Tuesday State Political and Government News: Prosser finally declared winner
Forty-eight days after people cast their ballots, David Prosser was declared the winner today of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. The Government Accountability Board certified the results of a statewide recount which showed that Prosser, a 12-year incumbent, defeated assistant state attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg by 7,004 votes.
The margin was 312 votes smaller than the official county canvasses from mid-April. The final difference was 46-hundredths-of-one-percent out of one-and-a-half million votes cast. Prosser said he looks forward to taking his oath-of-office and to serve quote, "in a fair and independent manner." Kloppenburg has until May 31st to challenge the recount results in court. And her campaign manager Melissa Mulliken has left that door open, saying there were widespread problems with the original balloting. But Accountability Board Chairman Thomas Barland disputed that claim. He said minor mistakes were found and corrected - and that happens in every election. Many saw the Supreme Court contest as a referendum on the Republican law to virtually end collective bargaining for most public employee unions. Union supporters lined up behind Kloppenburg, while conservatives backed Prosser. And in what was supposed to be a neutral election, the statewide voting closely followed Republican and Democratic trends. Kloppenburg won many of the state's Democratic districts, and vice versa.
Police received a threat on March first that electric service would be shut off to the State Capitol, while Governor Scott Walker was speaking about his new state budget. It never happened. But state Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch mentioned the threat in a legal document connected with a lawsuit that challenges the limits on public access to the statehouse. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reviewed the document. And it said the administration ordered non-essential workers at the Capitol Heat-and-Power Plant to leave during Walker's late-afternoon budget address. Huebsch apparently mentioned the threat to justify the current limits on Capitol access - even though Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert told Walker's people to drop those limits back in March. The state's largest employee union accuses the administration of ignoring the judge, and Albert will decide this week whether to punish Walker's people for that. The judge said the Capitol's access should go back to what it was in January - with all eight entrances open instead of just two, and without the metal detectors and extra police at the entrances. Officials say they need to continue all that, to protect people until the question of restricting public union bargaining is settled once-and-for-all. The measure is tied up in court for now. And Republicans have talked about adding it to the new state budget if the court battle keeps dragging on.
Sixty-six Wisconsin communities have gotten out of a state requirement to disinfect their drinking water. Governor Scott Walker signed a bill yesterday that throws out a DNR rule from last year. It would have made about 12-percent of Wisconsin communities install disinfecting equipment by December of 2013. The vast majority of places disinfect their water, and the ones that don't serve about 85,000 people. They include Rice Lake, Ladysmith, and Tomahawk. Officials from Balsam Lake in northwest Wisconsin said it would have cost three-million-dollars to upgrade their water system. And they couldn't afford it, so they asked freshman Assembly Republican Erik Severson to repeal the mandate. He convinced his majority GOP colleagues to do it. The DNR tried in vain to preserve the requirement. It cited a study which showed that people in communities without disinfected water get more gastro-intestinal illnesses.
State lawmakers will decide today whether to make Wisconsin students pay an extra $1,400 to attend the University of Minnesota in the next two years. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will consider Governor Scott Walker's plan to make the students cover what the state's been paying Minnesota under a tuition reciprocity program. For over four decades, Wisconsin students have paid in-state tuition to attend colleges in Minnesota -- and vice versa. One state normally pays the other to equal out the cost differences. In 2009, Wisconsin gave Minnesota $13-million-dollars - its largest payment since 1975. Walker is trying to cut down those payments as part of his effort to wipe out a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. The extra tuition would save the state around $17-million-dollars by the middle of 2013.
Governor Scott Walker gave himself the power yesterday to block the rules that are drafted to carry out laws passed by the Wisconsin Legislature. Walker signed a bill that lets the governor's office kill administrative rules passed by state agencies before they can get to the Legislature to be ratified. The Republican Walker has said that bureaucrats sometimes go too far in enforcing what the Legislature intends - and it hurts business. Yesterday, he called the new law "one more way that we're making it more appealing to do business in the state of Wisconsin." But state education officials have said the governor's new power might be unconstitutional. They said it could take away the will of the voters who elect the superintendent that runs the education department. Walker disputes that, saying no elected official can act arbitrarily. Education spokesman John Johnson says they're keeping their options open in deciding how to respond. Critics say Walker is also trying to exert power over the Government Accountability Board - which is supposed to have the independence to investigate corruption in state government. Board officials refused to comment. Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca of Kenosha says it gives Walker "unprecedented authority" - it will weaken the Legislature as a separate but equal branch of government - and it won't do much to help business.
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board gave its final approvals today to three state Senate recall elections. The board threw out claims that Democratic organizers registered improperly, when they set up petition drives against Republicans Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Luther Olsen of Ripon, and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac. The GOP can challenge today's actions in court. But if they don't prevail, the recall elections or primaries would be held July 12th - and general elections with primaries would tentatively be set for August 9th. The board said there were enough valid signatures to hold all three elections. Three other Republicans and three Democrats also face possible recall votes - and the board will take up those cases a week from tomorrow. The Democrats said people were misled into signing recall petitions against their members - and the party wants the recall petitions thrown out for that reason. The Republicans are targeted for voting in favor of the limits on public union bargaining which are now tied up in the courts. The Democrats were targeted to skipping out of Madison for three weeks in a failed attempt to block a vote on the measure.