2021 rolls into 2022 but we're stuck

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday break. Starting next week, though, there will be an increasing volume of important stuff to do. And Grassroots North Shore is counting on you to help win the elections that will be coming our way in 2022.

There is no Events List this week. So I'm using the newsletter to cover four important topics: the criminal justice reform work being undertaken by a Grassroots North Shore Issue Team, gerrymandering, the pandemic, and the Jan. 6 Select Committee in the House of Representatives. I hope you'll find the information helpful.

Action in the Criminal Justice Reform team is about to heat up. And I encourage you to get engaged. Paul Geenen, who is spearheading this group, is arranging for a meeting with Senator Alberta Darling to discuss a bill that has recently been drafted. Here are its main provisions:

  • Establishes a statewide criminal justice data system that closes the gaps in our state’s information silos.
  • Costs $3 million over two years, funding a full time data analyst, and ensuring 4-5 years of continuity.
  • Data would be used to address a number of justice issues in our state, including opioid and meth usage, alternatives to incarceration, violent crime, racial disparities and bail bond practices.
  • It will be housed in DOJ Criminal Justice and Data Council, with the data sharing sub-committee from DOJ, DOC and state courts providing guidance.
  • Includes language that protects Personal Identifiable Information (PII) as an incentive for local agencies to be more comfortable in sharing data.

To prepare for the meeting with Senator Darling, Paul has set up a Zoom for everyone interested in lobbying on this issue. This pre-meeting will be held on January 6 at 12 CST. Please contact Paul directly for a full copy of the bill and for the link to the pre-meeting Zoom.

Gerrymandering Action: Electoral maps can have enormous influence on both national and state election outcomes. Because states must redraw their maps to account for shifts in population revealed by the US Census conducted in 2020, gerrymandering (i.e., rigging electoral district maps to favor one party) is now going on all over the country. Although there has lately been some argument about the proposition, Democrats generally fear that Republicans can and will gerrymander their way to a majority in the House of Representatives. Professor Hasan's Election Law Blog has a thorough discussion of a column by Eric Levitz that claims the new maps are not as skewed as all that. So why does this question matter? Aside from the fact that Republican redistricting is resulting in significant impacts on minority representation at all levels of government, that is. Hasan concludes with a paragraph making a strong case for the reforms embedded in the two voting rights acts currently stalled in the US Senate by the filibuster. It's worth taking a small amount of time to write our senators — Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson by email. When there is enough of it, public pressure — can have an effect.

Ditto at the state level. Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Project has the TAKE ACTION initiatives we need. He urges people to write letters to the editors of media outlets (while offering help and training), to contact your state legislators to support Senate Bill 389 and Assembly Bill 395, and to contact the chairs of the Senate and Assembly committees that should hold hearings on the bills to establish a "fair, independent, nonpartisan and transparent way to draw new voting district maps." You can also find a succinct summary of the three court cases about electoral maps filed in 2021 on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's website.

Pandemic information: As you are certainly aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is raging in Wisconsin, and will likely be exacerbated by gatherings for Christmas and New Year's celebrations. The spread of disease has seriously disrupted some major sporting events: college bowl games cancelled, the National Hockey League "paused," and the NFL postponing games. Broadway shows have also gone dark. Several Milwaukee events have also been cancelled. And we're just at the beginning of the Omicron wave here. According to today's news, "roughly 2 in 5 recent Wisconsin cases sequenced in a lab have been the fast-spreading omicron variant." Masks are an important part of your efforts to reduce the spread and protect yourself and others, but not all masks offer adequate filtration and apparently there are lots of counterfeit masks around. To make sure you get bona fide N95 masks, consult Project N95, a site that evaluates sellers of masks so that you can order the genuine articles.

The severity of the Omicron variant is STILL not conclusively measured, but today's New York Times has a particularly helpful analysis, complete with easily understood graphs, about who was dying from COVID in late fall. "[W]hile for much of the pandemic, older Americans and people of color were more likely to die from the virus, the demographics of those dying from Covid have shifted too, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant will affect these trends remains to be seen, since the current data on deaths is reliable only through late November." The article notes that "Covid-19 now accounts for a much larger share of all deaths for [middle-aged white people] than it did before vaccines were widely available." Wisconsin fares reasonably well compared to such hotspots as West Virgina, Kentucky and much of Florida. Still, three weeks ago, Wisconsin NPR reported that "Wisconsin hospital leaders are sounding the alarm as the state endures another COVID-19 surge. The seven-day average of new infections is over 3,500 — the highest it's been in a year." The current data shows 1,672 currently hospitalized (up 39 from a week ago) with 405 in a Wisconsin ICU right now.

Investigating the Insurrection: The House Select Committee on the January 6 insurrection was a major news story before the holidays and promises to be so again as it resumes work next week. Some aspects of the events leading up to and on that day have been well covered, especially the rallies on Jan. 5 and 6, but Talking Points Memo has striking new information on a third rally that was planned for 2pm on Jan. 6 in front of the Supreme Court building, right across the street from the Capitol Building. That rally was scuttled once the assault on the Capitol began to unfold. In a second essay in TPM, Josh Kovensky takes a stab at explaining why the planners might have wanted a rally there. The context, he writes, includes a lawsuit Sidney Powell filed in Texas in hopes of prompting Justice Alito, who covers emergency filings there, "to halt Biden’s certification. Had there been more of a delay, Powell suggested, Alito might have had time to intervene."

And the Jan. 6 Select Committee "has signaled it intends to explore potential criminal wrongdoing by former President Drumpf, marking a significant escalation for the investigation" as reported in The Hill on Dec. 26. As an article in the Washington Post explains, "Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in an interview that of particular interest is why it took so long for him to call on his supporters to stand down, an area of inquiry that includes obtaining several versions of a video Drumpf reportedly recorded before finally releasing a message 187 minutes after he told his supporters to march on the Capitol during the rally that preceded the attack." Criminal referrals from Congress don't carry any special weight with the Department of Justice, but "Drumpf’s actions could amount to criminally obstructing Congress as it sought to certify the election results."

Finally, just FYI, since most of you will not be able to vote in this race: there seem to be eight current candidates to become the next Mayor of Milwaukee:

State representative Dan Riemer originally declared his candidacy but recently dropped out. And today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Senator Chris Larson is seriously considering a run. The candidates' websites will undoubtedly have links to their donation pages as well as their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The primary will be held February 15 with the election on April 5, 2022.

May 2022 bring a healthier, happier New Year.

1 reaction Share

Winding up the year

There's a lot of big, consequential news to cover this week. Senator Joe Manchin has provoked outrage by going on Fox News Sunday to tell the world that he cannot vote for the Build Back Better Act. Only maybe that's not the end of the story? The Washington Post reported that he had "made the White House a concrete counteroffer for its spending bill, saying he would accept a $1.8 trillion package that ... excluded an extension of the expanded child tax credit," even though it apparently included various pieces to combat climate change. That issue had been part of what the pundits had been considering an obstacle to Manchin's support for the bill. ABC News is reporting that he objects to the Child Tax Credit because he feared "parents would misuse Child Tax Credit payments to buy drugs." As Jennifer Rubin, columnist for the Washington Post, observed, "the senator’s take on poor children and their struggling parents is appalling — even more appalling than misleading his colleagues and the White House about his support for the bill."

In other aggravating news, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus accounted for 73% of new cases as of December 18 (CNBC.com, December 20, 2021). Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo includes a mind-boggling chart from the CDC showing how quickly Omicron has taken hold. But it's still too early to say definitively that Omicron produces milder illness. Marshall goes on to observe that even if the severity of illness it causes is reduced, "the sheer scale of this wave will still land tens of thousands in hospitals and kill a lot of people. So at a population level, it’s still a big deal even if the threat to people individually, especially if they’re vaccinated and boosted, is much less." For those of us who are more vulnerable to severe illness — those who have underlying conditions, those who are immuno-compromised, and those who are just older than 65 or 70 — this outbreak is bad news. But it's even worse for the country as a whole. The case load is already overwhelming health care systems across the nation, making it more difficult to be treated for any number of ailments, including COVID-19. For many of us, then, the safest thing to do is essentially to return to lockdowns.

In legal action, there have been interesting developments. According to investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, "[f]ormer president Donald Drumpf will soon be indicted for criminal racketeering under New York state law.... Johnston indicated Saturday afternoon that the charges will stem from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's ongoing investigation into whether Drumpf's company misled lenders or tax authorities about the value of its properties" (Raw Story, December 18, 2021). Meanwhile, the "House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested that Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania provide information about his involvement in unsuccessfully seeking to install former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general of the United States" (NPR, December 21, 2021). And "the [House] committee may soon make requests for other charges—including charges against Drumpf himself" (Daily Kos, December 21, 2021). Two key charges may be in the offing: obstruction of Congress and wire fraud related to his fundraising claims of widespread voter fraud.

This week and next are filled with holiday preparations and celebrations. So I'm not including any action items. You're busy enough already, I suspect. But once we tip into the new year, the pace of action will accelerate quickly. Grassroots North Shore will post information about requesting an absentee ballot from myvote.wi.gov. (Currently the site still lists ballots for elections in 2021! Presumably that will change after 1/1/2022.) We will also be posting information about offices and candidates for the nonpartisan primary on February 15 and the nonpartisan election on April 5. In addition, there will be a special election for mayor of Milwaukee, though a date for that election has not yet been set. The US Senate has confirmed Mayor Barrett as Ambassador to the Netherlands and he will undoubtedly be resigning soon.

Finally, in Wisconsin redistricting news, the US Supreme Court recently rejected the GOP lawsuit that sought to dismiss the case Democrats have brought in federal court. That case seeks to have the federal courts draw the state's electoral maps. For a blockbuster piece on why redistricting really does belong in the federal courts, read Robert Yablon's piece in the Journal Sentinel from December 20: Wisconsin Supreme Court is wrong to preserve gerrymandered electoral maps. Yablon summarizes the history of federal courts drawing Wisconsin maps in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. In all three cases, the "federal courts in those earlier decades took care to adopt maps untainted by partisanship." He ends the piece with a statement I'm sure we all agree with: "Wisconsinites deserve better from our maps, and from our state Supreme Court."

Have safe but satisfying holidays, everyone.

Read more
1 reaction Share

Be the change!

This week's newsletter is designed to be participatory. In other words, we're hoping you'll make some noise about things that really matter to people who need to hear our roars! Our government of the people, by the people, and for the people is in serious trouble. And it seems that only We the People can begin to save it. Several topics are on our to-do list ahead of the 2022 election season. Here are three: Fair Maps for Wisconsin, Fair Elections, and Gun Safety.

The issue of electoral maps is gnarly and multi-faceted. Our own Mark Gennis has written an excellent letter to the editor on the subject:

Court plans few map changes

I was dismayed but not surprised that our Supreme Court voted 4-3 to basically maintain the current legislative district maps. The most specious argument seems to have come from Justice Rebecca Bradley who contended that the justices must make as few changes as a way to “respect the past choices lawmakers have made.” Where was the respect shown to all of the lawmakers ten years ago when the maps where drawn behind closed doors using computer algorithms known only to a few, to maximize Republican’s advantage? Where was the respect shown to the voters of Wisconsin who have repeatedly voiced their desire to eliminate partisan redistricting?

Justice Bradley further contends, “Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions not legal ones.” She further states that the questions “must be resolved through the political process and not by the judiciary.” How can the voters use the political process when the current political process has essentially been stripped of meaning?

Is not the right to vote a legal question? Is not the right to have all votes counted equally a legal question? How can issues so fundamental to our democracy not have the weight of a “legal” question to this Court? The outrageous maps created ten years ago removed any chance of reform through the political process. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has just placed our democracy on very thin ice for another ten years. With global warming, it is unclear just how long this ice will even last.

Mark Gennis
Mequon, WI

Your ACTION ITEMS: contact your state legislators whatever their party and tell then to uphold the governor's veto. Or use the Legislative Hotline to contact them by phone: 1-800-362-9472. And then spread the word. Share at least one segment of Kristin Brey's “My Take” with 1 group, 2 friends, and/or 3 family members on social media or by email. Watch "What can YOU do" And follow Brey on Facebook.

Next up, the "Freedom to Vote Act", currently languishing in the Senate. This is Senator Joe Manchin's tweaked version of the "For the People" Act that passed the House of Representatives ages ago. Today's Washington Post analyzes some of the possibilities for getting around the filibuster and passing the bill. Your ACTION ITEM: Contact BOTH Wisconsin Senators with your message of support — Senator Baldwin and Senator Johnson. You may think Senator Johnson is a lost cause (and of course that's true), but according to a survey by Data for Progress, a strong majority of voters — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — support the measure, Republicans by 54% to 31%! It can't hurt to let Senator Johnson know his voters' views.

We've waited a respectful and decent interval since the deaths of four students at the Oxford, Michigan High School. Now it's time for outrage. Your ACTION ITEM: Send President Biden a letter urging him to make gun safety legislation a higher and more urgent subject in his words to the nation. To help you along, we drafted such a letter that you can copy and paste into the web form the White House has set up. You can download it (Word format) and edit it to your liking. Or you can write your own. The form for contacting the President and/or the Vice President is here.

Our country faces many problems, not least of which is low political engagement, especially in off-year elections. Grassroots North Shore formed in 2004 to try to be part of the solution. As a supporter of Grassroots North Shore, YOU are the TIP OF THE SPEAR, as they say. If you missed our Annual Fundraiser with Jill Wine-Banks and three outstanding local legislators, you can watch the recording on YouTube. Once you've done that, we humbly ask you to help us keep the lights on, the phonebanks humming, the postcards flowing, and this newsletter arriving in your inbox every week.

Read more
1 reaction Share

What we're facing

It's hard not to despair. The news about the state of our democracy has been particularly dispiriting of late.

Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court "handed Republicans a major victory in the legal fight over redistricting Tuesday, ruling the court would take a 'least changes' approach to redrawing the maps Republicans passed in 2011." And it would not take partisan gerrymandering into account. At all. Justice Rebecca Bradley reasoned that because the current electoral maps were passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2011, those "policy choices" must be respected. See the full story in the November 30 edition Wisconsin Public Radio. The ruling is a set-back in the ongoing effort to prohibit partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and the nation.

Our best recourse, frankly, is to organize and get out the vote when the four elections we'll see in 2022 come around. We have to win more elections in Wisconsin if we hope to head off disaster. In the meantime, TAKE ACTION! Call and/or your state legislators to urge them to uphold Governor Evers's veto of the electoral maps the legislature passed — even if your legislators are Republicans. It matters. We must raise our voices and then raise our votes! Find contact information for your Assembly and Senate representatives here or reach them by phone at the Legislative Hotline: 1-800-362-9472. And while you're making calls, contact your congressional representative and Wisconsin's senators to urge them to vote for the two bills in the Senate that would protect voting rights and elections: the bills are The John Lewis Voting Rights Act and The Freedom to Vote Act. Find the contact information for your officials here. And then promise yourself that you will work hard to elect state and national office holders who oppose partisan election maps and who are prepared to protect our democracy.

Yesterday, the esteemed journalist Barton Gellman published "DRUMPF’S NEXT COUP HAS ALREADY BEGUN" in the latest edition of The Atlantic. He writes "For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft." At one point, Gellman discusses research on who participated in the January 6 insurrection. Several traits are noteworthy but the researchers note that the average age of those who have been charged is 41.8 (as compared to violent extremists in other parts of the world who are most likely to be in their 20s and 30s). Also, economic distress did not figure prominently in the lives of those who attacked the Capitol ("only 7 percent of the January 6 insurgents were jobless, and more than half of the group had a white-collar job or owned their own business"). In fact, the strongest correlation among those who participated is political geography: "Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline." Dare we say it: it's the racism, stupid. It's a long article with several important insights into the mindsets of those who support the Big Lie. But it's worth reading the whole thing.

There are some bright spots in the landscape we ought to mention also. The DOJ is using Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to sue Texas over its redistricting maps. The basis of the suit is that the state's electoral maps have not provided Black and Brown people an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Majority Leader Schumer wrote a letter to his Senate colleagues yesterday to express "his ongoing expectation that the Senate will pass the Biden administration’s sweeping Build Back Better package via reconciliation 'before Christmas.'"

And in welcome news closer to home, "Conservative group finds no signs of widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin." The conservative group at issue is the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the same group that brought the suit arguing that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should use a "least change" strategy for adjudicating the electoral maps. And despite finding no fraud, WILL is still urging changes to election processes. Meanwhile, the Gabelman show investigating the same election, at a potential cost of $676,000, bumbles along.

Read more
1 reaction Share

the good, the bad, and the worrying news

First, an important announcement: Don't miss our upcoming event with MSNBC legal analyst and former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks on Sunday, December 5, from 7-8:30pm. She will address the peril to democracy that has emerged in recent years. And a panel of our Assembly Representatives Jonathan Brostoff and Deb Andraca, moderated by Evan Goyke, will discuss what's happening to our democracy in Wisconsin. Sign up here for the Zoom link.

A little good news to start with? The New York Times is reporting that Mark Meadows, the last chief of staff for the former guy (TFG for short), is cooperating with the January 6 committee! It seems that he has turned over at least some records and will "soon appear for an initial deposition," Representative Bennie Thompson, Chair of the committee, said today. Meanwhile the DC Circuit Court of Appeals heard *rump's claims of executive privilege. The trial court, you probably recall, shot the claims down. That judge reminded TFG that presidents are not kings and he's not the president. You can hear the today's case here. So some progress on the investigative front.

And a little predictably bad news. As the Journal Sentinel recently reported, "Michael Gableman met with a host of election conspiracy theorists this fall as part of his taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 presidential contest for Assembly Republicans.... Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the people Gableman is meeting with 'are all election skeptics who have bought into the big lie.'" What's bad about this report isn't that Gableman is consorting with these folks. The bad news is that the facts won't diminish the devotion of all the Big Lie adherents.

In worrying developments, the new omicron variant of the coronavirus has been the source of a lot of consternation but without sufficient data to make any of the various questions we all have answerable with any degree of certainty. Talking Points Memo has a comprehensive discussion of the questions, at least. New variants are going to emerge because, world-wide, huge swathes of people remain unvaccinated and are therefore a great incubator for mutations. What we need to keep in mind is that it takes several weeks from the discovery of a new, viable variant to scientists' ability to determine whether it is more deadly, more easily transmitted, or more likely to evade some of the protections of our current vaccines. So, the bottom line: prudence. Use mitigation strategies whenever you can. Wear a mask when you go shopping or in other settings where you can't know the vaccination status of those around you, especially indoors.

The holiday season is upon us (Happy Chanukah to all who observe that holiday) so the Events list is somewhat sparse. If none of the activities there appeal to you, take some time in December to recharge so that you're ready to volunteer in the 2022 election cycle. We will have the usual FOUR ELECTIONS: a nonpartisan primary on February 15, a nonpartisan election on April 5, a partisan primary on August 9, and of course a partisan election on November 8. These elections are critical. Plan to get involved: writing postcards, phoning and texting, canvassing, reaching out to friends and family. Grassroots North Shore will have community-based election information that will help you get up to speed on all the races in your area, from school boards to judgeships, assembly and state senate races, and national offices. Plus we'll have information about requesting absentee ballots, early in-person voting, drop boxes, and all the logistical information you'll need!

Read more
1 reaction Share

HOPE IS OUR SUPERPOWER

Now that the fate of Wisconsin’s voting maps lies in the hands of a highly partisan Wisconsin Supreme Court, and we continue to watch what feels like a slow-rolling and continuing insurrection against the integrity of our system of government, it is all too tempting to simply withdraw in despair. So I want to begin this newsletter with a quote from Bryan Stevenson, lawyer, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a law professor at NYU Law School.

Hope is Our Superpower

“It’s not a pie in the sky hope, it’s not a preference for optimism over pessimism. It’s just an orientation of the spirit. I think we have to be willing to believe things we haven’t seen. That’s our superpower … I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice. I think injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And so, hope is our requirement, it’s our superpower.”

Don’t Miss Our Annual Fundraiser

This LIVE virtual event on Sunday, December 5 at 7 pm features Jill Wine-Banks, MSNBC Contributor and Legal Analyst, and former Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor. You can RSVP here

 Do you value our weekly newsletter, events and impassioned political work? Are you familiar with our role in the success of the 2020 elections and development of the North Shore Fair Maps Team? Then please consider a contribution of $100, $200, $250 or higher. We need your support to continue our work as we enter the critical 2022 elections to re-elect Governor Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul, State Assembly Rep. Deb Andraca, and more. Grassroots North Shore was instrumental in their elections in 2018 and 2020, and will be again.

 Why do we fundraise? Each year we hold one event to invite your support for our year-round work. Our annual budget of $20,000 covers our office rent, utilities, supplies, electronic communications and the many activities we offer to keep our supporters well-informed. Our revenue comes from memberships, general donations and this fundraiser. Your donation enables us to be an impactful progressive voice in our region and the State of Wisconsin.

 If you have already RSVPd, you can click here to make your donation. 

Or if you prefer, you may send a check to: Grassroots North Shore, 5600 W. Brown Deer Road, #116, Brown Deer, WI 53223.

Grassroots North Shore is the largest progressive, all volunteer grassroots organization in Wisconsin. We are proud to mark over 17 years of activism. Your contribution goes directly toward our operations, events, and issues/election work.

Our thanks to all of you who have already registered and donated. We appreciate your support! 

Ginny Goode, on behalf of the Grassroots North Shore leadership and fundraising team

Background on our featured speaker, Jill Wine Banks

Ms. Banks hails from Chicago. She has been a pathbreaker and smasher of glass ceilings throughout her career. She was one of the first women to serve in the organized crime division of the US Dept. of Justice in the early 1970s. During the Watergate scandal she served on the staff of prosecutor Leon Jaworski, and cross-examined Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods about the infamous 18.5  minute gap in Nixon’s tapes. In 1977 she was the first woman appointed to serve as General Counsel of the Army. We will share more about Ms. Wine Bank’s later career and current contributions in other communications. In the meantime, check out her podcast, #SistersInLaw. https://politicon.com/podcast-title/sisters-in-law/

GET YOUR UNDERGROUND BEER HERE!

You may have heard something about Kirk Bangstad – with his billboards against TomTiffany and Ron Johnson, and his lawsuits against school boards without mask mandates. But have you heard about the special beers brewed by his company, Minocqua Brewing Company?

Kirk has had a hard time continuing operations due to a backlash against his politics – especially his special beers: Evers Ale, Made With Science and a Steady Hand; Tammy Shandy, One of Wisconsin's Many Treasures; Bernie Brew, A Lovingly Irascible and Democratic Socialist Lager; 'la, A Vice Presidential Stout. 

Now these beers have become even harder to find because most beer distributors in Wisconsin won’t stock them. Where is a good Progressive to go for these special offerings? Kirk is doing his best by delivering directly to stores, but we decided to give him a boost.

Grassroots North Shore has a pre-fundraiser offer: For donations of $200 or more by November 30,  donors receive a 4-beer sampler delivered to their homes (while supplies last – at last count, we had enough for the first 15 donations).

We hope you will enjoy this special offer whether it is before, during, or after our Evening with Jill Wine-Banks on Sunday, December 5 at 7 pm. Our thanks go to Nancy Kaplan for donating the beer purchases and to Mark Stevens for finding and securing the beer.

 A Brief Peak at the 2022 Electoral Season

The often obscure and sleepy spring primary to nominate nonpartisan candidates will be on Tues., Feb. 15, 2022. These candidates for judicial, educational, and municipal officers, and non-partisan county officers will appear on the ballot of the April 5 election. In case you thought these primaries and elections don’t really matter, the recent Mequon-Thiensville school board recall election serves as a stark reminder of their importance to our communities. The fall primary for partisan statewide offices will be on Tues., Aug. 9, 2022. There is likely to be a heated primary for US Senator (for the Democrats), for Governor (for Republicans), for Attorney General (for Republicans), and for Lieutenant Governor (both parties). The general election will be held on Tues., Nov. 8.

Although Ron Johnson has yet to declare his candidacy, it remains a real possibility. Despite his under-water approval rating, there is no doubt that the Senate race will be exceedingly competitive. The Cook Political Report currently rates the race as a toss-up. And of course the Democrats will confront the well-known headwinds of the party of the President in the midterms. We all know the high stakes of the Governor’s race, as our only protection against the extreme policies of the Republican legislature. Wisconsin is truly a purple state. But our political geography, with Democrats clustered in a relatively small number of urban areas, gives an advantage to the spatially distributed Republican electorate – even if we succeed in defeating the GOP gerrymander which exacerbates that advantage. The stakes will be high, and our grassroots activism will be essential to get out the vote.

 

Read more
1 reaction Share

Another Election Day

It's Election Day, but of course we will not know anything until tonight or even tomorrow. The race for Governor of Virginia is a real nail-biter. All the pundits I've seen think it's too close to predict an outcome. So let's hope they're wrong. If it's a squeaker, you just know that the right is going to holler and there will be loud, ugly calls for audits and the like. Here in Wisconsin, the Mequon-Thiensville School Board recall election is happening today also. So a HUGE THANKS to everyone who wrote postcards and made phone calls to try to help the Support MTSD group. Win or lose, we will have done our very best. Let's hope it's a win for our side.

On Sunday, the Washington Post published an astonishing three-part story of the insurrection: Before, During, After. It's a long read but worth every minute. And not so much because it reveals a lot of new information, but because it fleshes out the history in stark and contextual detail. If you have not yet done so, you should read it.

In breaking news as I write this, the advisers to the CDC are recommending coronavirus vaccine for children 5 - 11 years old. We already know that there will be plenty of vaccine hesitancy among parents, so it's unclear how many children will actually get the shots, but every vaccinated person helps prevent the spread of disease, especially as children are now back in school. I know my grandson — who will turn 5 on November 24 — will be vaccinated as soon as my daughter and son-in-law can manage it. And I'm sure my sister's grandchildren will be too. Us older folks will still need to assess what other mitigating strategies in which circumstances might still be advisable. To help us out, Dr. Ian Gilson gave us a terrific presentation on where we are with COVID-19 last week. It's now up on YouTube. So you can see it yourself if you missed the live version.

And in other Grassroots North Shore news, mark your calendars for Sunday, December 5. For our annual fundraising event — Will Democracy Survive in Wisconsin?MSNBC legal analyst Jill Wine Banks will be the featured speaker. The former Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor, she authored the book The Watergate Girl and was the General Counsel for the Army in the Carter Adminstration. Representative Evan Goyke will also moderate a panel with Representatives Deb Andraca and Jonathan Brostoff to discuss our local situation. You can RSVP now and will receive a Zoom link several days before the event.

Finally, I'm reluctantly handing off the newsletter to Eilene Stevens and Cheryl Maranto for a few weeks. I have to have my aortic valve replaced on Thursday and will need some time to recover. But you'll be in good hands while I heal. And as we round the corner to a new year, the Events List is starting to pick up. Find something you can do to make Wisconsin and the country a better place!

Read more
1 reaction Share

a little upbeat news, for a change

It looks like the Build Back Better Bill (i.e., the reconciliation package) is finally nearing the finish line? Maybe? Paul Waldman has an important point for those of us who may be disappointed in the scaled back package: How liberals can turn compromise into victory.

It’s almost inevitable that many people on the left will be disappointed with the final result. It’s even appropriate, given what’s being cut out of the bill. But if they want to both maximize their chances of seeing more of their priorities eventually signed into law and preserve their emotional health, here’s an easy two-step guide to come to terms with this compromise:
  1. Celebrate the good things the bill does.

  2. After that period of celebration, continue pushing for what got left out so it might pass later.

Surprisingly — to me at least, a version of Senator Elizabeth's wealth tax seems to be showing a few signs of life. The Washington Post reports, "Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Monday he will 'in a matter of days' release a tax on billionaires that economists and tax experts project could raise more than half of its revenue from just 10 people, including Tesla founder Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos." But not everyone in the Democratic caucus is convinced. So apparently some "Democrats are considering swapping the billionaire tax for a separate 3 percent 'surtax' on millionaires earning more than $5 million per year...."

And you've probably heard about a Rolling Stone article claiming that members of Congress helped plan one or more of the rallies on January 6, 2021. It's not clear whether the planning included discussion of fomenting insurrection. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo cautions us not to jump to conclusions. Meanwhile, at Daily Kos, one blogger discusses a column in Just Security in which Albert Alschuler, a law professor at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, "argues ... that Trump’s inaction once the thugs acting in his name flooded into the Capitol is itself a crime." Another DKos blogger reports on a Morning Joe interview with Bob Woodward and Bob Costa in which they say that "a Republican former head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice told them that based on just what we already know, there is a 'lay down case' under 18 U.S.C. § 371. That statute makes it an offense to conspire to defraud the United States." Perhaps the Orange Man will come a cropper one of these ways, or perhaps from the many other lawsuits and criminal investigations he's currently subject to.

We're one week out from some national and local elections of note. In New Jersey and Virginia, the elections will determine the governorship in each state for the next four years. The New Jersey race between the incumbent Phil Murphy and the Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli is tightening, Newsweek reported on October 25. In Virginia, the incumbent is term-limited. Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic governor, is in a really tight race with MAGA-supporting Glenn Youngkin. You can contribute to the race if you have some spare change. Both these races are considered harbingers of what's to come in the elections in 2022, especially the race in Virginia.

In Wisconsin, the special election in the Mequon-Thiensville School District is our main focus. It would truly lift our spirits if we can help beat back the ideological and partisan group that has organized the recall. Volunteers are phoning people we've already sent postcards to, in an effort to get out the vote to support the incumbents. We still have a few days to get the job done. So if you hurry, you can become one of those volunteers also. Just send me an email — [email protected] — and I will send you a brief set of instructions, a list of names and numbers to call, and a script. We're also leaving messages.

Finally, a heads-up about two important upcoming events.

  • On Monday, November 8, North Shore Fair Maps is hosting "We Are Part of Something Bigger" on Zoom. This North Shore Fair Maps meeting explores the national fair maps movement and the current efforts to sabotage elections in Wisconsin and other states. From the WI Legislature’s election investigation debacle and their effort to get another decade of rigged maps, to anti-democratic election efforts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas, we are part of something going on from sea to shining sea! With Jeff Mandel, founder of Law Forward (additional guest TBA). Register.

  • On Tuesday, November 16, Citizen Action of Wisconsin is holding a Senate Candidate Forum online from 6pm - 8pm, perhaps the first of many that will take place ahead of the primary on August 9. (Grassroots North Shore is planning to hold one also, possibly in March 2022). Everyone is welcome to attend. Sign up.
Read more
1 reaction Share

stand up for local school boards

There's a lot going on nationally, but little of it is new. Hence last week's invocation of the doldrums — a nautical term referring to the latitudes near earth's equator where sailing ships often found themselves stuck in virtually windless waters. Right now, we seem to be adrift in windless political waters. The Build Back Better Bill, aka the reconciliation bill, is stuck in endless negotiations that seem to go nowhere. The January 6 Select Committee is asking the House to approve a criminal referral to the Justice Department to try to force Steve Bannon to relinquish documents and to testify about the events leading up to the insurrection. The pace of the request, announced last Thursday, seems glacial. Majority Leader Schumer announced that he will bring bills to address voting rights to the senate this week, but we know they can't pass because of the filibuster and the refusal of at least two Democrats to abolish or amend the filibuster rule. The whole promise of the Biden administration seems at least indefinitely stalled or perhaps even doomed.

Here in Wisconsin, plenty of issues are percolating, the most fraught of which is the attacks on school boards. The vitriol is pretty widespread in the state. For example, here's a recent article from WiscNews: Wisconsin school board association condemns threats made against local members. "Discussion of COVID-19 mitigation protocols, such as mask mandates in the Beaver Dam and Oshkosh school districts, prompted a number of threats against school board members in Wisconsin. Members of the public also threatened the Waukesha School Board after they voted unanimously to opt out of a federal program that offered free meals to all students, in order to reinstate a free and reduced meal plan for economically disadvantaged students."

Ruth Conniff, writing in the Wisconsin Examiner on September 24, summed up the problem: "The anger unleashed in the Drumpf era, fanned by Republicans at both the national and state level in order to motivate the former president’s voters, is now focused on a soft target — local school boards. Across Wisconsin, they have endured mini versions of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In Kenosha, a crowd jammed a meeting and forced a vote to drastically cut school board members’ salaries, while making it mandatory that they attend meetings in person. In Eau Claire, a school board meeting was cancelled after some participants refused to wear masks. Recall efforts targeting school board members for voting to sustain mask requirements and online learning during the pandemic have proliferated across the state. And school board members in different districts across the state quit this fall saying they and their families were threatened by angry members of the public."

In our own bailiwick, there's a special election — an attempt to recall four incumbent members of the Mequon-Thiensville School Board — taking place on November 2, just two weeks from today. The website for the Coalition to Support MTSD argues that school boards are and must remain non-partisan. The group points out that those behind the effort to take over the school board ("Recall / Restore MTSB") "has maintained all along they are non-partisan. However, over the last week, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Ozaukee County, the gubernatorial campaigns of Rebecca Kleefisch and Jonathan Wichmann, and the Patriots of Ozaukee County have all stepped out of the dark to reveal they are backing the 4 Recall / Restore candidates. Their social media posts expose the lie that Recall / Restore MTSD is just a local group of concerned apolitical parents."

The site includes an image of a message from the Republican Party of Ozaukee County that urges people from EVERYWHERE to lend the recall effort aid: "YOU DO NOT NEED TO LIVE IN MEQUON-THIENSVILLE TO HELP IN OUR EFFORT! Everyone is welcome, even if you live in another municipality!!" The Coalition to Support MTSD even shows proof that outside funds are fueling the ideologically driven recall effort. And it urges people who care about the integrity of the current school board to Get Involved, Volunteer, Order a Yard Sign, Express Your Opinion, and Talk to Your Friends and Neighbors. So if you live in the Mequon-Thiensville school district, know people who do, or are just hot under the collar about this attempt at a hostile takeover of a school board, it's time to get busy!

Read more
1 reaction Share

The waiting game

I think we're in the dreaded doldrums! Nothing good seems to be happening: the reconciliation bill — aka the Build Back Better bill — seems perpetually stuck; the non-Fox-like-media seems unable to quit the narrative that Dems are in disarray; and the "fraudit" parade here — with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Gableman pretending to be in charge — is bumbling along, maybe with legitimate subpoenas, or maybe not. See "'Shut this fake investigation down': Attorney general slams GOP election review, calls subpoenas unlawful" in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online for the complete and confusing back-and-forth. And wait for something to happen, I guess.

We do have some tiny green shoots coming up though. This morning, Representative Adam Schiff (a member of both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Jan. 6 Select Committee) signaled that the Select Committee is being quite serious about the subpoenas the committee has already issued to Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Kash Patel, and Dan Scovino. "Those who don't cooperate with our committee are going to be the subject of criminal contempt" (Talking Points Memo, 10/12/2021). And the Washington Post reports that "A record number of workers are quitting their jobs, empowered by new leverage" (Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2021). The rate at which people are voluntarily quitting jobs is quite high and reflects "the options workers have in the current economic market, with job openings outnumbering unemployed workers and people reevaluating what they want to do," Nick Bunker, economist at Indeed, is quoted as saying.

Here's another, possible, green shoot: according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as quoted in Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog post, "Will Georgia voting laws reduce turnout? Maybe not, studies show." The AJC article asserts that "a body of research on voting rules such as those in Georgia doesn’t support the narrative that turnout will decline significantly because of the law." It does not, however, link to any of the research it purports to cite, at least not in the part Hasen quotes. So, more than a grain of salt needs to accompany consumption of this article. Plus, the voting changes are simply onerous and should definitely be contested.

In not so chipper news, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Wisconsin (JSOnline, Oct. 11, 2021), even though the overall US numbers are declining (Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2021). Dr. Ian Gilson will be updating Grassroots North Shore supporters — and anyone else you'd like to invite — to an update on the pandemic, on Monday, October 25, at 7pm on Zoom. The link will be sent to you when you register. Don't wait to sign up!

 

Read more
1 reaction Share