Friday State News Briefs: Priebus re-elected as RNC ChairWisconsin News
-- Racine native Reince Priebus was re-elected today to head the Republican National Committee, despite major election losses that occurred on his watch.
CHARLOTTE - Racine native Reince Priebus was re-elected today to head the Republican National Committee, despite major election losses that occurred on his watch.
The 40-year-old Priebus took over the national party reins two years ago. And he was un-opposed at the committee’s winter meeting in Charlotte. National committeeman Mark Willis of Maine wanted to challenge Priebus – but he needed the backing of three states to get on the ballot, and he didn’t get it. Many Republicans considered last November’s elections to be a disaster after Democrats kept control of the White House and the Senate, and gained seats in the GOP-controlled House.
November 2014 is still too far away for most of us to even think about. But both major political parties are already staking their ground for what promises to be some huge elections in 21 months. The State Republican Party will hold grand-opening celebrations tomorrow for four campaign offices in Waukesha, Madison, Green Bay, and Eau Claire. Field directors will set up county operations, and develop outreach efforts to potential voters. Last week, state Democrats said it would hire political directors in Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Green Bay. They said they’ll need to work overtime, to overcome the apparent advantage Republicans created for themselves when they re-drew the state’s legislative and congressional districts. The GOP, meanwhile, hopes to keep making gains. Republican Governor Scott Walker is up for re-election in 2014 – and Democrats hope to cut into the GOP’s majorities in both houses of the state Legislature and the Wisconsin’s U.S. House delegation.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville says his fellow Republicans need to be smarter and more selective about the policy battles they choose to wage. He plans to make that point tomorrow, when he and Governor Scott Walker speak to a conservative summit in Washington, put on by the National Review Institute. Ryan tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel there are a number of reasons that Republicans lost the White House and key Senate contests last November. They included quote, “getting distracted in petty partisan fights … and not speaking effectively to voters outside the party’s base.” Ryan said Democrats were also able to cloud issues and affix views to Republicans that they didn’t have. He said he has quote, “no ill will whatsoever” toward President Obama – but he said Republicans still believe he’s more interested in “partisan conquest than bi-partisan compromise.” Ryan also said he needs to convince voters in his own district that he’s the same man he was before he was picked to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Ryan won his eighth term in Congress by his smallest margin ever, 12 points over Democrat Rob Zerban. He said more of his constituents slapped a party label on him, instead of seeing him as merely their representative.
A new report says Wisconsin does a poor job of training school teachers – although the state did get a little better after new policies were adopted. The National Council for Teacher Quality gave the Badger State a grade of “D”-plus for its policies that deal with teacher preparation. That’s a slight improvement from last year’s grade of “D.” The group said Wisconsin took a step in the right direction by making elementary school teachers pass reading and science tests, and putting more of a focus on evaluating teachers according to their students’ performance. But the Teacher Quality Council said the state should also raise its admission requirements for teacher training at universities. And it said more should be done to make sure elementary teachers have enough knowledge of their subject matter. The group also recommends separate teaching licenses for elementary and middle school instructors. It also said the state should close what it calls a loophole that allows social students and science instructors to teach courses in which they don’t have enough knowledge.
Governor Scott Walker drew applause today, when told educators in Milwaukee that he would propose increases in state school aid in his next two-year budget. But the Republican governor told reporters afterward that the additional money would not come close to the $800-million that he and legislative Republicans cut in school aid two years ago. In the governor’s words – “This is not about back-filling things.” Walker also told reporters that he would not relax state school revenue limits – because he did not want to do anything that causes local property taxes to increase. Walker allowed school districts to save money by putting clamps on union demands – and by making employees pay more for their health insurance and retirement. The Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance said those actions off-set about two-thirds of the reduction in school aid for the last year school year. Walker told the state’s 92nd Education Conference that he’ll propose both an increase in general school aid – plus special funds for high-performing schools in which the best teachers could get merit bonuses. Details are expected in the governor’s budget package, which he plans to submit to the Legislature on February 20th.
The National Center for Education Statistics releases a report showing Wisconsin’s 91-point-1 percent high school graduation rate is the second best in the nation. The national average for the most recent year measured, 2009-2010, was a little over 78 percent. Wisconsin’s rate has grown by five percent since 2004 and has consistently ranked first or second in the nation. The same report shows Wisconsin’s high school drop-out rate is 2-point-2 percent, tied for 10th-lowest among the states. DPI Superintendent Tony Evers is asking budget writers for more funding for programs encouraging at-risk students to get involved with work-study programs and stay engaged in schools. Evers says no drop-out rate other than perfection is acceptable.
The state government surplus has grown to $485-million for the current budget period – but the growth in state revenues in the following two years will be smaller than expected. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said yesterday that state tax revenues have grown faster than what was projected last November. Experts credit a healthier growth in the economy. As a result, the surplus for the current budget which ends in June is $137-million higher than what was last projected. Republican Governor Scott Walker says it will give him more room to provide a major cut in income taxes over the next two years. Democrats say they also favor an income tax cut, as long as it goes mainly to the middle class. Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee said some of the extra money should also be used to restore things that were cut last time, like education and job training. Meanwhile, the smaller-than-expected revenue growth in the following budget could put a crimp into programs for the next budget – but neither party is saying much about that yet. The Walker administration was expecting Congress to restore the federal estate tax – but that didn’t happen in the recent deal that averted the federal fiscal cliff. As a result, the Fiscal Bureau expects tax collections to rise by 2.4 percent in the first year of the next budget period, and 3.6 percent in the following year.
The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese says it will run out of operating funds in April, unless a bankruptcy court creates some breathing room. The church has paid around nine-million dollars on legal and consulting fees in the bankruptcy case it filed two years ago. Yesterday, the archdiocese asked Judge Susan Kelley for permission to stop paying all those fees, except for 125-thousand dollars on a financial re-organization plan. The church also wants to use insurance money to keep challenging compensation claims made by those who were sexually abused by priests. Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said the church needs relief from its bankruptcy bills. And without it, quote, “We will be unable to continue operating.” He said the archdiocese has used all its money from savings, reserves, investments, and funds that were budget for litigation. The church’s creditors – which include hundreds of sex abuse victims – blame the archdiocese for its predicament. Creditors’ attorney James Stang says the church has spent a “fortune” trying to throw out the damage claims for its abusive priests. Stang said no other bankrupt diocese in the country has used its resources to object to claims the way Milwaukee has. But Topczewski says the creditors have brought frivolous legal issues – including the one to make parishes in the 10-county archdiocese pay the victims. Kelley recently said no to that.
A former Lutheran church official in Wisconsin will go to prison for four years, for violating his probation on a child pornography conviction. 53-year-old Joel Hochmuth was sentenced a year ago to a year in the Waukesha County with work release privileges and 10 years of probation. And a judge warned him that he would go to prison to 15 years, if there was any hint that he goes back to possessing child porn. His attorney, Paul Bucher, said his client’s new violations do not involve child porn or sex assault. He said Hochmuth admitted masturbating in a wooded area during his work-release job as a landscaper. And he watched a boys’ cross country team during a race. Bucher said sex offenders are on very short leashes during their probation. Hochmuth is a former communications director for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He was arrested in 2011 for downloading hundreds of images of boys engaged in sex acts with other males. Besides his new prison term, Hochmuth will spend five years under extended supervision when he gets out.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. tells people calling 911 for help is no longer their best option. In a radio spot which started airing yesterday, Clarke said personal safety is no longer a spectator sport. Clarke says you can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed – or fight back. He is urging people to take a firearm safety course and learn how to handle a firearm so they can defend themselves until law enforcement help arrives. Clarke said, quoting here, “We’re partners now. Can I count on you?”
Former Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee Jr. goes back behind bars today, after he had his first two days of freedom since 2007 when he was arrested for corruption. McGee completed a nearly four-year federal prison term on Wednesday. He was convicted of using his power to grant liquor licenses to extort thousands-of-dollars in cash and other items from business owners. McGee’s federal sentence was shortened by 10 months for good behavior. Now, he’ll begin a one-year term in the Milwaukee County Correctional Facility in Franklin on state convictions. Those include lying to an elections official in a vote-buying scheme, and violating a court order in connection with a John Doe investigation. Ten other charges were dropped in a plea deal – including allegations that he plotted with a friend to have a man beaten up. During his county jail time, McGee will be eligible for temporary releases for work, and to help take care of his kids. But McGee was rejected this week in his effort to get a driver’s license, because he previously had licenses under two names. He was born as Michael Jackson, but had used the McGee name his entire life. In 2006, prosecutors said he made up a Social Security number to get a license under the Jackson name, after his license under the McGee name was suspended.
When she is sentenced in March a Wausaukee woman could get up to 11 years in prison for embezzlement. Forty-one year old Amanda Stumbris pleaded guilty to four felony counts of Theft from a Business Setting in Marinette County Court yesterday. She admitted stealing more than 130 thousand dollars from a volunteer ambulance service over a three year period. District Attorney Allen Brey compares the crime to stealing from a church collection plate. Stumbris used the organizations checks and a debit card to steal the money.
The new snow in northern Wisconsin is being blamed for the death of an 83-year-old woman in a one-car crash. Lucille Engrisch of Rice Lake was killed about 6:45 last night on the Highway 53 expressway near Chetek in Barron County. The State Patrol said she was going north when she tried to exit the four-lane – but the car missed the exit ramp, hit a highway sign, and rolled over. A 57-year-old passenger was taken to a hospital with serious injuries that were not life-threatening. The State Patrol said light snow was falling at the time of the mishap, and the freeway was snow covered and slippery. Troopers are still investigating.
It was still snowing at noon in most of northern and central Wisconsin – and some places got more than what was predicted. Taylor County had the most. Five-point-two inches fell near Medford. Three Lakes in Oneida County had over four-and-a-half inches. Marinette and Tigerton had three-and-a-half. Other places in the region had between a half-inch and three inches as of mid-morning. It also snowed close to Lake Michigan. Milwaukee County had 15 crashes during a morning hour in which traffic went slower than normal. Several people had minor injuries. The snow is expected to leave this afternoon, and another blast of Arctic air is due in. Tonight’s lows are supposed to range from 12-below in the far-north to seven-above in the south. A warming trend is expected from tomorrow night into early next week. Some parts of Wisconsin could get sleet on Sunday, as the mercury returns to near the freezing mark. The northern half of Wisconsin has a fresh coat of snow this morning. Anywhere from a half-inch to three-inches fell between last night and six a.m. Kewaunee and Lake Tomahawk reported the most. Places along Lake Superior have had new snow accumulate since Wednesday. Gile in Iron County had six-and-a-half inches by yesterday afternoon. Today’s early morning temperatures are warmer than they’ve been all week. Readings were in the teens every place in Wisconsin except in the southwest, where Prairie du Chien was the warm spot with 21 at seven a.m.. Wind chills are generally in the single digits, with Antigo being the coldest at three-below. Forecasters say most of the snow should be gone by noon – and another blast of cold air is due in tonight, with lows down to 12-below in far northwest Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s production of red meat went down by seven-percent last year. The USDA reports a total red meat output of 115-million pounds. National beef production fell by one-percent. Cattle slaughter in the Badger State totaled 138,600, down almost 10-percent. Average live weights for meat animals went up by 19 pounds, to just over 13-hundred. Wisconsin’s total hog slaughter for the old year was 38-thousand-600, down by around 63-hundred. The total hog herd dropped by six-percent in 2012, to around 320-thousand head.
A 20-year-old Berlin man will spend 10 years in prison for causing a drunken hit-and-run crash that killed a teenager and injured two other people. Max Winkel was also ordered to spend five years under extended supervision when he gets out, plus five more years on probation. Waushara County authorities said Winkel’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when he left a drinking party at 4:15 in the morning in September of 2011. Officials said Winkel slammed into a car on Highway 21, and then drove away. 17-year-old Devin Klein died at the scene of that crash, and two others were sent to a hospital with injuries. A few minutes later, officials said Winkel was involved in another crash in which a vehicle hit several trees and a large rock. Winkel and another teen were treated for injuries from that crash. Winkel was charged with nine felony counts, and he was convicted on six of them – including hit-and-run and drunk driving, both causing death-and-injuries. He was also ordered to pay almost two-thousand dollars in restitution.
Madison Police now say the estranged husband of a state health researcher killed himself, apparently after he killed her. Bernard Grosso and Jennifer Boyce were scheduled to have a divorce finalized today in Dane County Circuit Court. The 31-year-old Boyce was found dead yesterday morning – and police found Grosso’s body late last night when they searched his home. Police are investigating the case as a murder-suicide. Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Boyce suffered multiple injuries, and she died Wednesday – one day before an apartment manager found her body in a newer neighborhood on the city’s far east side. DeSpain said a loaded assault rifle was found during the search of Grosso’s home, along with another firearm. Relatives said Boyce was an epidemiologist with the state Division of Health, and she had participated in Madison’s Ironman Triathlon