Afternoon state news briefs: Victim groups ask why OLR did not punish Kratz
Two victims' rights groups want to know why the state's Office of Lawyer Regulation did not punish Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz. The Wisconsin coalitions against domestic violence and sexual assault wrote the OLR, demanding that it explain itself.
The 50-year-old Kratz faces a possible removal from office, after it was learned a week ago that he sent racy text messages to a domestic abuse victim while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend. Kratz said the OLR found that he did not violate state rules for attorney conduct. The head of the office said he was not allowed to talk about the matter, but Governor Jim Doyle said the office should find a way to explain itself. Doyle said he cannot require it, though, since the OLR is regulated by the State Supreme Court. Since the original revelation, three other women have come forward and said Kratz was sexually-suggestive with them, too. A date will be set Monday for a public hearing on whether Governor Jim Doyle should remove Kratz.
The governor named former Kenosha prosecutor Robert Jambois as the commissioner for the proceedings. Also today, the attorney for the original complainant, Michael Fox, says Stephanie Van Groll is willing to testify at the removal hearing. And she'll cooperate if the lawyer regulation office re-opens the case - as the Justice Department asked it to do.
Wisconsin is not the only state where the fall election for governor might derail the Obama administration's plans for high-speed passenger rail. Republican candidates in Ohio have joined Wisconsin's GOP gubernatorial hopeful Scott Walker in saying they'll scrap the projects if they win. The Badger State got $810-million in federal stimulus dollars to extend high-speed Amtrak service from Milwaukee to Madison by 2013. And by 2016, plans call for the line to be extended to Minnesota's Twin Cities along a route that's being debated right now. Walker says it would be faster-and-cheaper for folks to drive between the state's two largest cities - and it would cost too much for the state to maintain the line once it's built. But Democrats say the state would have to pay back whatever's spent on the line if they lose the election - and if that happens, about $300-million in contracts could be set before they walk out the door. Walker doubts the state would have to re-pay that much. Former Governor Tommy Thompson said the payback requirement might be held up if voters elect Republicans to at least one house of Congress.
The home of Wisconsin's largest music festival is about to get a face-lift. Milwaukee's World Festival Board approved a financing today to spruce up the Summerfest Grounds. The improvements will cost around $25-million, and will take two years to complete. They're scheduled to begin late next week with demolition work. The Briggs-and-Stratton stage will be replaced in time for next year's Summerfest - and M-&-I Bank's Classic Rock Stage will be replaced for the 2012 festival. Summerfest CEO Don Smiley says the complete plans for the remodeling will be made public in about a month. It's the biggest renovation of the grounds since 2003. Smiley says about $19-million in Summerfest capital reserves will help pay for the total project - and the rest will be borrowed.
Wisconsin's richest business magnates are losing ground, compared to others around the country. That's according to Forbes Magazine's annual list of the 400 richest Americans. John Menard of the Eau Claire-based Menards home improvement chain is worth an estimated $5.2 billion. That's up from five-billion a year ago, but he dropped down the Forbes list from 44th a year ago to 51st. Herb Kohler, the plumbing and golf legend from the Sheboygan area, lost a third of his net worth. Forbes puts it at two-billion, dropping him from 97th to number-182. Trucking magnate Donald Schneider of Green Bay maintained his net worth of two-and-a-half billion, but he still fell 21 spots down the Forbes list to 144th. Diane Hendricks, who co-founded ABC Supply of Beloit, dropped from 158th to 170th, despite gaining $100-million over the last year. And the family that owns S.C. Johnson of Racine shared the 182nd spot with Kohler - and that's one place better than last year, with a gain of $50-million. Also, James Cargill of Birchwood in northwest Wisconsin rose from 220th on last year's Forbes list to 205th. His net worth rose from $1.6 billion last year to $1.9 billion now.