Thursday, November 29, 2007

EQUALITY WINS ROUND ONE - CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE TO MARRIAGE BAN WILL PROCEED

A constitutional challenge to last year’s marriage and civil unions ban can proceed - and that’s good news for those who support civil liberties and fairness, according to Fair Wisconsin. The group that advocates for full equality for all Wisconsinites hailed yesterday’s decision by Dane County Judge Rick Niess allowing the challenge to proceed.

“Yesterday’s ruling highlighted the need for voters to have confidence in the voting process,” noted Michele Perreault, attorney and Vice President of Fair Wisconsin. “Voting, as the bedrock of our democratic society, is to be protected above all. Based on this reasoning, Judge Niess allowed a challenge to the constitutional amendment banning marriage and civil unions to go forward. That’s good news for all families.”

The challenge is based on another provision in the Wisconsin Constitution which forbids “logrolling” in proposals to amend the Constitution. That is, any proposed amendment to the Constitution must be limited to a single subject so that voters can make separate decisions about each proposed change. The plaintiff in the case, married father of nine William McConkey, contends that the amendment violated the Constitution by offering two distinct questions. The amendment forbids same-sex couples from marrying, and also forbids the State from providing for a legal relationship identical to or substantially similar to that of marriage for all couples.

McConkey contends that the legislature violated the anti-logrolling provision. Polling in 2005 and 2006 showed that voters supported allowing same-sex couples similar legal protections as those provided by marriage, such as through Vermont-style civil unions, but felt marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. By placing both questions in one proposed amendment, voters were forced to vote the same way on both questions, even if given the choice they would have voted no on one question and yes on the other. Fair Wisconsin warned legislators about this violation before and during the campaign.

“Judge Niess was exactly right. All Wisconsin voters have a right to a procedurally legitimate referendum on a proposal to amend Wisconsin’s Constitution, and all voters are harmed by having a constitutionally defective question placed before them,” Perreault noted. “It’s clear there were two distinct questions on the ballot - and that is not constitutional.”

The next step is for Judge Niess to rule on whether the amendment adopted by the voters last year was in fact procedurally defective and therefore illegitimate. Fair Wisconsin is confident that when given a real choice, Wisconsin voters will vote for fairness for all Wisconsin citizens. For more information about Fair Wisconsin and its efforts to advance civil liberties, visit www.fairwisconsin.com.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Esslinger's itemized legal bill



The Chief inquired about Paul Esslinger's legal fees on his blog, suggesting the bill might eventually become public. Figuring sooner or later someone would inquire about it, I took the time to get it last week; here it is. I'd bet the Oshkosh Northwestern has a copy also. It's been enlarged on Blogger as much as it can be but, if you click on the document itself, it will automatically enlarge for you.

It seems to me we've started down a slippery slope by the insurance company paying this bill. But if, as has already been suggested by some of Esslinger's most ardent supporters, Bill Castle should be asked to reimburse the insurance company, then, silly as it seems, he should have the same representation. After all, as the Chief said, if Esslinger was doing his job, so was Castle. But of course, it doesn't make any sense for the insurance company to essentially go after itself.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are we going overboard with political correctness

I've thought for some time that there is a little too much political correctness in today's society - and in recent years a lot of it has surrounded even the most joyous time of year: Christmas. As if things hadn't been bad enough already, consider this story out of Australia, where Santa Clauses in Sydney are reportedly being asked to refrain from saying "Ho, ho, ho" because of its possible offensiveness to women and because it might frighten children. You've got to be kidding me!!! Enough is enough!!! Let's stop trying to protect everyone from everything and maybe people will enjoy life more and be less uptight about things.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Would universal health care lead to inferior care

The issue of a universal type of health care has not only been one of great discussion between political parties for the last several years, it is one of the themes of the current presidential campaign. There are almost as many opinions and political spins on the issue as there are candidates, with everyone seeming to make at least some valid points. According to this editorial by Truth Dig’s Eugene Robinson, not only are Rudy Giuliani’s figures about prostate cancer survival rates in the United States and Britain wildly misleading, he’s also wrong on his general point: that a single-payer system, of the kind that Republicans call “socialized” medicine, inevitably would deliver inferior care.

Controversy surrounding NCLB continues

Ever since its inception five years ago, the No Child Left Behind Act has been a source of controversy. That controversy continues today, but for a somewhat different reason. According to this Stateline.org article a new report suggests some states, including Wisconsin, are manipulating statistics to make their schools appear better than they really are. You can also read the report for yourself by going here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

REMINDER: WCDP Welcomes State Senator Kathleen Vinehout to Discuss "Healthy Wisconsin"

Oshkosh - Before their Nov 14th, 2008 meeting, the Winnebago County
Democratic Party will welcome State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, who will discuss the details and benefits of the Healthy Wisconsin plan to provide affordable, quality healthcare to all Wisconsin residents.

"Wisconsin will lead the nation in providing real health care reform. Healthy Wisconsin is an innovative solution that expands coverage while reducing costs," State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) has said about the plan. "Every man, woman and child who now lives in Wisconsin will have access to affordable health care."

"I am happy to bring Sen. Vinehout to Winnebago County," said WCDP Chair
Jef Hall. "I am excited to start the discussion about healthcare reform locally."

"It is the Democratic Party that is leading the healthcare discussion with real ideas. Sen. Vinehout is a great example of Democratic innovation for the benefit of all Wisconsin."

Healthy Wisconsin is a plan that will guarantee access to affordable, high-quality coverage through a provider of your choice to every resident of Wisconsin, except those covered by public programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Badgercare.

Healthy Wisconsin saves an estimated $1.76 billion a year by:

* cutting waste and streamlining administration
* lowering drug costs through bulk purchasing
* discouraging inappropriate use of the emergency room
* rewarding healthy lifestyles and preventive care
* closely coordinating care for the chronically ill,
* rewarding providers who deliver the most efficient and highest
quality care

Senator Vinehout's presentation will begin at 6:00PM, November 14th, 2007. The regular meeting of the WCDP will begin after the presentation.

The public is welcome to both the presentation and the monthly meeting.

All Winnebago County Democratic Party monthly meetings are held at the
Delta Family Restaurant - 515 N Sawyer St - Oshkosh, WI.

For more information, contact Jef Hall, Chair: 920.203.6883 or jef@jefhall.com.

Jef Hall
Chair, Winnebago County Democratic Party
2nd Vice Chair, Democratic Party of WI

224A Scott Ave
Oshkosh, WI 54901
920.203.6883

jef@jef4wi.com
www.winnebagodems.com
www.jef4wi.com

Authorized and paid for by the Winnebago County Democratic Party

Friday, November 09, 2007

Governor Doyle Signs Bills into Law to Support Wisconsin Veterans, Men and Women in Uniform

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today, prior to the observance of Veteran’s Day on Sunday, signed four bills into law to support veterans and our men and women in uniform.

“Wisconsin has the greatest package of benefits in the country supporting veterans and men and women in uniform, a fact that makes us all extremely proud,” Governor Doyle said. “Today, two days before Veteran’s Day, I am pleased to announce additional steps – a few small ways to show our gratitude to Wisconsin’s veterans and our men and women in uniform.“

The four bills provide greater flexibility in Wisconsin’s laws to veterans and our men and women in uniform. The bills provide better representation for veterans, allow service men and women to recreate more freely, and recognize their community service.

Assembly Bill 270 improves the Council on Veterans Programs by adding representatives from The Wisconsin Council of the Military Officers Association of America and The Retired Enlisted Association.

Governor Doyle thanked Representatives Terry Musser and Robert Turner, and Senators Jim Sullivan and Carol Roessler for their work on the bill.

Assembly Bill 130 allows nonresidents in the Wisconsin National Guard to obtain a hunting permit, giving them the same privileges as active military personnel stationed in the state.

Governor Doyle thanked Representative Mary Hubler and Senator Hansen for their work on the bill.

Assembly Bill 131 allows active U.S. armed forces service members from outside the state to obtain special hunting licenses when in Wisconsin on furlough or leave from active military duty.

Governor Doyle thanked Representatives Lee Nerison and Ann Hraychuck, and Senator Russ Decker for their work on the bill.

Assembly Bill 63 creates “Veteran Recognition Week.” This week will coincide with Veteran’s Day and acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of veterans.

Governor Doyle thanked Representatives Steve Wieckert and Robert Turner, and Senators Jeff Plale and Jim Sullivan for their work on the bill.

Governor Doyle Column: Honoring Our Troops this Memorial Day

This weekend, we celebrate Veterans Day and honor America’s veterans who have served with duty, loyalty, and selfless courage.

Veterans Day is a time to pay homage to the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our freedom. As we remember those who have fallen, we take time to honor those who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and military outposts around the world.

Over a half-a-million Wisconsin soldiers fought for our country. On Veterans Day we pay tribute to each and every one of them. Without their service and dedication, our state would not be the great place it is today.

Veterans are not only heroes because of what they do in the field, but they are also heroes because of who they are and what they do once they return home.

For instance, last month, Staff Sergeant Eugene Moran of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin was awarded the first-ever Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award by the Wisconsin Board of Veteran Affairs for not only his exemplarily service in WWII, but also for his outstanding contributions to the state of Wisconsin. Staff Sgt. Moran was seriously injured while on a bombing mission and taken as a prisoner of war. After he was liberated he went on to be awarded two Purple Hearts, the Air Medal with Gold Leaf Cluster, the European Theater Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. When he returned to the United States, he continued to serve Wisconsin by working with Veterans organizations, serving on the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, spending 20 years as Chief of the Soldiers Grove Volunteer Fire Department, 30 years as a fire warden and helping charter the Soldiers Grove Rescue Squad.

Staff Sgt. Moran exemplifies what the strong character and the attitude towards service that make our service men and women great. I am always humbled by the service and sacrifice of our veterans to ensure our American way of life. The veterans who have returned home – and those who will – have earned our deepest respect and most profound gratitude.

Just as our veterans have made sacrifices, the families of our service members have made sacrifices as well. When we honor veterans, it is only right that we thank their families and honor them for their sacrifices. These families also sacrifice and serve. Thank you for what you do for America by sharing the precious gift of your loved ones with our nation.

As Governor, I am committed to ensuring that the State of Wisconsin continues to honor its debt to each and every one of our veterans. We can never repay the debt we owe them and their loved ones. But in Wisconsin, we try.

The State of Wisconsin offers veterans the best package of veterans’ benefits and services in the country. From enhancing veterans’ education and employment opportunities to providing healthcare services not covered by the federal government, in Wisconsin, we make sure our veterans are taken care of.

As long as I’m Governor, we will continue to do just that. Last year, we made a promise to our veterans to fully fund the cost of their tuition. The budget I signed last month keeps that promise and makes sure we keep providing our veterans with the best services. We ask more of our soldiers than anyone else, and they deserve the best services and benefits that we can offer.

On behalf of the people of Wisconsin, I want to thank those who have served or are serving our country.

Council halts search for interim manager; will begin looking for permanent manager after referendum issue resolved

Following a special meeting of the Oshkosh Common Council this morning, the council decided on a 4-2 vote to halt its search for an interim city manager and, instead, switch to a search for a permanent person. But councilors also agreed to wait until after a government change referendum issue is resolved to begin that search.

I have read and understand both sides of the argument on whether this decision was the smartest or most ethical thing to do. But I also understand that since Richard Wollangk’s departure from city hall last month we have had three other retirements announced – one position which is vacant now, even though former city attorney Warren Kraft is technically still on the payroll until January, though not working – while the other two future retirees are still on the job. But it seems that, for a number of reasons, a city manager should have some say in shaping his staff, making the need for a permanent city manager search more important at this time than it was when the council first decided to seek an interim, then permanent manager.

I also understand the issue of ethics in this matter – that an interim position was advertised, candidates applied and finalists have been announced, making it important for the council to make good on its word and see that process through. But three of the five candidates are applying from out of state. It doesn’t make sense to think they would be willing to make such a relocation for a temporary position; and I suspect they may have hoped it would evolve into a permanent gig once here and they proved themselves. Another candidate, Doug Pearson, ironically – and coincidentally – announced his retirement from Chamco, effective September 2008, almost immediately after his name was announced as a finalist. He cited a desire to pursue other opportunities which have recently availed themselves to him. Might the possibility of a permanent position with the city be one of those “opportunities?” Or are there other opportunities altogether which would take him out of the running for the city manager’s slot?

Councilor Dennis McHugh said he believes the work the council did prior to the finalists being announced was “for naught.” Given the reasons stated above, I would think just the opposite. Just as these candidates were interested in a temporary position, I’d be willing to bet that most would be just as, if not more, interested in a permanent one. Granted, the criteria may be greater and, therefore, the finalists already named may not be what the council would be looking for on a permanent basis. But I would have hoped that even for an interim position, the council sought excellence and high standards in the applicants. If so, then the work already done was not done in vain.

Though opinion polls are unscientific, those who have responded to polls asking whether to abandon the search for an interim and move toward finding a permanent replacement in the city manager’s office have said that is the route to go.

Others, including councilor Paul Esslinger have expressed concerns over a heavy workload for an extended period of time for acting manager and the city’s personnel director, John Fitzpatrick. While that is a valid concern, Mayor Frank Tower has said they will have to do what’s necessary to spread his workload. Esslinger also cited a possible referendum and concerns about a permanent city manager search taking about three times as long as an interim city manager search. In its wisdom, the council has put the search on hold until the referendum issue is decided. In order for there to be a referendum question on ballot about the form of government, a minimum of 3,682 signatures would have to be gathered and filed with the city clerk’s office by Jan. 17. A citizen group will meet next Tuesday night at the Oshkosh Public Library to see about organizing such an effort.

And insofar as a search for a permanent manager taking three times as long as a search for an interim manager, one could easily take a more positive outlook and say “We only have to do most of the work and go through the hiring process once.”

Since the search for a permanent person isn't going to get underway for a minimum of two months, could the council have waited until Tuesday night's regular meeting to decide this issue? Certainly, but I doubt it would have changed the outcome of the vote. All things considered, it just seems that the move made by the majority of the council this morning (Esslinger and McHugh dissenting; Tony Palmeri could not make the meeting) is the smartest approach, given recent and ongoing developments in the city.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Akcess group faces delays in waterfront development

We read in this morning’s Oshkosh Northwestern that Akcess Acquisition Group and its partners have run into some rough water in their Waterfront office building development along the Fox River. Akcess vice president Tim Rikkers had previously said they hoped to break ground on the office complex and adjacent hotel project by October. Now we are told that he doesn’t have enough spaces leased to do so.

This is disappointing news, especially since Rikkers previously told the Oshkosh Common Council that he had tenants ready to sign: They were just waiting for the council’s approval on the project. Perhaps some signed after that approval was given, but clearly not enough have done so or we’d see ground being broken at the site. Rikkers was quoted by the newspaper as saying "It's very, very typical that this happens. Tenants do not have the same timeline as developers have. We're playing a waiting game because these are big companies we're talking to and they have protracted processes for leasing space." This is Rikkers’ business. Should he not have anticipated things like this happening? And if any others have already signed, why are their identities still being shielded from the public eye?

The other part of this project is the hotel/restaurant, scheduled to be operated by the Supple Restaurant Group. Because the developers want the office building and hotel to break ground within a week of each other, that groundbreaking has also been pushed back. Good thing, too, apparently, as, according to the Northwestern’s article, the group still has not chosen a hotel brand or restaurant to build on the site. Country Inn & Suites, Cambria Suites and another, unidentified brand have all expressed interest in the development.

So what would have happened to the groundbreaking for the hotel if there were enough tenants already in place for the office building? If no one yet knows what brand is going in there, it certainly doesn’t seem plausible that the groundbreaking would have occurred within a week of each other, does it?

As I’ve said before, I have confidence in the Supple group to successfully manage their end of this project once it gets going and I was, and still remain, a cheerleader for the entire concept. I also have appreciated the openness with which Rikkers has approached the project, sharing things with the media and citizens of this community – unlike the would-be developer of the defunct Five Rivers concept. Others have been much more doubting in their attitude and confidence toward the project has been lacking. We need to have a mixed use development along the riverfront and this still may be a worthwhile project. I only hope those who have been reluctant to wholeheartedly embrace it don’t get to say “We told you so.” I’m sure they’re already thinking it this morning.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Governor Doyle Announces $3.2 Million for Home Heating Emergency Assistance

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle announced today the release of $3.2 million of Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) crisis assistance funds to help low and fixed income households keep their homes warm this upcoming heating season.

“No family in Wisconsin should be forced to choose between food and heat this winter,” Governor Doyle said. “The increasing cost of fuels to heat homes continues to put more pressure on hard working families and their ability to make ends meet. I am pleased that we can make these additional funds available to families who may be faced with a crisis in heating their homes.”

These funds will be used to assist low-income households facing out of fuel emergencies, prevent disconnections from their utilities, help to pay their winter heating bills, and respond to other similar crisis situations. The funds will be directed to county social services departments, tribal agencies and community agencies that administer energy assistance benefits under the direction of the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services.

Reports show that oil prices recently topped $80 a barrel and the price of heating oil is projected to exceed $3 per gallon this winter. A 250-gallon tank of heating oil lasts for approximately four to six weeks when temperatures are freezing and costs about $600 to fill.

Households eligible for energy assistance may receive payments under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the state public benefits program. Payments depend upon household size, income level, and home energy costs. Wisconsin’s Home Energy Assistance Program helps households with income below 150 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,975 a year for a family of four) pay for home energy costs.

To receive more information about applying for home energy assistance please call 1-800-522-3014.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

After 115 day impasse, Nelson & Hintz Push Comprehensive Budget Reform package

For Immediate Release: November 2, 2007
Contact:
Rep. Tom Nelson
(608) 266-2418 (office) (608) 266-2254 (o)
Rep. Gordon Hintz
(920) 475-6221 (cell) (920) 279-1870 (c)


Budget Impasse Highlights Need for Reform

After 115 day impasse, Nelson & Hintz Push Comprehensive Budget Reform Package


MADISON – One week after Governor Doyle signed the 2007-09 State Budget, Rep. Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna) and Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) proposed a comprehensive budget reform package today (Nov.2) to address the broken budget-writing process.

Because of the impasse, 6,000 students did not receive financial aid, school districts and local government were unable to write budgets, 800 public employees were scheduled to be furloughed and critical road and bridge projects were delayed.

“It is important that we don’t wait until the next budget to reform what is wrong with our current budget process today. Now that we have a budget, it is time to fix the systematic flaws in our process and restore the public’s confidence in state government and their legislative leaders,” said Hintz.

“Instead of reforming the broken budget process, the Republican Assembly has scheduled votes on heated sidewalks and neighborhood electric vehicles,” Nelson said. “We should not delay reform like we delayed the budget. Budget reform must be a priority.”

Nelson and Hintz will propose a comprehensive reform package that achieves these objectives:

· Anyone seeking state office and has filed the appropriate papers with the Elections Board may not fundraise during the budget-writing process.


· Compel the attendance of budget conference committee members as outlined in AB551.


· Withhold legislator pay after August 1 if a budget has not passed.


“It’s important that budget reform measures encourage legislators to work and reach agreement, do not penalize citizens or state employees during an impasse, and restore the public’s trust in decision-making,” said Hintz.

“Comprehensive reform can only succeed if all three measures are adopted. Like a three-legged stool, if one leg is removed the stool cannot stand,” Nelson said. “Together, these three measures will force legislators to do their job and remove any incentive to delay passing a budget.”

Oshkosh Wisconsin Way meeting set for Tuesday

For a public conversation about lowering education and public service. Hear as many wisconsin voices as we can, including yours. When: What: constructive, solution-oriented conversation about what we can do to make quality of public services that have made Wisconsin a special place to live and work. Who: ® Association, Register today: property taxes and ensuring excellence in We’re looking for opinions, ideas and answers and want to www.wisconsinway.org Please join us! Where: Park Plaza Conference Center and Hotel One North Main Street, Oshkosh 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., Tues., November 6, 2007 Supporters of the Wisconsin Way will help organize and facilitate a series of public gatherings around the state in an effort to engage Wisconsin citizens in a Wisconsin taxes fairer and reduce the property tax burden without sacrificing the The Wisconsin Way is supported by a growing coalition of Wisconsin organizations and individuals. The effort is funded by the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin REALTORSWisconsin Transportation Builders Association and Wood Communications Group. To make our voices heard in Madison, your participation is crucial. Please register with your community team leader or sign up online at www.wisconsinway.org.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Former mayor Castle accused, but Esslinger cleared of criminal wrongdoing

The Oshkosh Northwestern reported last night and today that this past spring former mayor Bill Castle filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office, basically alleging criminal wrongdoing on the part of councilman Paul Esslinger. That complaint was then referred to the state Attorney General’s office by the DA’s office.

Castle’s complaint came after Esslinger made remarks during a closed session meeting with then city manager Richard Wollangk that essentially said if he didn’t fire community development director Jackson Kinney, Esslinger would vote to fire Wollangk.

You can read the entire report and results of the Justice Department’s investigation by going here , but this entire situation raises a few of questions.

First, did Castle go too far in filing a complaint with the DA’s office when he could have first consulted with the city attorney as to whether Esslinger broke the law? (Esslinger told the council that he’d already talked with then city attorney Warren Kraft about whether he could make such comments to Wollangk and was told they would not be illegal, though Kraft apparently did question their appropriateness). And shouldn’t Wollangk have been the one to file a complaint if he felt he’d been “blackmailed,” “extorted,” or in some other way aggrieved?

Finally, should either Castle or the taxpayers pay for Esslinger’s $1,715 in attorney fees as a result of the investigation?

If Castle never bothered asking Kraft his opinion on Esslinger’s remarks or didn’t cared enough to learn if Esslinger had consulted with the city attorney or district attorney before making his comments, then I believe Castle went too far. Do I believe Castle or the taxpayers should foot the bill for Esslinger’s attorney’s fees? No, not as it stands.

If, for example, the Justice Department had said Castle’s complaint was completely frivolous, then perhaps Castle should pay Esslinger’s attorney’s fees. But they didn’t say that. Moreover, in a general sense, if a prevailing party in any action has the right to be recompensed for their legal defense by someone who sues or files a complaint against them and subsequently loses, I think we’ll see a lot of people who are afraid to file complaints. That may just encourage more inappropriate or illegal behavior on the part of some people. I can certainly see putting an end to frivolous lawsuits by enacting such a measure, but again, this particular situation was not called frivolous. And I certainly don’t believe the taxpayers should be responsible for footing this bill. That would be setting a bad precedent.

One also has to wonder why Esslinger hired an attorney so quickly. Just as Castle may have over-reacted, so may have Esslinger. After all, all the Justice Department was doing was asking questions. And if Esslinger was so convinced he had the law on his side and had done nothing wrong, why rush to hire an attorney? Elected officials frequently have complaints filed against them for a variety of reasons. Do they all rush to hire an attorney to represent them as soon as they learn an investigation is taking place? I suppose it depends on the seriousness or nature of the complaint. But in this case, since Esslinger was so convinced he had done nothing wrong or illegal, a more appropriate time for him to hire an attorney may have been if, and when, charges had been filed.

At any rate, he hired one during the investigative process and now wants someone else to pay those legal fees. Castle has ignored Esslinger’s written request for payment, so Esslinger has turned them over to the city for payment. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.