Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 30, 2021.

Editorial: Plans needed to aid refugees

While the final numbers probably won’t be released for a while, it’s clear that Wisconsin is playing a significant role in helping Afghan evacuees following the Taliban’s takeover. Officials have suggested as many as 10,000 Afghans may eventually be placed in temporary housing at Fort McCoy.

This isn’t the first time Wisconsin has stepped up to help, and these are stunningly similar conditions. The Hmong community that now enriches Eau Claire and the surrounding area arrived in large part in the waning days of South Vietnam, as the government collapsed amid invasion by North Vietnam.

Then, as now, the refugees were largely those who had placed their futures in the hands of U.S. policymakers by aiding our armed forces during a long, drawn-out, unconventional conflict. Then, as now, their lives were in danger when forces inimical to American values and our approach to governance took control of their homeland.

And Wisconsin residents are again coming forward to help. One store in Stevens Point announced it would serve as a drop-off site for donations to aid the refugees. Others will surely follow. Organizations like the Red Cross are assembling kits to help as well.

It is right that we do so as a state. These people and their families helped our soldiers. They took risks to help them stay safe. Their help undoubtedly saved the lives of American service members. It may be impossible to quantify just how many funerals or casualties they prevented, but there are unquestionably soldiers alive today who would not be if not for the help Afghan citizens provided.

It is also right that we say there needs to be a plan for how to handle this influx. There needs to be a plan for how to give the children enough education in English that they can eventually adapt to our schools. There needs to be a plan for how to ensure their parents can find employment and the kind of future so many generations have come to our country to seek.

We cannot allow concerns about problems that have yet to happen to stall efforts to smooth the way forward. The reception and eventual integration of these people into our nation cannot be as chaotic as the situation from which they were removed.

The process will probably not be as smooth as we might hope. There are always snags when you’re talking about this many people. There are always challenges when you bring people from different cultures together. Just look at history,

Every generation of immigrants has faced eerily similar questions and objections. There were concerns about whether Irish immigration in the 1840s would alter our country’s social and religious makeup. Similar objections followed the increase in immigration from Eastern Europe in the latter half of that century.

After the Civil War, states began to try to restrict immigration from Asia. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Increases in immigration from Italy peaked in the early 1900s and, again, there was considerable consternation.

In each case, people fretted in remarkably familiar terms about whether the new arrivals would assimilate, whether they would drag down American culture. Each wave brought objections. Each time those who arrived had to create a new path.

And, each time, they did so.

Yes, our country changed with each wave of immigration. It could hardly do otherwise. In the long run we gained from it. The children and grandchildren of immigrants became business owners, social leaders, elected officials. In short they became, indisputably, Americans.

There is no concrete reason to believe that will not happen in time with these new arrivals. That process will be made easier, though, if our political leaders take the time to plan for the next several years. Permanent refugee camps aren’t a solution. If people are still living at Fort McCoy as refugees five years from now, it will be fair to say something has gone badly wrong.

It would be unworthy of us to let these people, who have already gone through so much, become forgotten, unregarded victims of a situation they did not create. They aided us in hopes of rebuilding their nation. That hope lies shattered.

Let us give them a new hope, the same one so many of our own ancestors shared.

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Kenosha News. August 31, 2021.

Editorial: Kaul vs. Prehn is a battle financed by the taxpayers

If any normal person took a massive stack of $100 bills, poured gas on it and set it on fire, we would all think they were — well — insane. When our Legislature does it, we just shake our heads a bit and say, “Oh well, that’s Madison for you.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced Aug. 17 that the Wisconsin Department of Justice will sue to remove Frederick Prehn from the Department of Natural Resources Board. Prehn’s term expired May 1 but he says he is not stepping down and that state rules don’t require him to do so.

Not to worry, said Prehn’s GOP friends. The Legislature has hired lawyers to intervene on the behalf of Prehn, a dentist from Wausau and cranberry farmer — at a cost of $500 an hour (based on past similar interventions). Don’t think the lawmakers are digging into their own wallets to show their support. This legal assistance will be billed to us, the taxpayers!

On this episode of Rewind: Your Week in Review, WisPolitics.com Editor JR Ross and Associated Press Capitol Correspondent Scott Bauer discuss Attorney General Josh Kaul filing a lawsuit to force out the Department of Natural Resources Policy Board Chair Dr. Fred Prehn. The suit argues that state law allows some appointees to government boards to remain past the expiration of their terms if no replacement has been confirmed. Kaul argues that state law on DNR Board appointees includes no similar language. Prehn argues that Kaul’s legal action is politically motivated, and that he has the right to continue serving. As reported by Associated Press, Prehn pointed to May 25 analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau that concluded the state Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that holdover appointees can continue to serve until their replacement wins Senate confirmation. Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed Prehn to the board in 2015. His term expired May 1. Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give his appointees majority control of the board. But Prehn has refused to step down, insisting he can remain in place until the Senate confirms Naas. The Republican-controlled body has yet to schedule a hearing on Naas’ appointment.

And, that will be on top of Prehn’s own legal expenses. According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, attorney Mark Maciolek of the Madison-based firm Murphy Desmond filed a notice in Dane County Circuit Court on Aug. 19 stating he is representing Prehn.

The newspaper reported that typically board members are represented by the Department of Justice when suits are brought against Natural Resources Board members. But in this case, Prehn can have a private attorney because Kaul is the one bringing the lawsuit against him. Maciolek told the Journal Sentinel that he is being paid by the Department of Administration.

Why is this happening in the first place?

Prehn contends that according to a 1964 state Supreme Court ruling, the expiration of his term does not mean there is a vacancy on the Department of Natural Resources Board and he can continue serving if he so desires. Therefore, Gov. Tony Evers’ selection for a replacement is not necessary. But in a political shell game worthy of a Manhattan street corner, Prehn’s actions are not typically what occurs at the change of an administration.

And Kaul, who like the governor is a Democrat, contends state law has changed since the 1964 ruling.

Clear away the legal semantics and what this boils down to is a game of political one-upsmanship.

As you may recall, as quickly as Evers was elected in 2018, GOP leaders called a lame-duck session to surgically remove as much of his power as they could. Continuing that tradition, the GOP majority has taken every opportunity to keep Evers from accomplishing much of anything, including confirming some appointees — even cabinet secretaries.

No one can make the GOP-controlled Senate approve the appointment of Sandra Dee Naas, a scientist who the owns an environmental consulting firm and serves as an agriculture and natural resources instructor and FFA adviser at Ashland High School, to the six-year term to replace Prehn on the Natural Resources Board.

And that brings us to this ridiculous situation. AG Kaul believes he is acting in the best interest of the citizens of Wisconsin who elected Tony Evers to lead the state. He recognizes that it would take nothing less than a judicial ruling to pry Prehn from his board seat, which he continues to occupy in absolute defiance of common sense and decorum.

Even if Prehn decides to step aside — and we encourage him to do so promptly, there is still no guarantee the Senate will approve the appointment of Naas.

In the meantime, we taxpayers get to sit on the sidelines and await the legal costs for a battle that is unwarranted.

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Wisconsin State Journal. September 1, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t let Big Tech squash local news

When the news industry struggles, so does our democracy.

One congressman from Wisconsin is in a powerful position to help turn things around.

U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, should press his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee and a key subcommittee to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. This bipartisan proposal would force big technology companies to fairly compensate local publishers for their content.

Big technology companies such as Google and Facebook repackage news reports from local sources for their users. By redirecting readers to their own sites, they deprive local news outlets of digital advertising revenue. That makes it harder to staff newsrooms with the journalists who produce the credible reports and information voters need to be engaged citizens.

Even when readers do land on a newspaper’s or television station’s website, many of the ads there are sold by Google, Facebook or a handful of digital brokers. Those companies take a hefty cut, leaving local news producers — the people working hard to let you know what’s going on in your community — without a reliable revenue stream.

In theory, local news organizations could negotiate better terms. In practice, Google and Facebook are huge and have no desire to work out individual deals with hundreds or thousands of smaller news publishers. They are the gateways to online readers, so publishers have little choice but to accept their terms.

The Journalism Competition Act would allow news publishers and broadcasters to negotiate as a group with the big tech companies. Specifically, it would create a four-year safe harbor from federal antitrust laws that normally prohibit such partnerships. Working together, publishers and broadcasters would have leverage to secure more advertising revenue and better control of how their stories are used.

Despite bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, the Journalism Competition Act has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, on which Fitzgerald serves. Tech giants are ramping up their lobbying, and some powerful Republicans oppose anything seen as helping mainstream media.

As a former Wisconsin newspaper publisher, Fitzgerald could be a compelling voice against the Big Tech monopoly. Fitzgerald owned and ran the Dodge County Independent News in Juneau in the 1990s, before his political career took off.

We’ve certainly had our differences with Fitzgerald over the years when he ran the Wisconsin Senate and, more recently, refused to certify last fall’s presidential vote. But given his background in community journalism, we’re confident he respects the Founding Fathers’ inclusion of a free press in the First Amendment to hold government accountable and foster an informed citizenry.

Fitzgerald has not yet taken a public position on the Journalism Competition Act. As a Republican, he should help convince reluctant members of his party to support this good cause for local communities in his district.

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