schmidt also had said the pontiff could hold a Mass at the 78,000 seat Lambeau Field. No word from the pontiff.

September’s trip would be Francis’ first to the U.S. as pope.

It will have been more than seven years since the last papal visit to the U.S. Thorn speculates the Pope might also visit an area with a high Hispanic population, such as Los Angeles, San Antonio, or Miami.

Wisconsin Assembly GOP touts conservatism, reaches out to Dems

Jim Steineke

Jim Steineke

Several members of the Assembly last week touted the level of their conservatism.

Jim Steineke of Kaukauna has been elected as the new majority leader of the 63 members of his chamber — the largest majority since 1957. He says their conservative views on the role of government will help “keep the size and scope of government in check while being fiscally responsible.”

“It should be as limited as possible, providing the services that people need, giving people a hand up when they need it, but not making that a generational dependence on government.”

In lieu of raising taxes to cover state programs, Steineke — the second most powerful man in the state Assembly after Speaker Robin Vos — says they expect to generate revenue through economic growth.

“What we want to do is make sure that every single taxpayer dollar that’s being spent is being spent wisely, because people work hard for their money. We want to make sure if they’re sending it down to Madison that we are not wasting it.” So, he says, “We wanna reduce the tax burden to a level that’s commensurate with that way of thinking.”

Steineke realizes there are basic services government needs to provide — schools, roads, infrastructure. So, there’s a limit to how much they can reduce government spending. The Assembly majority leader-elect says in the coming weeks, he’ll be having conversations with the other side of the political aisle, promoting an open-door policy to hear about their legislative ideas.

First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Steineke says there is definitely room to compromise in the new 102nd Legislature. “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t know where in our political discourse ‘compromise’ became a dirty word. It’s unfortunate,” he says, “because I think there’s a lot of room for that and I think we did that last session on a lot of different issues.” Though, he admits, they aren’t always the “sexy” issues that make front page news.

Steineke’s counterpart across the aisle, Peter Barca of Kenosha, is re-elected to lead his caucus. In his speech, the minority leader focuses on regaining the majority.

Like Steineke, Senate minority leader-elect Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse also reaches out to the other side of the aisle, saying one party doesn’t have all the answers. “I congratulate our new Republican leadership and I pledge to work with them when we can.” Shilling adds, “The citizens of Wisconsin want their elected officials to work together to be problem solvers for the betterment of our great state.”

Shilling admits the conversation frequently gets “vigorous” on the floor, but says, at the end of the day it’s important for lawmakers to leave their political hats at the door and recognize they are all colleagues.

Senator Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau is re-elected to be that chamber’s majority leader.

Former Representative Bill Kramer of Waukesha was the majority leader before being ousted amid a sexual assault scandal and replaced by Pat Strachota of West Bend, who didn’t seek re-election. Steineke says it’s an honor to be selected by his colleagues to represent them and, he says politicians — regardless of political persuasions — do associate in social settings every once in a while.

Wisconsinites recycle tons of stuff

Recyclables (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Recyclables (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A recent report compiled by the state Department of Natural Resources shows Wisconsin residents recycled more than 830,000 tons in 2013. That’s a 79,000 ton increase over 2012 figures.

Brad Wolbert, DNR Recycling and Solid Waste Section chief, says we recycle more than what is required by law. “Wisconsinites do a great job recycling by and large. We think of it as kind of an ethic that Wisconsinites have. Most of us have grown up recycling and all of our communities have recycling programs, so it just comes naturally to us.”

In a recent statewide survey, 96 percent of respondents identified themselves as having some level of commitment to recycling … which keeps useful materials out of landfills and incinerators.

Wolbert also points to the economic impact of recycling. “We think of it as something that’s good for the environment, but it’s also good for business and industry and for jobs. The materials that we return to the stream of commerce to recycle support jobs.”

Wisconsin recovers 242 pounds of recyclable material per person, including paper products, containers, electronics, tires, appliances, cardboard, and junk mail. Some recyclables should not be put in the curbside bin, such as batteries, light bulbs, pharmaceuticals.

There is a substantial amount of materials that get recycled but is not included in the 830,000 figure. That means the number of items and weight of material being recycled in our state is much more than those passing through a materials recovery facility (MRF).

Wolbert explains that other types of facilities exist to handle certain types of recyclables. For example, he says, oil-based paint and solvents are recovered through clean sweep programs and are recycled or recovered to burn for energy.  Electronics are generally handled separate from the MRFs, as are pharmaceuticals, plastic bags, fluorescent light bulbs, car batteries, and tires. Some scrap metal also has its own system of recovery. This means the weight of recyclables in Wisconsin amounts to much more than the DNR’s figure of 830,000 tons.

State recycling experts say the conveniences of recycling lead to higher participation. One thing that makes recycling easier is the idea of ‘single stream’ recycling collection,” in which all recyclables are deposited in the same bin; another convenience is easy curbside collection.

Saturday is America Recycles Day, bring awareness to the benefits of recycling.