State Government and Political News Briefs: Lake Michigan ferry owner angry at Walker' s support of competitorWisconsin News
-- The owner of a Milwaukee car ferry across Lake Michigan said Governor Scott Walker was wrong to help out the ferry’s competitor.
MILWAUKEE - The owner of a Milwaukee car ferry across Lake Michigan said Governor Scott Walker was wrong to help out the ferry’s competitor.
Walker asked the federal EPA earlier this month to temporarily extend a permit to allow the SS Badger ferry to keep dumping coal-ash emissions into Lake Michigan. The Badger’s current permit expires December 19th, and it wants an extension while it keeps working on an alternative emission system. The Badger runs between Manitowoc and Ludington, Michigan, and it’s the last coal-fired steamship on the Great Lakes. The Lake Express Ferry, which runs a faster boat from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan opposes an extension for its competitor. Owner Sheldon Lubar says Walker was misled and he’s quote, “supporting further pollution of our state’s most precious asset – Lake Michigan.” The governor’s office said it gave the Badger’s owners a $75,000 to help accelerate an alternative to coal-ash emissions. Walker’s office also said it received four-thousand letters and phone calls urging him to support an extension of the Badger’s permit. But Lubar said the supporters were quote, “canvassed from Michigan” and elsewhere, and they do not represent Wisconsin interests.
The owner of a Milwaukee industrial equipment maker has joined other U.S. employers in telling their workers what might happen to them if President Obama gets re-elected. The Journal Sentinel’s Web site posted an e-mail today from Mike White, chairman of Rite-Hite. He said he respects his employees’ right-to-vote as they choose – but White told them to think carefully about their vote in order to quote, “protect the business you have helped build.” Unlike some employers, White did not threaten layoffs if the president wins. Westgate Resorts’ CEO David Siegel has said that if taxes are raised, quote, “I will have no choice but to reduce the size” of his luxury resort business. CEO’s for Koch Industries, Murray Energy, and ASG Software have also told their employees the possible consequences of an Obama victory. And the website of the The Nation magazine said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has started a campaign to have companies include political statements in pay envelopes – including who not to vote for. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed such activity in its “Citizens United” decision – the one that legalized corporate involvement in politics. According to “The Nation,” companies used to be limited to encouraging civic participation – but now, they can make political appeals in the workplace for specific candidates. White said his Milwaukee firm could not reinvest its profits if Obama’s re-elected. His memo said they would go to quote, “the abyss that is Washington D.C.” White also said his employees’ retirement would be at risk, because company contributions would end. And he said Rite-Hite might have to drop its health insurance, because employees would find it cheaper to go into a government plan under the Obama health reforms. White also tried to dispel the notion that his firm pays 17-percent in taxes, quote, “as Warren Buffett would have you believe.” He said it’s more like 45-percent in federal-and-state taxes – and it could go as high as 65-percent if Obama wins.
U.S. House Republican F. James Sensenbrenner has over $280,000 in his campaign fund, as he tries to get elected to his 35th and 36th years in office. The dean of the state’s congressional delegation is running against Democrat David Heaster, who has not been as active as Sensenbrenner in campaigning. The Federal Elections Commission said the Menomonee Falls lawmaker raised $532,000 dollars from January through October 17th. Heaster has until midnight to file his campaign finance report. He’s an information technology engineer for the Kohler Company near Sheboygan.
Janesville Republican Congressman Paul Ryan has over four times as much money as his Democratic challenger for a U.S. House race that he barely has time to campaign for. Ryan has the usual yard signs, TV ads, etcetera – but the candidate himself admits he’s lucky to be back home once a week, as he campaigns around the country for vice president. The Federal Election Commission said Ryan has raised almost five-million dollars from January through October 17th, to try and keep the First District House seat he’s held for 14 years. And Ryan still has just under three-million-dollars in his congressional campaign fund. His opponent, former Kenosha County Board member Rob Zerban, said he has about $660,000 on hand. He raised around two-million-dollars since the first-of-the-year, and his campaign has a $100,000. Wisconsin law allows Ryan to run for his current House seat and the vice-presidency at the same time. If Mitt Romney wins the White House next month, Ryan will step down from his House seat – and a special election will be held sometime after.
A Madison activist is on the Wisconsin ballot as the Green Party’s candidate for vice president. But there’s only one problem – he’s not running. Ben Manski offered his name as a place-holder when Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was circulating her nominating petitions in the Badger State. And as a result, Manski was listed as Stein’s running mate instead of the choice she made later, Cheri Honkala of Philadelphia. But with Manski on the ballot, Wisconsin voters have two candidates from their own state to choose from as vice president. The other was put on the ballot by design – Republican Paul Ryan of Janesville.
Wisconsin’s job creation agency says it’s reviewing dozens of past-due loans given to businesses to help them grow. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation never checked the status of almost 100 tax-funded loans that were in play before the public-private agency replaced the old State Commerce Department last year. As a result, the agency has said that about nine-million dollars are past due. The figure could go higher, but spokesman Tom Thieding says the final number won’t be known until each loan in question is reviewed individually. Almost half of the nine-million was loaned to Flambeau River Papers and Flambeau River Bio-Fuels, both run by William “Butch” Johnson. The loans helped to save a formerly bankrupt paper mill that Johnson bought in 2006. It now employs about 350 people. Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he’ll repay two-million owed by the paper plant, but he’ll need more time. He said the bio-fuels’ company closed six months ago, after it tested a new way to turn logging waste into diesel fuel. Johnson said the conversion was not cost-effective, compared to oil-and-natural gas. He mentioned his own guarantee of a million-dollars that’s still owed to the state for the project, but he said the business had very few assets to cover the rest.
Electric customers in south-central Wisconsin will pay almost three-percent less next year. The state Public Service Commission gave preliminary approval yesterday to the rate reduction for Wisconsin Power-and-Light. The decrease was made possible because the utility’s costs for producing electricity are going down. Power-and-Light first proposed a two-and-a-half percent rate cut for 2013. But the utility expanded it to 2.9 percent after forecasts showed that fuel costs at power plants will keep going down. As a result, Power-and-Light expects to cut its revenues by $29-million dollars next year. The company is based in Madison, and it serves parts of southern and central Wisconsin.
The September 11th terrorist attacks have become the latest bone-of-contention in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. Republican Tommy Thompson made a TV ad which criticized his Democratic opponent Tammy Baldwin, for voting against a 2006 U-S House resolution honoring the 9-11 victims. Baldwin’s camp quickly responded today with its own ad, saying Thompson made three-million dollars off the tragedy after a health care firm won a government contract to treat first responders. In the Thompson ad, Navy veteran Ron Amato called Baldwin’s vote a “slap in the face” to 9-11 families and veterans. And he said Baldwin’s quote, “extreme, far-left approach leaves this country in jeopardy.” John Kraus of the Baldwin campaign called the Thompson ad a sign of desperation. The Thompson camp stood by the ad – as well as Thompson’s actions in helping Logistics Health of La Crosse win an $11-million-dollar contract to treat 9-11 emergency responders. Thompson was the firm’s president at the time, and he made three-million dollars when the company was sold last year. The AP said Baldwin had voted nine times in favor of resolutions for the 9-11 victims – but she voted against the 2006 measure because it also endorsed things she opposed, like the Patriot Act and immigration reform. Mahlon Mitchell – the state firefighters’ union president who lost as a Democrat for lieutenant governor this year – chided Thompson for bringing up the matter. Mitchell said it irritates him when people try to quote, “politicize 9-11.”
Wisconsin’s registered voters cannot afford to let their mailboxes go unchecked for more than a day, lest they get jammed by all the political fliers. Millions of dollars are being spent on direct mailings in Badger-land and the other battleground states in the race for the White House. They’re cheaper than TV ads – as little as a dime per mailing. And they’re often targeted to specific groups, sometimes with confusing results. Senior citizens, for example, are being bombarded with dueling fliers from the Obama and Romney camps – each pointing fingers at the other of wanting to cut back on Medicare. Customer service representative Diane Ouradink of Manitowoc says she trashes all of it without reading a word. She says it’s too overwhelming and it’s quote, “too much from all sides.” Strategists say most voters at least scan what they get – and they really hope that folks will give the material to neighbors who are undecided. Some businesses profit from the fliers. Of course, that includes printers – and Wisconsin has a number of commercial printing firms. Then there are the recyclers. It’s been a state law for 21 years to recycle the type of paper you get in the political mailings. And it’s really a shot in the arm for the financially-beleaguered U.S. Postal Service. In 2010, without a presidential election, the government mail system made $338-million from almost two billion political mailings. And they expect the numbers to be much higher this year.
A rising star of the Republican party tells supporters Wisconsin has done a good job of developing leaders in recent years. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at a Milwaukee campaign center today. He named U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Congress Paul Ryan, now running for vice president. Rubio urged people in the crowd to vote early, then work to get their family and friends to cast their ballots. He says the ideas supported by Democrats to improve the economy have failed everywhere they’ve ever been tried. Rubio says the U.S. also needs a reformed tax code, energy independence and leaders have to lower the national debt.