Category: News Blog

Redistricting in Wisconsin: Where we’re at

An end-around the governor? A recall of state Supreme Court justices? How far will the parties go to defend, or break, Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts?

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The Biggest Donors to Wisconsin Political Parties in 2018

The matriarch of the Chicago Cubs-owning family, an heir to the Schlitz Beer fortune, and the richest self-made woman in the U.S., to name just a few

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Toll the FIBs?

To repair our shoddy roads, why not tax Illinois tourists on the way in?

Here’s why not.


If you’re a Wisconsin resident, you know all about the honking migration that happens every summer. Not the Flying Vs of Canada Geese flapping through our state to return home, but the fleets of SUVs bearing Illinois license plates that come to camp in our parks, splash in our lakes and drive like the FIBs that they are.

Why doesn’t the state of Wisconsin put a toll booth RIGHT on the border and soak those southerners for a buck each time they cross the line? Let THEM pay for our crumbling roads. They use them enough.

For one, a border toll might be unconstitutional. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Before our nation created and adopted the Constitution, the states were fighting trade wars with each other.

Chad Oldfather, professor and associate dean at Marquette University Law School

Many Wisconsinites probably would like to do the same and charge a FIB tax, nailing every vehicle without a Wisconsin license plate with a toll. But that is “almost certain to be unconstitutional,” Chad Oldfather, a constitutional law professor and associate dean at the Marquette University Law School, wrote to The Badger Project in an email.

“States cannot pass laws that expressly discriminate against out-of-state commerce unless they’ve got a really good reason for doing so and can show that there’s no other way to act on that reason,” he said.

For example, Wisconsin could potentially ban firewood from other states based on concerns it might bring with it a devastating pest like the ash borer, Oldfather said.

But Wisconsin could not honestly say there was no other way to pay for our roads other than to toll out-of-staters. We could put tolls well-within our border, raise the gas tax, etc.

“Any sort of tolling regime that relies entirely or even disproportionately on tolls at or near the state’s borders is highly likely to be unconstitutional,” Oldfather said, “because it will be a regime that imposes its burdens primarily on interstate as opposed to in-state commerce.”

Also, a toll on the two interstates which cross from Illinois into Wisconsin might just divert traffic from those routes onto the many other roads which cross the border, said Lingqian Hu, a professor and chair at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Lingqian Hu, professor and chair at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning

And Hu noted it would cost a lot of cash to set up the tolling system. That kind of investment doesn’t make much long-term sense for the state. The I-PASS technology that scans a device as you pass through a reader on the highway will likely be replaced by a device that counts all your mileage via GPS, according to former Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb. He argued for an increased gas tax over tolls in an informative 2018 piece from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

To further his point, Gottlieb also notes in the piece that the cost to collect taxes on gas is about 1% of total revenue received, while the cost of building and operating a tolling system costs about 23% of total revenue received.

In 2017, the paper reported that then-Gov. Walker was open to the idea of putting a toll booth on the Illinois border. Of course, Scotty knew he was facing a tough reelection in 2018, and needed to be seen as doing something about the poor condition of Wisconsin roads, but didn’t want to annoy voters with a new tax.

It didn’t go anywhere, but it was, in a way, smart politics. An October 2018 poll from the Marquette Law School found that 59 percent of Wisconsin residents say it is more important to keep gas taxes and vehicle registration fees where they are now than raise taxes for road improvements, discouraging vote-hungry politicians from doing so.

This despite the fact that among all 50 states, Wisconsin’s road quality ranked 44th in the country, according to a 2018 U.S. News ranking.

Ultimately, increasing the gas tax probably makes more sense than setting up a tolling infrastructure, even if they were constitutionally-spread throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Unable to launch a trade war against their neighbors to the south, Sconnies will have to get their kicks in through the state’s sports teams’ general dominance over those in the Land of Lincoln.

Number of seats up for election: 116. Number of incumbents who lost: 1*.

State Sen. Caleb Frostman (D-Sturgeon Bay)


ust one.

That’s how many incumbents, from 116 seats up for reelection, lost in the Wisconsin State Legislature earlier this month.

And even that hardly counts. That lone incumbent, Democrat state Sen. Caleb Frostman of Sturgeon Bay (who has a great name for a politician from the Great White North), will only hold the seat in the traditionally-Republican state Senate 1st District, the thumb of Wisconsin, for about six months after winning it in a special election in June.

Of those 116 seats up for reelection (some of the 116 incumbents did not run again), 37 didn’t even face a challenger in the general election. A legislator makes $50,000-a-year and is considered part-time.

Not exactly competitive elections.

Despite winning all five statewide races – U.S. senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer – Democrats lost a seat in the state Senate, growing the Republican majority to 19-13. Republicans appear to have lost a seat in their huge Assembly majority, dropping that split to 63-36.

The gerrymandered maps also help Democrat incumbents stay in power. Of the 11 Democrats representing Milwaukee in the Assembly, only three faced a general election opponent, whom they all easily crushed. In Madison, none of the five Assembly Democrats faced a general election opponent.

But the net effect appears to help Republicans hold the legislature in a great election year for Democrats.

Critics say the Wisconsin legislative district maps, drawn by Republicans in 2011, help Republicans, but also protect incumbents from the will of the voters by making districts less competitive.

“In a democracy, citizens are supposed to choose their legislators,” University of Wisconsin law professor Bill Whitford said in 2016 to the alumni magazine of the law school. “In Wisconsin, legislators have chosen their voters.”

Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Burlington, disagrees. He told the Wisconsin State Journal last week that gerrymandering in Wisconsin is a “made-up issue,” pointing to how well Democrats did in Madison and Milwaukee while losing most of the rest of the state. Vos also reportedly cursed at Ohio Gov. John Kasich last year for supporting a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the maps in Wisconsin.

Whitford and others filed suit against the Republican-drawn district maps, saying the state of Wisconsin is unconstitutionally gerrymandered. A federal court in Wisconsin agreed.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court threw it back to the lower court on a technicality, but the case might not matter anymore.

The election of Tony Evers to governor of Wisconsin means he will be able to veto any maps the Republican-controlled legislature produces. Then it will go to the courts for drawing. That should give the state of Wisconsin a more competitive map.

The Moderation Political Party of One


In this time of nasty partisanship, the candidate from The Moderation Party is realistic about his chances of winning a seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly next month.

“Very slim,” said Steven Shevey, a 21-year-old steamfitter from Brookfield. “If I do win, great, but the one thing I want out of this is to get someone better.”

Shevey was inspired to run under the banner of his invented political party after getting fed up with the two-party system during the 2016 presidential election.

“You had two candidates no one liked,” he said. “After that, we had two government shutdowns that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. And then seeing the direction of everything and how it’s going, you have the two parties trying to outdo themselves. As in, ‘I’m a Republican, I’m going as far right as I can because I don’t want to be next to you Democrats.’ And the Democrats do the same. We need to find the middle.”

An usually crowded field is jostling for the open seat in Assembly District 14, which covers portions of the Republican-leaning towns of Brookfield and Wauwatosa, as well as part of blue Milwaukee. Four candidates are running to replace outgoing Republican Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga: Wisconsin State Treasurer and Republican Matt Adamczyk, Democrat Robyn Vining, Libertarian Rick Braun, and the independent Shevey.

During a recent interview in downtown Madison, he described himself as a family-oriented, working-class guy who likes to go fishing and keep up on the Packers. He has a “huge Christian background” and said he goes to church with his parents every Sunday.

A graduate of Brookfield Central High School, he briefly pursued an associate’s degree in accounting from Waukesha County Technical College, but dropped out to become a steamfitter’s apprentice.

Now he’s feeling squeezed financially.   

“I’m trying to buy a house soon,” he says. “I’ve seen how the cost has skyrocketed to where you can’t really afford a house. You’re kind of forced to rent. It’s basically done a 180 from when my parents could get out of high school and get a good-paying job.”

“Nowadays, you can’t get a good-paying job unless you go to a four-year college or something like that,” he continued. “So, you’re kind of stuck at your parent’s house for a long time.”

When it comes to politics, he tends to lean to the right, but prefers middle-of-the-road over the extremes he sees today. He’s critical of both Obamacare and Trump’s tax plan, and he’s also turned off by the generally ugly tone of today’s political discourse. Shevey believes voters are ready for a younger candidate with an independent voice — someone who won’t engage in tribalism and personal attacks.

Enter his main opponent, Adamczyk. The outgoing state treasurer and likely favorite in the red 14th District fits the increasingly common mold of a brash and uncompromising politician.

 Matt Adamczyk, the Wisconsin State Treasurer who is also seeking the Assembly seat in the 14th District
Matt Adamczyk, the Wisconsin State Treasurer who is also seeking the Assembly seat in the 14th District

Secretary of State Doug La Follete, a Democrat, and Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is from his own Republican Party, have both accused him of abusive behavior toward the state employees they oversee. The three elected officials sit on the State of Wisconsin Board of Commissioners and Public Lands, whose nine-employee agency manages a billion-dollar fund and caretakes some 80,000 acres of state land.

Adamczyk had previously voted to prevent staff from discussing climate change on the job, and also tried to have the administrator fired. She eventually resigned.

Most recently, Adamczyk butted heads with Schimel and La Follette during an August meeting.

After Adamczyk questioned the credentials of agency staff and suggested they didn’t have professional backgrounds, he interrupted repeatedly as a staff member attempted to explain his work experience. That prompted Schimel to say, “just shut it for a minute,” calling him “abusive and unreasonable” to staff, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Matt, I gotta tell ya, I’m counting the days ‘til you’re not on this board,” Schimel told Adamczyk in the meeting. “I’ve had enough.

Adamczyk did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The contrast between Shevey and Adamczyk is representative of the statewide shift away from relatively moderate and civil politics. Wisconsin has morphed from the moderate-to-progressive Midwestern state it had been for decades, said Joe Czarnezki, a former state assemblyman, senator and Milwaukee County Clerk. A lifelong Democrat, he said personal attacks were rare when he served as an elected representative in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and across-the-aisle collaborations were much more common.

“You would argue about the issues,” he said, “and go get a beer together afterward.”

In recent years though, partisanship in state politics has become much more overt, said Larry Anderson, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater.

“I’m left with the impression that it’s not as clean as it used to be,” he said. “It’s hyperpartisan now, reflecting the divisions in the United States, and it seems like nobody is happy.”

Yet Anderson disagrees with Czarnezki, saying the process of political polarization began long ago, well before the famously divisive 2012 recall election of Gov. Scott Walker. He referred to a political saying dating back to 1895 – “politics ain’t bean-bag.”

“It’s always been nasty,” he said.

The rise of social media has played a role, Anderson said. He also cited globalization, immigration and the changing economy as the primary forces behind the decline of civil politics.

But, he emphasized, it all starts and ends with us.

“We get what we ask for,” Anderson said. “If we start asking for more decency and more cooperation, I think we get that.”

“I don’t think Scott Walker or Donald Trump have done anything other than what some people want them to do,” he continued. “On the other side, I don’t think Democrats have done anything other than fight hard and take what they can, when they can. I think that’s what we’re asking for, so if we want things to change, we have to be really clear about expecting our politicians to be more decent.”

From Czarnezki’s viewpoint, the polarization of Wisconsin’s politics is a reflection of “voters losing control of democracy.” Big money talks in a big way, he said, often influencing politicians to act against the majority’s will.

Shevey said he isn’t accepting donations, noting he doesn’t want to owe anyone on the off-chance he’s elected. He’s self-funding his campaign through his work earnings, reporting about $2,700 in contributions from himself. His opponents certainly are taking donations though. Adamczyk has raised nearly $37,000, but has been outraised by Vining, his Democratic challenger, by nearly $6,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings on The Libertarian Braun has raised $755.

Czarnezki also noted that thousands of Wisconsin voters were essentially barred from participating in the 2016 presidential election thanks to the state’s strict voter ID law, pointing to findings from a study at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

However, Czarnezki is encouraged by the surge in young, first-time candidates running for office throughout the country. Shevey’s politically-moderate campaign and others like it may cause his Democratic and Republican counterparts to “modify their positions on issues and soften their hardline stances,” Czarnezki said.

Shevey believes voters are tired of lifelong politicians who are more interested in career preservation than serving the public. And so he views youth and relative political inexperience not as a hindrance, but an advantage.

“I think that makes the best candidates,” he said.

No academic degree fraud found in Wisconsin Legislature …but we couldn’t check everybody


Lying about receiving a degree you never earned is pretty easy. For the most part, so is verifying it.

In a 2015 survey of employers by the company CareerBuilder, 28 percent reported having caught a job seeker lying about an academic degree on their resume.

Some politicians aren’t above exaggerating or outright lying about earning academic degrees.

A state senator in Iowa, Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, made national news last year when he was caught claiming he had earned a business degree, but in fact had completed only a training certificate from a California company that ran a Sizzler.

By contacting universities and academic institutions, we attempted to verify the educational claims made by more than 100 Wisconsin state legislators, to see if anyone in our own legislature was fiddling with the truth.

In perhaps a positive and surprising outcome for such cynical times, nearly everyone checked out.

The highest number of degrees in the legislature come, unsurprisingly, from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, with 35. At least 12 have degrees from the UW – Milwaukee, and ten have degrees from Marquette University

Most of the UW system is represented, as well as Big Ten schools like Michigan State (Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah – B.S., 1980 and M.S., 1982), Iowa (Rep. Patrick J. Snyder, R-Schofield – B.A., 1978), and the University of Minnesota (several).

Other big schools that educated our elected officials include the University of Southern California (Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha – M.P.A., 1992) and the University of Florida (Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake – J.D., 2004). Academic powerhouses like the University of Chicago (Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee – B.A., 2009) and the University of Pennsylvania (Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison – B.A., 1990) are also represented.

However, some schools have outsourced their degree verification to a third-party company, which places a hurdle in front of those trying to verify degrees with a $15 fee. In a counter productive strategy, others flat out refuse to verify degrees without consent from the person claiming to have earned it, essentially preventing liars from being outed.

The following schools refused to verify degrees and directed us to that third-party company or refused us altogether.

Carroll University, Waukesha, WI (Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, claims B.A., 2008)

Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, WI (Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, claims degree in construction management, 1997)

State University College of New York at Buffalo (Rep. Thomas Weatherston, R-Caledonia, claims B.S., 1977)

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