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Congressman-elect Bryan Steil ready to go to D.C.


JANESVILLE — Congressman-elect Bryan Steil’s plan was to take it easy on Christmas Eve, spending time with family at his grandmother’s house in Janesville.

With 10 nieces and nephews, the holiday season is more about the kids than the grown-ups.

“There’s nothing more fun than to watch kids get excited and open presents on Christmas Eve,” Steil, 37, said in an interview with The Journal Times the week before Christmas.

In the past several months, Steil went from being a private citizen and member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, to Republican congressional candidate and is now preparing for a new title — congressman.

On Jan. 3, Steil will be sworn in as the new representative for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, a seat held for the past 20 years by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring from public office.

Ryan campaigned with Steil and was with him briefly on Election Night in November before the results came in. After the results were official, Ryan called Steil to congratulate him.

“We had a conversation really focused on what an honor and privilege it is to serve people here in southeastern Wisconsin,” Steil said. “The other thing we’ve always talked about is, there’s some people who go in (to Congress) to be somebody and there’s other people who go and get the work done, to try to get things done. So I’m looking forward to trying to take the latter approach, which I think is what Paul has done very well.”

As he prepares to follow in Ryan’s footsteps, since being elected Steil said he’s been working at the pace at which he was campaigning to make sure he is ready once he is sworn in.

“I’m still optimistic that there’s an ability to shift some of the tone,” Steil said. “I’m looking forward to coming in and bringing a private-sector background and different approach.”

Meeting other freshman congressmen

Since being elected, Steil went to Washington with 89 other freshman members of Congress for a two-week orientation.

During those two weeks, Steil said he met his fellow colleagues and began to form relationships with both Democrats and Republicans.

“Sometimes during the campaign process, TV advertising can paint a person one way or another,” Steil said. “When you boil it down, the vast majority of people that I met in the freshman class are there for the right reasons. They believe in the country and they believe we need to put policies in place to advance it.

“Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t disagree on the best way to do that, but the overwhelming majority of people I met are really there for right reasons to do the right thing.”

When Steil is sworn in, he’ll be in the minority and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from California more than likely will be the next speaker of the House.

Steil said he is willing to work with Pelosi and Democrats to pass legislation.

“A lot of it is going to be in her hands and how she’s willing to work with Republicans,” Steil said. “I stand ready and willing to work with anybody. And if you look at areas that are really nonpartisan areas where we should be able to come together to get things done.”

Working on issues

Steil said he plans to tap into his experience in education with the Board of Regents and in the private sector as an attorney for a manufacturing company to focus on workforce development and student financial aid.

“I think we need to spent time to make sure we have the federal programs properly aligned such that individual school boards and local decision makers are able to work to prepare workers for the jobs of the future,” Steil said. “I think that’s critical in Racine, in particular, as you look at Foxconn and other large companies coming to the I-94 corridor. We need to make sure that everyone is able to take advantage of the opportunity of the economic growth in our area.”

Steil said student financial aid has been “a real mess over a number of years.”

“I think there are opportunities to figure out a way to revise student financial aid and programs similar to that,” Steil said. “Some of these issues aren’t partisan at all. They’re just ideas that we need to advance to get things done on behalf of the American people.”

Although he has not yet met President Donald Trump, when he gets his chance, Steil said he plans to focus the conversation on the economy.

“When I speak with the president, it will be about how do we really advance the economic growth we’ve seen here in southeast Wisconsin,” Steil said. “But in particular, how do we make sure everyone is able to take advantage of that growth … I look forward to having that conversation with the president and with everybody in Washington to try to get things done.”

But before Steil can talk to Trump or work on legislation, he first needs to set up his office. During the freshman orientation, the new members chose random numbers to select their offices.

Steil picked 50 out of 90 and chose the office that formerly housed Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.

“It hits you when you’re formally assigned your office,” Steil said, adding he plans to decorate it with items manufactured in Racine, Kenosha, Janesville and other places within the district.

“I would like to make it look like home,” Steil said, adding “On a side note, I’m a big fan of maps. So there’s pretty good chance that a few maps make it up in the office as well.”

“When you boil it down, the vast majority of people that I met in the freshman class are there for the right reasons. They believe in the country and they believe we need to put policies in place to advance it.” Bryan Steil, congressman-elect

New Caledonia police chief shares holiday traditions, plans

CALEDONIA — Daniel Reilly is a coffee drinker. He has a “no whining” mug on his desk that he says he refills “constantly” throughout the day.

Reilly has only been the Caledonia Police Department’s chief since September, but he’s already planning to retire from the department.

But retirement isn’t really on the horizon yet for the 52-year-old career police officer, who was born in Lake Geneva and grew up in Racine. Reilly just knows he wants to stay in Caledonia for the foreseeable future.

That kind of foresight is part of what drew village leaders to Reilly during the four-month search for a new police chief as they sought a replacement for Daniel Warren, who retired in May after three years as chief and 31 years on the force.

Reilly, who lives in Pleasant Prairie with his wife, has nearly three decades of law enforcement experience in a growing community. He’s been a police officer since 1989 and served the Pleasant Prairie Police Department from 1992 through this summer, when he left to take the job in Caledonia.

Caledonia appoints new police chief

CALEDONIA — A months-long search for Caledonia’s next police chief concluded Tuesday as a village panel selected a candidate with more than 25 years of law enforcement experience.

In 1992, Pleasant Prairie only had 12,000 residents, but now there are more than 20,000 people there. He anticipates something similar happening in Caledonia, which currently has a population of about 25,000 and hasn’t grown much since 2000.

What changes do you hope to implement in the coming months or years in Caledonia?

My plan is to increase training within the agency, as well as include technological changes. Body cameras, for example, are quickly becoming a must in police work. Although this is not a cheap program, the transparency that they provide to the community, the evidential benefit and the reassurance that our officers will have a defense against slander makes the initiative worth it.

Did you have any other jobs before law enforcement?

As a young man, I worked with Pinkerton Security for SC Johnson, and working in bars, bouncing and stuff like that. In those jobs I ended up meeting officers and they said, “You might be good at this, this could be a fit for you.” No one in my family was in law enforcement. It wasn’t my dream or anything, it just worked out.

This is your first time being a police chief. How have you handled challenges right out of the gate?

There are many challenges in coming to an agency where you do not know anyone, however none that were not expected. It is my first time as a chief of police, but after almost 30 years of law enforcement, I believe I came to this position prepared and motivated. Police work is a very fluid occupation and veterans learn to deal with challenges as they come in. Experience and training allow for leaders to deal with whatever circumstances they encounter.

You don’t always wear a police uniform while on the job. Why is that?

I generally dress business casual. I still have a badge, gun, handcuffs and extra ammo on my person, so I still am identifiable as a police officer. As a chief or upper administration (member), much of my time is either at the office or in meetings. Many of these meetings are not just law enforcement, but many other walks of life. Business casual is usually the dress of the day for these types of events. It really is no different than a doctor wearing a suit or business casual versus scrubs.

Most everyone expects Caledonia to grow economically and by population in the next few years. How do you think that will change the community?

With Foxconn and Amazon coming to the area, this will bring in many other businesses and jobs. I myself am a giant fan of nature and environment, but growth and development are coming to the surrounding communities. This will impact Caledonia.

I believe I was brought in because of this expected growth. Having worked for almost 27 years in Pleasant Prairie, I have experienced this before. In 1992, when I started in Pleasant Prairie, it looked a lot like Caledonia does now. Generally, growth and population increases will result in an increase in crime and emergency services — both police and fire.

However, controlled, smart growth does not have to result in negative consequences. As the population and business infrastructure grow, the Police Department and Fire Department need to grow, as do training and technology. In my time here, one of the goals will be to provide that framework for the future leadership of the agency.

Does your family have any fun holiday traditions?

Not really. We do the finding the elf daily. I generally take a picture of the location. My family will have a small family Christmas. Unfortunately, my boys (two sons, ages 29 and 25) are grown and have, over recent years, spread across the country and the globe for some holidays, so the dinner table has become smaller.

Michael Conroy 

Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan (17) throws against Purdue during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


Top stories of 2018
Top stories of 2018 — No. 7: Couple injured in Festival Foods crash

MOUNT PLEASANT — A devastating hit-and-run crash caused by a 17-year-old teen severely injured a Union Grove couple and sent shock waves through the community in 2018.

For that reason, the Festival Foods parking lot crash is ranked as the No. 7 story in The Journal Times news staff’s list of the Top 10 news stories for 2018.

The crash occurred just after 10:40 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. A Racine County Sheriff’s Office deputy saw a vehicle traveling north on Highway 31 at Newman Road in Mount Pleasant. The vehicle, driven by Isaiah DeGroot, 18, had a license plate that did not match the vehicle.

When the deputy activated the lights and sirens on her unmarked squad to pull the vehicle over, DeGroot abruptly turned into the parking lot of the Village Center shopping center, near Kohl’s department store, 5740 Washington Ave.

DeGroot allegedly lost control of the vehicle and crashed, striking Jeff and Cheryl Coopman of Union Grove in the process. DeGroot fled the scene and was found in a weedy patch in the 600 block of Emmertsen Road by deputies and Mount Pleasant police.

Marijuana and a stolen handgun also were found in the vehicle, which had been reportedly stolen in Milwaukee.

The deputy rendered first aid to the victims, applying a tourniquet to two parts of one of the victims’ bodies. A Festival Foods employee supplied his belt to help stop the bleeding and another bystander provided a bungee cord to serve as a tourniquet.

As a result of the crash, Jeff Coopman’s left leg was amputated. Cheryl Coopman lost both her left leg and arm as a result of the crash and had significant head injuries. She was in a coma for more than five months after the crash.

Questioning justice

At the time of the crash, Degroot was out on bond for felony charges of discharging a firearm from a vehicle as the driver and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety as a party to a crime. Those charges were filed in connection to a shooting on Oct. 30 in the 1600 block of Albert Street.

This led people in the community, including victim Jeff Coopman, to question why Degroot was not in jail at the time of the crash.

“I don’t know how he was able to get out for his last felony he committed in November,” Coopman said when he was released from the hospital in February. “The bail was a meager $2,500 for what he did. I think our justice system failed me. I know it failed me and my wife, big-time.”

After initially pleading not guilty to charges related to the crash, Degroot eventually accepted a plea deal in October before he was slated to go to trial. He pleaded guilty to two counts of felony hit-and-run, four counts of felony bail jumping, and one count of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

On Dec. 4, DeGroot was sentenced to serve 36½ years in prison and 26 years of probation by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Mark Nielsen. DeGroot will be on probation until he reaches age 80.