Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. July 20, 2021.

Editorial: Want to debate? Study first

During our editorial board’s meeting this week we spent some time talking about the current debate over critical race theory. It’s a subject that we were hesitant to speak up on given that we weren’t sure there was a great deal we could constructively add.

As the conversation developed, we realized there was indeed something we could say. Frankly, most people arguing over it don’t seem to really know what it means. That needs to change.

Over the past year, critical race theory has emerged as one of the flashpoint terms in our country’s ongoing political wrangling. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. That’s not inherently problematic, but it becomes such when there’s zero interest in learning what the theory even is aside from what the televised talking head of your choice claims.

Part of the issue is that not everyone who embraces critical race theory defines it in the same way. The basic tenets hold that racial disparities in the United States are often supported by structural, social and legal frameworks that protect and perpetuate the status quo. But the degree to which those factors are present and the specific mechanisms by which they act are subject to the interpretation of the theorist in question.

Critical race theory is also blended into multiple offshoots, including focusing on multiple racial and ethnic minorities, gender studies and even disabilities. So, when someone mentions critical race theory, it’s fair to ask which one they’re speaking about. The fact people don’t makes it easier for both supporters and detractors to cherry pick quotes and arguments to portray their opposite numbers as extremists.

This isn’t the first time in political history where the theory was a flashpoint. When Bill Clinton nominated Lani Guinier for assistant attorney general, her association with critical race theory was one of the issues raised by opponents. When Clinton rescinded her nomination, the issue retreated for the moment.

What all of this underscores in a very clear way is that those who argue history is the past, a settled record no longer subject to changes in understanding or analysis, are very much incorrect. History is, and always has been, a lens through which we see ourselves. That means it’s alive.

It takes little imagination to transfer the successes or failures of the past to the realities of the present. Examples abound. The way in which sports teams highlight the banners and tokens of past championships is a comparatively innocuous illustration. The near-mythological status people tend to attribute to their cultural pasts does exactly the same thing, though with far more serious implications.

What’s the solution? We as a nation have never been particularly good at agreeing on what the past meant, and that’s not likely to change now. And, absent such agreement, the debates will continue.

The solution, as we see it, lies in education. Not the formal education of your youth, sitting in a classroom absorbing the received wisdom (or at least approved interpretation) of an instructor. We must become a nation of students, a people willing to study and develop our own understandings of the past and its place in our lives today.

There can be no one size fits all answer. Not when we’re talking about a vast array of experiences and backgrounds from which people derive individual identities. So we must study. The best scholars also understand the value in studying the ideas of those with whom they disagree. Doing so transforms those opinions from something to be rejected without thought into the stone against which your own thought may be sharpened.

Right now, too much of the debate relies on straw man arguments. It devolves into people claiming one group wants to destroy history, while another is composed of malignant racists. Both are shallow fallacies. There are those who want to challenge our understanding of history without erasing anything. And there are those who have concerns about doing so that are not based on race.

That, then, is our call. Elevate the discussion. Study. Understand. If you want to discuss a flashpoint, ensure that you at least know enough to discuss it intelligently.

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Kenosha News. July 19, 2021.

Editorial: Evers’ veto posts win for open government

Openness and transparency in government got a rare win last week when Gov. Tony Evers vetoed legislation that likely would have kept the public from knowing about allegations of misconduct or sexual harassment by members of the Legislature or their staffs.

The proposed legislation would have created a new legislative service agency call the “Legislative Human Resources Office” — and there is probably some merit to that concept.

On this episode of Rewind: Your Week in Review, WisPolitics.com editor JR Ross and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel state politics reporter Patrick Marley review Gov. Evers signing the historic income tax cut and 2021-23 budget. As reported by JR Ross, Gov. Evers signed a $2 billion income tax cut, nixed $700 million in changes to withholding tables and a $550 million transfer to the rainy day fund, and announced that $100 million in federal money will be directed towards schools. In response, the GOP bristled at Evers taking credit for the tax cuts. Overall, there are 50 vetoes in the budget, the lowest since Walker also issued 50 in the 2011-2013 budget with unified GOP control of the Capitol.

But lawmakers tainted that original idea by giving the proposed office a blanket exemption from reporting on any legislative misdeeds and being accountable to the public. The language in the bill said the office “shall at all times observe the confidential nature of records, requests, advice, complaints, reviews, investigations, disciplinary actions, and other information in its possession relating to human resources matters.”

That exemption, of course, covers about everything under the sun. Or in this case everything legislators don’t want to see come to light and never see the sun.

As Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council noted, “No other state or local body gets to entirely withhold any records related to human resources and there is no clear reason why the Legislature should have been treated any differently.”

Indeed, there are protections under existing law that allow redaction of sensitive information that protects victims and whistleblowers.

There is probably some irony in the fact that the legislation was sailing through the state Senate even as a Dane County judge ruled that the legislature had violated Open Records Law in 2019 by withholding records related to an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment involving former State Rep. Staush Grusynski, a Democrat from Green Bay.

As Gov. Evers put it in his veto message: “The people of Wisconsin have a right to know about misconduct of public officials, including those in the Legislature.”

We agree. That’s important information for the public to have when they go to the polls and make their judgments on whether a legislator is fit to hold office.

It shouldn’t be buried, as this legislation would have been.

This episode also illustrates that there may well be a real need for a legislative human resources office and Evers invited legislators to pursue that with a “clean bill” that would not be used to “hide official misconduct from scrutiny.”

We would encourage the Legislature to pursue that path.

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Wisconsin State Journal. July 15, 2021.

Editorial: Trump blasts Vos, so Vos spends more

Election officials across Wisconsin carefully counted the votes for president in November, and Joe Biden won.

They audited voting machines in every county, and the equipment worked well.

They recounted all of the votes cast in the Democratic strongholds of Dane and Milwaukee counties. Biden’s lead slightly expanded.

Lawsuits were filed, challenging the results. Judges, some of them appointed by Republicans, listened to the facts and ruled the votes were handled fairly.

More than eight months after the Nov. 3 election, it’s perfectly clear that Biden is our president for the next three-plus years. It doesn’t matter how much bluster the losing candidate, former President Donald Trump, continues to bloviate. Biden won, fair and square.

Everybody including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, knows that — even if some of his Republican colleagues pretend otherwise. Yet Vos continues to waste Wisconsin tax dollars on pointless probes of stale election complaints that have already been repeatedly debunked.

That needs to end.

Vos announced in May he would hire three retired police officers — at least one of them with partisan ties — to investigate “potential irregularities and/or illegalities.” Vos is paying the investigators a total of $28,800 in state tax money over three months, the Associated Press reported in June.

If the goal was to appease Trump, it didn’t work. The former president slammed Vos and other GOP leaders in Wisconsin on the eve of their annual political convention June 25. Trump absurdly claimed Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, were “working hard to cover up election corruption” in Wisconsin.

“Don’t fall for their lies!” Trump said in a statement.

Vos and LeMahieu gently deflected Trump’s inanity, saying Trump was “simply misinformed.” That’s an understatement.

Yet the day after Trump’s broadside, Vos doubled down on pandering to the former president. Vos announced he was hiring former conservative state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee the Assembly investigation of election questions that have already been answered. The public will now be on the hook to pay Gableman $44,000 through October, the AP reported last week.

That brings the total taxpayer tab for Vos’ redundant and partisan probe to $72,800.

For state lawmakers who just approved an $87 billion state budget, $72,800 may be an insignificant sum. But for a local school district, that’s enough to hire another teacher. For a local police department, that’s an officer. For a small town in Wisconsin, that could fix a lot of potholes.

And who knows how much higher the bill will get?

State lawmakers should remember the oath they made to support the state constitution and to faithfully and impartially discharge their legislative duties. They fail to live up to their constitutional obligations when they blatantly ignore the facts established by our courts and recklessly spend taxpayers’ money to attack the election process.

Vos and Co. should stop kowtowing to Trump and call off the witch hunt. Stop wasting our money on conspiracy theories.

END