September 16, 2014

Race for Wisconsin governor remains a dead heat

Mary Burke and Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Mary Burke and Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

There’s been little change in the race for Wisconsin governor, with incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke still neck and neck in the latest Marquette University Law School poll.

According to the results released Wednesday, Walker leads 48-44 among registered voters, while Burke leads 49-47 among likely voters. Both results are within the margin of error for the samples and showed very little change from the last poll conducted in July. Poll director Charles Franklin noted that “the last three months of the governor’s race have been remarkably flat. None of these changes from month to month are statistically significant, and none of the margins is statistically significant.”

It’s a fact reflected in other questions about the race for governor. When asked which candidate they thought would be the most effective at helping the state create jobs, respondents split 45-45 between Burke and Walker. The approval rating for the governor also drew an equally divided response, with 47 percent say they approve of the job he’s doing and 47 percent saying they disapprove.

For the first time, the poll looked at the race for Wisconsin’s attorney general, now that the Democratic field has dropped down to a single candidate after the primary this month. It found that both candidates have a long way to go when it comes to reaching voters, with 82 percent of respondents saying they don’t know enough about Democratic nominee Susan Happ to have an opinion about her and 87 percent saying the same about Republican Brad Schimel. Happ is the Jefferson County district attorney and Schimel is the D.A. in Waukesha County.

Even among voters who had an opinion on the candidates, the race gives only a weak edge to Happ. When respondents were asked who they would support, 40 percent of registered voters indicated Happ and 33 percent said Schimel, while 24 percent were undecided. Among likely voters, Happ lead 42-32, with 23 percent still undecided.

The poll of 815 registered voters and 609 likely voters was conducted between August 21st and 24th. It has a margin of error among registered voters of +/- 3.5 points and 4.1 points among likely voters.

Wisconsin primary turnout was 12.7 percent

File Photo

File Photo

Wisconsin’s state elections agency say only 12.7 percent of eligible voters turned out for the August 12 primary, well below the 15 percent initially projected. The state Government Accountability Board says 552,342 votes were cast in primaries for governor on August 12, out of Census estimates that show Wisconsin with a voting-age population of 4,348,307.

A GAB board member certified the canvass Tuesday in all races except two with recounts: the 87th Assembly District and the 17th state Senate District. A recount in the 87th was completed on Tuesday, which resulted in Republican James Edming winning the GOP primary by 19 votes over Michael Bub. Edming will now face Democrat Richard Pulcher in November, for the north central Wisconsin seat currently held by retiring Rep. Mary Williams of Medford.

A recount in the 17th Senate District is ongoing and could face potential problems because of missing ballots. Officials in Green County have been unable to locate 110 ballots that were recorded on the night of the primary. If not located, the missing ballots could swing the race in favor of Democrat Pat Bomhack, who requested the recount after unofficial totals showed him losing the primary to Democrat Ernie Wittwer by just seven votes.

The county’s Board of Canvass is expected to meet this afternoon to certify its results from the recount. The GAB says it is aware of the issue and has been providing advice on how to deal with the discrepancy and conduct an investigation.

Jessica Strom gets prison time on murder for hire conviction (AUDIO)

Jessica Anne Strom

Jessica Anne Strom

A Merrill woman convicted in an attempted murder for hire scheme to kill her boyfriend will spend the next three-and-a-half years in prison. Jessica Anne Strom broke down in court Tuesday when she heard her sentence from judge Neil Neilson III. “Oh my God,” Strom gasped.

Strom, 33, was accused of offering money and sex to a former classmate to kill attorney John Schellpfeffer. Schellpfeffer practices law in Merrill and Wausau, so special prosecutor Ralph Uttke from Langlade County was brought in to handle the case.

Uttke told the court today that Strom should not get off lightly. “To place this defendant on probation would seriously depreciate the seriousness of this offense, and would be in my mind a completely incorrect sentence. It would send a wrong message to the public, it would send the wrong message to the public, it would send the wrong message to people in dysfunctional relationships,” he said.

AUDIO: Strom sentencing :45 

Both sides in court brought the relationship between Strom and Schellpfeffer into play as the two entered statements to the court asking for leniency in the case. The court heard testimony about the dysfunction between the two, and Judge Neilson said he’d hoped to keep that out of the spotlight.

“This isn’t divorce court, we’re here because Miss Strom was convicted of soliciting Mr. Schellpeffer’s death.” He noted that the two showed an extremely toxic relationship and called for a complete no-contact order between the two while Strom was in the prison system. In addition to the jail time, Strom will spend four years on extended supervision. Strom and her attorney will have twenty days to file an appeal.


Appeals court to hear gay marriage ban challenge


File photo

Today is a crucial milestone in Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage debate. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago hears arguments from the state, that a decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb against Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned.

“We argued before Judge Crabb in Madison, and will make the same argument in Chicago, that there’s no legitimate purpose for this marriage ban,” said Chris Ahmuty is with the ACLU of Wisconsin, which represents same-sex couples who originally challenged the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex unions.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues that there is no fundamental right for the state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The appeals court is considering the Wisconsin challenge in combination with a similar decision from Indiana, where a gay marriage ban was also overturned.

“We would hope that they would find in our plaintiffs favor, and not stay the decision,” Ahmuty said. “Thereby allowing couples to go to county clerks all across the state of Wisconsin and get marriage licences, and get marriages happening again.”

Bill Hurtubise of Racine is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to end Wisconsin’s constitutional ban prohibiting same-sex marriage. “Our families accept us, our friends accept us, our employers accepts us, our neighbors accept us, our church accepts us. We now hope our government will accept us,” Hurtubise said Monday.

Hurtubise said the ban makes it impossible for him and his partner to adequately protect their three adopted children. “The law states only one parent can adopt children if the couple is not married, and being in a relationship like ours, we cannot be married.”

Julaine Appling of the Wisconsin Family Council said it’s unfortunate the constitutionality of the measure will be decided by judges. “Because when they ran to the courts to get their way in this state, to try to undo our marriage amendment and the will of the people, they took the public out of it,” Appling said.

While nearly 60 percent of state voters approved the ban in a statewide referendum eight years ago, recent polls indicate most Wisconsinites now favor the right of gays to marry.

Almost everyone knows someone that’s gay,” said Steve Starkey, who heads the Madison-based group called OutReach. “They have a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor that’s gay. And so it’s not as much of a stigma as it was.”

Appling is skeptical that the polling data accurately reflects the reality of attitudes toward gay marriage. “I would contend that the people of Wisconsin are still the people of Wisconsin,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had all the substantive change in our people that some say.”

WIBA & WRJN contributed to this report

Criticism over latest John Doe documents

Mike McCabe (WRN file photo)

Mike McCabe (WRN file photo)

The latest release of documents from a probe into possible illegal campaign coordination between Republicans and conservative issue advocacy groups is prompting new concerns about the future of campaign finance laws in Wisconsin.

The documents, part of a stalled John Doe investigation, show the governor and his campaign worked to direct contributions during the recall elections to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a third party issue advocacy group. Walker’s campaign and Club for Growth have argued the activity is not against the law, although Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe disagrees. “It’s absolutely illegal, and it’s been settled law for a very very long time that’s it’s illegal.”

Because Wisconsin Club for Growth operates as an issue advocacy group, they are not required to disclose where their funding comes from and how much money they have received. The John Doe documents show Walker was asked to urge donors to send money to the group, which could then coordinate advocacy messages during the wave of recall elections two years ago that targeted the governor and several state lawmakers.

McCabe worries that the federal court signing-off on arguments that politicians steering money to a third party group is not illegal could take Wisconsin to a “very dark place.” He warns that it could result in situations where wealthy campaign donors give unlimited amounts of money to “shadow campaigns,” without having to worry about their political affiliations being made public. McCabe says “it takes us to a very dangerous place” when it comes to the ability of the public to know who is influencing elections.

McCabe is also raising concerns about a $700,000 contribution Gogebic Taconite made to Club for Growth, revealed for the first time in the court documents. The company wants to open an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin and lawmakers passed legislation after the recalls that streamlined the approval process for that project. McCabe says it looks like “blatant pay to play,” even though Governor Walker denied over the weekend that he had any knowledge the company had sent money to the group.

AUDIO: Mike McCabe on the latest John Doe developments  (1:56)

A federal judge halted the investigation earlier this year after Club for Growth filed a lawsuit claiming the probe violates its free speech rights. Prosecutors are appealing the decision. The John Doe has not resulted in any charges being filed.