Wisconsin GOP Election Voter Challenge On Shaky Ground

The Supreme Court decision today in an Ohio case underscores what many have felt concerning the attempt by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Von Hollen to sue the state election’s authority.  To do so in the manner that Van Hollen has outlined, and in the time frame only weeks before an election, shows to many a desire by the GOP to undermine the electoral process, and place confusion ahead of the desire to see democracy play itself out.  There are more important needs in the electoral process than protecting the GOP from being handed their butts on a platter in November.  The Supreme Court made that plain today.

A U.S. Supreme Court order today in an Ohio case could make waves in Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit against the state’s election authority.

A lawyer for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board said today’s court order affirms his argument that Van Hollen does not have the authority to bring his lawsuit. But a state Department of Justice lawyer said the order would have no effect on Van Hollen’s ability to continue his suit because he is trying to enforce state election laws – not federal ones – as a state official.

The U.S. Supreme Court today lifted a requirement put on Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner by a federal appeals court that would have forced her to provide local election clerks with lists of people whose voter registration data did not match driver’s license or Social Security records. The high court said the Ohio Republican Party was unlikely to succeed in arguments that it had the power to bring the original case against Brunner.

Lester Pines, a lawyer for the Wisconsin elections board, said the decision meant Van Hollen didn’t have any authority to bring his lawsuit. Van Hollen last month asked a Dane County judge to force the board to check voter information for people who registered to vote between January 2006 and August 2008.

A federal law required the checks to be run starting on Jan. 1, 2006, but Wisconsin didn’t start them until Aug. 6, 2008, because of technical difficulties.

“A state attorney general is in no different position than a private litigant…,” Pines said, adding that he would file a brief on the matter on Monday.

But Kevin St. John, an aide to Van Hollen, said the U.S. Supreme Court order has no implications for his case.

That’s because Van Hollen – who, he noted, is a state official rather than a private citizen – filed his case under state, rather than federal, law. The state law mirrors the federal Help America Vote Act that is at the heart of the Ohio case.

“They are absolutely different,” St. John said of the two cases.

Van Hollen and other Republicans have argued the case will guard against voter fraud, while Democrats have claimed it will block legitimate voters from casting ballots.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi is slated to hear arguments in the case Thursday.

Anger Over DVD Distributed In Newspapers About Islam Continues

Our neighbor saw a copy of “Obsession, Radical Islam’s War Against The West”, a DVD in his edition of the Sunday New York Times several weeks ago, and threw it away at once.  It was a slick glossy advertisement with the DVD attached.  It looked like a harsh propaganda piece that was meant to provoke rather than enlighten, he told us, so in the garbage it went.  Attacking Islam in an unfair and warped manner is not the way to get most readers of that newspaper to take a look.  Later that same Sunday I found my copy of the Times also had the same DVD, but while I never viewed it, saved it long enough to find out what it was all about through the internet.  Then I sent it to the landfill.

Our neighbor was right.  It was worth throwing away at once.  Attacking Islam, while misrepresenting the facts of both history and the religion is unfair, and certainly not worth the time of a Sunday Times reader. 

The DVD being enclosed with newspapers has caused quite a stir around the nation, as over 70 papers allowed the rather vile one-hour documentary to be placed in one of their editions.   Readers with some standards about what newspapers should, or should not allow as advertisements, naturally got upset.  Some wrote letters, and others ended their subscription to their paper.

I think given the nature of the video and content, along with the highly partisan nature of the distribution to only swing states that have roughly 28 million voters, the New York Times should not have allowed the DVD to be included.  The DVD is nothing more than fear mongering, and Islam bashing.  Readers of the New York Times do not fit that demographic.  Give me an extra crossword puzzle perhaps, but leave the anti-Islam crap out of my paper!

Though the matter was handled through the Times advertising department, and in no way involved the newsroom, there is still a stench from this matter that lingers.  Let it not happen again!

The Clarion Fund, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to address “the most urgent threat of radical Islam,” spent millions of dollars distributing the DVDs mostly in battleground election states. That targeting led to further outcry about the group’s motives.

“This is definitely the most feedback that I’ve gotten to an ad,” said Ted Vaden, public editor for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s among the heaviest reaction I’ve gotten to anything. The great majority of the reaction was negative.”

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Newspapers generally insist on giving a platform to a variety of viewpoints, but readers who complained were largely critical.

“I cannot believe that I was sent the hate-inflaming, fear-mongering video disk `Obsession’ in my newspaper!” Margaret Lewis of Durham, N.C., wrote to The News & Observer. “What will you enclose next? KKK robes?”

Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the journalism think tank Poynter Institute, said papers generally reject ads only if they promote illegal activity or might incite violence. The “Obsession” DVD, at most, makes people angry, she said.

“It’s pretty hard to make an argument to reject it,” she said. “It’s hard to articulate a standard that would give you the opportunity to reject something like the `Obsession’ DVD but allow other types of political, religious or anti-religious speech.”

The Clarion Fund, which has declined to identify all of its board members or the sources of its funding, is working with the Endowment for Middle East Truth on “The Obsession Project,” which is to include research publications and issue forums.

Clarion Fund spokesman Gregory Ross said the group spent several million dollars in donations from individuals he would not name, and he said running the ad in swing states was a means of drawing media attention and not meant to influence the election’s result, a move barred by federal tax law covering nonprofits.

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As at other newspapers, The New York Times’ decision to run the ad in some markets outside New York came from its advertising department, not the newsroom.

“Just as we print advertisements that rebut New York Times editorials, news articles or critical reviews, we print ads that differ from our editorial position,” spokeswoman Diane McNulty said. “We do so in the belief that it is in the best interests of our readers for our pages to be as open as possible.”

Terry Kohler Does Good Work With Conservation Efforts

This story tugged at my heart.  As the article notes there is something about a young animal with big round eyes that makes us pay attention and care. And if you take the time to read about Mahal, the orangutan in search of a home and mother, you will be lulled into his life story.

Equally important to the story is the fact that Terry Kohler, former unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate, and his wife Mary, are involved with trying to make a difference for this cutie, and other efforts to better the world.  “One of the responsibilities the good Lord gave us is to take care of His creation,” Kohler says. “The good Lord has blessed us beyond our comprehension, actually.”

Here is section of the story.

Days after his birth, they discovered Mahal had the equivalent of club feet, making it impossible for him to hang onto his mom the way other baby orangutans do. Orangutans walk on the sides of their feet, but Mahal walked flat, like a person.

It’s tempting to think that mom Hadiah rejected Mahal because of his deformity, but keepers believed she didn’t notice anything was wrong.

When Mahal was about a month old, the zoo brought in Mindy Siegel, a pediatric orthopedist who treats human babies with club feet.

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If Hadiah was the overwhelmed young mother, Sandra was the grandmother figure who loved Mahal dearly. Born on the island of Sumatra in 1956, Sandra was likely to be Mahal’s only brush with the wild.

She came to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1963 and had nine babies of her own. But she hadn’t handled a baby in 20 years, and at age 51, she was old. Orangutans usually live until their 40s in the wild but can live longer in captivity.

Arthritic and a bit grizzled about the face, Sandra had little energy for play or negotiations.

“She wanted that baby, and she was going to hold him,” says Hollingsworth, the Colorado Springs zookeeper. Sandra didn’t care whether Mahal felt the same way.

On Nov. 29, Mahal went into Sandra’s enclosure screaming. He clung to the mesh. She pulled him off. He screamed and fought her.

“She just hugged him and was like, ‘You might not like this now, but you’re going to be my kid,’ ” Hollingsworth says.

Mahal cried a lot that first day and night. Sandra tried to make him stay on her, sometimes restraining him. But in a few days, Sandra and Mahal seemed to figure each other out. Sandra realized she didn’t need to hold him all the time.

“Once he realized she was pretty cool, he wanted to be on her,” Hollingsworth says.

Keepers watched their bond deepen daily. Mahal kissed Sandra all over her face. Sometimes he’d suck on her chin. He clung to her much of the time, and they always slept together.

About 20 days after Mahal entered Sandra’s enclosure, Hollingsworth went to wake her. But Sandra didn’t move.

As usual, Mahal was sleeping on her. “He kind of realized something was wrong at the same time I did,” Hollingsworth says.

Sandra was dead. Mahal let out a high-pitched whimper when keepers pulled him from her.

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Terry Kohler figures they’ve spent more than $1 million on conservation efforts over the years.

His reason for carting around birds and eggs is uncomplicated.

“One of the responsibilities the good Lord gave us is to take care of His creation,” Kohler says. “The good Lord has blessed us beyond our comprehension, actually.”

So when Milwaukee zoo officials heard about Mahal, they sent an e-mail to the Kohlers.

“There is a nine-month-old orangutan at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado who is in desperate need of a surrogate mother,” wrote Roberta Wallace, senior staff veterinarian at the zoo. “The natural mother was abusive and rejected the infant.”

Milwaukee has an excellent surrogate, she said. The baby needs 24-hour care, and sending him by commercial airline cargo was out of the question. Could the Kohlers provide a pilot and a plane?

Terry Kohler sat in the living room of his home in Punta Gorda, Fla., going through e-mails on his laptop. His wife was packing for their trip the next day to their log cabin in rural Puerto Montt, Chile. The Kohlers spend winters in the two-bedroom cabin, which has no electricity. Terry Kohler draws on power from an outside generator to make tea for his wife in the morning.

He read the letter and chuckled.

To Mary Kohler, the baby orangutan was like the whooping cranes – an ambassador species.

“The conservationists know that they need to use the cute species and the cute animals to make the case,” she says. “Snakes won’t make the case for you, even though you may want to preserve them.”

The Kohlers did have a few concerns. Just how big is a baby orangutan? How strong? Would he tear apart the leather seats?

But if zoo officials were asking for help, the Kohlers believed it was needed.

The couple agreed that if a pilot were available, they should do it. They would pick up the tab for this flight: $8,000.

Mary Kohler finished packing, and her husband wrote back, copying his assistant, Mary Ten Haken, and pilot Mike Mauer in Sheboygan:

“This is almost too much to believe, but too much to refuse, either! Am copying Mary T. and Mike, and if they agree, let’s do it.”

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Will The Wisconsin State Legislature Act On Gun Legislation?

I find it interesting to see that the Wisconsin State Journal is asking their readers what story they would like to see on the front page of Tuesday’s paper.  Readers know I think this is a ridiculous way to run a newspaper.  But putting that aside for a moment, I noticed that one of the possible reads was a story about the Wisconsin  State Legislature being able to get anything done in the final week of their session.

There are plenty of things the Legislature should do, but between the stalling pattern of  both the Republicans in the Assembly, and the Democrats in the Senate, all for political reasons of course, there is not much hope for the big issues being dealt with.  All of those issues that were not voted on will then be fodder for the fall campaign.  God, I hate this style of politics!!

I would think that if the folks that were elected to act this term on the issues of the day can’t see fit to finish their work, they might at least consider a small but very worthwhile piece of legislation that would make the state a bit safer given the number of guns that pollute our society.

As the Milwaukee Journal editorial notes, this is a no-brainer. 

A bill that makes it possible for Wisconsin to join the 32 other states that share mental health information with a federal database that is used for background checks on gun purchases.

Guns – irrationally – tend to constitute a third rail of politics. The National Rifle Association would have it no other way. But this measure is so modest and so common-sensical that it should not be lumped into that category. And one indication that it isn’t is that Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), a gun advocate, is one of the authors – with Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

The bill would make it possible for the state to apply for a federal grant to update technology that would allow the state Department of Justice to share its mental health records with a federal database.

Of course, this raises privacy questions. So please note that state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen supports the bill because the records shared involve only those who have been involuntarily committed for treatment or are involved in court-ordered guardianships or placement. It doesn’t affect those who voluntarily seek mental health treatment.

It is time for the citizens to demand not only for sensible gun legislation in this state, but also that the elected officials complete their work BEFORE seeking another term in office!

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Plea Deal In The Works For Scott Jensen?

There is no way that former Wisconsin State Representative Scott Jensen wants to be placed in front of another jury.  It is in his interest to strike a plea deal like other criminals do in order to reduce the likely harmful outcome of a trial.

With that in mind it was interesting to read that the foundation for such a peal deal is already being laid.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen thinks that a retrial can be avoided by striking a plea deal.  Readers need to be mindful that a jury found Jensen, the former Republican Speaker of the Assembly, guilty of three felonies.  In other words any plea deal will have to be tough and serve the cause of justice.  Even though the three felony convictions were overturned in November there is no reason to assume that another jury would not conclude the exact same thing.  The actions of Jensen are no more right today than when he committed them while serving in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard must not forget the initial reason that Scott Jensen faced a trial.  The use of state tax dollars to pay state workers at the Capital to work on political campaigns on state time needs to be addressed honestly.  Scott Jensen needs to be reminded that his actions were wrong, and that there is a price to be paid.  The citizens of Wisconsin deserve to have justice served.

To allow the actions to slide in a sweet plea deal where much is forgiven and forgotten does not meet the smell test for those who pay the taxes and play by the rules around the Badger State.

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Great Lakes Story A Must Read From Sunday Newspaper

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At the northern tip of Door County, Rock Island State Park (top) is nearly joined to Washington Island (bottom). Even now, with water levels near record lows, waves and currents make crossing by foot a treacherous journey, officials warn. 

Having lived and worked in Door County I was shocked to see this photo today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  (For better view click here.) To pretend that there is not a problem that deserves prompt attention is pure folly.  The fact that man is severely altering and abusing the environment is not up for debate.  The only question the remains is how quickly can we start to reverse the damage.

Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a great read that you will not want to miss.

As angst mounts and debates rage over the causes behind the distressingly low water levels on the Great Lakes, some influential regional leaders are tired of waiting for answers.

The Great Lakes Commission is urging the U.S. and Canadian governments to immediately start working on a plan to plug the “drain hole” on the St. Clair River, which is the major outflow for Lakes Michigan and Huron.

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Wisconsin State Papers Opine On Budget Mess

Editorial writers around the state of Wisconsin continue to hammer the lack of a state budget.  And rightfully so.  The reason for the lack of a budget is clear for all to see.  And the effects that no budget has on the people in the state is also clear.

From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It’s simplistic to the point of folly to argue that Wisconsin can revert to last year’s spending with little or no consequence. In the short run, that might be true. But the short run is rapidly becoming the long run. The longer this stalemate continues, the greater the chances that major state programs will be affected along with the people who rely upon them.

Without a state budget:

• State and local governments can’t easily pay for increased costs for everything from heat and water to health insurance and salaries. State employees got a 2.25% pay hike on April 1, for example, but the state had only enough funding to pay for that increase through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. That increased cost has to come from somewhere.

• Local governments can’t be certain of their own budgets because they don’t know how much state aid they will get. Both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County budgeted with the expectation that they would receive more revenue sharing than they apparently will get. As a result, property taxes could rise to close that gap.

• Projects important to southeastern Wisconsin, including efforts to boost research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and to start planning for a new school of public health, won’t happen.

From The Oshkosh Northwestern

Barring passage of a budget, there’s really nothing to talk about… with Republicans or Democrats. And so was born a temporary (let’s hope temporary) Northwestern policy: No legislator meetings with the editorial board until a new state budget is passed. No spinning. No time-wasting. The message to Fitzgerald is the same to Hintz to other legislators and to Gov. Jim Doyle, who made a press-release pit stop in Oshkosh last week: Lock yourselves in the State Capitol, compromise and get your people a biennial budget.

It probably seems a bit hard-line, and some folks might find our temporary banishment close-minded.

But there really isn’t a whole lot of State Capitol insight to absorb or relay right now.

Until there’s a mutually-agreed upon lock-in or some other incentive to get legislators burning the midnight oil – like our and others’ no-budget-no-pay proposals – we live on borrowed budgets. Wisconsin trudges on under the 2005-2007 spending plan that expired in July. National embarrassment in being the only state without its new budget passed is not motivation enough.

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What State Newspapers Are Saying About Budget Mess

I think Governor Doyle has done the right thing by calling a special session of the legislature to address the fact no state budget has passed due to the GOP stalling, and placing roadblocks in the way of progress.  I think that by highlighting the GOP tactics Doyle delivered a brilliant move, as it will bring the story closer to the voters.  As such I am watching the editorial writers around the state as a way to measure the impact Doyle’s move has on  public reaction.

The Sheboygan Press

So, what’s the big deal?

Without a state budget, school districts around the state don’t know how much aid they’ll be getting.

State aid figures are supposed to be certified to schools by Oct. 15 — a scant six days away. But with only a “promise” by Legislative leaders that aid will go up when the state budget is eventually approved, state Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Burmaster is telling districts to use last year’s aid figures.

So who’s going to make up the difference? You guessed it, the property taxpayer.

Without a state budget, cities and counties don’t know how much shared revenue they’ll get.

It’s also possible that city and town officials will turn to the property taxpayer to make up any shortfalls.

These units of government don’t have the luxury of waiting to get their budgets done. Come Nov. 9, schools and local government must complete their work.

From The Wausau Daily Herald

Governance is the art of compromise — bending to achieve the best possible outcome for taxpayers by addressing their problems without abandoning principles.

But to some in Madison, compromise is synonymous with losing, and no one wants to lose — lose face, or power, or influence, or money in the form of campaign contributions from special interests.

Before last week, everyone seemed willing to bend. Doyle was willing to cut $400 million in state spending. Democrats had given up their Healthy Wisconsin insurance plan. Republicans signaled they could live with a $1.25 per pack tobacco tax to help fund an expansion of BadgerCare.

Everyone gave a little, but won a little, too. They all could go back to constituents and say, “Here’s what I achieved for you.”

Instead, they’ve all lost.

In the short term, their failure to do their jobs has some very real consequences for us here in the real world, away from Madison. College students don’t know if they’ll get grants and loans. School districts and municipalities don’t know what level of state funding they’ll get.

But in the big picture, this failure has less concrete but more devastating costs.

As we all watch this debacle, our confidence in government erodes a little more. We become more convinced every day that our elected leaders have more concern for themselves and their power than they do for solving our problems.

Today from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

State legislators should not view next week’s special session on the budget called by the governor as just another opportunity to flex partisan muscles. You know, so their bases can ooh and aah at their ideological pecs and abs.

But there is value in testing whether budget conferees are hewing to lines their caucuses, in fact, don’t much mind crossing for the common good.

Individual legislators must be more flexible than their leadership has been. Which is not to say that there hasn’t been movement. It’s just that, at more than 100 days late and counting for this state budget, it clearly has not been enough.

Assembly and Senate leaders should free their respective caucuses to vote what they view as their constituents’ best interests.

The Wisconsin State Journal

Gov. Jim Doyle on Tuesday called for a special session of the Legislature next week to concentrate on cinching a deal. Doyle said he wants to embolden moderates to demand budget action so drastic measures, such as state worker furloughs, can be avoided.

Let ‘s hope the sensible center of Wisconsin ‘s Legislature responds.

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