The Journal Times of Racine, Dec. 2

State GOP tactics threaten good governance

The goings-on in the state Capitol the past month have dipped below brass knuckle partisan politics and now threaten good governance in the state.

It’s all about power, and the Republican-controlled state Senate is wielding it ruthlessly as it attempts to block the ability of Democrat Gov. Tony Evers to run the executive branch.

In the latest power-grabbing gambit, Republicans three weeks ago voted to dump Evers’ agriculture secretary from his cabinet post by voting not to confirm his appointment made last winter.

It was a remarkable break from precedent, and undercut years of tradition that a newly elected governor is allowed — and expected — to name his own team to his cabinet upon taking office.

Now, Senate Republicans are taking aim at other cabinet appointees in the Evers administration and, according to news reports, are “closely watching Dawn Crim, the leader of the Department of Safety and Professional Services due to concerns over the department’s handling of its regulatory responsibilities, but also based on unsubstantiated claims over her professional conduct for which they were not able to provide evidence.”

“We’re just not sure she’s the right person at this point,” said Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, who is chairman of the committee that advances Crim’s nomination to the full Senate.

At this point, Kapenga said, he has no plans to hold a vote on Crim.

That means she will continue to serve in her post with the potential of being ousted in the foreseeable future.

Under state law, cabinet secretaries are appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate. They serve at the pleasure of the governor, who has the power to dismiss them.

We have no quarrel with that system. If the Senate finds an appointee doesn’t have the proper credentials to do the job, has an unknown criminal history or is growing a horn out of the back of their head, the Senate can reject an appointee. That system also has the benefit of making the governor choose cabinet appointees that are acceptable for Senate confirmation.

But, by delaying confirmation votes — which could and should be done as soon as practicable — for months on end, the GOP senators have arrogated for themselves the job of doing performance reviews of Evers’ cabinet members, and not just reviewing their credentials when they are named to their posts.

That job is the governor’s, not the Senate’s. By delaying confirmation votes, the Senate is wielding a sword of Damocles over the department heads.

The practical effect of the GOP’s confirmation limbo is to undercut the ability of cabinet heads to run their departments: State employees under their direction may not be as responsive to direction if they think their boss may be out the door tomorrow.

And who, we ask, would be willing to leave their current job to serve in a governor’s cabinet knowing that they would have two bosses with wildly different political philosophies — both of whom could fire them?

That can only lead to inferior cabinet appointees, and diminish the effectiveness and responsiveness of state agencies — and that is not good governance.

The Republican majority in the Senate should abandon this confirmation-delay gambit, and show some respect for the majority of voters in the state who put Evers into office.

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Kenosha News, Dec. 2

Milwaukee acid attack must be punished

Two men get in a dispute over a parking space.

It’s been known to happen. We’re approaching the time of the year when that is more likely to occur. Words have been known to be exchanged.

That’s ordinary. What’s extraordinary, and horrifying, is what Clifton Blackwell stands accused of doing to Mahud Villalaz during a parking dispute on Nov. 1 in Milwaukee.

Villalaz, 42, suffered second-degree burns to his face after the brief confrontation near South 13th and West Cleveland streets.

According to Villalaz, the attack occurred about 8:30 p.m. when Villalaz parked his truck outside La Sierrita Restaurant, 2689 S 13th St., and began to head inside for dinner.

Villalaz said the man, later identified as Blackwell, first approached him to tell him he had parked illegally.

“‘You cannot park here. You are doing something illegal,’” Villalaz recalled the man saying.

The comments quickly adopted an anti-immigrant tone, Villalaz said.

“‘Why did you come here and invade my country?’” Villalaz said the man asked him.

Villalaz, a U.S. citizen who immigrated here from Peru as a young man, ignored the man and moved his truck one block forward. As he returned to the restaurant, the man began accusing him anew of being in the U.S. illegally.

Villalaz responded that people come here for a better life and that he is citizen. That seemed to further anger the suspect, Villalaz said, and he suddenly threw acid from a metal bottle he had in a satchel. The attack was recorded by nearby security cameras.

Police recovered muriatic acid, four bottles of Kleen-Out sulfuric acid and two bottles of lye from Blackwell’s residence near South 13th Street and West Edgerton Avenue.

Blackwell is charged with first-degree reckless injury with a dangerous weapon, as a hate crime.

Blackwell appeared in court on Nov. 15 for what was scheduled to be a preliminary examination, but his attorney had questions about his ability to aid in his own defense. Court Commissioner Barry Phillips ordered a competency evaluation and set a date for the return of the doctor’s report to Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro.

We’re left to conclude that Villalaz’s brown skin mattered more to Blackwell than the fact that Villalaz is an American just like him. Or how he parked his truck the first time.

If Blackwell is found competent to stand trial, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

If he is found guilty, he should receive the maximum punishment.

Racist hate has no place in the Badger State.

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Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Nov. 27

Extra lanes on Madison’s Beltline a fine idea

Madison’s Beltline isn’t getting any wider anytime soon. Transportation officials don’t expect a major improvement project for more than a decade.

Yet the number of cars and trucks on the Beltline continues to increase. About 139,000 vehicles a day travel its busiest section from John Nolen Drive to Seminole Highway. That’s about 40,000 more vehicles than two decades ago. And by 2032, the Department of Transportation expects a daily traffic count of more than 145,000 along that stretch.

At the same time, Madison and surrounding Dane County are adding about 6,000 residents a year.

What will our city and region do to avoid gridlock?

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has prioritized faster and more efficient buses to boost ridership and ease congestion. That’s a promising idea we support, yet it’s only part of the solution. Better roads with more capacity for clean-running cars and trucks are needed, too.

That’s why the DOT wants to add space for more vehicles on the Beltline as soon as 2021 — but not by making the Beltline bigger at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, the DOT has proposed a creative and relatively inexpensive way to add an extra lane of traffic in both directions, without expanding the pavement. The DOT wants to turn the median shoulders of the Beltline into temporary lanes for traffic during peak travel times. Green arrows would light up on signs above the extra lanes during the crush of morning and evening commutes.

The Madison Area Transportation Planning Board should endorse this pragmatic idea next week.

The Beltline backing up if not crawling every day isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s the main reason more than one crash occurs every day on the Beltline. Most accidents are rear-end collisions.

DOT traffic engineers want to slightly narrow the existing three lanes of traffic in each direction so the median shoulders in the middle of the Beltline can become temporary fourth lanes. The engineers predict faster travel times for more cars and fewer accidents. (The outside shoulders would remain for emergencies only.)

Now is the time to move forward because the DOT has other drainage and median work to do anyway.

Configuring and marking the median space as temporary lanes for rush-hour traffic would cost about $15 million, most of it covered by the federal government. Work could begin in 2021. Seventeen other states have adopted similar strategies, according to the DOT.

Critics warn that extra lanes will draw more vehicles to the Beltline. That’s fine, because it would reduce traffic on alternative routes through neighborhoods and Downtown. Critics also worry that fewer people will use public transit. We doubt that, given the mayor’s push for snazzy buses. Madison needs a multifaceted approach.

The DOT’s smart plan should roll forward.

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