Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. July 27, 2021.

Editorial: Wisconsin leaders’ antics are getting old

Earlier this week, Gov. Tony Evers called for a special legislative session to vote on increasing funding for Wisconsin schools and universities. Legislative leaders planned a vote on an attempt to override Evers’ veto of a bill that ended a $300 unemployment payment.

Wisconsin residents can be forgiven if they feel like they’ve seen this movie before. They have. And the ending isn’t likely to change.

The override was doomed because Republicans needed some Democrats to cross party lines on the vote in order to reach a two-thirds majority. Evers’ special session, in turn, will most likely face the same fate as his prior attempts: a pro forma session that gavels in and out faster than a drive-thru window order.

Evers criticized the Republican plan for the override vote, saying “If they have time to come into session to play politics, then they have time to come in and do what’s best for our kids.” With all due respect to the governor, just how does he believe calling this special session is any less playing politics than the override attempt?

The phrasing here is revealing. Both sides are accusing each other of playing politics. It’s a perfect description. What they’re doing isn’t leadership. It isn’t about actually accomplishing anything. It’s about playing games, trying to score points by putting the opposition in a bad position. And it’s well past time for Wisconsin’s political leaders to grow up.

Neither Evers nor Republican leaders are stupid. Both know full well that their initiatives are almost certainly doomed. That’s exactly how they want it, show over substance.

By putting the override to a vote, Republican leaders hope to force their Democratic colleagues to go on the record as voting for spending rejected by half of the other states in the country. It’s a bid for an election year claim of fiscal irresponsibility.

By forcing a special session, Evers hopes to paint Republicans as opposed to school funding, setting up an election year claim that they don’t care about Wisconsin children’s futures.

It’s theatrical. It’s about appearances over action. And it’s getting old.

In September of last year we editorialized on the same basic issue. The dispute that time was a special session on police reform and accountability. We made the same fundamental accusation then that we do now: Wisconsin’s political leadership is treating the state’s future as a game. It is every bit below the dignity of the offices they hold now as it was then.

This isn’t a new problem for Wisconsin. In February 2019, we said the state’s leaders need to remember that compromise is not a dirty word. In November 2011 we criticized the Legislature for staying up all night debating an amendment that turned out to be for a moot point.

What Wisconsin’s political class consistently fails to understand — or deliberately ignores — is that leadership and politics are not zero-sum situations. Claims that one side must inevitably lose if the other gains are false. Success generates enough credit for all involved. Failure generates enough blame to do the same.

Treating politics as a game and, worse, a Darwinian competition in which only one side can prevail, is at best an infantile understanding of what government and leadership are. It is as if the parties are two toddlers arguing over which has gotten more juice in a cup. In most cases the difference can be measured only by the most sensitive scientific instruments and the eyes of greedy children. But they’ll fight tooth and nail over the perceived slight.

We refuse to believe that such short-sighted officials represent what Wisconsin can and should be. We do not accept the explanation that politics must inevitably descend into a morass of bickering and blame.

There have been glimmers of hope, moments in which cooperation seemed possible. One was when Wisconsin overcame a sluggish start to COVID vaccinations and, for a short time, was among the most successful states in getting people immunized. It was a shared accomplishment, one hailed by both the governor’s office and his rivals in the Legislature. But it, as with so many other moments, proved a false dawn.

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Kenosha News. July 27, 2021.

Editorial: Thank you, Bucks, for bringing us together

It’s been a week and it’s still a little hard to comprehend.

The Milwaukee Bucks are the NBA champions.

As has been pointed out many times, it was the team’s first NBA title in 50 years. The last time the Bucks won pro basketball’s highest honor, Richard Nixon was U.S. president; a gallon of gas cost 36 cents; and the Brewers were in the American League while the Montreal Expos were in their third season in the National League

The Bucks’ second championship, clinched with a Game 6 victory over the Phoenix Suns, was won in front of a roaring crowd at the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee, the first time a Milwaukee pro or college team had won a major national championship in front of the home fans.

The championship is all the more remarkable considering how close the Bucks twice came to being eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference semifinals, they were the length of the toe of a basketball shoe from being eliminated. Had Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant’s foot not been on the 3-point line when he made his shot near the end of regulation in Game 7 — turning his made basket into a 2-pointer — that game would have been over and the Bucks would have had no chance to win the game and series in overtime.

Then there was the moment in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, when Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo collapsed in pain under the basket and had to be helped off. As good as the Bucks are, we had to think, how could they win the series against the Atlanta Hawks without their two-time league MVP? And yet they did, winning the final two games to take the series and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.

Then, despite Antetokoumpo’s return, the Bucks went down two games to none to the Suns, and we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the next two games would be in Milwaukee.

The Bucks aren’t a one-man team — Khris Middleton is on the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo; fellow Olympian Jrue Holliday, acquired by the Bucks this season, demonstrated why he’s regarded as one of the best defensive point guards, if not the best, in the league; and Brook Lopez, P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton all excel at the “hustle plays” in basketball that aren’t flashy but are necessary to win big games.

But the Bucks do have a superstar, the 6-foot-11 guy from Greece. Giannis Antetokounmpo does things on a basketball court that other players have done, but his full set of skills – the combination of things he does on a court — might be without equal in the history of basketball.

Those skills were on full display in the NBA Finals.

We’re still not sure how he cut across the lane to block Deandre Ayton’s shot at a crucial moment in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

Then there was his court-length sprint after Holiday’s late steal of the ball from the Suns’ Devin Booker in Game 5. Granted, Holiday had pulled up to burn a few more seconds off the clock, but when he saw Giannis streaking down the middle of the court, Holiday knew an alley-oop pass to set up a spectacular dunk was the way to cap off the first win by a visiting team in the Finals.

Then came last Tuesday night, and Game 6.

In a performance that will be talked about by Wisconsin sports fans for years to come, Antetokounmpo scored 50 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.

Even his free throws — the one glaring weakness in his game, and the source of taunting by the fans in visiting areas when he went to the line — were going in during Game 6. He was 17 of 19 from the line in the biggest game of his life.

In the two other biggest Wisconsin pro sports moments of recent memory — the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl wins in January 1997 and February 2011 — the Packers’ superstar quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers respectively, played brilliantly. While it’s difficult to compare sports, it’s arguable that Antetokounmpo’s performance in his “for all the marbles” game was even better than those of Favre and Rodgers in their Super Bowl wins.

Then there’s the way the Bucks brought us together — hundreds of us in Deer District Racine, tens of thousands of us in the original Deer District in Milwaukee. From the first playoff game on May 22 to the final game on July 20, an ever-increasing number of Wisconsinites set aside our differences and rooted for the guys in green and white (and occasionally in black).

Thanks, Bucks. That was fun. Let’s do it again next year.

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Madison Capital Times. July 21, 2021.

Editorial: So many reasons to honor Vel Phillips

Last June, after the “Forward” and Col. Hans Christian Heg statues on the Capitol grounds were felled during demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd, The Capital Times argued: “The statues have been recovered and should be restored to their places of honor. They speak to historic ideals of justice that need to be remembered and maintained. They should be joined by new statues that recognize those who brought those ideals into the 20th century, such as former state Rep. Lloyd Barbee, a courageous champion of civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, and former Secretary of State Vel Phillips, a pioneering African American political leader.”

The proposal for a statue honoring Phillips, who died in 2018 at age 94, took off. Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County, began advocating for the idea. Legislators embraced it. Even the conservative Wisconsin State Journal got on board. Last week, the state Capitol and Executive Residence Board subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the placement of a statue of Phillips on the Capitol grounds.

The subcommittee’s recommendation also proposes to waive a prohibition on the addition of new statues without removing existing ones. And it suggests Radcliffe Bailey, a New York-based artist who designed a Milwaukee monument to NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois, be commissioned to develop the Phillips statue.

While there are a few more steps to be taken, all indications are that Wisconsin will honor the first Black Wisconsinite to be elected to statewide office.

In 1951 Vel Phillips was the first Black woman to graduate from the UW Law School. Five years later, in 1956, the 32-year-old Phillips was the first woman and the first Black Milwaukeean to be elected to that city’s common council.

The Milwaukee municipal election of 1956, the last in which the city elected a Socialist mayor — Frank Zeidler — drew national attention. It instantaneously made Phillips a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, which was playing out not just in the “Jim Crow” South but in the segregated cities of the North. Noting that “it took 110 years for them to get a woman or a black person” on the City Council, Phillips described her election as a “double whammy” for racial and gender equity.

Suddenly, as a friend of Thurgood Marshall, an associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and an essential ally of John Kennedy, Phillips found herself in the vortex of local, state and national history.

As a city official, she joined marches for open housing and fair employment, and she was arrested when the police cracked down on the nonviolent demonstrations. Phillips — who was hoisted onto the shoulders of civil rights activists who marched during Milwaukee’s “long hot summer” of 1967 — could probably have avoided the arrests. But she wanted to make a point about standing in solidarity with the people she represented, and about the need to make real the constitutional promise that all Americans have a right to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances.

A few years later, as the first woman jurist in Milwaukee County and the first African-American judge in Wisconsin, she could make this point from the bench.

That was in the early 1970s. By the end of the decade, she had, with her 1978 election as Wisconsin secretary of state, added to the long list of “firsts” associated with her name.

It is often noted that Phillips was the second woman (after former state Treasurer Dena Smith) and the first Black person elected to statewide office. But it is of greater note nationally that, on the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics list of Black women who have been elected to statewide executive posts, the first name is that of “Velvalea ‘Vel’ Phillips (D-WI).”

When Phillips was elected secretary of state in November 1978 as a Democrat, Republican Lee Sherman Dreyfus was elected governor on a ticket with Russ Olsen for lieutenant governor. Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the secretary of state followed the lieutenant governor in the gubernatorial line of succession.

Dreyfus was a moderate Republican, Olsen was a conservative Republican, and Phillips was a very liberal Democrat. There was not a lot of communication between the offices during Phillips’ single contentious term, and no one mentioned to the secretary of state in March 1979 that Dreyfus and Olsen were both planning to attend a Republican Party function in Indiana. But once the two Republican officials had left, Phillips was informed that she was the acting governor of Wisconsin.

“I think they should have notified me, especially since they both knew in advance that they were going,” Phillips announced. But she wasn’t complaining. In fact, she delighted in her sudden, if fleeting, authority. “It’s kind of fun,” she told reporters, noting that she had considered extending the term of the Commission on the Status of Women, which Dreyfus had said he might let expire. “I thought to myself that I should do something,” she explained, “(but) anything I did, he (Dreyfus) could undo it when he got back.”

Only as the weekend of her acting governorship was winding down was Phillips informed that she had made a rather striking bit of history. “She said it had not occurred to her that she had logged another first by becoming the state’s first Black female acting governor,” reported the Associated Press.

In fact, she had, without fanfare, briefly served as one of the first Black women chief executives of any state in the nation.

Add that to the long list of reasons why Wisconsin can and will honor Vel Phillips.

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