How to Make Poor People More Miserable

foodshare_graph.jpgA consistent mantra of the GOP is that people on welfare are a bunch of lazy drug addicts, and it is critical that those sluggards be prevented from using hard-working taxpayer money on illegal substances. Legislators heap unfair, ineffective policies on those in poverty simply to court public favor by playing to their prejudices. In 2013, Republicans in Congress tried to give states the freedom to drug-test food stamp recipients, but Democrats warded off the attempt. But some efforts spring eternal. And there’s a long history of efforts to make the poor more miserable by constantly implying that they are illegal drug users.

Back in the 1990s, Michigan passed a law mandating universal drug testing of welfare recipients. The law was struck down in 2000 after it was found to have violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.  In 2011, Florida enacted legislation to require every single applicant for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to pass a urine drug test at his or her own expense.  Although federal law rules permit drug testing as part of the TANF, in 2013 a federal court struck down the Florida requirement because it too violated the Fourth Amendment’s unreasonable search and seizures clause. The three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that lower court ruling, noting that Florida had “not demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population.”

The message seems to have sunk in.  Since then states have been careful to include language requiring that there be a “reasonable suspicion” of drug abuse before a welfare applicant can be tested.  Screening applicants to determine whether they should be tested, however, is not without its own problems.  First, the screening may not be objective:  is it an interview by an untrained person who decides that you look suspicious or is it a well-constructed, scientifically based set of questions?  Second, will persons being screened be totally honest; or, in the case of questionnaires that are mailed out, will they ever be returned?

According to data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs of screening and testing welfare applicants — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out a tiny number of drug users. The statistics show that applicants for social programs exhibit a lower rate of drug use than the general population.  While the general rate of drug use is 10.2%, the rate for welfare applicants was <1% in six of the seven states and 8.3% (still well below the average) in the seventh. Meanwhile, the states have collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.

So that’s the background. In one of Scott Walker’s first actions after declaring his candidacy for president, he decided to sue the federal government because the food stamp program (FoodShare in Wisconsin) does not allow testing of applicants.  He gave as his rationale his belief that testing people for drugs is part of a “compassionate approach to ensuring individuals on certain public assistance programs are workforce ready.  Our most recent budget builds on our record of enacting big, bold entitlement reforms to restore programs to their original purpose — a safety net, not a hammock,” his statement said. “We are focused on helping people move from government dependence to independence because we want people to know the dignity that comes from work” (as quoted in Crooks and Liars, July 17, 2015).

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Protect the Vote

Here's a great way to make a difference: make sure that every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot. The #1 reason voters give up on voting? Too few poll workers to keep the line moving swiftly. With your help, we can make sure that every vote gets counted. 

Every two years the Milwaukee County Democratic Party nominates individuals to be poll workers on election day. Anyone eligible to vote can be a poll worker - AND GET PAID DOING IT. Due to new laws, anyone living in Milwaukee County can be a poll worker for the City of Milwaukee. Sign up today and protect the vote for the next 2 years.

To apply, simply fill out this form and submit.  It's that easy.

So when are the next elections? Here's a handy guide.

Feb 16: Spring Primary TBD Nonpartisan. Top 2 winners for each office compete in the April election.

Apr 5: Spring General and Presidential Primary Elections

City Attorney
City Treasurer
City Comptroller

County Executive
County Supervisors
county Comptroller
County Judges

WI Appeals Court Judge
WI Supreme Court Justice

All offices are nonpartisan.

Republican Presidential Candidates TBD
Democratic Presidential Candidates TBD

In the Presidential Preference Primary, voters determine how many delegates each candidate will have at the party's nominating convention in the summer. Vote for one candidate in only one party.

Aug 9: Fall Primary

US Senator
US Congress Representatives
WI State Senators
WI State Assembly Representatives

District Attorneys
County Clerk
County Treasurer
Register of Deeds

Vote on only one party's list. The winners for each party go on to the November election.

Nov 8: Fall General Election

US President and Vice President
Finalists from the Aug 9 primary




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A FABLE: Why We Have Governments

caveman-clipart-caveman.gifLong ago when the world was a younger and far simpler place, rational people were wont to frolic about in the State of Nature, flexing their freedoms and exercising their rights.   And it came to pass that while they were frolicking, flexing and exercising, they oft came to harm other rational people.  In those days, hurt and harm were measured only by damage done to property.  As was the custom at that time, those so aggrieved, along with their circle of friends and kin, were expected to retaliate, exacting compensation and revenge, and inflicting appropriate punishments to the offenders.

As time passed, and more and more rational people engaged in frolicking, flexing, and exercising, and more and more aggrieved retaliated, the wise people among them came to realize that the harm-retaliate cycle was not sufficient, and the practice of mediation and adjudication by persons outside the cycle came to be. 

civilzedMan.jpegThe world grew and the complexities of the burgeoning society increased as well.  It became apparent that harm done to others was no longer limited to property and there was great ambiguity regarding how to mediate and adjudicate these conflicts.  Something else, perhaps a code of ethical behavior, was needed.  And thus, the advent of laws designed to document the nature of harming and define the appropriate punishments.  Having laws to use as the basis for mediation and adjudication proved of great benefit; however, something was still missing.  Mediation and adjudication were at the end of the process:  the law needed maintenance and enforcement prior to that point.  The answer, of course, was government.

But alas, at some future time, rational people felt unfairly fettered by government and laws, and cried aloud for a return to frolicking, flexing, and exercising.   Get rid of government and laws – let us all return to the State of Nature.  No matter if others are harmed; that is their just due for they are not among the strong who frolic, flex, and exercise.  Fie unto them – they are weak and lazy and deserve all that befouls them.

MORAL:  Beware those that bellow for the freedom of bygone days.  They are the very reason that rules and laws are needed.

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Do You Know What is Happening to Public Education and Your School District?

schoolhouse1.jpgFind out Sunday, October 25th from those who work with public schools and our children.

Many North Shore school districts were forced to lay off teachers or cut back key curriculum as a result of cost controls put into place at the state level. This forum lays out out how recent legislation has affected schools –  listen to the experts.

Bob Borch – retired Business Manager for Elmbrook schools – discusses the impact of recent state budget cuts on “normal” school districts.

Mort Grodsky – member of the Nicolet School Board – presents how changes are affecting school systems individually and public education as a whole.

Jenni Hofschulte – Advocate for MPS – gives specifics on types of schools and the effects of “reform.”

Liz Sanders – Whitefish Bay Advocates for Education – delves into local and particular school needs, responses to the cuts, and what residents should know and do to help schools overcome these challenges.

Come together for thie town hall to help protect our schools at the grassroots level. Doors open at 6:30 pm.

We welcome parents, voters, and everyone concerned about the future of education in Wisconsin to this free event at Bay Shore Lutheran Church.

1200 East Hampton Avenue in Whitefish Bay – light refreshments served.


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Guns Don't Kill People?

Port Arthur was known as a pleasant tourist town located in Tasmania, Australia. It is now known for something far more sinister.  On the morning of April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a 28 year old, emotionally disturbed young man walked into the Broad Arrow Café, pulled out an automatic rifle, and shot and killed 12 patrons. Over the next 24 hours, he proceeded to shoot and kill another 23 people throughout Port Arthur. The final tally; 35 killed and 24 injured. The automatic rifles he used were legal.  The Port Arthur Massacre was the largest and most lethal mass shooting in Australian history. 

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, leading a coalition government, faced a stunned and shocked nation.  “I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people.”* The majority of Australians favored stricter gun control laws but a powerful gun lobby with considerable political clout resisted. Nevertheless, over the next few months, John Howard convinced the country to pass the National Firearms Act (NFA). Under this sweeping and strict new gun control legislation:

  • Gun laws were made uniform in all states and territories in Australia.
  • A nationwide registry for all gun purchases was initiated.
  • Police background checks on all gun license applicants was required.
  • Semi-automatic rifles and pump action shotguns were banned and ammunition amounts restricted.
  • All firearms sales were restricted to authorized licensed dealers; separate permits were required for each gun purchased.
  • A safety course and storage requirements with police inspections were mandatory.
  • A “genuine reason” for purchasing a gun was required. Self-defense and personal protection were not considered acceptable reasons.
  • A 28 day waiting period was required before any gun license could be obtained.

In addition, the Australian federal government instituted a nationwide mandatory buy-back program for all firearms the NFA outlawed. A new public tax compensated owners at fair market price for such weapons. Between 1996 and 1997, over 700,000 firearms — constituting over 20% of the estimated guns country-wide — were surrendered and destroyed in the largest buy-back program in history. In the decade prior to the Port Arthur Massacre, Australia witnessed 11 mass shootings (defined as three or more indiscriminate shooting fatalities by a lone gunman). Since the NFA passed in 1996, no mass shootings in Australia have occurred and many studies also show a significant decline in gun-related suicides and homicides.

The response to mass shootings and gun violence in the United States has been very different. 

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The Gift of GAB

GAB_Offc_logo_250.pngState agencies are legion and exist primarily to do the day-to-day work of governance. All of them are important to one or more so-called "interest groups." But none are more important to the largest interest group of all — all current and all potential voters in Wisconsin — than the Government Accountability Board, or GAB. In 2007, and with an overwhelmingly bi-partisan vote, the legislature gave the gift of GAB to the people of Wisconsin. But now the Republicans want to renege.

GAB is a gift because it has been recognized as a national model for nonpartisan regulation of laws governing our elections, campaigns and lobbying. In short, the agency is a key safeguard against corruption in Wisconsin government at all levels. 

It consists of six members, all former state judges, who serve staggered, six-year terms. Board members are appointed by the Governor, and serve part-time, receiving per diems for each meeting they attend. The Governor of Wisconsin nominates a judge to fill a vacancy from a roster of potential Board members previously selected by a panel of Wisconsin Court of Appeals judges; and the nominee must be confirmed by the Wisconsin State Senate. Four members of the current board were appointed by Governor Walker.

takeAction.jpgAll citizens of Wisconsin — Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal — should be concerned about legislation about to be introduced that will revert to the status quo ante 2007. In the bad old days, the GAB's responsibilities were divided between a State Ethics Board and a State Elections Board. These two entities were replaced by the unified GAB precisely because they were not able to prevent the great "Legislative Caucus Scandal" of 2001-2002, the most serious political scandal to rock Wisconsin in a century (Common Cause in Wisconsin, July 2013).

So there are lots of good political reasons for people all over the state to make their opposition to scrapping GAB known. One easy way is to sign our petition and join Grassroots North Shore in a rapid response effort: writing and calling individual legislators, writing letters to the editors of news outlets state-wide, and sharing information on social media site.

However, we shouldn't overlook the practical reasons for saving GAB. The scope of the GAB's responsibilities and its engagement with the hundreds of campaigns, election officials in every municipality and county, and every lobbyist and government official can be difficult to comprehend. Fortunately, the current Chair of the GAB, Judge Nichol, has written an open letter to the leaders of the state senate and assembly laying out just what is at stake and why this fall is an especially critical point in the current election cycle. You can read his entire letter, but here are a few critical points:

[The GAB supports] Wisconsin’s 1,853 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks. In addition, the elections staff is responsible for reviewing nomination papers for 43 judicial races in the Spring Election and 195 congressional, legislative and district attorney races in the General Election.

Beyond those normal functions, 2016 will be the first year of full statewide use of photo ID, and clerks and election workers need support and training to ensure that the law is implemented correctly. In addition, our elections and IT staff are finishing work on a major upgrade to the Statewide Voter Registration System, which will roll out to clerks in early 2016 and will require significant training and support efforts. Also, significant administrative efficiencies will be lost by returning to two separate agencies. Finally, I understand legislators are working on a major overhaul of campaign finance laws to comply with recent court rulings, which may require significant changes to the Campaign Finance Information System, manuals and training for campaign committee treasurers.

Judge Nichol points out that the legislature has not availed itself of the statutory remedy for resolving tensions that have arisen because Republicans have, in Nichol's words, "unfairly maligned" the board's professional staff as "partisan:"

During the course of the past year there has been extended media coverage of the Legislature’s dissatisfaction with the Government Accountability Board. By law, the Legislature has the unique opportunity to provide advice and direction to the agency through the Joint Legislative Committee on Organization. Wis. Stat. § 5.05(5f). In eight plus years, the Legislature and the Board have not opened this channel of communication.

In the last twelve months, such accusations have twice been investigated by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Both reports clear GAB of any malfeasance, partisanship, or wrong-doing. In light of the disruptions Judge Nichol describes and with the results of the Legislative Audit Bureau's investigations now in hand, Wisconsin's legislators will be doing all citizens of the state an enormous disservice if they nevertheless act out of partisan pique and try to "fix" an agency that isn't broken.


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From Watchdog to Lapdog: What "Replacing" the GAB Means



Just a week after announcing his run for the presidency, Scott Walker announced that "he supports dismantling and replacing the state’s independent elections and ethics board.... In its place, Walker said, he supports the creation of 'something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.' Walker left open the possibility that a replacement board could have partisan leadership, compared to the current board, made up of six former judges" (Wisconsin State Journal, July 21, 2015).

The independent elections and ethics board referred to above is the Government Accountability Board. For more than a year, the GAB has been the subject of vitriolic attacks from conservatives, including the Wall Street Journal and columnists like George Will in the Washington Post. According to, 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in one of its twenty-plus pieces on the Wisconsin [John Doe] probe, has described the investigation as proof that "campaign-finance laws have become a liberal weapon to silence political opponents," and portrayed the investigation as an "effort by Democratic prosecutors to criminalize political speech in Wisconsin. The Journal editorial board has stated explicitly that "the legal backlash to the probe offers a rare chance to dismantle" what it calls Wisconsin's "regulatory machine." [, July 1, 2015]

The Wisconsin State Journal — not exactly a mouthpiece for progressive politics — recently published a sharp-edged editorial denouncing efforts by Scott Walker, Robin Vos, and Scott Fitzgerald (among others) to kill the Government Accountability Board so as to tighten Republican control of all aspects of governance in Wisconsin. In it, the editors point out that the GOP-run legislature had to change the law

to give auditors sweeping access to the GAB’s secret investigatory records. State auditors subsequently scoured those documents and last week released their findings — that the GAB is diligently doing its difficult job....

Top GOP leaders who were hoping to find something — anything — to criticize in the audit were silent last week. We hope that means they’ll call off their self-serving bid to replace the strong and independent GAB with a weak panel of their partisan pals. [Wisconsin State Journal, July 21, 2015]

The goal of the well-financed, right-wing assaults is clear: eliminate WI campaign finance law by turning the watchdog agency charged with oversight of campaigns and elections into a Republican lapdog.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board's hope that the legislature will cease its efforts to dismantle the nonpartisan agency is all well and good. But we all know that hope is not a plan. Take action now: volunteer to write letters to editors and news outlets, to post links to the volunteer page on all your social media platforms, to write and call your legislators (and all the others too), but most importantly to sign our petition calling on the legislature to say NO to tampering with the GAB.

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