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Gregory Shaver, For The Journal Times  

A crowd of people watch the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train Thursday evening at the Amtrak Depot, 9900 East Exploration Ct., in Sturtevant. See more photos at  

Extraordinary session
Lame-duck session focus turns to what Scott Walker will do

MADISON — With the Legislature’s fast-tracked lame-duck session work wrapped up, opponents of the legislation shifted their efforts to persuade Gov. Scott Walker to use his veto pen one last time before leaving office.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Thursday the governor’s office was reviewing the bills, but did not offer a timeline for when Walker might act on them. He could sign the bills as passed or veto part or all of them, something he has rarely done outside the budget process during his eight years in office.

Meanwhile, some Wisconsin residents said their calls to Walker’s office were going unanswered.

At a Wednesday news conference, Evers and other incoming Democratic officeholders urged people to contact the governor’s office to share their opinion of the bills.

Cee Cee Cohen, a retired Madison science teacher, attempted to do that on three separate occasions.

“It became clear to me they’re either overwhelmed or they’re ignoring the call,” she said, referring to Walker’s office.

After venting on Facebook — where about half a dozen other friends chimed in reporting the same difficulty — Cohen said a staffer picked up on her fourth phone call. Cohen told the staffer, who she said did not want to take down her name, that she felt her vote was being stolen.

Evenson said Walker’s office had received phone calls at a volume “a little higher than normal” over the last few days. He said one person at the front desk and three others in a constituent services division are staffing the office phones from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Evenson said multiple staffers in the governor’s office are helping those four people answer calls in response to the volume. He said he did not immediately have a tally of the number of phone calls received.

“We’re certainly happy to take everybody’s phone calls and everyone’s comments and we’re trying to keep up with the demand as best we can,” he said.

Sykes critical of Walker

Former conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes, who helped lay the groundwork for Republicans to take control of state government in 2010 but has been shunned by some for opposing President Donald Trump’s smash-mouth brand of politics, appealed to Walker, writing in The Atlantic that signing the bills would be a “huge mistake” that “will tarnish his reputation in ways that I’m not sure he grasps.”

“They have managed to energize the progressive base, expose themselves as sore losers, and undermine crucial democratic norms,” Sykes wrote. “And in return … they got extraordinarily little.”

The lone Republican state senator who voted against the most controversial of the three bills explained his dissenting vote Thursday in a statement.

Sen. Robert Cowles, of Green Bay, highlighted three parts of the last bill — limiting early voting, changing the administrative rule process and automatically rescinding guidance documents for field staff managing state programs — that he said will have unforeseen impacts on businesses, property owners, outdoor enthusiasts and voters throughout Wisconsin.

Cowles said he supported the two other bills because provisions such as establishing work requirements for adult welfare recipients had previously been introduced in the legislative process and included opportunities for the public to provide input.

“These bills do not strip powers from the incoming Governor, but instead ensure that administration doesn’t strip powers from the Legislature,” Cowles said.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, issued a statement defending the bills, saying the powers of the governor, Legislature and attorney general “are clearly defined in the Wisconsin Constitution and cannot be changed without a statewide referendum.”

“Governor Evers is not a victim,” Brandtjen said. “Changes to appointments and additional transparency are simply good government.”

Past sessions

Walker is in an unusual situation as Wisconsin has previously had only five extraordinary or special legislative sessions in state history, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. Those include:

  • A January 1928 session on appropriations for state colleges and public welfare;
  • A December 1970 session confirming appointments;
  • A November 1974 session on collective bargaining agreements for state employees;
  • A December 1978 session confirming appointments and about special election laws;
  • A December 2010 session on collective bargaining agreements.

The scope of the bills that passed Wednesday morning after a marathon session conducted mostly behind closed doors is far broader than the previous post-election sessions.

The various provisions limit early voting to two weeks before an election, give the Legislature oversight of state litigation including participation in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, allow lawmakers to hire outside lawyers rather than the attorney general in legal matters, prevent Evers from banning guns in the Capitol, and codify various rules on voter ID and Medicaid work requirements.


Gregory Shaver, For The Journal Times  

Willy Porter performs holiday songs during a stop by the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train Thursday evening. 

Regents OK 3 percent pay hikes for UW System employees

LA CROSSE — Regents have approved a plan to increase pay for employees of the University of Wisconsin System by 3 percent each of the next two fiscal years, which includes employees at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved the pay plan at a meeting in La Crosse on Thursday. Regents also backed an identical pay plan for UW-Madison.

The proposal, however, still needs legislative approval before it could start July 1.

The proposal calls for full state funding of the general wage increase, and comes after six years of tuition freezes. The state typically provides about 70 percent of the UW System pay increase with the rest funded by tuition.

System officials say pay raises have trailed inflation in recent years, and that faculty salaries continue to lag behind peer institutions.

The UW System has about 39,000 employees statewide.

“As labor markets tighten, salaries rise and inflation increases, reinvesting in UW faculty and staff with modest wage increases will ensure we are not falling behind and losing out on talent we need in Wisconsin,” UW System President Ray Cross said in an announcement earlier this week. “Attraction, retention and recognition of high-quality faculty and staff are critical investment opportunities for future student success.”

The last pay-hike request came in 2016, when the UW Board of Regents and lawmakers approved a 2 percent increase for each year of the 2017-19 biennium. In five of the last eight fiscal years, however, UW System employees have received no pay increases, with increases averaging less than one percent a year between June 2011 and July 2019, according to the System.

Salary gaps, turnover

Faculty salaries lag behind salaries at peer institutions, UW System officials said. For example, salaries for full professors at UW-Madison are about 10 percent below the median for its peer group.

That has led to chancellors fighting for their faculty to remain on campus despite outside recruitment efforts.

The System’s annual faculty turnover report, released Monday ahead of the Regents’ scheduled meeting on Thursday, shows about 7 percent of UW faculty, or 434 people, departed in the 2017-18 academic year. That’s down from the 509 who departed in the 2015-16 school year, but still higher than in 2013-14, when about 330 people left.

Racine fugitive apprehended by U.S. Marshals in Illinois

RACINE — A Racine man who eluded authorities for more than two months after reportedly shooting a woman in the neck, hip and hand, was captured Wednesday by U.S. Marshals.

Dedrick L. Flowers, 41, of the 2900 block of Douglas Avenue, was located and taken into custody in Illinois.

On Sept. 29, Racine police responded to the 1000 block of Villa Street for a report of gunshots, according to a criminal complaint.

Bullets were lodged in the back of the woman’s neck and her right hip/buttock, which fractured her pelvis. Her thumb was also fractured.

On Oct. 10, felony charges were filed against Flowers for attempted first-degree intentional homicide and possession of a firearm by a felon. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

The next day, the Racine Police Department released information seeking assistance from the community to find Flowers.

Flowers has prior convictions of felony robbery, theft, possession of cocaine and obstructing an officer, online records show. Charges have also been filed against Flowers alleging he wrongfully claimed $4,539 in unemployment benefits.