Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

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The Capital Times, May 2

Trump sounds more like a thug than a president

The United States has certainly had its share of decisive presidents. Think Franklin Roosevelt. And Dwight Eisenhower.

The United States has had blunt and unapologetic presidents. Think Teddy Roosevelt. And Harry Truman.

But the United States has never had a president who sounded so much like a thug as Donald Trump.

Last week Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and many others discussed concerns that had been raised regarding President Trump’s nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Jackson, who lacks experience leading an agency as large as Veterans Affairs, was accused by colleagues of creating a hostile work environment, drinking on the job, and overprescribing medications. He subsequently withdrew from consideration rather than face an embarrassing committee hearing.

Trump was furious — not with Jackson for buckling under pressure, not with the two dozen current and former colleagues who raised the concerns regarding Jackson, and not with White House staffers who failed to provide adequate vetting and preparation for an ill-prepared nominee.

No, Trump was furious at Tester for upholding the system of checks and balances that only works if members of the Senate are prepared to ask tough questions about presidential nominees.

A presidential Twitter storm attacked Tester as “very dishonest and sick!” and said “Tester should lose (his re-election) race in Montana.” After the Secret Service said it could not confirm a CNN report regarding Jackson’s reckless behavior, Trump declared: “Tester should resign.”

The president veered so far out of control that he began spewing threats. “I know things about Tester that I could say, too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again,” Trump told a Michigan crowd on Saturday.

That’s not presidential language. That’s the crude language you’d expect to hear from a deliberately intimidating and ill-informed villain.

Montanans respect Tester as one of the Senate’s straightest shooters — a family farmer who got into politics to speak up for those who often get forgotten by politicians. Tester has always championed the cause of veterans, and that’s what he was doing when he discussed the issues that had been raised with the Jackson nomination.

Tester commented on allegations that had been forwarded to the committee and on news reports on what a former White House Medical Unit staffer told CNN was “definitely inappropriate” behavior on Jackson’s part. Yet Tester refused to pressure Jackson to withdraw, telling reporters that “there’s a possibility he could be confirmable.” What Tester pressed for was a hearing where “we need to get to the facts.”

When asked about how Tester approached the nomination, a spokesperson for Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., replied: “Senator Isakson has a great relationship with Senator Tester. He doesn’t have a problem with how things were handled.”

Tester served as a senator is supposed to serve. He gathered information and discussed concerns that had arisen regarding a presidential nominee, he called for transparency and a serious review of that nomination, he refused to bend to political pressure even though he faces what could be a tough re-election race, and he took seriously his responsibility to ensure that the interests of veterans are protected.

That’s what the U.S. Constitution says senators are supposed to do. That Trump would attack and threaten Tester, using the language of a thug rather than a president, tells us everything we need to know about Trump’s disregard for the separation of powers that sustains this country’s system of government. It also tells us why senators like Jon Tester are essential to the future of that system.

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Wisconsin State Journal, May 6

Keep fighting phosphorus for clean lakes in Madison

At first glance, it looks like progress has slowed on keeping phosphorus pollution out of Madison’s lakes.

The annual State of Our Lakes report, released last week by the Clean Lakes Alliance, shows 14,000 pounds of phosphorus was diverted from lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa in 2017.

That’s significant, because phosphorus is the nutrient found in soil, manure and leaves that feeds stinky algae blooms during summer. Just one pound of phosphorus can produce 500 pounds of algae.

But the 14,000 pounds of phosphorus that was diverted before it could reach the water’s edge during 2017 isn’t much more than the 13,500 pounds that local governments, farmers, businesses, volunteers and other lake advocates kept out of our waterways in 2016.

So what’s going on?

A lot, lake advocates say. While last year’s total didn’t increase a lot, that’s mostly because several big projects are in the planning stage and will reap greater benefits in the next year or two.

That includes Dane County’s efforts to suck up a century of muck from the bottom of streams northwest of Lake Mendota. The stream beds were polluted by farm runoff long ago.

It also includes a treatment system at Starkweather Creek and improvements to a manure digester in Middleton.

The 14,000 pounds of phosphorus being stopped from reaching our lakes last year is 30 percent of the way to the Clean Lakes Alliance’s goal of achieving 46,200 pounds of prevention. Lake scientists helped set that goal, confident it would lead to clean lakes year after year.

Farmers have done a lot to stop manure from washing off their land into waterways. And they’re going to have to keep doing more.

The same goes for urban dwellers, who need to keep leaves out of city streets in the fall. A lot of that organic material washes into storm sewers that lead to the lakes when heavy rain falls. It’s better to compost leaves or to keep them in piles on the edge of your lawn for pickup — rather than in the street.

Most of Madison’s lakes had “fair” phosphorus levels in 2017 and “good” water quality, according to the annual report. Beaches and lake access points were open 94 percent of the time.

One of the biggest challenges will be intense storms. A large and sudden downfall of rain can wash tremendous amounts of phosphorus-laced organic material into the lakes and ruin months of prevention.

But more people across the county are pitching in to minimize runoff. Nearly 1,000 volunteers donated almost 3,800 hours of time to the cause last year — the most generous effort yet.

Lake advocates also have stepped up monitoring of phosphorus levels in the water. Data collection is key to knowing what’s going on and how our community can further reduce pollution.

The Clean Lakes Alliance also plans to raise more money and issue more grants to local groups and municipalities to help promote innovative ways of protecting our lakes.

“I’m feeling as hopeful for the lakes as I have ever felt,” said Lloyd Eagan, chair of the Clean Lakes Alliance board. “The people care about them, and they’re willing to change their behavior to make a difference.”

We hope she’s right.

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The Journal Times of Racine, May 6

State lawmakers should stop dodging open-records law

Wisconsin added another chapter to its litigious history of skirmishes with lawmakers over releasing copies of public records under the state open records law last week.

The last two rounds of dispute have been over whether lawmakers can insist on releasing paper copies of records or if they should release them in an electronic format — such as an email, a CD or thumb drive or a file-sharing website.

This time it was state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, who was in the news when he backed down in a fight with the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and said he would provide copies of his emails related to occupational licensing regulations — which WILL has been seeking to overhaul.

Brostoff had originally told the legal and research group it would cost them $3,240 for printed copies of thousands of pages of email records. WILL sued. In the settlement announced last week, the records will be provided electronically and state taxpayers also will pick up the tab — $1,822 — for WILL’s legal fees.

Earlier this year, a Dane County judge had ruled a Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Scott Krug of Nekoosa, must supply electronic copies of records related to state policies on water that were sought by Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the managing editor of the left-leaning Progressive Magazine.

Krug, too, tried the paper dodge, saying he would provide the records — hundreds of pages — but there would be a per-page fee charged before they were released. Lueders also sued, and in January Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford ruled that, while lawmakers have yet to set a specific standard for electronic records, that “if a requester indicates that his ability to access the record would be best served by a particular format of copy, the custodian should produce the copy in that format unless doing so would be so burdensome as to be inconsistent with the conduct of government business.”

But state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed the Krug ruling in March and it is now before the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha.

A Schimel spokesman said last week the Brosthoff case was settled to minimize costs, while the underlying issue on electronic records is addressed in the Krug case.

So, paper or plastic? The real underlying issue in both the Krug and Brostoff cases is that state lawmakers sometimes, usually for political purposes, don’t really want to release state records or an email trail that are legitimately being sought by citizens and interested parties. So they throw up a roadblock of paper fees to discourage requests for information.

While some requesters will go ahead and seek the records anyway, others — particularly individual citizens or low-budget citizen groups — can find the prospect of several thousand dollars in paper fees to be a daunting challenge.

That is not how Wisconsin’s open-records law should work.

The simple fact is that electronic records are cheaper to produce, easier to use, provide more megadata information and often are able to be searched in a manner much more useable by the public.

Wisconsin lawmakers and state agencies have recognized this for years in their efforts to have the public apply electronically to request licenses and renewals in a wide array of areas — from vehicle registration to hunting and camping and all sorts of other things.

Why should record requests be any different?

As WILL attorney Tom Kamenick put it last week: “If defies common sense, and the law, for the Legislature to waste taxpayer resources by printing out electronic records that could cheaply and quickly be provided via email, file-sharing website or CD.”

We hope the Appeals Court in Waukesha gets this right, and that state lawmakers stop using a paper-fee dodge to blunt the spirit of Wisconsin’s open records law.

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