For Youth’s Sake Madison School Board Candidate Mary Jo Walters Needs To Withdraw From Race

Since 2015 I have often stated that nothing shocks me anymore. Nothing could leave me looking slack-jawed. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

After a cold and blustery Monday James and I sat down for dinner while watching the 6 PM news on the DVR. It was reported Madison School Board candidate Mary Jo Walters stated over the weekend that “I’m trans-a-phobic” when describing her platform for the spring election.

Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has three students in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.

I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.

Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.

No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.

Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.

It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?

I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.

So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.

And we must be pro-active.

Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.

There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.

Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.

And so it goes.

Face You Don’t Know, Name You Should: Fred Hiatt Dead at 66

This is truly sad news to learn.

The reason can be summed up with this quote from reporter Scott Pelley.

Democracies succeed or fail based on their journalism.

Fred Hiatt was doing his part, smartly and consistently, for his nation and profession.

Fred Hiatt, a onetime foreign correspondent who in 2000 became The Washington Post’s editorial page editor and greatly expanded the global reach of the newspaper’s opinion writers in the era of 9/11, the election of Barack Obama and the destabilizing presidency of Donald Trump, died Dec. 6 at a hospital in New York City. He was 66.

He had sudden cardiac arrest on Nov. 24 while visiting his daughter in Brooklyn, said his wife, Margaret “Pooh” Shapiro, and did not regain consciousness. He had been treated for heart ailments in the past.

Mr. Hiatt was one of Washington’s most authoritative and influential opinion-makers. For two decades, he either wrote or edited nearly every unsigned editorial published by The Post — more than 1,000 a year — and edited the opinion columns published on the paper’s op-ed page and website. He also wrote a column and was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.

There is clearly a hole in the heart of many Post reporters and staffers today. But if you have read the editorials from that famed newspaper you know the story is never finished, the next layer of our history not yet reported, analyzed, and opined over. There is another edition of the paper just hours away from publication.

The high and demanding standards that Hiatt brought to his job, are the ones that newspaper readers need and our democracy requires from journalists. The best way to honor Fred Hiatt is to carry on that quality of work and sense of duty to the nation.

In the words of Walter Cronkite, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”

And so it goes.

Bob Dole Recalled At Wisconsin State Capitol, Former Senator Dies At 98

Bob Dole, who overcame severe World War II wounds to lead the Senate GOP and became a party nominee for president died on Sunday at the age of 98.

(AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)

Dole was a consummate politician and can be correctly termed a workhorse for the GOP in the decades when politicians also knew governing, itself, must be their first calling. He could be cranky and dutiful all in the same breath.

Dole’s peak as a party elder came in 1996 when he finally achieved his goal to be party nominee, and challenged incumbent Bill Clinton for the presidency. That grand chapter on the national stage, though not victorious, was an honorable one. In politics, that last point matters.

Dole and a wide swath of elected officials came to power after WWII with a grasp of how fragile not only life can be, but also democracy. They often had strong differences about the shaping of policy and the direction of the issues that made for headlines, but they seemed most surefooted about the reason the government must work for the greater good. It is impossible to see Majority Leader Dole stride down the Senate aisle and countenance the behavior and breakdown for respect and reason that has consumed today’s Republican Party.

I was able to witness the body language of Senator Bob Dole in 1988 as he made a stop at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I noted that event in my book Walking Up The Ramp.

The other Republican who I met when he came to Madison, a city that is not fertile ground for conservatives, was Senator Bob Dole. He visited the Capitol on behalf of the state party.

I was working in the office, and a buddy on the other side of the aisle knew when the Senator’s SUV was going to wind its way up one of the circled drives of the Capitol, and drop him off. I made my way to the designated area, and stood outside with a mere handful of people as two vehicles came up the drive. With a dark suit and a rather serious exterior he exited his vehicle and with his left hand, met those who wished to say hello.

As always the pen he held in his crippled hand was meant to deflect the fact that he was an injured veteran. Dole seemed thinner in real life, but there was firmness to his footsteps and sureness to the gait of his walk as he entered the building that conveyed to me there was no doubt he was a political leader. He projected the aura of someone who needed to be reckoned with, and that is a most important first impression any politician wants to impart.

I suspect there are many in the country today who are wistful for the tone and times when Dole was using his power in Washington. They were not times free of passion over the path forward in the nation, but I do not recall ever wondering if the adults were in charge. Dole just knew his first job was to make sure the trains ran on time, and if that helped his political mission, great. But governing meant something to Dole, that reached above mere politics.

Bob Dole appeared on David Letterman’s show three days after losing in 1996 and was most gracious in defeat. If one moment shines, in retrospect, it is the four minutes below.

The following account says it all for this post.

“One of the stories Bob Dole likes to tell in speeches and interviews had to do with the events in the first two weeks of 1983 when, quite literally, the Social Security system was saved. The only part of the tale he leaves out is his own role. It could not have happened without him. To the contrary, he made it happen. I was there. I so attest.”…….Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in a farewell tribute to Dole on June 11, 1996; Bob Dole: A Pictorial Biography of a Kansan, p. 102.

We can learn a lot about public service and even modesty if we follow the decades that Bob Dole was a fixture in American politics. His kind, sadly, seems fewer in number today.

And so it goes.

‘All In The Family’ Christmas Letter From Jennifer and James and Ethan Crumbley

Wonder what news the Crumbley family will have to write in their holiday letter this year.

‘The summer was dryer than normal, and that ole tree out back sure looks the worse for wear now that it lost another climb. Oh, yeah, our son killed four people after we bought a gun for him as an early holiday present. We decided that holing up in a warehouse was cheaper than a trip to Yellowstone and that sure made us popular coast-to-coast.

Hope all is good with you, and if you find any quarters in your couch please mail for our family defense fund. It will be a whopper next year! Do you think we all will look odd wearing orange for next year’s letter?

Pathetically yours,

The New Wards of the State

Michigan Parents Charged In Their Son’s Mass School Shooting

The time for sound legal reasoning, so to stem the tide of school shootings, has arrived.

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Michigan teenager accused of killing four students at a local high school, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly giving him the gun he used to carry out the shooting spree. I urged this week for such charges to be brought.

Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. As I wrote this week”… the law must follow the parents right to the jailhouse door and usher them inside.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said that a teacher had observed Ethan Crumbley searching ammunition on his cellphone and alerted school officials. The school tried to contact his mother but could not reach her.

McDonald told reporters that Jennifer Crumbley did not contact the school but instead texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

There is no disputing the evidence about the role of parents and other adults in school shootings. Not only relating to the tragic aspects of this week’s slaughter but also in cases around the nation for far too long.

Charging parents of juvenile shooters is uncommon, with just four reported instances in which the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock firearms fired by a child, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That’s despite the fact that if children as young as 6 did not have access to guns, well more than half of the country’s school shootings since 1999 would never have happened, The Post found.

“If you look at school shootings, the overwhelming majority are committed by students, and the overwhelming majority of those students have guns that they brought from their homes or a relative’s home,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

The four known prosecutions of parents did not stem from charges related to negligent-storage laws. The harshest penalty among those cases was a sentence of more than two years in prison for a man charged with involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy found his gun in a shoebox and killed a classmate.

While I am not a lawyer–though I read John Grisham–it would seem other adults are also absolutely negligent in the handling of this matter. When the obvious hints were discovered as to the violent mind of the 14-year-old law enforcement should have been notified. No waiting for some kinder way to broach the 800-pound problem in the school. The soft-handed attempts to deal with ticking time bombs are ludicrous.

“The morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher came upon a note on Ethan’s desk, which alarmed her to the point that she took a picture of it on her phone,” Willis said. “The note contained the following: a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointed at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet: ‘Blood everywhere.’ Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is the drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding. Below that figure is the drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of those words are, ‘The world is dead.’”

The student’s locker should have been busted open and properly searched. The classroom drawing of violence was not a hint–it was a billboard message!

School administrators failed this child, but not as much as his parents.

And so it goes.

Wonder Bar In Madison Saved, But At What Cost?

It is always amusing what issue can energize enough people to take action so as to impact the larger issue at hand. This year in Madison the ‘necessity’ of securing the Wonder Bar from demolition caught my attention.

An 18-story development project aimed at housing and commercial interests had been proposed for the site where the Wonder Bar and another drinking establishment in close proximity now exist. The proposal was a smart idea for a city that does like to talk often about the need for more housing, and knowing the added tax base is always required for the needs of our communities.

But then it seemed a number of locals found themselves to be history buffs and demanded that the 1930s Prohibition Roadhouse built by rivals of Al Capone be saved. After a number of meetings and letters to the editor of the local paper, it was decided that the Wonder Bar would be physically moved so to save it.

The cost of such a move would seemingly require a lot of cookie sales from the proponents of saving it. Or should we just expect the developer to bite that cost, too?

Over the 30 years of living in Madison, I have found myself on both sides of development projects. How it impacts those who live near such a proposal and the economic benefit to the city are two of my major concerns. When the Wonder Bar is the central issue, however, the end result is not difficult to discern.

There should have been strong and unbending support for the development proposed by McGrath Property Group. Tepid support does not cut it in this time of economic dips and uncertainty.

So the news this week about the down-sized plans for the project is not in any way surprising.

“The decision was made due to the continuing unprecedented increases in construction costs which was exacerbated by the high costs of relocating the Wonder Bar on site,” McGrath told the State Journal Tuesday evening. “We get routine feedback from our general contractor on pricing as the design evolves. In this case, costs kept trending in the wrong direction.”

The total cost to move the Wonder Bar was over $1 million and added three months to the construction schedule, he said.

“We are still planning to go forward with a project but it will be a lower scale project, likely four-to- five stories of wood frame over two levels of parking, and the Wonder Bar will remain in its current location,” he wrote to city staff.

There are times when developers have put forth in this city ideas that were truly in need of a total transformation. Then there are those projects where the need exists and the economic uptick for Madison can be clearly demonstrated with density development. It is that last point that sums up what could have occurred–and should have been realized on Olin Avenue.

The Wonder Bar should now sharply increase the costs of their drinks so to help with revenue to the city and to make up for what we are losing from a much-limited development project.

And so it goes.

Shooter’s Parents Must Be Legally Accountable For Deadliest School Shooting This Year

Once again the deadly results of guns in our society make for terrible headlines. Once again the refrain from rational adults is a call to common sense and the development of gun control measures that will start to trim back the shootings. At the same time, conservatives chant their trite platitude, ‘thoughts and prayers’.

The layers of possible responses to the carnage left by Ethan Crumbley and the 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun used in the shooting are many. From working on issues in school concerning being bullied to the drowning of the nation in too many guns available for purchase, and the ease that children can get their hands on a deadly weapon. There is no single avenue to address the gravity of the situation.

But when it comes to guns in homes this blog has been consistent and adamant that parents must be held legally responsible when their weapons are not stored and safeguarded correctly. When they are accessible to underage people, and crimes take place with the weapons, then the law must follow the parents right to the jailhouse door and usher them inside.

On Wednesday we learned that the high school sophomore accused of killing four classmates and injuring others will be charged as an adult with a host of felonies, including terrorism and four counts of first-degree murder. The weight of the words from Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said it all.

Evidence shows the shooting was “absolutely premeditated.”

But equally important today was the news that prosecutors are also considering charges against the suspect’s parents. The New York Times reported that when the boy’s parents went to a sheriff’s substation after the shooting, they declined to let investigators question their child. The sheriff told reporters that a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun used in the shooting had been bought four days earlier by the suspect’s father. “He is not talking and neither are the parents,” the sheriff said.

There is appropriate outrage across the nation today as we learn more evidence to show why parents, once again, must be held accountable for actions that their child took, due to a deadly gun made accessible in their home.

This blog has repeatedly stated parents of young people who use guns to shoot, kill, and create violence also need to be held accountable. Some adult was responsible for the fact the shooter was able to place his hands on this weapon. There is no way that any sane person can say parental/adult actions, such as with this shooting, should not be addressed by the law that makes sure there is a responsibility shared by those who help to foster the violent outcomes.

The NRA has plenty of responsibility for the number of guns in our society and the ease with which anyone can get a deadly weapon. But when it comes to children with guns there also has to be a question asked–where the heck was the parent? It might also be a good time to ask if parents are not able to control their offspring then perhaps they should forfeit their children’s tax credits. The rest of society should not have to continually pay the price for bad parenting.

And so it goes.

Wisconsinites Defining Themselves

Over the past two years, I have become better acquainted with segments of Wisconsin. Having lived here since my birth in Wild Rose, I have watched and read over the decades the comings and goings of those who lived near me and ones in the farther reaches of the state.

At times, I have been moved by the emotional resolve of a community pulling together, such as after the horrific Barneveld tornado. Recently we saw the better angels of our state move into action to help families impacted by the horror that ripped Waukesha after a man drove into a Christmas parade.

Since early 2020 we have watched as nurses and doctors have spent every day confronting not only a virus that has filled hospitals to capacity but also stressed medical professionals to a point they have never reached before in their careers. We have learned of teachers who crossed technical hurdles so to ensure students could continue their education, even if not sitting in the school classroom.

That is the part of Wisconsin that makes me proud to live here, knowing our lives are enriched with caring and thoughtful people doing tough work under the most trying of circumstances. The best of Midwestern values shines with these people.

But there is another segment of the state who also defined themselves over the past two years.

Perhaps I deluded myself for many years about the true character of some of my fellow citizens in the state. After all, I worked in local politics in Door County and then for a decade with a state legislator and appreciated the wide array of ideas and opinions. I fully grasped policy differences were as natural as the sun rising and setting. Partisan differences were not, for me, the mark of character.

But in 2006, as I drove through my hometown area and saw the number of yard signs in favor of an anti-gay marriage amendment slated for a statewide ballot, I was forced to realize a divide that I had not seen, or perhaps not wished to see all those previous years. This issue was not about increased taxes, or how to pay for road maintenance, or any such sundry list of concerns. This was not the typical issue of the day, but a blunt tool designed to foment bigotry and hate. It pained me to see signs on the lawns of people I personally knew promoting its passage.

This year as our state, like the nation and the world, fought back on a virus that has killed too many and undermined economies I have watched as some rebel against logical ways of living and acting so as to stem COVID’s spread. The utter rejection of wearing a mask so to protect their own families and the communities in which they live, or taking a vaccine that has proven efficacy so to allow for herd immunity, is more than shocking.

For so long I had a real faith in the rest of my fellow citizens, and that makes this year utterly dismaying to watch play out in relation to our basic human interactions with one another. My mom used to say that you never know how ugly families can be until there is a will to probate. She would be aghast to have watched how selfish and outrageous people turned out to be in a pandemic.

People refuse to be vaccinated and in so doing have split families apart. After all, those who follow science and reasoning do not wish to put their lives in peril by being in close proximity to those who reject common sense. Some fight against mandates, even for health workers or emergency workers who arrive at homes in trucks with flashing lights.

I have watched a segment of this state, a segment that is larger than what I would have ever imagined, lean into their tribalism, and in so doing, forsake the greater good. To me, that has been harder to accept than any presidential election night loss. That is because I know in four years there is a good chance at righting the ship of state.

What we have lost as Wisconsinites, as demonstrated by a segment of our populace with the rejection of science, facts, data, and following the advice of medical professionals is not something we can just glue back together again. The loss of our commitment to being good to each other, in the most trying of times, has defined who we are.

It is truly sad.

And so it goes.