State Government and Political Round-up: Judge facing re-election challenge for signing recall petitionWisconsin News
-- One of 29 Wisconsin circuit judges who signed recall petitions against Governor Scott Walker is now facing his first-ever election challenge because of it.
OZAUKEE - One of 29 Wisconsin circuit judges who signed recall petitions against Governor Scott Walker is now facing his first-ever election challenge because of it.
Former Milwaukee prosecutor Joe Voiland is running in April against Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram, who’s spent the last 19 years on the bench. Voiland accuses Wolfgram of taking sides politically, by joining over 900,000 Wisconsinites who signed petitions that forced the governor to stand in a recall election last year. Yesterday, four of Walker’s Republican allies in the Legislature announced their support for Voiland. Mequon Representative Jim Ott said Wolfgram quote, “supported the political chaos in Madison that threatened to shut down Wisconsin’s government.” Ott was referring to the massive protests at the State Capitol in 2011 over Walker’s law that virtually ended most public union bargaining in Wisconsin. Wolfgram denies taking a position on the issue. He said he signed the petition so he and others could have more time to learn about the union law, which was the main issue in the recall effort. And if a case involving the Walker law ever comes to his court, Wolfgram said he would offer to withdraw and admit that he signed the recall petition. The judge rolled out a series of his own endorsements yesterday, including State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler. Wolfgram was appointed to the Ozaukee County bench in 1994 to fill a vacancy, and was unopposed in three subsequent elections.
A bill which paves the way for a new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin will be up for a vote in the state Senate tomorrow. The Joint Finance Committee sent the measure to the upper house yesterday on a 12-4 party line vote. Republicans went out of their way to show that their package would not hurt the environment, as claimed by Democrats and others who oppose the Gogebic Taconite project in Ashland and Iron counties. Attorney Larry Konopacki of the non-partisan Legislative Council said the bill allows any wetlands destroyed by a mine to be moved elsewhere – and there would be little or no changes in laws on drinking and groundwater standards, sewage permits, and air emissions. Senate GOP Finance Chair Alberta Darling said a mine would still have to meet exhaustive state-and-federal regulations before getting a permit. She said the contention that Republicans want to hurt the environment quote, “sort of gets at our integrity.” GOP members struck down six amendments from Democrats, including a tax on what the new mine produces instead of the income it generates. Critics said the mine’s profits would be minimal at the beginning – and would return very little to state and local governments.
A group that opposes Wisconsin’s mining incentive bill says growing numbers of state residents are against it, too. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said it commissioned a survey earlier this month. It found that 62-percent of the over-900 residents surveyed are against the Republican package in its current form. Twenty-nine percent are in favor. The bill is designed to make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to get approval to build a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Supporters say the region badly needs the jobs the mine would create – while opponents are concerned mainly about possible water contamination and other pollution. Republicans said they addressed a host of environmental concerns with 11 changes after the package was introduced. The conservation league said its poll was taken earlier this month with a random sampling of residents, and an error margin of plus-or-minus three percent. The poll also showed that 78-percent are against a two-million-dollar limit on mining companies’ fees paid to the DNR during the state permit process. Seventy-seven percent were also concerned that Gogebic Taconite helped draft the bill before it was made public. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee endorsed the mining package yesterday. It’s up for a vote in the Senate tomorrow.
Developers of a large wind energy farm in western Wisconsin are asking state officials to change their minds about rejecting it. Emerging Energies of Hubertus has asked the Public Service Commission to re-consider a construction permit on Friday for the new Highland project in Saint Croix County. Officials want the developers and the project’s opponents to file new documents by tomorrow which outline their stands. The commission will then decide whether to take the matter up again. The PSC recently voted 2-1 against the new wind farm, saying it would occasionally exceed state noise limits – thus causing problems for several homes that are nearby. Emerging Energies says it does not need to re-design the project to remove the noise concerns. The firm says it can program its turbines to reduce power, when wind-speeds would cause the noise limits to be exceeded. The Highland project is the only major wind energy farm that’s pending in Wisconsin at the moment.
A state panel has agreed to budget $15-million to train employees over the next two years. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee also voted yesterday to spend another five-million dollars to create a new-and-improved computer system to keep track of open jobs, and match people to fill them. Four new state employees will be hired to develop the system. State Senate Republican Joe Leibham of Sheboygan said it will help state officials more quickly identify job shortages, so workers can be trained appropriately. But state Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine questioned the need for the computer system, saying the five-million dollars should be added to the training funds instead.