AP NEWS

Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

November 18, 2019

The Capital Times, Madison, Nov. 13

Scott Fitzgerald is a gun-industry stooge who refuses to govern

Members of Mothers Against Gun Violence, March for Our Lives and other groups rallied outside the Wisconsin Capitol last week in support of Gov. Tony Evers’ modest proposals to address gun violence. It was cold. But the crowd was enthusiastic about delivering the message that it is time for state legislators to respond to the will of the people.

They explained that:

THE TIME WAS RIGHT TO ACT: Following the August mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which left 31 people dead in one weekend, Evers proposed a pair of sensible moves: a bill to require background checks for gun purchases and a bill to establish a “red-flag law” to take allow a judge to temporarily order persons who have been deemed dangerous (as a suicide risk or a threat to others) to surrender their guns.

THE FORUM WAS APPROPRIATE: Evers called a special session of the Legislature so that the state Assembly and Senate could engage in a serious debate about the proposals. Instead of attempting to use budget deliberations to address a contentious issue — as often happens — the governor gave legislators an opportunity to focus on the gun debate in a way that might promote honest dialogue and negotiations. Evers is not naive. He knows that getting people who disagree talking with one another is hard. But he also knows that a special session is the right vehicle for addressing big issues and doing the heavy lifting of governing,

THE PROPOSALS REPRESENTED THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE: Pointing to a recent Marquette Law School Poll that showed 80% of Wisconsinites support expanded background checks — and that almost 70% of gun owners are on board for the proposal — those who rallied outside the Capitol referred to themselves as the 80 Percent Coalition. Actually, they could have called it the 81 Percent Coalition, because that’s the level of support the Marquette survey found for the “red-flag” measure. “These are not partisan issues,” explained Attorney General Josh Kaul. “They are common-sense public safety issues. They are issues supported by a majority of Democrats, they’re supported by a majority of Republicans, they’re supported by a majority of gun owners.” That was the plain and simple truth. No honest Wisconsinite questioned the popularity of the legislation Evers had proposed.

Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is not an honest Wisconsinite. Fitzgerald is a gun-industry stooge who refuses to govern. Though Evers had called for a special session that was to begin at 2 p.m. Thursday, Fitzgerald waited until after nightfall, when there were no other legislators in the Senate chamber, to bring the special session to order. Then, seconds later, Fitzgerald adjourned it.

That’s right.

No deliberations.

No debate.

No votes on the proposals.

Fitzgerald just shut it down.

It was a stunning display of arrogance by a majority leader who has no respect for his position, for the Legislature or for the overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites. He had the audacity to announce that the bills did not “make sense to Republican legislators.” And to say that “there’s no momentum for them.”

Far be it from us to suggest that the members of Fitzgerald’s caucus are the brightest bulbs in the Capitol. But we think the bills made sense — even to Republican legislators. And we know, from the polls, from the crowds, from the fact that Evers and Kaul just beat a governor and an attorney general who opposed action to address gun violence, that there was momentum for them.

Fitzgerald was lying to himself, to the Legislature and to the people of Wisconsin.

Who was he lying on behalf? Not gun owners. Not Republicans. Not the vast majority of voters. No, he was lying on behalf of the gun industry, which profits from the unregulated and irresponsible trafficking in deadly weapons.

Presumably, Fitzgerald imagines that if he lies enough, cheats enough and denies the will of the people enough, the gun industry will see him as sufficiently disreputable to earn the industry’s support for his bid to win the 5th Congressional District seat, which he is competing for in 2020. We understand what motivates him.

Hopefully, Fitzgerald’s political machinations will convince the voters of the 5th District to reject him as the charlatan that he is.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, Nov. 18

Justice for Peggy Lynn Johnson

It began with the discovery of a young woman’s body in a Town of Raymond cornfield on July 21, 1999. To the Racine County Sheriff’s Office investigators who investigated her death, and to the members of the community who attended her funeral later that year, she was known only as Jane Doe, the standard name given to girls and women whose remains cannot be immediately identified.

The investigators knew immediately that Jane Doe had been physically assaulted and could tell she was malnourished. They could tell that her case was a homicide.

A line of sheriffs and their subordinates were determined to bring Jane Doe’s killer or killers to justice, but also to determine her real name, to give closure to those who knew her and loved her. Her case was cold, but it remained open.

That determination, over more than 20 years, was rewarded on Nov. 8 when Sheriff Christopher Schmaling announced that Jane Doe was in fact Peggy Lynn Johnson, and that an arrest had been made in Johnson’s death.

Periodically over the past 20 years, The Journal Times reported on the continued efforts of the sheriff’s investigators — overseen first by Sheriff William McReynolds, then by his successor Robert Carlson, then by Schmaling — to identify Jane Doe. Their frustration was evident, but so was their dedication.

Eileen Reilly, who was the Sheriff’s Office’s first female deputy, was one of the leads in the cold case investigation until she retired in 2008.

“I feel like I failed her, that I didn’t get her identified,” Reilly said in 2011.

After Reilly, the case was passed to investigators Cary Madrigal and Tom Knaus, and also Tracy Hintz. In 2011, Madrigal said: “This is the case that burns in all of our minds, because she’s not identified ... at the bare minimum, we want to identify her.”

Knaus thought he might have solved the case in 2011 when he came across the story of a teenager whose description matched the Jane Doe who had gone missing from her adoptive parents’ home. But DNA testing confirmed that the missing person was not Racine County’s Jane Doe.

Johnson’s body was exhumed and analyzed in 2013, but no DNA matches were found. In September of this year, a tip enabled Schmaling’s investigators to track down Johnson’s family and obtain a DNA match, then enabled them to make the arrest of the suspect, Linda La Roche.

“Twenty years is a long time for an innocent victim to be nameless to the world,” Schmaling said. “Peggy Lynn Johnson can now rest in peace with her killer behind bars. Justice will finally be served.”

The sheriffs and their deputies remained true to one of the most important law enforcement principles: They spoke for someone who could no longer speak for herself.

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Kenosha News, Nov. 18

Evers’ staff’s song and dance over emails

Gov. Tony Evers needs to handle his handlers and affirm the state’s commitment to open government by releasing his emails.

In a bizarre sideshow that played out over the last couple of months, Evers’ office denied an open records request by FOX6 television reporters for four weeks of emails to and from Evers and his chief of staff, Maggie Gau. So FOX6 followed up and asked for one week’s worth of emails. Denied again.

How about one day’s worth? Denied.

Erin Deeley, Evers’ assistant legal counsel, told the television station the email request needed to contain both a time frame and a subject so they can be turned into search terms — otherwise they will be denied no matter how short the time frame.

Wait a minute, so a requester has to know what’s in the email before they can request it? How is that supposed to work? That sounds more like a parlor game than a willingness to be transparent about state government and the communications of its top elected official.

Plus, Deeley wrote FOX6, the records were being withheld because the request was too burdensome on the office. “Wisconsin taxpayers should not be asked to pay the salary of a state employee to work exclusively on an insufficiently specific request for weeks, to the detriment of all other requests, requesters and job responsibilities, when that requester need only provide a subject matter, as the law requires.”

But the law reads, “A request ... is deemed sufficient if it reasonably describes the requested record or the information requested. However, a request for a record without a reasonable limitation as to subject or length of time represented by the record does not constitute a sufficient request.”

The operative words there are “or length of time” — not both as Evers’ assistant legal counsel argues.

Faced with the email denials, FOX6 sent reporter Amanda St. Hilaire to ask the governor himself about it following a press conference on health care. That produced a remarkable bit of Kabuki theater that went like this, according to the FOX6 news report:

St. Hilaire: “Governor, you’ve said that you are committed to transparency, so why is your office denying our request for one day’s worth of your emails?”

Gov. Evers: “When? I have no idea.”

St. Hilaire: “No one’s told you?”

Evers: “No.”

FOX6 explained the request.

Evers: “Oh, that’ll be pretty, pretty boring I’ll tell ya. If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day. So, we’ll work on that.”

St. Hilarie: “So you think the public should be able to see one day’s worth of your emails?”

Evers: “Yeah. It’s pretty boring. I mean, I can’t remember sending an email all week.”

That wasn’t the end of the Kabuki dance, according to the FOX6 account. No sooner had the press conference ended than Evers’ deputy chief of staff said the line of questioning was in “poor form” and that there were no plans to release the governor’s emails.

So which is it, governor? Are your handlers handling you or are you going to take them in hand. Your staff says the television station request is too burdensome on your office; you say you can’t remember sending an email all week.

We hope you figure it out and come down on the side of open government and set an example for all state government agencies to give the public the information they seek and need to stay informed on issues that are important to them.

Let us know what you decide. Send us an email.