October 9, 2015

Wisconsin will host Democratic presidential debate in February

The Democratic National Committee has announced Wisconsin will serve as the setting of a presidential primary debate early next year. It will take place on February 11 and will be hosted by PBS, although the time or the host city have not yet been disclosed.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairwoman Martha Laning called the presence of a debate here a “tremendous opportunity” for voters to get know the candidates better and to showcase the state on a national stage. “It will be refreshing for Wisconsin to host presidential candidates with a vision on how our country can work together to strengthen the middle class rather than the ‘divide and conquer” strategy Wisconsin has become known for under Governor Walker,” Laning.

The Republican National Committee also plans to hold one of its presidential debates in Wisconsin. It’s scheduled for next month, and the RNC has not yet indicated when or where it will take place.

GOP bill would require gender restrictions for school restrooms

Two Republican state lawmakers say a bill to keep transgender students out of public school restrooms and changing rooms would reinforce “societal norms.”

Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) are seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would require public schools to label restrooms and locker rooms as “male” and “female,” in accordance with the chromosones they were born with. Transgender students could still use one-stall restrooms, but their parents would have to ask for it in writing.

Kremer said he drafted the bill after a transgender student began using the boys’ room at Kewaskum High School. Others objected, and the student was eventually allowed to use a faculty restroom.

Governor Scott Walker was asked about the bill Thursday at Stoughton High School. “I think it’s important to have some clarity about that, and I know school districts across the state have just begun to deal with that,” Walker said.

Megin McDonell of Fair Wisconsin said the proposal would undo a lot of progress that’s been made in schools. “This bill would threaten the kind of advances that school boards all across Wisconsin and all across the country have been doing, that are very thoughtful and comprehensive, and protect all students,”

McDonell said. Brian Juchems of the advocacy group “G-Safe” said the bill could open some transgender students to harassment or assaults. More than 60 Wisconsin school districts have anti-discrimination policies in support of transgender students.

“I think, in respect to all the other students, there has to be some clarity,” Walker said.

Proposed GAB changes could leave tight timeline for transition

Officials with the state Government Accountability Board are urging some caution about the timing of a proposed overhaul of the agency.

Republicans have introduced a plan that would split the current oversight of ethics and elections issues into a pair of partisan commissions. It calls for transitioning to the new structure after June 30 of next year, which is less than five months before the November 2016 presidential and legislative elections.

Judge Gerald Nichol, who serves as the current chairman of the GAB, has previously urged lawmakers to delay any changes for at least a year, in order to prevent confusion during what is typically the biggest election period of the year. He reaffirmed that stance Wednesday, while also calling for two non-voting observers from the Legislature to join the board. Nichol said having those individuals there “would give them an opportunity to see how we actually operate.”

State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), one of the Republicans behind the proposal, has argued the plan provides plenty of time for the transition and dismissed calls to reconsider the effective date of the changes. “I think it’s a good time to do it,” the Hudson Republican said.

GAB director Kevin Kennedy is taking more of a “wait and see” approach with the impact the short transition time could have on agency operations. He said that keeping the current support staff in place should help, since they have already developed strong relationships with clerks and other stakeholders. However, Kennedy also cautioned that replacing the leadership of the GAB could be a “challenge” for staff.

The Republican legislation calls for selecting new administrators for the ethics and election commissions, meaning current top level staff would likely have to reapply for their positions. Kennedy, who has been involved in Wisconsin elections for over 32 years, held off on saying whether he would seek an appointment in one of the new agencies. “I have to take a look at what the options are,” Kennedy said.

Walker set to fill state Supreme Court vacancy

120412supremecourtA vacancy on the state Supreme Court will likely be filled soon. Justice Patrick Crooks died suddenly last month, and Governor Scott Walker said Thursday that he has interviewed all three applicants for a temporary appointment to the state’s high court. Walker said a decision will come “probably in the next couple of days.”

Applicants include state Appeals Court Judge Rebecca Bradley, who’s also running for a full 10-year term on the court in next year’s spring election. The others are Dane County Circuit Judge Jim Troupis and Madison attorney Claude Covelli.

Two other announced candidates for a full term on the court, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, did not apply for the temporary appointment. “I think it’s important for the people of the state,” Walker said. “They don’t want a long-term vacancy on the Supreme Court.”

The Republican governor, perhaps telegraphing his intention to tap Bradley for the seat, posted last week on his official Twitter account. “In 1993, a Milwaukee Journal editorial called for appointing Janine Geske to the Supreme Court,” Walker tweeted. “Geske went on to win election in 1994.”

U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear appeal in Ho-Chunk video poker case

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

A court decision to let the Ho-Chunk Nation offer video poker at its Madison casino will stand after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the Supreme Court refused to take case on Monday with no comment. The case was among about 1,600 other cases the court declined to take up.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice had argued video poker at the casino is a Class 3 card game, and therefore was prohibited under the terms of the tribe’s gambling compact with the state.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in April that video poker at the casino was legal, saying the state must criminalize a gambling activity in order to prevent the tribe from engaging in it.