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September 5, 2015

Wisconsin lawmakers look to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin could see its access to nearly $7.5 million in federal funding blocked, under a pair of bills receiving public hearings at the Capitol today.

Dozens of people have turned out to testify on the legislation, which includes changing the eligibility requirements for federal Title X funding in the state and capping reimbursement rates for medications. Republicans argue the measures are needed to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to support organizations that provide abortions, while opponents of the bills claim they could reduce access to basic health care services for thousands of low-income women around the state.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), a sponsor of the Title X proposal, testified that the program is intended to promote public health and provide access for low-income residents. “When they money is being used to actively terminate human life, it is in direct conflict with its intended use,” the Delafield Republican argued.

Democrats on the committee pointed out that some areas of the state may lack options that are comparable to Planned Parenthood’s clinics. Outside of the few locations in the state that provide abortions, most clinics offer reproductive health services and health care screenings. Rep. Deb Kolste (D-Janesville) said that those clinics are the only option available to many people, and she has “grave concerns that this (the bill) is going to greatly affect the ability of women to receive health care.”

Sponsors of the bill note that options, such as Wisconsin’s Well Women Program and the Department of Health Services, could help to offer those other options and that the bill keeps Planned Parenthood from being the sole recipient of Title X funds. Democrats countered that those options are far more limited though than Planned Parenthood’s offering.

The hearing was expected to run through much of the day on Wednesday.

Wisconsin elections agency head responds to latest criticism (AUDIO)

Kevin Kennedy (Photo: WRN)

Kevin Kennedy (Photo: WRN)

The head of the state Government Accountability Board is defending comments made by a former staff member in emails to a special prosecutor.

A Wall Street Journal editorial last week cited multiple emails between then GAB staff attorney Shane Falk and the special prosecutor handling a John Doe investigation, which was looking into possible illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups. In them, Falk reportedly urged prosecutor Francis Schmitz to “stay strong” and shared his views on making the public aware about “dark money” spending in elections. Falk also argued that Schmitz may have lied to the press when his attorney said Governor Walker was not a target of the investigation.

Republicans were quick to point to the emails as the latest evidence that the GAB is operating as a partisan agency and is need of reforms. GAB director Kevin Kennedy on Tuesday fired back though, arguing that there is nothing wrong with staff have personal political opinions. Kennedy called it “unrealistic” for people to think staff can’t have their own opinions, since they all vote as well. However, he said staff does not make the ultimate decision about how investigations proceed. That authority rests with the six retired judges who make up the GAB.

AUDIO: Kevin Kennedy defends staffs’ personal views (:36)

Kennedy said he was not going to “throw Shane under the bus,” but noted that he had asked him to tone down his general comments. “I dealt with those issues as they came up from a personnel standpoint, as to whether that was the best way to handle things.”

Falk left the GAB in August of last year to work for a private practice.

Tough August leaves Walker facing polling trouble

Walker at Iowa State Fair PHOTO: Asya Akca)

Walker at Iowa State Fair PHOTO: Asya Akca)

After spending much of the year riding high in Iowa, Governor Scott Walker ended the month of August with his campaign losing ground with many potential voters.

Less than two months after formally launching his campaign, recent polls show support for the Republican presidential hopeful falling among Iowa Caucus voters. A Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll released over the weekend had Walker in a tie for third, with just eight percent of voters supporting him. A Monmouth University poll released Monday had Walker at fifth. In both polls, real estate developer Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson led the GOP field of 17 candidates.

University of Wisconsin Madison associate journalism professor Mike Wagner said the rise of Trump as a frontrunner is a big factor in why Walker and many other candidates are struggling. “Donald Trump is taking up a lot of the media oxygen,” Wagner said. “In fact, his rise in the polls is almost perfectly correlated with the amount of media attention he’s getting.”

Wagner said that can set up a situation where Walker and others are clamoring for media attention, so they are not forgotten by voters. However, he warned they also need to avoid attracting negative coverage, because it risks making a bad impression with voters. “There are 17 Republicans running for president, and to get air time…you’ve got to be doing things that attract news media attention, so you can introduce yourself to the voters. That’s really hard to do right now.”

Also hurting Walker is his shifting positions on immigration, where he’s had difficulty clearly communicating whether or not he sides with Trump on eliminating birthright citizenship, along with controversial remarks about calling on the White House to cancel a state dinner planned for the Chinese president’s visit later this month. Wagner said failing to clearly define his positions can earn Walker a “flip-flopper” label, which can make it even hard to build support.

Despite the missteps, Wagner noted that the Iowa Caucuses are still months away and that none of the eventual nominees in the past several elections were currently leading at this point in those races. He cautioned “this process is a long process,” and pointed out that Walker still has strong support in many Republican circles that could help carry him through to the spring.

Walker campaign fires back over Canadian border wall criticism

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker once again found his campaign on the defensive Monday, following comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which he said building a wall along the nation’s norther border was a “legitimate” idea.

During an interview on the program, the Republican presidential candidate was asked by host Chuck Todd whether he thought a wall is needed to protect the border with Canada, given his support for one along the border with Mexico. Walker replied, “Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.”

Walker faced criticism from both sides of the aisle Monday, with many arguing it’s impractical to think a wall could be built along the 5,000 mile long border between the U.S. and Canada.

The governor’s campaign fired back on Monday afternoon. In a statement, spokeswoman AshLee Strong said that “despite the attempts of some to put words in his mouth, Gov. Walker wasn’t advocating for a wall along our northern border. Chuck asked about it and Gov. Walker said based on what he’s hearing from people there are security concerns that need to be addressed.”

The campaign also included links to a number of articles that have stated concerns from others about terrorists being able to cross in to the United States through loose restrictions along the northern border.

Walker on Friday delivered a foreign policy speech that focused heavily on protecting the U.S. from “radical Islamic terrorism.” His plan to combat the threat includes efforts to strengthen the nation’s border security.

Dylan Brogan contributed to this report.

Walker: Fight with radical Islamic terrorism a ‘generational struggle’

Gov. Scott Walker at The Citadel in South Carolina.

Gov. Scott Walker at The Citadel in South Carolina.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker laid out some of the key parts of his foreign policy strategy Friday, during a speech to military cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina.

Walker, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, focused heavily on the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. He told cadets “It will not go away overnight. This is a generational struggle. And these radical groups will continue to grow if we do not destroy them.”

The governor focused heavily on ISIS, an Islamic militant group operating out of Syria, which he called “the best-armed and best-funded terrorist organization in the world.” He blasted President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, for pushing a foreign policy that has seen the US losing its global influence. “The Obama/Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind is not working – and we’re heading toward a disaster,” Walker said.

Walker also took aim at the Obama administration’s handling of a proposed nuclear deal with Iran, which would see the Middle Eastern nation scaling back its program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. He noted that the move comes as Iran continues to hold Americans in captivity. “It is a stain on our nation’s honor that our countrymen languish in Iranian prisons while we are freeing up billions of dollars for the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and legitimizing its massive nuclear program,” he said.

Walker’s plan calls for securing the nation’s border with Mexico, strengthening the U.S. military to combat terrorism abroad, and building better alliances in the Middle East. He also proposed creating a no-fly zone over Syria and pledged to block the Iran nuclear deal on day one, if Congress fails to stop it from passing. “I reject the Obama-Clinton false choice between this bad deal and another war. I vow to turn up pressure across the board on Iran. I refuse to live with a deal that threatens our safety and that of our closest allies.”

Walker said the whole world is watching how the U.S. confronts the challenges of the Middle East. He asked, “How can we deter our sophisticated adversaries in Eastern Europe and competitors in the South China Sea if we cannot defeat the barbarians of ISIS and roll back the theocrats in Tehran?”

The governor said that, if he’s elected commander in chief, he would send the message that “the retreat is over. American leadership is back and, together with our allies, we will not surrender another inch of ground to terrorists or any other power that threatens our safety.”