Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. June 23, 2022.

Editorial: Enough is enough

Thursday’s admission by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman that he had deleted public records, even after he received open records requests, isn’t entirely surprising. His conduct at a prior hearing, berating a judge over questions, had already indicated he didn’t want to answer.

Now we know why.

The Associated Press reported that Gableman “routinely deleted records.” It’s stunningly bad judgement from someone with enough of a legal background to surely know better. The idea that an investigation like Gableman’s would proceed without open records requests being made is so laughable that it’s not even worth addressing. He knew requests would be made. And now, in his own words, he has admitted to deleting documents.

Specifically, the report said Gableman testified that he “deleted records if there was no pending open records request and he determined it was not useful or pertinent to his work.” That seems more than anything to be an attempt to get ahead of requests, to preemptively act before people could seek things he didn’t want to release.

In some cases those moves didn’t come quickly enough. Gableman, stunningly, used his personal Yahoo email account during early portions of the investigation. He told the court a person in his office deleted the account for him. But that step only came after he received an open records request for the emails.

Gableman’s claim that he searched the account for records relevant to the request before having it deleted rings hollow. It fits a pattern throughout his work in which he arrogated to himself the sole authority to determine what records were relevant and, in at least this case, ensured the records were put beyond any possible review by a neutral party.

It is past time for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to pull the plug on Gableman’s work. The criticism of Gableman’s work, which has cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $900,000, is bipartisan. No matter what he concludes, it will have no effect on the results of the 2020 election, which have been confirmed by multiple recounts, lawsuits and an independent audit.

In fact, at this point the only concrete results that seem likely are professional sanctions for Gableman himself. He was fined $2,000 per day for failing to produce documents in the open records request and his behavior in court got him referred for potential disciplinary proceedings to Wisconsin’s office for overseeing attorneys.

Vos himself isn’t clear, either. A hearing July 28 will determine whether he will face penalties for how he responded to open records requests.

We haven’t said a great deal on any of these proceedings so far. Frankly, we haven’t thought there was a great deal we could add to the conversation. But destruction of public records isn’t something we can ignore.

Seeking public records is a core part of journalism. Our reporters file such requests routinely, looking for information that can further illuminate claims by governmental bodies. The vast majority of those requests are routine, and are returned in relatively short order.

When local governments try to deny access to public records, though, that becomes a problem. We’ve touched on those incidents at least a half-dozen times this year alone.

But in none of those cases did anyone respond with “Yeah, we deleted those records a while back.” At no time had the records we sought been destroyed. Hearing someone charged by the state Legislature admitting to such acts should be deeply shocking. It does considerable violence to the very concept of public records and the responsibility of government to preserve them in the interests of government accountability.

We cannot be silent in the face of such an admission. Open records and open access for the public are not negotiable. They are the law.

We don’t care whether you supported Gableman’s appointment or whether you thought it was a bad idea. The reality is that the records from a taxpayer-funded investigation, documents that ultimately belong to the people who paid for them, were destroyed.

That’s unacceptable.

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Kenosha News. June 26, 2022.

Editorial: Rally around the American flag this July 4, not any F--- flags

It’s hard to believe but this coming weekend is Fourth of July weekend. It’s a time to celebrate America and everything that makes this country great.

Unfortunately, over the past couple years, things have become very divisive.

Last Fourth of July, people weren’t just flying American flags in their Independence Day parades, they were also flying F-Biden flags. Only the flags didn’t just say F. That was followed by three letters.

That shouldn’t be happening any day of the week. But it especially shouldn’t be happening on the Fourth of July in the middle of parades, where kids run out for candy.

That shouldn’t be the message that kids, families or anyone see as they are out celebrating the holiday.

And while people are able for the most part to fly flags of their choosing on their own property, that doesn’t mean they should fly divisive flags or ones with profanities.

This Fourth of July, we should try to unit as a nation and celebrate the nearly 250 years since America became independent. One way to do that is to fly the American flag!

Think back to the countless wars that America has been involved with where those soldiers would come back to their base after a day of fighting to see their flag still flying and know their fighting was not in vain.

Think back to the iconic image of six United States Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi in 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the final stages of the Pacific War. Think about what it meant to those Marines to raise that flag, and all the troops who saw it and were reminded what they were fighting for.

That is the flag we should all be uniting around this holiday, not divisive flags.

We’d feel the same way if those on the left starting flying F Trump flags.

As part of the Fourth of July holiday, there will be parades and many will include politicians from both sides as it should. Our democracy is made up of representatives from different parties and those diverse opinions are important and help form our laws. The recent Supreme Court decision on Roe V. Wade is particularly divisive.

It’s Ok to not agree with your neighbor, friends and even family. But at the end of the day, we should spend this coming Fourth of July celebrating how we are united under one flag – in one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

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Wisconsin State Journal. June 26, 2022.

Editorial: Ron Johnson votes against public safety

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised a bipartisan gun safety bill last week for “making our country safer without making it less free.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it “commonsense legislation” that will “save lives” without infringing “on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, deemed the package a “responsible” and “targeted” step in the right direction.

They’re right. And all told, 15 Senate Republicans joined all Senate Democrats — including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison — in voting for the legislation Thursday. The House quickly approved it Friday. Fourteen Republicans (sadly, none from Wisconsin) joined House Democrats in sending the bill to President Joe Biden, who signed it into law Saturday.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will be Congress’ most significant action on guns in 30 years. It makes modest yet meaningful improvements to background checks, school security and mental health services. It fights the illegal trafficking of guns. It disarms convicted domestic abusers. It encourages states to adopt “red flag” laws, which allow judges to temporarily remove guns from individuals deemed likely to hurt themselves or others. So where is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in all of this? Right where he always seems to be: Doing nothing or trying to stop progress.

While a handful of senators worked for weeks to accomplish something remarkable in today’s political climate — a bipartisan agreement to address the chronic tragedy of mass shootings — Johnson was dismissive and hatching excuses for voting “no.”

Johnson claims the bill infringes on people’s constitutional right to bear arms.

He’s wrong. Even his own GOP leader and other Republican colleagues agree on that.

What the bill requires is more scrutiny of teenagers seeking to buy incredibly lethal weapons. If they have long juvenile records of doing harm, a purchase can be denied.

What the bill does is crack down on people who illegally buy guns for others who aren’t supposed to have them.

What the bill does (and only in states that allow it) is secure the firearms of troubled people while their mental health and risk of violence are carefully assessed.

Johnson claims the process was flawed because the bill didn’t go through lots of committees. This comes from the same senator who sought to overturn the will of voters in the last presidential election. Johnson tried to pass a slate of false electors to Vice President Mike Pence, we learned last week.

He has no credibility when it comes to good-government procedures. And by comparison, the gun safety law is honorable and transparent.

The law even includes a provision that Johnson supported: A national program to share best practices for securing schools — something that already existed but now is written into law.

Johnson’s anything-goes attitude toward guns — even after another slaughter of elementary school students — is disturbing. He seems to think his only shot at winning reelection this fall — having broken his promise not to run again — is to fire up the thinning Trump base by opposing just about everything.

But members of Congress are called “lawmakers” for a reason. Their job is to make laws. Instead, Johnson has voted against rebuilding America’s roads and bridges. He’s trashed public health guidance in favor of conspiracy theories during the pandemic. He abandoned his advocacy for the free market and controlling America’s debt when former President Donald Trump launched trade wars and spending sprees.

If Johnson can’t do anything about gun violence — not even something small yet worthy — what can he do? Johnson is failing to represent Wisconsin’s values. Voters should remember his failure this fall.

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