(Update) State Government and Political News: Gov. Walker expands the state of emergency to all 72 countiesWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin’s state-of-emergency for the current drought has been expanded to all 72 counties.
MADISON - Wisconsin’s state-of-emergency for the current drought has been expanded to all 72 counties.
Until now, only the southern half of the state was affected. But Governor Scott Walker extended the emergency status yesterday. He told Wisconsin Emergency Management to coordinate the state’s response to the drought – and Walker told all state agencies to help out with the recovery efforts. Walker’s declaration also speeds up the DNR’s process for letting farmers divert water from lakes-and-streams if it doesn’t cause serious environmental damage. But many farmers don’t have the equipment for such diversions, and DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp recently said many lakes are losing water as it is. In extending the emergency, Walker cited new forecasts for continued dry-and-hot weather, agricultural losses, and an increase in wildfires. The DNR has responded to over 300 wildfires since the beginning of June, and over 50 counties have at least a moderate fire danger. Southern Wisconsin had severe thunderstorms last night, and there’s a chance for more rain today. But Weather Service officials say the state would need days of steady, soaking rains to catch up from its moisture shortfalls.
Governor Walker says he’ll tour the most drought-stricken areas of Wisconsin tomorrow. Walker plans to visit southwest and southeast areas. He’ll hold meetings there with legislative leaders, department officials, and others on how the state can help. Walker extended a drought state-of-emergency to all of Wisconsin yesterday, even though the U-S Drought Monitor is not reporting dry conditions in about the northern half of the Badger State. Walker says forecasts call for more dry weather – and he says the state has been plagued by hundreds of wildfires and major economic losses, especially on the farm.
The federal government says drought conditions are getting worse in the southern half of Wisconsin. The U.S. Drought Monitor said today that all or parts of 17 southern-most counties are in an extreme drought. That’s one level worse than the severe drought status that was reported in the region a week ago. The extreme drought area covers a semi-circle with Lancaster to the west, Wisconsin Dells to the north, and Port Washington to the east. The severe drought status has moved northward along a curve from Viroqua to Adams-Friendship to southern Sheboygan County. Moderate drought conditions go as far north as Black River Falls, Stevens Point, and Manitowoc. Abnormally dry conditions go as far north as Alma, Marshfield, and Fish Creek in Door County. A small part of Florence County is also abnormally dry. The report reflects conditions as of Tuesday, before a series of heavy storms and downpours hit various parts of Wisconsin. But the National Weather Service says more rain has run off than soaked in – and therefore, it didn’t make a lot of difference. Meanwhile, a dry forecast returns for the extreme drought area. There’s no rain in the forecast until Sunday – and then, there’s only a 20-to-40-percent chance of showers through next Wednesday.
The four Republican U.S. Senate candidates took turns outlining their stands and backgrounds at a forum in Milwaukee yesterday. And afterward, the two leading hopefuls slammed each other’s credentials. Banker and hedge fund manager Eric Hovde said the biggest difference between him and front-runner Tommy Thompson is Hovde’s expertise in the financial markets. Hovde said he could talk about issues that the former governor Thompson would quote, “have a hard time understanding.” Thompson responded by saying he balanced state budgets for 14 years as governor – and he has never taken a dime of federal stimulus or banking bailout money. And Thompson said Hovde should be quote, “more concerned about the money he took than worrying about me.” Hovde has said he never received money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program – but some of the companies in which he invested did receive TARP funds. Thompson leads Hovde in two major polls. The former governor told the Milwaukee forum that he’s the best-known candidate among Wisconsin voters, and he has the best chance to defeat Democrat Tammy Baldwin in November. Thompson said he represents quote, “a sign of trust.” The other GOP hopefuls, Mark Neumann and Jeff Fitzgerald, said they’ve had plenty of experience in addressing government deficits – and they’d do the same in the U-S Senate if they’re elected. Yesterday’s forum was sponsored by the Citizens for Responsible Government.
U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde – who says he wants to reduce government deficits and handouts – has received federal tobacco subsidies through his real estate firm. Today, the Republican Hovde said he would drop those subsidies, after reporters questioned him about them. The Associated Press said Hovde Realty collected about eight-thousand dollars in tobacco payments from 2010 through this year. Spokesman John Kraus of Democrat Tammy Baldwin’s Senate campaign said Hovde believes there’s quote, “one set of rules for him and another for everybody else.” But Hovde said he didn’t know about the subsidies until reporters brought it up. And he responded quote, “It’s just another thing that I would try to kill.” Hovde’s family has been involved in real estate for decades in the Madison area. And the candidate said his father bought land that was once used for tobacco farming. It no longer serves that purpose – and today, it’s leased out for other farming operations. Hovde also used the development to lash out at fellow Senate GOP candidate Mark Neumann. Hovde said his tobacco payments were much smaller than a half-million-dollars in federal stimulus grants given to solar energy company that Neumann had owned.
The Wisconsin Senate’s new majority leader filed a request yesterday to obtain records which showed how Republicans drafted the state’s new legislative districts last year. Monona Democrat Mark Miller says he’ll make the files public if he can get his hands on them. The GOP drew the new maps in secret. And critics have said Republicans filled as many districts as possible with their own voters, to give them an edge in winning control of the Legislature throughout the next decade. But Democrats took over the Senate after winning a recall election last month. And Miller is trying to get the law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich to release a file showing how the district lines were set. The firm says it’s reviewing the request. Michael Best was hired to represent the Senate in the redistricting and the resulting lawsuits, but Democrats were shut out of the process. This spring, a federal court panel ruled that the new districts met the constitutional requirement of having roughly equal numbers of residents. The court ordered two Assembly districts in Milwaukee to be redrawn, to assure Hispanics of representation. Taxpayers have spent about $1.6 million on legal bills related to the redistricting that’s required after each 10-year Census.
The new No. 2 man at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation says he’ll improve lines of communication with the governor’s office and other state agencies. Ryan Murray, Governor Scott Walker’s deputy chief-of-staff, was transferred yesterday to the state’s public-private job creation agency. He said the agency quote, “dropped the ball” when it recently offered tax credits to a company without knowing that the firm was competing for a state contract. The Walker administration scrapped the bidding process, once it learned about the tax credits. The 30-year-old Murray will be the new chief operating officer for the department that’s in charge of attracting new-and-expanding companies and jobs. He replaces Mike Klonsinski, who will become the chief financial officer. Current CFO Eric Schroeder will leave. Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha questioned Murray’s appointment, saying he’s a political aide without enough business experience. But Murray said it was he who suggested to Walker that he create the new agency, after an outside group suggested it during the governor’s 2010 election campaign. Murray says he can help achieve Walker’s economic vision. Paul Jadin will continue to head the department. Meanwhile, Walker has named Senate Republican Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee to replace Murray as the deputy chief-of-staff. And Jocelyn Webster of the administration department replaces Chris Schrimpf as Walker’s communications director.