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State Politics
Republicans, Democrats split on primary date

MADISON — Before the new state Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor are sworn in, state Republicans are attempting to do a bit of house cleaning that has state Democrats upset.

One point in particular involves moving 2020 presidential primary from April to March, but allowing the election of judicial, education and municipal officers, and nonpartisan county officers to remain on the April ballot.

It’s a move that has outraged some clerks, including Waterford’s clerk, who called it “unfathomable” and said it sets clerks up for failure.

This would essentially create two spring election days, whereas in the past there would have been only one. In the likely event a February primary is needed, that would make for three elections in three months in 2020.

The decision on the presidential primary, along with a number of other pieces of legislation, is part of a extraordinary legislative session that is scheduled for Tuesday.

The election of a Wisconsin state Supreme Court justice would be included in the April election primary, which has some Republicans concerned.

Democrats are poised to have several candidates vie for the party nomination for the presidency in 2020, which means there is likely to be a high turnout in favor of Democrats, which could be troublesome for Republican candidates on the ballot.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, recently claimed that moving the primary date gives state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, outgoing Gov. Scott Walker’s conservative-backed appointee, a “better chance” of winning the election.

Despite this proposal, dozens of county clerks across the state have expressed their opposition to the change. County clerks oversee elections in their counties.

However, it is unclear if Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen is opposed to the change. She could not be reached for comment last week.

Mount Pleasant Village Clerk Stephanie Kohlhagen sent a letter to state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, stating she is against the change.

“Even if the state were to cover the substantial costs municipalities would incur by moving the election, there are significant logistical difficulties with conducting a stand-alone presidential primary in March, which will prove hard to overcome,” Kohlhagen wrote. “We barely have sufficient time to accomplish the myriad election tasks necessary between the February primary and the spring election in April. Adding another election in March risks stretching the ability of local governments to administer a smooth, secure, and error-free election process.”

Waterford Village Clerk Rachel Ladewig said it’s asking a lot for clerks to squeeze in an election between the spring primary in February and spring election in April; she called it “unfathomable.”

“Doing something like this seems like they are trying to set us up for failure,” Ladewig said. “I know municipal clerks do an excellent job in managing everything that goes into an election and I would hate to see this compromised because it becomes a little more than they can handle.”

Separation of partisan, nonpartisan elections

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he hopes the Legislature will be able to pass legislation moving the presidential primary.

“Honestly, we should’ve done it sooner,” Vos said. “There’s nothing more important than having Wisconsin’s voices heard … making sure that we have a nonpartisan election (for court justice) separate from the partisan election.”

Vos does not view moving the primary as a partisan advantage but instead as an opportunity for presidential candidates to make their case to voters.

“The earlier you are in the primary cycle, candidates are more likely to come here,” Vos said, adding that back in 2016, “By the time it got to Wisconsin, it was really down to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”

Democrats respond

Democrats view the potential move much differently.

State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, whose district includes a large part of eastern Racine County, said he doesn’t buy Vos’ claim that Wisconsin’s primary won’t get many candidates, saying there are “going to be plenty of candidates” coming to the state.

“It’s a bad idea,” Wirch said of moving the primary. “Republicans ran during the recent campaign as fiscal conservatives, now they’re talking about sticking it to the taxpayers to the tune of about $7 million by switching this election.”

Wirch said he believes the motivation behind moving the primary date is a shot at Tony Evers, the Democratic governor-elect.

“I’m just always amazed that these Republicans talk about ‘bipartisan this, bipartisan that’ and the first thing out of the gate is they want to stick a shiv in the new governor’s back before he takes office,” Wirch said. “So much for bipartisanship.”

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said the attempt to move the primary is a “power grab” after statewide elections did not go the way of Republicans.

“I think that is a shameful political move and the people of Wisconsin deserve better,” Neubauer said. “I am hopeful that the Republicans will listen to the people of Wisconsin and respect the votes they took in this election and allow the (primary) elections to proceed as scheduled.”

Going into an extraordinary session, Neubauer said is a “clear attempt to pass legislation to preserve the powers of one party is undemocratic.”

“We had an election; the people of Wisconsin have spoken,” Neubauer said. “I think we need to allow the new governor and lieutenant governor to do what the people have asked them to do.”

StephanieJones / STEPHANIE JONES 

Lines of Mount Pleasant voters fill Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park Hall, 9614 Highway K, on Nov. 6 for the 2018 midterm election. The chief election clerk there said it was busy almost the entire day, with lines of people waiting to vote. 

Addiction and recovery
Calling 211 hotline offers a lifeline for drug addiction

MILWAUKEE — It’s no longer a question that opioid abuse has become a rising problem in Wisconsin. In 2017, nearly twice as many people died from opioid overdoses (916, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services) as car crashes (545, according to the Department of Transportation) in the state.

On top of that, for the third straight year, U.S. life expectancy has dropped, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Many attribute that decline to the nationwide rise in opioid-related deaths and suicides. This is the first time in almost a century that American life expectancy dropped three years in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public and private entities are now collaborating to provide resources, aid and crisis intervention to those who are looking for a lifeline in drug addiction or those facing other life-threatening crises. Last month, the free and confidential Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline premiered, expanding existing crisis phone services.

The 24/7 telephone hotline can be reached by calling 211 or 833-944-4673, texting 898211, or through online messaging on Trained operators can provide answers for those suffering addiction, or give advice on how to help friends or family members struggling with addiction.

211 services have been available for decades for a variety of issues — from health care to food and shelter needs to safety from violence — although they’ve grown increasingly focused on drug abuse in recent years.

Operators can connect callers with crisis and detoxification services, as well as counseling, treatment centers and outpatient services. Wisconsin’s seven 211 centers are connected to the same database, so if somebody in Racine calls to ask for help regarding a family member who lives in Superior, for example, they’ll still be able to get specific information regarding available local resources.

Call-takers can also offer guidance for health-care payment options and provide solutions to transportation problems.

Wanggaard cheers first legal CBD-based drug

RACINE — Smoking medical marijuana remains illegal in Wisconsin, as it does in 19 states, even if prescribed by a doctor. However, other uses of drugs made from chemicals found in the marijuana plant are getting the OK at the state and national levels.

211 in southeast Wisconsin

Calls originating from Racine County are routed through IMPACT, which is based in Milwaukee and covers all of southeast Wisconsin.

“People don’t know where to go or where to call … (or) what resources are available,” said John Hyatt, IMPACT’s president and CEO. “We’re hoping that people will call and get those questions answered.”

IMPACT has been operating as a 211 call center since the early 2000s, Hyatt said, but word about the 211 hotline has spread more rapidly in the wake of the opioid crisis. Now, it receives about 500 calls per day in southeast Wisconsin alone. Some days, he said, IMPACT fields as many as 900 calls.

The hotline receives funding from the United Way, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, various municipalities and counties, and numerous community organizations.

“It’s been building for the last couple years,” Hyatt said.

United Way has become more involved in recent months in response to the opioid crisis.

“We want people to know that recovery is possible, and the service is meant for anyone — whether you’re struggling personally or calling for a friend or loved one,” Charlene Mouille, the executive director of United Way of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “These resources are local, so we’re able to connect people with services right in their communities to help them get on the road to recovery.”

Other efforts

The helpline was in a direct response to the rising rates opioid abuse in Wisconsin and nationwide, although specialists can still offer help and insight into other forms of drug abuse, including alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said that meth usage has been on the rise in southeastern Wisconsin. In November, Schmaling reported that his deputies recovered more than $30,000 worth of meth on Interstate 94 that had been intended to be sold in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha.

Two pounds of meth found in box of toys and candy

RAYMOND — Two Milwaukee men were arrested Thursday after nearly two pounds of methamphetamine was discovered in the vehicle they were traveling in, the Racine County Sheriff’s Office announced in a release Friday.

An opioid outpatient treatment facility, CleanSlate, 5439 Durand Ave., No. 103, opened across the street from Regency Mall in September.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, threw his support behind the anti-addiction effort.

“It’s really important that we have clinics like this, with ethics and empathy,” Wanggaard said at a grand opening event for CleanSlate. “There are so many holes in the fabric that we still need to fill in, but this is an awesome start.”

Gregory Shaver 

St. Catherine's DeShaun Brown runs with the ball during the first quarter of a non-conference football game between St. Catherine’s and Cudahy Thursday evening, Aug.16, 2018, at Horlick Field.

Civil Suit
City may settle on 2016 case in which dog was killed by police

RACINE — The City of Racine may decide to settle a lawsuit related to when a dog was shot and killed as police executed a search warrant in December 2016.

The Racine City Council’s Executive Committee is scheduled to meet in closed session at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday in room 303 at City Hall to discuss a possible settlement between Sara Harmon and the city.

The committee does plan to go into open session to take action on the settlement. No dollar amount has been set yet in the case.

A settlement may have been reached on Wednesday, but further action is needed before any damages are awarded.

City Attorney Scott Letteney plans to brief the committee on the case and a settlement can only be awarded after it is approved by the City Council.

The background

In December 2016, the Racine Police Department, along with the Racine County Gang Unit and the FBI, executed a “no-knock” search warrant at the home of Sara and Joseph Harmon at about 5 a.m.

Law enforcement was acting on a tip on a shots-fired incident and took the Harmons’ son in for questioning.

The Harmon’s 2-year-old dog, Sugar, an English bulldog, was reportedly scared by the police breaking down the door and retreated to Sara’s room. There Sugar was shot as many as five times. The dog was taken from the scene, but a bloody mess was left on Sara’s bed and walls.

Police reportedly told the family that it is protocol to kill the dog during the execution of a search warrant, and that was all of the information the family was reportedly given.

The search did not uncover any illegal activity and no arrests were made.

The Harmons sued the City of Racine and four Racine police officers in federal court, claiming their rights to be free from unreasonable seizures and excessive force were violated when their dog was killed during the execution of the warrant.

According to police records, Sugar was the 13th dog shot from 2012 through 2016 while a search warrant was being executed.


Judea Robinson, fourth-grader at Red Apple Elementary, shows off a helicopter-like device at the School Choice Fair at Case High School on Saturday. The district brought all of the schools together to give parents an opportunity to learn about each school.