Let's begin with important election news. The February 15 non-partisan primary is just a week from today. You may already have requested an absentee ballot at MyVote.wi.gov. If you have not yet filled it out and turned it in, do so today. You can use a drop box located in your community or you can take it in person to your municipal clerk. Early in-person voting is going on now but it ends this Friday, Feb. 11. Find links to information about the candidates on our Elections page.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is holding a Get-Out-the-Vote Weekend of Action on Saturday, February 12, and Sunday, February 13. They're using virtual phone banks so you can "go" in your jammies if you want. The virtual staging locations they are setting up will provide a brief training at the beginning of each shift. So SIGN UP and get a running start on what is going to be a GOTV-filled year.
But the broader issues around voting just keep coming at us. Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that the "Republican lawmakers rolled out a constitutional amendment banning the use of grant money to administer elections" while "Democratic lawmakers called for a state elections commissioner to lose his job after pretending to be an elector for former President Donald Trump." A constitutional amendment will take years to accomplish and will need to be put before the voters — perhaps as early as next year. Needless to say, Grassroots North Shore will mobilize around this issue. And those fake electors should at the least be investigated for pretending to be public officials and for forging state documents!
The League of Progressive Seniors is holding an online workshop to grapple with efforts to suppress the votes of senior citizens and the disabled. State Assembly Leader Robin Vos apparently wants to prosecute members of the Wisconsin Election Commission for allowing residents of nursing homes to vote in 2020 even though Voting Deputies could not attend, as the law stipulates. And now they're trying to use the courts to prohibit the use of drop boxes for voting and to forbid friends or family of people with limited mobility from assisting them by delivering their absentee ballots for them. The program will take place on Friday, February 18, from noon to 1pm. To sign up, you need to email the League.
In the nation as a whole, we've had some victories in the fight against gerrymandering in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. In all three states, maps rigged by Republicans have been rejected by those states' Supreme Courts. The ruling in North Carolina was especially pointed about the effort to lock in GOP control: the legislature violates the state constitution "when it deprives a voter of his or her right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation," the order stated. We're still waiting for Wisconsin's Supreme Court to rule on our electoral maps but it could happen any day now.
However, we may have suffered a grievous setback with the latest "shadow docket" ruling on a case about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court didn't actually rule on the case: it just stayed a ruling that a lower court in Alabama found discriminated against Blacks by failing to provide for a second congressional district with enough Black voters to enable — but not to guarantee — that they could elect a favored candidate. The Supreme Court's stay effectively restored the Alabama legislature's map, "suggesting that the court was poised to become more skeptical of challenges to voting maps based on claims of race discrimination," according to an article in the New York Times. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor. But of course his vote left him in the minority as all five of the "conservative" justices voted to let the maps stand until the case winds its way through the court. So, justice delayed. It's likely the new maps with its one majority-minority district will be in effect for the November 8 election.
Finally, you should catch up on some jaw-dropping news from Senator Ron Johnson. Of course he "refused Saturday to say whether the Republican Party was right to censure two members of Congress and whether it had properly characterized the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as 'legitimate political discourse'" (JSOnline, Feb. 5, 2022). That he's a coward goes without saying. But he really topped his own record of saying stupid stuff when he said "he won't try to persuade a Wisconsin manufacturer to place more than 1,000 new jobs in his hometown." Here's quote: "It's not like we don't have enough jobs here in Wisconsin. The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers" (JSOnline, Feb. 7, 2022). I've paid attention to politicians and their campaigns since the 1960s. I've never heard one say that we don't need any more good jobs around here! Sheesh.
February has begun! And you know what that means: a non-partisan election is a mere two weeks away. There are primary elections in most of our North Shore and Ozaukee County communities (except Brown Deer). And we can't afford for you to miss it. So be a voter: go to myvote.wi.gov to request your absentee ballot today! Also, visit our 2022 elections page. You will find information about early in-person voting, which begins today, and drop box locations for your community. Drop boxes can be used for this primary but their fate for future elections is uncertain. The WI Supreme Court will rule on the issue before the next election on April 5.
Key Voting Tips
There are primaries for the Cedarburg School District and the Mequon-Thiensville School District. You'll find links and information on our school boards page. In both cases, the candidate with the lowest vote total in the primary will not appear on the April 5 ballot.
For the Cedarburg SD, we don't have a firm recommendation. We can tell you, though, that the current president of the board, Rick Leach, is a gun enthusiast and Laura Strobel is the wife of a Republican Assembly Representative.
Having handily defeated the recall election in the Mequon-Thiensville SD, Grassroots North Shore has a lot more information about those running in that election. Scarlett Johnson and Jill Chromy are both on our "do not vote for" list. So vote for the other three — Paul Buzzell, Maria Douglas, and Jason Levash. Skip making a fourth choice.
On the North Shore, the key primary is in the race for County Supervisor for District 1. The district has been redrawn as a result of the 2020 census. Shorewood and Whitefish Bay used to be in District 3 (Sheldon Wasserman is the incumbent) but are now in District 1. The other communities in that district are Glendale, River Hills, Fox Point and Bayside. If you live in these six communities, this primary will affect you. See the new map on our Milwaukee County Supervisors page.
There are three candidates on the ballot for the county supervisor primary, which will eliminate one. This race pits our preferred candidate — Liz Sumner, the incumbent — against two newcomers. We urge you to vote for her and simply skip a second choice.
Little is known about one of the candidates — Karen Gentile. She's a member of the Republican party, we hear; apparently is not campaigning; and does not want to be contacted (we've tried repeatedly to no avail). She does have a personal Facebook page, though, which will give you some idea of what she's about.
The third candidate in the race — Peter Tase — is much more worrisome. He has no website or Facebook page, but he has recently published an essay supporting the former guy's "Big Lie." A video of a campaign event showcasing his noxious views has apparently been removed from vimeo. However, Daniel Bice published an extensive piece on his views: it's definitely worth a full read.
Local Notable News
COVID 19 remains a huge headache. Now a subvariant of omicron has already been detected in Wisconsin. Its claim to your worries is that it may spread even more easily than omicron.
According to the Wisconsin Examiner, "Assembly Speaker Robin Vos struggles to maintain control" of the legislative body and messaging. The article pokes at his latest press conference and the "review" of the 2020 election he hired Michael Gableman to conduct — an expensive boondoggle, "which numerous observers including newspaper editorial boards, nonpartisan watchdogs and legal experts have labeled a fiasco."
National Notable News
The New York Times has purchased Wordle! Earth-shattering news indeed. And oh yeah, tRump has now admitted, in writing, that he wanted former Vice President Pence to OVERTURN (his exact word) the 2020 presidential election. Today he wants to walk that felonious claim back. And in shocking, but not surprising, revelations, it turns out that he was deeply involved in the plot to seize voting machines, instructing his minions to request three cabinet departments to take action: Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense. All turned him down. So is it time to indict him for seditious conspiracy?
The most important news item today is the ruling the District 4 Court of Appeals issued yesterday. It restores our ability to use drop boxes for the February 5 non-partisan primary. (See the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online or one in the Wisconsin Examiner.) It also allows people other than the voter to return absentee ballots. Both issues are addressed only temporarily. That's because there's a general rule that changes to voting procedures should not be issued too close to an election to avoid confusion and possible disenfranchisement of voters who have not learned the new rules. Absentee ballots are already being mailed to voters. So if you have not yet done so, you should request your absentee ballot NOW. You can use myvote.wi.gov or you can send an email request to your municipal clerk. You'll find phone numbers for most of our municipalities on our early voting information page.
While I'm on the subject of elections, Grassroots North Shore has gathered information on the candidates running for non-partisan local offices. We know, or should have recently learned, how vital these offices are. So visit our 2022 Elections page. We have a page for early voting information, one for Milwaukee County Supervisors, one for school boards, one for municipal elections, one for the District 2 Court of Appeals, and one for Milwaukee County Judges. The page on drop box locations (as of the 2020 election) is also up. Drop Boxes are available for ballots at least for this first election of 2022. And make a plan to vote!
Also, don't miss the Grassroots North Shore Annual Meeting, coming up on Zoom on Sunday, February 6, at 7pm. We're presenting speakers knowledgable about attacks on school boards — Wisconsin-based education journalist Barbara Miner, and Milwaukee Public School Board President, Robert Peterson. (So RSVP already!) As you might remember, there was a recall election for the Mequon-Thiensville school board in November, 2021. It failed! And it failed big-time because people came out to vote. Now we have to do it again. One of the people running for a seat in the primary is trying again. And she has company. Both Scarlett Johnson and Jill Chromy have major backing from the fringy right of the Republican party. The primary will eliminate one of the five candidates, leaving four contenders for the April election. Talk to your friends, co-workers, family who live in the district and urge them to vote for the other candidates so we can try to repeat our success from last fall.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments on proposed legislative maps from the parties to the lawsuit and from various groups who sent amicus briefs in support of various maps. The court had earlier ruled that it would not look at partisan gerrymandering in selecting a map and that it would really only consider so-called "least change" maps. Conveniently, however, the court failed to define what "least change" means. And sure enough, there was plenty of argument about whether to consider how many voters would have to be moved to new districts — the governor's map was most successful at meeting this criterion — or whether the key would be districts that contain equal numbers of voters. Oddly enough (heavy on the snarkiness), the lawyer representing the GOP legislature argued vociferously for the latter standard, even though it would not preserve the present maps as much as possible. A ruling on the maps should be issued soon.
In the flurry of redistricting happening in all 50 states now, Democrats and progressives have feared that Republican-controlled states would use as much power as they could muster to gerrymander the heck out of the maps to maximize their advantage. And in a few states, like Ohio and North Carolina, they have indeed tried to do that. But the Ohio maps have been struck down by the state's Supreme Court, and there are lawsuits over the North Carolina maps also. It turns out that our fears may be a tad overblown. See a succinct account of it on Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog. And Marc Elias's Democracy Docket has a nifty round up of the redistricting process for each state. You can find that article here.
Making the Most of Infrastructure Dollars, 8:00am
American Family Field Restaurant, Milwaukee
Join WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com for a special breakfast on the topic: “Making the Most of New Federal Infrastructure Dollars.” Doors will open at 8 a.m. at the restaurant and a moderated panel discussion will start at 8:30 a.m. Registration is open until January 27 and cost is $20. Registration and more information.
WISDON: Transformational Justice Campaign, 6:30pm — 8pm
Taking On Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin. This event occurs every Thursday until February 24, 2022 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. via Zoom. The Zoom information is the same for all sessions. Session 1: January 24, Session 2: February 3, Session 3: February 10, Session 4: February 17, Session 5: February 24. For questions, email. Register here.
Saturday, February 5
Stand for Peace, 12:00 – 1:00pm
Capitol Drive & Teutonia Avenue, Milwaukee
Stand for Peace has resumed in-person events with masks and social distancing. Check for more information. Organized by Peace Action Wisconsin.
Sunday, February 6
Grassroots North Shore Annual Meeting, 7pm — 8:30 pm
School Boards Under Attack. Who’s behind these attacks, and why? Are the abusive rhetoric and challenges to school board incumbents a grassroots phenomenon, or do shadowy backers provide the funds and pull the strings? After a brief business meeting, Wisconsin-based education journalist Barbara Miner, and Milwaukee Public School Board President, Robert Peterson, will help us peek behind the curtain. RSVP.
Notable Upcoming Event
Saturday, February 12
UN Association of Greater Milwaukee, 10am — 12pm
Pushing Peace in the 2022 Elections: Join the Planning! Featuring Four Milwaukee Peace Activists Discussing How To Bring Foreign Policy Issues To The Candidates And Voters. A Virtual Zoom Program – Free & Open to the Public – Preregistration is Required. The activists include Jim Carpenter, Steve Watrous, Pam Richard, and Sharaka Berry. Advance registration is required. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the meeting. For more information: Contact Steve Watrous at 414.429.7567 / [email protected].
The issue of Fair Maps — i.e., getting rid of rigged and gerrymandered election districts — is very much in the news. In fact, Wednesday, January 19, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hold a lengthy hearing on the case, beginning at 9am. It can probably be viewed, or at least heard, by accessing Wisconsin Eye. You can also watch Lisa Pugh's interview with Barry Burden, political science professor at UW Madison, for a review of how the case got to the WI Supreme Court and what the complicated case entails.
Concerned Citizens of Wisconsin, a group of folks who have been meeting regularly with North Shore Fair Maps, collaborated with fair maps activists around the state, including Western Wisconsin for Nonpartisan Voting Districts and Wisconsin Map Assessment Project (WIMAP), to file an amicus brief — that's a "friend-of-the-court" brief — with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the Johnson v. Wisconsin Election Commission redistricting case on behalf of voters representing all 33 Senate districts in the state. You can read the brief here. (Shoutout to Laffey, Leitner & Goode for providing pro bono legal services.) A group of legal scholars from across the country also filed an amicus brief, which you can read here. Sign up to show your support, and to make sure you get invited to the follow up meetings where you will hear all about it! Finally, you can access all the documents in the case.
ACTION ITEM: Rallies to demand Fair Maps are taking place all across the state on Friday, January 21, at 12 noon. In Milwaukee County one will take place outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, 930 W. Wells St, Milwaukee, WI 53204. You can sign up here . In Ozaukee County, the rally will take place at the Old County Courthouse, 109 W Main St., Port Washington. You can use the same link to sign up: just choose the Port Washington site as the one you plan to attend. These rallies are sponsored by WFP, LIT (Leaders Igniting Transformation), HAWA (Hmong American Women's Assn), Democracy Campaign, Citizen Action of WI, WI Fair Maps Coalition, and other groups.
The attacks on our election systems are relentless. Not only are the maps the GOP-dominated legislature wants the Supreme Court to bless truly an awful partisan gerrymander designed to keep Republicans in power and mere voters powerless to affect what they do. No, now they have found a judge in Waukesha to rule that municipal drop boxes can no longer be used as receptacles for absentee ballots. The ruling is, I believe, being appealed. But meanwhile, if you want to vote by absentee ballot for the February 15 primary, you need to request your ballots for the whole year NOW! And you need to turn your ballots around quickly so they will be sure to arrive on time. Either that, or plan to take your ballot to your municipal hall and turn it in there. Here's the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online (published January 13). And of course, it's national news too. The Washington Post published a news item about it the next day.
Our Grassroots North Shore election coverage is now available but still lacks lots of significant information about local candidates and in-person early voting. However, there will be several important primaries in some areas. In the North Shore communities in Milwaukee County, the County Supervisor districts have, naturally, been redrawn. So there are new district lines for supervisor district 1, whose current incumbent is Liz Summer, and district 3, whose current incumbent is Sheldon Wasserman. You can visit our page for these elections to get maps of the new districts and, eventually, for links to candidates' campaigns. There will be primary elections in both districts.
In Ozaukee County, two important school board elections have primaries on February 15: the Cedarburg School District and the Mequon-Thiensville School District. If you can vote in either of those districts, please visit our page for school board elections to learn more about what's going on. And again, we will have more links to the candidates' campaigns soon.
School board elections have traditionally been both low-key and primarily of local concern. But not any more. The members of school boards have been personally attacked. As you may remember, the Mequon-Thiensville School District just went through an acrimonious — and I'm glad to report unsuccessful — recall election over mask mandates, critical race theory, and other political issues. Although they were soundly defeated, some of the challengers in that recall election are trying to run in the spring election, hoping to win a seat on the board. And two of the incumbents who were challenged in the recall have decided not to run again. Our upcoming meeting on February 6 will focus on "School Boards Under Attack." The program will feature Barbara Minor (education journalist in Wisconsin) and Robert Peterson (Milwaukee Public School Board president). You won't want to miss it. Sign up to get the Zoom link.
SAVE THE DATE: For recipients of this newsletter who vote in the city, Citizen Action is holding an online Milwaukee mayoral forum ahead of the February 15 primary on Saturday, January 29, at 9am. The next Milwaukee Mayor must be someone who works with the people of Milwaukee to make progress on racial justice, to address climate change and the energy burden put on communities of color, to ensure that everyone has access to a well paying job and the transportation to get to that job. Join the top Citizen Action candidates to hear their vision for the future of Milwaukee. Sign up here.
And a brief word about COVID-19 in our area. Cases continue to be quite high in Milwaukee County. According to the Department of Health Services, Milwaukee county ranked 4th in cases per 100,00 people and Ozaukee County ranked 15th. In both counties, transmission severity is high. Vaccinations with boosters continue to be the best way to avoid serious illness. And masking with a K95 or KN95 remains the best way to protect others, too.
The events list is strangely skinny this week. And that's probably because one of the calendars we use for tracking events has been recently changed and the old one is no longer being updated. But the new calendar is inaccessible, as far as I can tell. So there are undoubtedly events in the offing that I don't know about. I've alerted the relevant people and hope it will be fixed soon. Meanwhile, I hope you'll engage with the Fair Maps rallies in your area and will stay tuned to future Grassroots North Shore newsletters.
Wed Jan 19, 2022
Ozaukee County Dems Meeting, 7pm -7pm
The next regular monthly meeting of the Democratic Party of Ozaukee County will be Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually on Zoom.
Suspended: Southwest Region Dems Meeting, 7pm - 7pm
Southwest Dems (Region 5) cover Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Milwaukee (Southwest), West Allis, West Milwaukee. For information on when a meeting may be held check here or contact [email protected].
Sat Jan 22, 2022
Suspended: Community Brainstorming, 8am - 11am
Community Brainstorming Conference will suspend its monthly breakfast forums until further notice. More information.
Rally for Fair Maps, Milwaukee County, 12pm
Milwaukee County Courthouse, 930 W. Wells St, Milwaukee
You can sign up here.
Rally for Fair Maps, Ozaukee County, 12pm
Old County Courthouse, 109 W Main St., Port Washington
Use this link to sign up for the rally in Port Washington.
Thu Jan 27, 2022
Mental Health Board Meeting, 9am - 9am
This is a teleconference meeting (see Agenda for details). Public Comment: none. More information.
WISDON: Transformational Justice Campaign, 6:30pm - 8pm
Taking On Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin. Register here.
Mon Jan 24
MKE County Dems Meeting, 6pm - 7:30pm
The next Members Meeting, on Zoom, is rescheduled for Monday, January 24, at 6pm (to honor MLK Day). Due to the community spread of COVID-19, we will need to assess the situation month by month. When you RSVP, you will receive an email with the Zoom link in it.
Grassroots North Shore's Annual Meeting
On February 6 (7pm - 8:30pm), Grassroots North Shore will hold an informative virtual event — School Boards Under Attack — featuring Barbara Miner (Wisconsin-based Education Journalist) and Robert Peterson (Milwaukee Public Schools Board President.) Joining the featured speakers will be residents of communities that have recently succeeded in containing the siege on school board members and programs. Sign up and plan to attend!
Two school boards in Ozaukee County — Cedarburg School District and Mequon-Thiensville School District — are experiencing this kind of attack right now. Both will have will have primaries on February 15 and a general election on April 5. If you live in one of those school districts, it is especially important that you come to this event. AND YOU MUST VOTE. Actually, that goes for everyone this newsletter reaches. You can request absentee ballots (i.e., ballots to be mailed to you) for the whole year at myvote.wi.gov.
Before the start of the main program, the Annual Meeting will begin with a short presentation reviewing the work of the past year, outlining our plans for this year, and voting to affirm the selection of steering committee members for 2022. Anyone who has paid their membership dues in 2021 or 2022 can vote for the slate. If you have not yet become a member, now would be a perfect time. You can do it online or mail a check to Grassroots North Shore, 5600 W. Brown Deer Rd, Suite 116, Brown Deer, WI 53223. Memberships are $5 for students, $20 for an individual, and $30 for a family. Up your political game and become a member!
Wisconsin in the News
Senator Ron Johnson has at last announced that, despite his original vow to resign from the Senate after two terms, he's going to run for re-election this year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered Johnson's announcement, and also included brief responses from four key opponents. A lot of national media considered his announcement an important story too. NPR coverage is here. Here's the Washington Post's take. And here's the New York Times's piece. The last two of these outlets use their subheads to note that Johnson tells numerous lies about the 2020 election and covid. Meanwhile, Kathy Bernier, a Republican state senator who has "stood up to attacks on the 2020 election results from other Republicans", has announced that she will not run for re-election. Aside from Talking Points Memo the story was not generally picked up. News of the Big Lie and its impact is everywhere, but vocal opposition is not.
And you should take the time to read an Ezra Klein op-ed in the New York Times and a Greg Sargent post in the Washington Post, both about election strategies and both with quotations from Ben Wikler, Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
WISN is reporting that the positivity rate for Milwaukee County from December 31, 2021, to January 6, 2022 was 36.2% while in the city of Milwaukee, over approximately the same time period, it was 41.2%. These are extremely high percentages. And it means your chance of encountering an infectious person is also extremely high if you are out and about. The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, made the bad kind of news when she went on Good Morning America on Friday and "said that the majority of Omicron fatalities had occurred in people who already had other medical conditions at the same time — known as comorbidities" (Newsweek, Jan 10, 2022). She implied that those who have died were sick anyway, so.... Not what she meant, apparently, but that's the way it came across.
Spring 2022 Election Information
As we always do, Grassroots North Shore will provide you with the information you need about upcoming elections on our website. This year for the first time, we will be including links to candidate information — or at least such online information as we can find — for school board, municipal, and judicial elections in the North Shore and Ozaukee Counties. You will also find links to information about drop boxes (unless the GOP succeeds in outlawing them!) and in-person early voting. Many communities and school boards will not have primaries on February 15. The Cedarburg School District and the Mequon-Thiensville School District are the only two we currently know about. Information about what's at stake and who the candidates are (with links to the online information that's available) should be up by Monday, January 17.
You can request absentee ballots for the whole year by going to myvote.wi.gov. And you should. Do it now while the link is in front of you. Unless you've moved since you last voted, you should be registered to vote. But you can check that too when you're on the site. As we get closer to an election date, you can also see a sample ballot for your voting district.
Now that we're a few days into 2022, there's lots of stuff you should do. Not so much on the Events List, but in a group of urgent action items.
As we approach the anniversary of the attack on our Capitol, people all over the country are organizing remembrances and other activities. Here in Milwaukee, there are three January 6 events you could join:
- Defend Democracy voter registration drive from 10am — 1pm CST, starting from El Rey, 916 S Cesar E Chavez Dr, Milwaukee 53204.
- We the People candlelight vigil, 2:30 — 6pm CST at the Milwaukee Federal Building, 517 E Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee 53202.
- Textbanking with Field Team 6, a virtual event from 6pm - 7pm CST. To join this action, you will need to do some prep work first. So read the instructions before you join.
Contact Senator Johnson and Senator Baldwin to urge both of them to vote for the two voting rights acts pending in the Senate: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. If you've already done this, do it again. If you haven't, do it for the first time.
Send email to Assembly Speaker Vos and Senate President Kapenga to object to the Gableman sh*t-show: you know, the effort to "audit" the 2020 election in Wisconsin. You can download and send a drafted letter (feel free to edit) or you can concoct your own.
Contact Paul Geenen to work on Criminal Justice Reform and the new bill to set up a systematic data collection to help us better understand what needs to be done. Paul is arranging for a meeting with Senator Alberta Darling to discuss the recently drafted bill and to get Senator Darling's support. He's holding a preliminary meeting with participants on January 6 via Zoom at 12pm. The zoom link is https://us04web.zoom.us/j/79639787210?pwd=ejllSmFpd1I3TFNEOVQvd2V6RVJQdz09 Or you can use the Meeting ID (796 3978 7210) and passcode (A3Z7uR).
Catching Up with the News
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has declared that the US Senate will debate and vote on changes to the filibuster (mis)rule on Martin Luther King Day (January 17) so that voting rights legislation can pass with only 51 votes. He has not specified what his changes to the filibuster will entail, but a smart leader would not make such an announcement without some degree of certainty that he will have the necessary votes. Talking Points Memo has a good piece on this. As does the the Washington Post.
The Omicron variant apparently has an R0 number of 10! (The R0 number specifies how many people an infectious person is likely to spread the disease to.) To put that in perspective, here's a snippet from The Lancet, published December 17, 2021: "The original strain of SARS-CoV-2 has an R0 of 2·5, while the delta variant (B.1.617.2) has an R0 of just under 7. Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (London, UK), reckons omicron's R0 could be as high as 10." Although fully vaccinated and boosted individuals may experience breakthrough infections, they are less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID-19. Still, it's best not to get infected at all.
It's difficult to get up-to-date information about the spread of COVID-19 in our area and state, but on December 31, 2021, WKOW released some data from the state's Department of Health Services. And the picture is pretty grim. The DHS dashboard, with data up through January 2, 2022, shows the beginnings of a steep spike in cases and positive test results. You can see that high transmission is occurring throughout the state by looking at their map of Wisconsin. The DHS offers several ways of looking at the data — by county and census tract; by city, village and town; by school district; and by zip code tabulation area — though some of the breakdowns are not up-to-date. Only "58.2% of residents have completed the vaccine series." But it's not clear whether the statistic includes those who have received vaccines but not boosters.
Our electoral maps are in the news again. In case you missed it, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had an important piece on the state of play in the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday, January 3, 2022. The article looks at what the "least changes" decision the Court issued in November might mean. In particular, the map the GOP-dominated legislature adopted puts more Wisconsin voters into new Assembly districts — about 16% of voters. Governor Evers's map moves only about 14% of voters. So by this measure, the Governor's map should be preferred. Bottom line, though: "least change" is hard to define and the Wisconsin Supreme Court failed to do so in its November ruling.
And in a little bit of sports news: the Green Bay Packers clinched the #1 seed in the NFC. That means the team gets a bye (i.e., won't have to play on the first weekend of the playoffs) and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Packers fans already know that the team has not lost a home game this season. Go Pack Go!
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:
- Sheila Conley-Patterson, [email protected]
- Marina Dimitrijevic, [email protected]
- Bob Donovan, [email protected]
- Cavalier Johnson, [email protected]
- Earnell Lucas, [email protected]
- Nick McVey, [email protected]
- Michael Sampson, [email protected]
- Lena Taylor, https://www.golenataylor.com/
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.
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
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:
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
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