Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Kenosha News. October 6, 2021.

Editorial: Tearing down Col. Heg statue was stunningly ignorant

A statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, a man who lived in Racine County before serving in the Civil War, was returned to its rightful place on the state Capitol grounds on Sept. 21.

It was only violence, paired with astonishing ignorance, that caused his statue to be torn down 15 months before.

The anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020 was understandable, the peaceful protests entirely justified. But the moment any person turns from peaceful protest – a right guaranteed by the First Amendment — to violence, those violent acts are subject to prosecution. That prosecution is justified as well.

The toppling of the Col. Heg statue on June 23, 2020, by those protesting the treatment of African Americans in American society was stunningly misguided.

An Associated Press report on the restoration said that the tearing down of the Heg statue — and that of a nearby statue of a woman symbolizing the state’s “Forward” motto — noted that “Neither statue has any racist history associated with them, but protesters claimed they represented a false narrative that Wisconsin supports black people and racial equity.”

That’s a rather ridiculous claim in the case of Heg.

Heg, who lived in the Town of Norway and in Waterford in Racine County before the war, was a Norwegian immigrant who became an outspoken abolitionist. To make things crystal-clear, Heg was someone who was arguing for the abolition of slavery at a time when some Americans were keeping other human beings as property.

Heg served in the 15th Wisconsin Regiment during the Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, the highest-ranked Wisconsin officer to die in combat during the war.

“The State has sent no braver soldier, and no truer patriot to aid in this mighty struggle for national unity, than Hans Christian Heg,” the Wisconsin State Journal wrote Sept. 29, 1863, reporting the word of his death.

Heg was a man who went to war to defeat those who explicitly sought to preserve slavery in America. To those who would argue the Civil War was about states’ rights, we direct your attention to Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of the Confederate States: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

There’s a phrase often used when framing debates about the great issues of an era: A person is “on the right side of history” or “on the wrong side of history.”

Hans Christian Heg was on the right side of history. Tearing down a statue of him in the name of supporting African Americans is about as ignorant as it gets.

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Wisconsin State Journal. October 1, 2021.

Editorial: Dear candidates for governor: What will you do for the homeless?

Abortion.

The pandemic.

Crime and policing.

Wisconsin’s economy and worker shortage.

Lots of important issues are getting attention from the candidates for governor as they launch their 2022 election campaigns.

Today we add another big challenge to the list — one that neither Gov. Tony Evers, the Democratic incumbent, nor his leading GOP challenger, Rebecca Kleefisch, addressed in their campaign announcements:

Homelessness.

The problem hasn’t improved much in recent years since the state launched an unprecedented yet largely unfinished effort to ensure stable housing for thousands of desperate people across Wisconsin, including many children.

The human misery from not having a safe place to sleep, eat or study for school is intense and traumatic. At the same time, the tragedy of homelessness costs taxpayers more in social and emergency services than adequately addressing the problem would.

That’s why the candidates for governor — along with municipal leaders, state lawmakers and members of Congress — must do more. And now is the time for our political leaders to outline their plans and commitments as the 2022 election cycle approaches, and as World Homeless Day arrives Oct. 10.

The good news is that Evers and Kleefisch understand this difficult issue and have tried to address it in the past.

Evers sought $70 million in his latest two-year state budget for affordable housing, shelter grants and other programs aimed at assisting homeless individuals in the state — most of which Republicans rejected. Instead, the GOP increased housing assistance programs by just $1.2 million and suggested the governor steer more federal stimulus money to the cause.

Kleefisch chaired the Interagency Council on Homelessness when she was lieutenant governor in 2018. The council’s strong work led to eight homeless bills clearing the GOP-led state Assembly. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate approved only one of those measures, adding $1 million in support for emergency homeless shelters.

The problem isn’t going away.

In Madison, more than 65 people have crowded Reindahl Park on the Far East Side, turning it into a makeshift campground of tents that has led to violence and frequent calls for emergency responders. The city hopes to move the homeless campers from the park to a safer location using $2 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The city also is pursuing a permanent and modern shelter with robust services to steer people to better lives. A developer and social service agency want to convert a hotel into affordable housing.

In Oshkosh, advocates are pushing for a larger, full-time shelter and more affordable apartments. The city’s vacancy rate is less than 2% — a much tighter market than in past years, the Oshkosh Northwestern recently reported.

Near Green Bay, the Oneida Nation used federal COVID relief money to renovate a tribal building into a shelter, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.

In Milwaukee, more than 90 people living in a “tent city” under the Marquette Interchange have received help finding apartments, transitional housing or moved in with family members, according to WISN-TV (Ch. 12).

Wisconsin needs to step up its search for lasting solutions as winter approaches, and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to limit how many people can be housed indoors together.

What will the candidates for governor do for the homeless, and how will they get it done? We want to know. We’ll be asking them for their ideas and commitments in the coming year. Voters should demand answers, too.

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Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. October 4, 2021.

Editorial: Fading trust in courts must be restored

The installation of a new district attorney for Eau Claire County brings a new chapter to the beleaguered office. We hope Peter Rindal does well.

This isn’t just a hope for the people of Eau Claire County and those who need justice in our courts. It’s a hope for the people who work in that office and have been through an extraordinary few months. The events that led to the resignation of former District Attorney Gary King could not help but leave a mark on those who work in the office.

That fact may make Rindal a good choice to serve out the remainder of King’s term. As a deputy district attorney in the office, Rindal is well-positioned to know the effects of the past several months and to empathize with those who remain. It’s not so much that the other candidates could not, but that it’s clearly easier for someone who has worked alongside the office staff throughout the time in question.

For now, Rindal is saying the right things. When he was sworn in on Friday, he said the work “never stops” for the office. He pledged to fill the position with “integrity, humility and compassion.”

“I’m well aware that this job comes with very serious and heavy responsibilities,” he said. “I’m under no delusion that this job is going to be easy.”

Notably absent were any comments from Rindal about the 2024 elections, when voters will decide who holds the office beginning in January of the next year. That’s appropriate. While it would be naïve to think Rindal has not privately contemplated his plans, laying them out in public moments after being sworn in would have been ill-advised.

Public faith in our institutions has been shaken over the past several decades. While the hits to the judicial system are generally more recent, that branch has also lost some of its previous standing in the public’s eyes.

Some of that is probably inevitable. Public opinion fluctuates, and it’s a mistake to read too much into any one poll. But the trend is clear. And, as people’s faith in the courts has declined, those involved with it simply must avoid self-inflicted wounds.

Such a need applies to the local levels, of course, but much more to those who are much more in the spotlight than local prosecutors, attorneys and judges are ever likely to be. It is far more likely that a negative impression will work its way down from the higher courts than the reverse, after all.

Recent comments suggest the members of the U.S. Supreme Court understand that risk. But we’re not sure they understand why it exists. Justice Samuel Alito recently insisted that the Supreme Court is “not a dangerous cabal.” Amy Coney Barrett, the court’s newest member, spoke up to insist the court is “not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”

Barrett and Alito seem to believe a comment to a friendly audience will — or should — end criticism of the court. The problem is that, even if their assessments are correct, the days when a justice could simply make a statement and expect it to be taken at face value by the majority of people are gone. They were pushed aside by Congress’ increasingly partisan fights over the court’s composition. They were thrown out when the Senate held open a seat for months on end during one administration, only to move with breakneck speed to fill one in the waning days of the next.

The justices themselves have done their own damage as well. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during his confirmation hearing that he was the victim of a conspiracy and that “what goes around comes around.” While people draw different conclusions from his comment, his words were clearly ill-chosen. The same can be said for former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 2016 comments about the possibility of a second term for then-President Donald Trump.

Those involved in the court, at any level, are human of course. They are fallible. They will make mistakes. But it is essential that they strive to learn from both the mistakes made by themselves and by others.

The courts have long been an outlier, the one area of American government broadly trusted by most. We hope the local officers of the court uphold that trust, and that they continue to strive to be worthy of it.

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