RACINE COUNTY — With all the commercials on TV for congressional and U.S. Senate candidates who don’t have to face an election until August, local voters should not overlook the fact that there is an election Tuesday for local school and municipal posts and referendums and two important statewide elections as well.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in Racine County.
Since the beginning of March, The Journal Times has been profiling candidates and issues on the ballot in Tuesday’s election and those profiles can be found online at journaltimes.com/elections. Also, the Racine County clerk’s election insert, with information on polling places and a list of all candidates contested or not, is scheduled to run in Monday’s paper.
Here’s a summary of contested races and various ballot issues in play in Tuesday’s election.
Four trustee seats are in play in Mount Pleasant, where a contentious tradition of village politics has been the norm for years.
In the race for trustee No. 2, Leonard “Bud” Eastman, a member of the village’s Water Drainage Commission and Fire and EMS Oversight Board, faces former village trustee and Mount Pleasant town Supervisor Don Schultz.
Gary Feest is the only incumbent on the ballot for any trustee position in the April 3 election in Mount Pleasant. However, Feest’s opponent in the race for the trustee No. 4 spot, Floyd “Skip” Leonard, has spent plenty of time in Village Hall with the village Planning Commission.
Retired electrical engineer Ram Bhatia faces physician John Martini in the April 3 election for trustee No. 5. And former Trustee Anne Marie Clausen is looking to get back on the board and will be up against a political newcomer, Tom Giese, a global director for a chemical company, in the race for Trustee No. 6.
The big race in the city is for municipal judge, with incumbent Rebecca Mason, a local attorney and wife of Mayor Cory Mason, facing a challenge from attorney John Buchaklian.
In addition, city aldermen in all even-numbered districts are up for election Tuesday and incumbents Tracey Larrin, Sandy Weidner, Q.A. Shakoor and Dennis Wiser all face challengers.
The Town of Yorkville generally has kept a low profile over the years. That’s not the case this year. With the Foxconn campus being built just across Interstate 94, town voters Tuesday will decide whether to incorporate the town as a village to secure its borders and gain additional statutory powers.
And the Yorkville Elementary School District is holding a referendum Tuesday, seeking authority to exceed revenue limits to help finance school operations. School district voters will also decide between Ann Wendorf and Chris Nelson for a position on the School Board.
All 21 Racine County Board seats are up for election Tuesday, but only five are contested. Incumbents Donnie Snow (Dist. 1), Melissa Kaprelian-Becker (Dist. 4) Ron Molnar (Dist. 12), Mark Gleason (Dist. 13) and Kay Buske (Dist. 14) all face challenges. Perhaps the most intriguing of those are: District 1, where Snow faces a challenge from Racine library employee and local poet Nick Demske; District 13, where Gleason, the former Mount Pleasant village president, faces Norway Town Administrator Tom Kramer; and District 12, where Molnar faces a challenge from Donald Trottier; both served together on the Racine Housing Authority.
There also are four county circuit court judgeships up for election Tuesday, but all are uncontested and all the incumbents are seeking re-election.
For the first time in many years, there are no contested seats for the Racine Unified School District. But that is not the case in the Burlington Area School District, the Waterford Graded District, Muskego-Norway School District, and Raymond Elementary District.
Two seats are in play in Tuesday’s election for the Caledonia Village Board. Incumbents Kathleen Trentadue (trustee No. 2) and Ed Willing (trustee no. 4) both face challenges.
There are two contested races in the City of Burlington, where incumbents did not seek re-election in aldermanic Districts 1 and 2. There is also a race for seat No. 3 on the Burlington Town Board, in which former Town Chair Barb Ruud faces Rusell Egan, a local retail manager.
There are also contested races for the Waterford Town Board, Sturtevant Village Board, and Union Grove Village Board (trustee no. 6).
Voters will be able to weigh in regarding two statewide issues, one high profile and the other not so much.
Anyone even watching a little bit of local television in recent weeks is likely aware of the contentious race for state Supreme Court justice. Although technically a nonpartisan post, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet has the support of many Democrats and progressives while Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock has the backing of many Republicans and conservatives.
The low-profile statewide vote is a referendum asking voters whether the constitutional office of state treasurer should be eliminated. Those favoring elimination contend the office has become basically powerless. But proponents of keeping the office say it provides a vital as a check on executive power and serves as an independent fiscal watchdog of the state finances.
RACINE — Racine Unified School District is looking to secure the entrances to its schools in a time when news of school shootings across the country is ubiquitous.
The most recent school shooting that caught the nation’s attention, on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., involved a former student with a semi-automatic rifle gaining access to the school and shooting and killing 17 people. Unified, along with the Racine Police Department, is working to control and document the flow of people coming in and out of school buildings, especially when it comes to non-students.
Only 56 percent of Unified schools have secure entryways. Buildings with secure entrances allow visitors to enter a small vestibule, from which they can be seen by staff and buzzed into the office. From there, visitors are supposed to provide identification and sign in.
“My biggest concern right now is access control,” said William Macemon, deputy chief of the Police Department’s school safety and security division.
Fifteen of Unified’s schools do not have secure entrances. The district is in the process of creating these entrances at those schools at a rate of three per year.
“It’s not a low-budget item,” said Stacy Tapp, Unified’s chief of communication and community engagement.
The district plans to replace the doors and create a secure entrance at Wadewitz Elementary School this summer for about $200,000. However, the cost of creating these entrances varies, depending on the school.
Schools that don’t yet have secure entryways are locked and monitored.
“By no means are they wide-open either,” Macemon said. “They still are locked. They still are controlled by a buzzer and camera system that is controlled by the school staff.”
Since the massacre in Florida brought school security to the forefront of the nation’s minds, Unified worked with its principals to remind all clerical staff to check IDs for everyone entering the building. Unified has had this policy in place for years, but some staffers had been lax about enforcing it.
District officials, along with police officers and Unified building and grounds workers, do walk-throughs each year of about 10 schools to evaluate building safety.
Unified also is looking into implementing some new school safety measures. Even before the Parkland mass shooting, Unified’s districtwide safety council was researching portable metal detectors. If the district decides to purchase this technology, the metal detectors would move from school to school, with searches on random days.
Other efforts to improve school safety also began before the Parkland shooting. With the goal of relationship-building, for example, the Racine Police Department expanded its Community Oriented Policing model into Park and Horlick high schools at the start of the 2016-17 school year. Unified is continuing to make its buildings safer by constructing secure entryways at new schools each year and is taking a proactive approach when it comes to students’ mental health.
If a there were an active shooter situation at a Racine Unified school today, that school would go into lockdown, as students practice regularly in drills.
However, the district will be rolling out ALICE, a new emergency response program, to students in the fall. Most district staff have already been trained in the ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.
Andrea Rittgers, director of student services, explained that ALICE is valuable because it gives students and staff options beyond lockdown.
Unified’s typical procedure is for administrators to be informed when a student threatens to harm his peers. If a student is expelled or suspended for threats, he or she is offered support upon return to classes.
“Something is going on; what is it?” Rittgers asked. “What’s prompting this behavior that is threatening to other people?”
Like many districts across the nation, some Racine Unified schools were the target of threats of violence in the weeks following the Parkland shooting. None were deemed credible, but Unified did cancel classes at McKinley Middle School on March 1 because of a threat.
Once the district reports a threat, police investigate to determine if it’s credible.
The police then work with the district and the Racine County District Attorney’s office to determine what sort of punitive action should be taken.
Student threats could be determined to be a cry for help, to have criminal intent, or a student might have said something without realizing the seriousness of the statement.
“We’ve had all those situations,” Macemon said.
Racine Police officers have been working part-time for the district, patrolling some of Unified’s middle and high schools, since the 1970s.
In addition, there are school resource officers in all three comprehensive high schools — Case, Park and Horlick. A Mount Pleasant officer is stationed at Case as the school is located in the village. As part of a new partnership between the district and police, full-time school COP officers began working at Park and Horlick high schools about two years ago.
The full-time officers are there to do positive outreach and to engage with the school staff for problem solving.
This is the difference between stopping a fight in the hallway and determining why the fight happened and how it could be prevented, Macemon said.
“We are trying to be very proactive and innovative as far as it comes to school safety, not just doing what everybody else is doing,” Macemon said. “We’re trying to take it a step further with these programs.”
RACINE COUNTY — In a nod toward their hopes of an electoral tidal wave in November, national Democrats are taking sides in a Wisconsin primary battle for the right to challenge Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in the fall midterms.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently tapped ironworker Randy Bryce of Caledonia over educator Cathy Myers of Janesville for its newly expanded list of 33 top prospects for flipping a Republican seat, raising the profile of the 1st Congressional District race and prompting new accusations of interference in an internal party contest.
Including a potential challenger of the Republican speaker in House Democrats’ “Red to Blue” campaign program signifies increasing Democratic confidence that the party not only can flip the 24 seats necessary to regain House control but go well beyond a bare-minimum majority.
It’s also an example of national party leaders aligning themselves with a liberal flank that often criticizes Washington power brokers for being too moderate. Bryce, already endorsed by independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was recruited by factions of the resistance movement that loudly opposes President Donald Trump, and he quickly became a cause celebre for the left, recognized by his mustache and his Twitter handle, @IronStache. (Sanders came to Racine on Feb. 24 to campaign for Bryce).
“The evidence is really continuing to mount that we have a real chance to knock out the speaker of the House,” said Bryce spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.
But the move, along with decisions in other races, raises new questions about meddling party bosses.
Myers said in a statement that the national party “continues to think it knows better than primary voters and local Democratic activists.”
New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of House Democrats’ campaign operation, praised Bryce for “fighting for working people” and building a strong campaign. House Democrats insist their “Red to Blue” program doesn’t constitute explicit endorsements, but inclusion comes with organizational and fundraising support from the party.
At the end of 2017, Bryce already had raised $2.65 million to Myers’ $235,000. Myers said in her statement that she’s now raised about $800,000.
Lujan’s statement earlier this month did not mention Myers.
Ryan’s campaign is unbowed by either challenger.
“We’re confident that just like the nine previous election cycles, he’ll be re-elected comfortably,” said Ryan spokesman Jeremy Adler.
Ryan first won the 1st Congressional District seat in 1998. But his district is among those getting new attention after Democrat Conor Lamb’s recent special election upset in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, where Trump won in 2016 by 19.5 points. The president won Ryan’s district by 11 points.
An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 10-14 found 50 percent of voters nationally preferred a Democratic-majority Congress, a 10-point margin over those who preferred GOP control.
That’s in the range that leaves strategists in both parties eying a wave. It’s not unheard of for such elections to take out congressional leaders. Democratic Speaker Tom Foley lost his Washington state seat in the GOP’s 1994 sweep.
Separately, Lujan drew new fire from Texas Democrats because the expanded “Red to Blue” list included Collin Allred ahead of a Democratic runoff in the Dallas-area district represented by Republican Pete Sessions. Allred is a lawyer and former professional football player. His opponent, attorney Lillian Salerno, said “folks here are sick and tired of a bunch of Washington insiders trying to make their decisions for them.”
Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and an outspoken party liberal who backs Salerno, said in a statement that the DCCC “has gone d-triple-crazy barging into local elections.”
In Wisconsin, it wasn’t a matter of party leaders declaring a philosophical preference.
Both Bryce and Myers call for universal health care and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Each was arrested on March 5 while protesting Republican immigration policy near Ryan’s Downtown Racine district office.
Myers argues she has better liberal bona fides, with decades as a teachers’ union leader and full-throated supporter of abortion rights and tough environmental regulations. She also notes that Bryce has lost three previous bids for public office in Racine County.
Bryce counters with an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America and his own decades of union membership and activity. Hitt, Bryce’s aide, adds that the candidate once turned down a lucrative job offer on an energy pipeline because of environmental concerns. Hitt attributes his previous defeats to running bare-bones campaigns in gerrymandered districts while working full time.