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August 1, 2015

Walker super PAC raised $20 million in first few months

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

A super PAC set up to support Governor Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential bid raised almost $20 million in the first few months since it was created.

According to a federal filing on Friday, the Unintimidated PAC raised the money between April 16 and June 30. Major donors included $5 million from Diane Hendricks, a Beloit billionaire, and a series of donations from the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs. Combined, they provided about half of the money taken in during the reporting period.

The Unintimidated PAC was started by several of Walker’s former top campaign officials earlier this year, before he officially entered the race. It draws its name from Walker’s 2013 book about his battle over collective bargaining legislation, which was titled “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge.”

Report details disability access issues at Wisconsin polling places

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

A new report from the state Government Accountability Board shows there were a large number of disability access problems at polling places around the state during the last two years.

The GAB inspected more than 800 polling places around the state in 48 of 72 counties, uncovering about 4,000 accessibility problems. Agency spokesman Reid Magney says those ranged from small issues, such as print on signs that was too small to read, to larger problems, such as having no tables at wheelchair height. About 42 percent of the violations were serious enough that they could have have hindered a disabled voter’s ability to independently and privately cast a ballot.

The number of issues did drop from the previous round of checks, from an average of 6.5 per polling place in 2013 to 4.9 per location during the 2014-15 cycle.

Magney says local clerks are notified of the problems, and the state works with them to develop a plan to address the issues. In most cases, he says they are relatively simple and inexpensive to fix.

Justice Prosser defends staying on John Doe probe

Justice David Prosser waves to supporters.

Justice David Prosser waves to supporters during his 2011 reelection campaign. (Photo: WRN)

Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is defending his decision to join the decision to end a controversial John Doe investigation, which had been looking into possible illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election campaign and conservative groups.

Prosser was among the 4-2 majority which halted the probe earlier this month. He’s faced criticism, and was even asked to recuse himself from the case by the special prosecutor, because he benefitted from millions of dollars during his 2011 reelection campaign, which came from some of the targets of the John Doe.

A similar recusal request was made of Justice Michael Gableman, who has not released a response.

In letter dated July 29, Prosser laid out the reasoning behind his decision to stay on the case, noting that Supreme Court rules do not require him to step down just because of ties to defendants. Prosser wrote, “The rules are grounded in the reality that the law must permit contributions from people and entities who may have cases before the court because some attorneys and some entities are nearly always before the court.”

Prosser also noted the circumstances surrounding his highly contentious reelection campaign, which came right after the massive debate over Governor Walker’s collective bargaining legislation and was seen by many as a referendum on that policy.

Prosser faced a challenge from JoAnne Kloppenburg, in a race that ultimately resulted in a statewide recount. Millions of dollars were spent on outside ads benefitting both candidates, and Prosser points out that a decision to take public financing limited his own ability to respond. “While it can be argued that independent communications supporting my campaign were “significant and disproportionate,” there was no alternative under Wisconsin law for people who believed I had done a good job and wanted me to continue,” he wrote.

Prosser’s defense is itself drawing criticism. Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign called it a “pathetic” defense, and noted that Prosser even provided more evidence to support the arguments for why he should have stepped away from the case. Rothschild wrote “Justice Prosser’s letter is long on self-pity and self-justification but short on propriety and legal reasoning. It’s an embarrassment upon an embarrassment.”

Walker says GOP nominee may be chosen by convention

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker is not ruling out the possibility a clear winner will fail to emerge after next year’s primaries and caucuses around the country and delegates at the GOP’s 2016 national convention will wind up picking the party’s White House nominee.

“It’s possible. I mean, it’s a great field, a lot of great candidates…Sooner or later it will be easier to tell how many are not running in the Republican field than those that are,” Walker joked over the noon-hour during an interview on KMA Radio.

Walker, who is the governor of Wisconsin, said he will not “speak ill” of his Republican competitors, but he’s telling audiences he’s different from his rivals because he’s both a  “doer” and a “fighter.”

“I just didn’t win three elections in four years in a blue state,” Walker said. “I won on the issues that people care about.”

Walker’s most high-profile fight was his successful effort to roll back the collective bargaining rights of unions the represent government employees.

“Unions are just fine. What we did is we took on the big government union bosses and we put the power back firmly into the hands of the hardworking taxpayers,” Walker said today. “That was good for the taxpayers. It was pro-worker.”

Walker signed a “right to work” law in Wisconsin early this year. It forbids organized labor from forcing non-union workers to pay union dues or fees in a workplace where employees have voted to unionize. Walker is on a campaign swing through southwest Iowa today, with stops scheduled in five counties.

(Reporting in Shenandoah by Chuck Morris of KMA Radio; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson/Photo by Brent Barnett,KMA)

DNR official says reorganization about being ‘more efficient’

widnrlogo

DNR logo

Changes are coming to how the state Department of Natural Resources operates. Agency officials rolled out a reorganization plan for workers earlier this week, which involves condensing the current six DNR divisions into five. It also includes splitting off some services that are used to review business projects into a single entity.

Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede says the changes are about improving efficiency at the agency and are the result of a review process not unlike what happens in the private sector. “Organizations that want to be successful in their operations, from time to time, will take a look at their structure, as well as their processes and systems, and try to find efficiencies and figure out ways that they can better align and integrate their functions.”

Environmental groups are concerned that the move could weaken enforcement efforts though — especially with a plan to split up watershed management and water quality monitoring. Clean Wisconsin government affairs director Amber Meyer Smith says it could mark a move away from the “integrated approach” the DNR has long taken to environmental issues. She says that ensured related issues, such as clean water and fish management, were managed under the same principles.

The DNR has also seen numerous staffing cuts in the last decade, with the most recent state budget trimming about 60 positions, several of which were in the science division. Smith admits that could have just as much of an impact on the work of the DNR as a new structure for the agency. She notes the agency is facing new challenges with the expansion of frac sand mining, agricultural runoff, and many other issues they just don’t have the resources to address. She says it’s part of an “ongoing challenge” facing natural resources management in the state.

Thiede contends the DNR will still “enforce the law.” He says the effort is really about “running a more efficient organization…and focusing in on our core work.”