With fondness and laughter Bruce Miller, George Manesis, and Gregory Humphrey trek back 41 years to reminisce about the Wausau, Wisconsin broadcasting school. From how these young men saw themselves at the time, to how radio impacts their lives today, this podcast episode surely mirrors the hundreds of graduates over the years. From the school owner, Ray Szmanda, to the iconic Scott Street Pub these three guys regale memories that will transport all those who once harbored ‘radio fever’ to a place of youthful nostalgia. An episode that has a professional touch, a human connection. Darius Rucker, The Knack, and Connie Smith add the melody.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was most willing to appropriate more than a million dollars to a former Supreme Court justice so to ferret out alleged nefarious and illegal voting behavior following the defeat of Donald Trump in the state’s 2020 presidential election. Rather than admitting the Republican Party had a seriously flawed candidate, Vos stood by as Michael Gableman threatened to jail the mayors of major Wisconsin cities such as Madison, Green Bay, and Racine if they didn’t comply with subpoenas to sit for private interviews as part of the investigation. Following the August endorsement of Vos’s primary opponent by Gableman, the Speaker terminated the contract to further spend taxpayer’s dollars on an investigation that had no serious purpose.
What was widely reported in the state, and in national political columns was that this summer while the investigation was underway Vos stated he had taken a phone call from Donald Trump, who told the Speaker of his desire to see the results of the 2020 balloting overturned. It comes as no surprise that the January 6th committee follows such developments as that phone conversation, and is attuned to the developments which are aimed at undermining our democratic institutions and eroding the faith of the citizenry in our electoral process. Therefore, the committee is, of course, mighty interested in Vos’ testimony and information he can add to the larger understanding of a seditious conspiracy plotted by Donald Trump, and aided by a number of close aids and confidants.
After the anticipated legal protection that Vos grabbed for after the panel handed him a subpoena, the panel canceled Monday’s deposition deadline, but noted their desire to have his compliance and know the matter is pending upon the ruling from a judge. This reluctance from Vos, however, to honestly testifying is troubling for two reasons.
First, the desire of the Committee is straightforward. They simply requested in their subpoena for Vos to give a deposition about his call with Trump and the surrounding circumstances. The fact is our democracy came under violent attack on Jan. 6th. Many attempts at undoing the election outcome, though impossible to achieve, have been made in the months following as Trump furthers an absurd theory in several states. Wisconsin was one of those playgrounds which have used tax dollars, and as such, there is a need to know what pressures were placed on the Speaker by Trump to thwart the will of the voters.
Secondly, if Vos is true to his words and intentions then he would very much desire a full accounting of what occurred with the Trump phone call. During the period following the 2020 election, he stated Wisconsin needs to “look forward” to guarantee public faith in elections. He said he believes “half of the state or more,” thinks there were “serious problems with the way the election was conducted”. I can state that equal numbers of our fellow Wisconsinites are much concerned about the shape of our democracy and worry about the fate of our political and electoral processes.
As such, Vos would well serve our state by being forthcoming to the Jan. 6th Committee about his stated desire of securing the public faith in our elections….while at the same time giving a boost to our overall democracy. It could be a win-win.
With the campaign for Wisconsin governor moving in full steam towards the November election voters are being offered an array of pretty much the same fare as past fall races. This year there is alpha-male posing from Republican nominee Tim Michels while Tony Evers unveils a cheesy tax cut. Voters know aggressive masculinity does not equate to good governance, and that our transportation budget needs state funds far more than individuals do with an extra couple hundred bucks in their wallet.
Yes, we are now in that time when candidates will say and do anything for a point bump in the polls or a series of favorable headlines. I understand the need to press all the buttons and make every effort to prevail at the polls, but there must also be a real conversation with the electorate about issues that matter. One of those topics is something I have talked about for at least 20 years. Count the number of graduates leaving high school in May and then count the new faces entering kindergarten in September. We have a genuine worker shortage, in every business sector and in every region around the Badger State.
On Sunday Tom Still, who I believe should be in the kitchen cabinet for whoever wins the governorship, stated most clearly why there is a need to focus on our state’s worker shortage.
Economists and demographers in Wisconsin have been warning for decades that a shortage of workforce-age people was inevitable. The St. Louis-based research arm of the Federal Reserve reports Wisconsin’s “labor force participation” rate declined from 74.5% in late 1997 to 66.4% in June 2022. That rate reflects the number of all employed and unemployed workers divided against the state’s civilian population.
Stills also noted a sobering fact about the dismal rate of growth from those moving here from another state.
At a time when much of the United States is on the move, Wisconsin isn’t a leading destination. About 1.1 million people moved from one U.S. state to another in 2021, the conference was told, yet only 3,400 or so wound up in Wisconsin.
Among the various factors Still connected to the worker shortage, was the fact our state will need to view immigration in a different light if we are to meet the economic needs we face. Nine years ago, in 2013, he wrote a column about immigrant workers in the Badger State.
Immigration reform can help the Wisconsin economy at a time when the demographics of an aging society are chipping away at the state’s workforce, from its kitchens, farms and resorts to its research laboratories and tech companies.
In a global economy, Wisconsin looks much less international than even its neighbors. Compared to Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin has a smaller share of foreign-born population and total labor force, as well as fewer foreign-born business owners.
During the primary season, there were countless television ads by Michels where “illegals” were mentioned. We learned that he aligned with Donald Trump concerning a wall at the Southern border. He ground down with campaign rhetoric about “no drivers’ licenses, no benefits, and no tuition” for immigrants.
We too often hear conservative pols use dehumanizing language regarding immigrants. Over the past years, we have had too many truly sad examples of political discourse that was xenophobic and racist. The facts are of course that immigrants are human beings in search of a better life, fair wages, safety, and security. Additionally, we know that Wisconsin requires their labor and skills.
While the usual theatrics of a campaign season is upon us it appears that once again the long-term problem of a shortage of workers in our state will be left behind. Slogans and heavy rhetoric about red meat topics will not address the shortage of workers businesses confront year after year in the construction trades, farms, or on the manufacturing floors. Voters should be provided ideas by the candidates for governor about how our state deals with this pressing problem.
There are those times when what might be considered a strong and resolute position, instead winds up looking rather sluggishly anemic. Such is the result of Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos firing Michael Gableman a mere 72 hours after the Racine County Republican squeaked out a primary election night win after Donald Trump urged voters to elect his opponent.
It was only after the votes were counted that Vos found his voice, even his backbone, along with a microphone into which he could utter his feelings about the former Supreme Court justice. “He’s an embarrassment to the state.” But only last week the former justice was a needed investigator for Republicans! Catching up with the sentiments held by the majority of state residents for the past year does not make Vos a prophet or even slightly principled, but simply underscored why many people think Republican politicians are playing to the most gullible within the GOP.
Vos’ comment, however, is about the length and breadth that leadership and a commitment to facts are allowed to be displayed within the current Republican Party. It is due to elected officials, such as Vos, who have continually played to the right-wing conspiracy theories from the base of the party, and in so doing have allowed for oxygen to be given to the nonsense. That has resulted in much harm being done to the home of such political giants as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Speaker Vos authorized and funded Gableman’s actions which resulted in a wild, unhinged, and legally impossible notion, such as decertifying the 2020 election. There was no evidence of widespread election chicanery to unearth, though that did not stop state tax dollars from being used by Gableman to foment lies for the less educated in the state. Nor did it stop Vos from continuing the spigot of money into Gabelman’s efforts which even included his attending a seminar in South Dakota hosted by luminaries such as Mike Lindell, the MyPillow facts denier.
The time to cut ties with Gableman would have been after the first sit-down the Speaker had with someone who claimed in 2008 that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley rapped him on the head during a meeting. At the time many in the state snickered at the event, but in hindsight, it might be appropriate to ask exactly how much damage was inflicted!
The Michael Gableman we have watched over the past year is the same person who ran a sleazy and racist campaign in 2008 against the Supreme Court’s only African-American, Louis Butler. A major state newspaper wrote in 2012 that Gableman, as a justice, “opened the door to accusations of unethical behavior”. The years have changed, but the character of Gableman sadly has not. I wrote on Caffeinated Politics in 2011 that Michael Gableman was the least intelligent and probing mind on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After this past year, that may be the kindest thing one can say about the man.
Why Speaker Vos was not able, or willing, to provide leadership and honesty to the ones within his party spreading the Big Lie remains a troubling question that historians will need to address. After all, firing Gableman was only about 365 days too late.
As a twelve-year-old growing up in Hancock, Wisconsin this news seemed most interesting for the simple reason that nothing exciting ever seemed to occur in my hometown area. Everything exciting happened ‘out there’ and that meant far way. All of a sudden the energy of a national story was hitting home as people around me were talking about it and we seemed in that fashion to be a part of the story, too. I liked that feeling and was starting to understand the adrenaline rush that came with breaking news stories.
Counting the bean-pickers that rumbled down our country road or predicting how much rain might be in the gauge dad had set up on the white fence separating Mom’s flowers from the leafy rhubarb patch were what constituted a normal type of summer day in my childhood. So it is not hard to fathom how exciting following the news of a president leaving office might be for a kid.
Even though I was not aware of the depth and complexity of Watergate, thanks to the daily paper that was delivered six days a week in our mail and from radio newscasts, I knew there was excitement brewing in the land.
My parents spent the early part of the evening of August 8th after our dinner—supper as my Mom always referred to it—doing some lawn work. There were gray clouds that evening, though not the type that made for any rain. That surely was greeted with a smile by Dad as he mowed in cooler temperatures. Mom followed him around the trees and flower patches with trimming shears in hand tidying up the spots the mower was not able to perfect. I know dad was being cognizant of the time and wanted things to be done in time for the national presidential address.
By the time Nixon looked directly into the camera the three of us were seated in the living room, with dad in his leather-like chair that tipped back ever so slightly while Mom and I sat on the sofa, with me perched close to the TV, a spot I always seemed to gravitate towards.
How my parents felt about that night is not registered in my mind. I suspect that is due to the fact they watched the address like most other Americans who knew larger legal and political forces were at work in the nation and all they could do was just watch it unfold. In later years I knew my parents were part of that “Silent Majority” that Nixon was speaking to in his national races. They worked hard, played by the rules, and at times could do nothing more than just watch as events swirled around them. I have no memory of any emotional reaction—one way or the other—from the Republican home where I grew up that night, though I still recall where we were and what we did.
As was the case with other events that played out on the national stage in those years of my life it was the drama and excitement that drew me to the story. I knew that the resignation was a major event, but am not sure I placed it in historical terms. What I very much recall that night and then in the days that followed were the urgent tones in the announcer’s voices and the paced delivery of whatever was being reported. Where others my age were the product of the TV age I had grown up with radio and experienced a whole other way of hearing the news. I may have wished for more excitement in my youth but would not trade those AM broadcasts for any black-and-white image from a TV.
The following morning was one that left a lasting impression on me.
Dad was at work and Mom was undertaking the regular household-type patterns of life that made our house a home. August 9th was sunny and bright as I sat in the living room in front of the television with the sun streaming in through the windows on the south side of the house. What happened has lingered with me over the decades.
First, and though I was not able to recognize it at the time, came the raw and unvarnished words and open emotions from a politician. Rarely has anyone with power and a national moment spoke in the way President Nixon did as he stood behind a podium and bid White House staff and administrative aides farewell. It was unscripted and though I had no reason to know why at the time his words hit me and have never left me since. Some would say in later years they wondered how Nixon made it through his roughly fifteen minutes of saying goodbye. It was wrenching to watch and never fails to move me when I view it these decades later.
In one of his awkwardly emotional moments for a man who never relied on such sentiment to carry him through the political battles he stated, “Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother. Well, I guess all of you would say this about your mother–my mother was a saint.” I think his time behind the podium that morning was as close as we ever came to seeing the human side of the man.
The second reason the events struck me that morning and continue to hold my attention, concerned the way power was handed over under the rules that our nation agrees to be governed by, even in the worst of times. This is not some small outcome when a constitutional crisis was finalized with the wave from a fallen leader as he gets on a helicopter and his vice-president takes over as the next leader of the free world. A twelve-year-old out in the country where nothing ever happens could even see the wonder of it all.
Decades following that morning when Nixon made his emotional comments from the White House I wrote Walking Up The Ramp, a book about my life, and parents who raised a boy to be a determined man. The quote I used to open my story was the same one that caught my attention back in the sunny living room of my childhood. No one may have ever written a book about Dick Nixon’s Mom, but I would write one about mine.
There are many who can not find anything other than revulsion for Richard Nixon. I just am not one of those. As readers might know I have had a life-long interest in the life and times of Richard Nixon. While I have long stated President Abraham Lincoln was our most important leader to occupy the White House I have long felt Nixon was our most intriguing. Nixon’s life was a Shakespeare play acted out for the whole nation to watch.
No one can or should want to spin away from the Watergate affairs which cover everything from a bungled burglary to the plumbers, ITT, the firing of a special prosecutor and so much more. Frankly, it is hard to imagine all that happened to play out day after day, week after week, month after month. Yet it all happened and many of us have memories of those days, as anguishing as they were. We would not again see a political meltdown until the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election unfolded in horror and shameful actions in front of our eyes on January 6, 2021.
Over the years I have come to a more nuanced perspective about the man. I do not allow for any wiggle room on his crimes or the need to resign from the office. But when it comes to his international involvement I leave the bitterness for the partisans while taking stock of his accomplishments in places around the globe.
At this time as we reflect on the resignation, we need to ask ourselves if our politics really did survive that event or was it instead a demarcation line where faith was lost in our political institutions that have never again been mended. Between the Vietnam War and Watergate, the nation lost more of itself than most knew at the time.
Over the past few years, our nation has attempted a better reckoning with some of the social issues that still lead to inequality and harm to some segments of our society. There is no disputing the power that masses of people across the country asserted following the death of George Floyd. The growing understanding of why transgender teens must be allowed their space and right to become adults proves how a determined push can make positive changes.
While we can point to real progress on some issues, there are other matters that deal with peoples and cultures which remain nearly stalled. In 1990–over thirty years ago(!)–the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, became law. Its intent was to ensure the return of tribal objects by institutions receiving federal money.
The law is rather straightforward. It requires facilities that have such artifacts to submit inventories to federally recognized tribes in the United States. Human remains, along with funerary and sacred objects that can be linked to a specific tribe must be repatriated upon request.
It was reported in the news that some 870,000 Native tribe artifacts that should be returned to tribes under that federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums, and other institutions across our country. It must be noted, that also includes nearly 110,000 human remains. The National Park Service maintains the data on these artifacts, with the entire list here.
The Wisconsin UW system has a number of bones and funerary objects that must be repatriated to the proper tribes.
We often hear about the desire to heal the pain in our nation, atone for the past actions of other generations, and find ways of uniting and moving forward. How then, in this era of computers and technology, are there still tens of thousands of ancestors not repatriated with their tribes?
Why this matters so very much is that we are not talking about extinct people, as many of these artifacts are still very much integral components of living cultures. Additionally, the placement of ancestral bones and other sacred objects in cold and sterile museums runs counter to Native beliefs.
For me, this story has some meaning beyond the headlines. I am most proud of being the first cousin, 6 times removed, from Chief John Ross who witnessed the horror of the Trail of Tears first-hand. He was also known as Guwisguwi (a mythological or rare migratory bird), and was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Native American Nation from 1828–1866. My Mom’s side of the family always spoke with pride about their heritage.
Broken treaties litter our national story concerning Native tribes. Thirty years after a federal law was passed about Native bones and, artifacts it is troubling that so much work remains to be done. A better reckoning with the parts of our past regarding Native tribes is much in need.
The increasing level of awareness about enacting proper policies to combat global warming, and educating the citizenry about environmental concerns is producing some good results. We can agree policy moves are not taking place fast enough to meet the changes that are being noted globally, but with more efforts made at informing younger generations, who will be leaders someday, it is hoped that more robust changes can occur.
I was delighted to learn, therefore, that three University of Wisconsin-River Falls students are using their summer months as part of a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of pinenes, molecules released by conifer trees, and other vegetation into the atmosphere. Why this matters, (and like you, I am learning as I blog), is that pinenes are oxidized by other molecules in the atmosphere and during the process produce an important molecule that acts as a detergent for the atmosphere.
There are many reasons to smile about this project and applaud the effort.
First, science matters greatly, and grant writing and securing funding is tough work. So to land the $459,686 three-year grant for the project is truly noteworthy.
Getting fresh young minds involved with research not only looks good for their future resumes, but also matters to the climate change dilemma, that now impacts the entire globe. Who knows what findings or new questions these students might land upon which move and shape another researcher perhaps in some other nation that will then spur on a finding that has far-reaching implications.
That is the beauty of research! That is what excites me about this news.
And of course, the research branches out at UW-River Falls beyond these women as additional students will continue the research project for the next two summers. Their contributions will supplement the growing understanding of atmospheric processes.
There are many news headlines that make up each of our days, and sadly, too many of them are the kind that can only be labeled as just awful. So it pleases me that there is a truly uplifting and hopeful story, coming from Wisconsin about young people and scientific research.
Parents know how often small children will do just about anything to get attention. The whole nation was reminded of those types of antics when the Stuart skit on Saturday Night Live would make us laugh with “look what I can do’. Now that same type of behavior is being exhibited by a member of the Republican Assembly caucus.
Representative Janel Brandtjen, the chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s elections committee, has called for invalidating President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in the state.
While the display is laughable, it is not charming like the performances of the little rascals at home aiming for the limelight with their parents. In fact, it is just sad, dangerous to the nation, and another reminder of how removed from reason and logic a portion of the unhinged element of the Republican Party strives to remain.
Readers do not require my writing this sentence to know that constitutional scholars from across the state and nation, along with even the conservative Republican legislative leaders in Madison have called such outbursts legally impossible. Most Wisconsinites would label Brandtjen’s desire as patently absurd.
I realize that Brandtjen was very busy ginning up this headline-making idea and so did not have the time to review the facts about a number of recounts, along with a slew of court rulings that upheld the victory Biden scored in the state. Even a legislative audit from the very statehouse where she works showed there was no widespread fraud in the voting outcome. On top of that, even the outcome by a very conservative group demonstrated there was no out-of-control fraud taking place in Wisconsin.
While I do not carry a stick so to poke at the bears at the zoo, I have to admit it would be more than amusing to allow Brandtjen sixty seconds of uninterrupted time on a newscast so she could explain why she thought decertification was possible. Since Wisconsin is known as a state that loves alcohol, perhaps a drinking game could be arranged for every ahhh…and umm…as she seeks a way to round the square. Folks living above Highway 29 might even wish to play the video a second time.
I have faulted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his desire to play too close to the fire when it comes to the ludicrous base of his party as it relates to the Big Lie. Prolonging the oxygen in the state for the conspiracy crowd and the danger that this creates for the foundation of our democracy is not something any rational leader should court.
If Vos was seeking what was best for the state and country he would remove, at once, Janel Brandtjen as the chair of the Elections Committee. She has proven to be at odds with facts, and logic, and as such should not remain in such a pivotal place. The seriousness and credibility that comes with being a committee chair are diminished when the actions of Brandtjen are allowed to stand. What she has done casts a shadow on the entire Republican caucus. And the state.
Such a move would show Vos had the leadership skills to speak and act for the higher interest of Wisconsin. Even though it would roil the waters for the conspiracy-prone, the mature members of the state GOP would be assured that a reasoned person was at the helm. Acting impotently, however, will only feed the ongoing narrative that the GOP is an out-of-control clown car.
It is no wonder why many deride the far-right wing of the Republican Party. It is no mystery why conservatives are the butt of jokes for late-night talk show monologues. What the GOP requires are elected officials who will step up and clearly demonstrate a willingness to align with sanity.
Cue Speaker Vos to look into the camera with the red light on and start speaking.
Now that would be a headline in the Milwaukee Journal the state would applaud.