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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 30

State court got it wrong; public has right to videos

Overturning two lower court rulings, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck a blow Wednesday for government secrecy. The court’s 5-2 decision in the case involving state Attorney General Brad Schimel was mistaken – twice – and came from the same swamp that produced state GOP legislators’ efforts in 2015 to draw curtains on government transparency.

First, it was mistaken because the public should have access to the training videos Schimel was keeping under wraps. Schimel made the videos for the Department of Justice when he was Waukesha County district attorney. The Democratic Party filed suit to see whether Schimel had made any questionable comments. He hadn’t, according to the lower court judges. But those judges also ruled that the public nevertheless should have access to the videos because there was nothing in them that wasn’t otherwise known and the public had a right to see what the government did to protect children from predators.

The second mistake came when Justice Rebecca Bradley, writing for the majority, ascribed a “partisan purpose” to the Democratic Party in seeking release of the videos. Of course the Dems had a partisan purpose. So what? The motive of those seeking to open government records is never the question; the only question is whether the records legitimately belong to the public. Would those justices deny records to the Republican Party if it sought records from Democrats or a Democratic administration?

Who asks for a record and the motive for asking for that record are not legitimate questions under the state’s open records law. Nor should they be. The courts must consider all such requests objectively and equally; it must not deny them to certain groups because they may be partisan or for any other motive. Doing so makes a mockery of the state’s laws.

The court also bought Schimel’s argument that the videos should be kept hidden to protect law enforcement techniques and prevent victims from being re-traumatized by the release of information about what they went through. We understand Schimel’s point, and we don’t think he’s trying to hide something nefarious.

But two lower courts had decided that the videos did not reveal any particularly sensitive law enforcement techniques. And prior court decisions have recognized that the public has a right to records that reveal how law enforcement is performing.

In her dissent, Justice Shirley Abrahamson contended the majority went too far in keeping the two Department of Justice videos from the public.

“Today, the majority opinion significantly dims the lights on transparency in government and shuts off some lights by concluding that the Department of Justice may withhold both of the videos in their entirety,” she wrote.

Abrahamson got it right. The majority got it wrong, and sent a disturbing message about this court’s commitment to protecting the public’s right to know how its officials conduct their business.


The Journal Times of Racine, Jan. 2

UW course examining racism worthwhile

State Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, is the latest in a line of state legislators to get his tighty whities in a bundle over a class going on over at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Murphy, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, is appalled that the UW-Madison is offering a course next semester called The Problem of Whiteness.

Murphy called the class “garbage” and alleged that its underlying premise was “that white people are racist.”

Murphy, who told The Washington Post that he supports academic freedom and free speech, has also said the professor who is to teach the class, Damon Sajnani, should be fired and that either the UW should drop the class or the Legislature should reduce its funding.

That’s not exactly how we would define supporting academic freedom. It comes a lot closer, in our view, to supporting state-mandated censorship.

Professor Sajnani, who is a doctoral candidate in Northwestern University’s African American studies department, has published papers on the former president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, who was outed as not being black, and has written about Canadian abolition and East African hip-hop, according to news reports.

The course description for The Problem of Whiteness says the course will explore “how race is experienced by white people” and will also examine how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.”

Murphy suggests the class is teaching racism, but that’s not how the university sees it.

The UW is standing by the course, saying in a statement “we believe this course, which is one of thousands offered at our university, will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues. The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds.”

That kind of discussion and thoughtful study is probably not a bad idea, given our country’s history of racial difficulties – from the days of slavery to the civil rights movement to recent turmoil over shooting of young black men by police officers in several cities.

Discussion and study can lead to understanding and, perhaps, solutions. That’s highly appropriate for a university to do.

That may be especially true on the UW-Madison campus, where the student body is 75 percent white and only 2 percent black; a campus that has had a spate of racial incidents in the past year; a campus that just had a highly publicized incident at its football stadium when a fan wore a Halloween costume featuring a noose around the neck of President Barack Obama.

Those issues need examination, and a course examining the roots of racism is a step toward finding resolution. Legislative censorship of such classes is not the answer. We would urge Rep. Murphy to reconsider.


Beloit Daily News, Dec. 31

Another reason to assert control

It took a while – about six years – but the predictable outcome finally arrived for Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

In addition to his political background, Gottlieb was a civil engineer – credible credentials for the person in charge of state transportation issues. Perhaps, too credible.

As transportation point man Gottlieb made a habit of getting crossways with Gov. Scott Walker. There hasn’t been enough money coming in – fewer miles driven, more efficient automobiles – to meet the state’s needs, but Walker was on record opposing any increased taxes. Twice, he asked Gottlieb to come up with a plan to fund transportation. Twice, Gottlieb came back with the truth – the only way to bring the books closer in balance was to find new revenue, such as higher gas taxes and higher vehicle registration fees. Without even a debate, Walker tossed Gottlieb’s responses in the round file and instead relied on borrowed money and delayed projects.

The issue appears to be coming to a head. Republican legislators, particularly Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, are not following the governor’s lead anymore. Instead, there’s a strong movement to find sustainable funding mechanisms so Wisconsin roads and bridges can be properly maintained and projects can be completed on schedule. And legislators seem unwilling to spend 25 cents of every transportation dollar to service rising debt.

Just days ago Gottlieb faced questions from a legislative committee. Pressed for answers Gottlieb acknowledged that Wisconsin roads will continue to crumble and deteriorate under the governor’s plan.

And now he’s out. No doubt, in the customary parlance of such moments, to spend more time with his family.

In his place is Dave Ross, currently serving as safety and professional services secretary under Walker. So, what does that department do that might qualify an individual for leadership in transportation? It grants such things as licenses for beauticians, and boxers, dentists and doctors along with keeping an eye on folks like electricians and plumbers.

As for Ross, he was self-employed in the upholstery business for 20 years and served two terms as mayor of Superior. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UW-Superior. He’s a past director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and served on the Superior Chamber of Commerce board.

Not exactly a civil engineer.

He hasn’t found ways to embarrass the boss, though, like Gottlieb did by committing a cardinal sin of politics – telling it straight.

Let’s repeat what we’ve said before. Legislators must take the lead on transportation issues. There’s no other way because the governor – likely with an eye toward higher office – will not countenance a pragmatic decision on sustainable funding.

Certainly at first glance, it appears Gottlieb’s exit signals no room for compromise within the administration.

Legislative leaders like Vos should take that at face value, and react accordingly by proceeding to craft and pass their own plan.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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