Afternoon State News Briefs: Authorities still investigating explosion at Sheboygan chemical plantWisconsin News
-- Authorities in Sheboygan continue to investigate an explosion-and-fire at a chemical plant.
SHEBOYGAN - Authorities in Sheboygan continue to investigate an explosion-and-fire at a chemical plant.
A blast at Hexion Specialty Chemicals was reported about 4:30 yesterday morning. One employee was in a control room at the plant, but was not hurt. The fire put itself out, and Sheboygan fire officials said there were no chemical leaks. Damage was estimated at $25,000.
A steady recovery continues in Wisconsin’s housing market. The state’s Realtors sold just over 3,600 existing houses in February, 11-percent more than in the same month a year ago. The Realtors Association said it was the 20th straight month of double-digit sales increases. The median selling price jumped by over six-percent last month, to $122,000 dollars, compared with $114,950 in February of 2012. Association board chair Renny Diedrich said the housing market has been on a strong growth path since mid-2011 – and the trends are positive going into the spring home-selling season. Selling prices were helped by a drop in available inventory. Available homes were 13-percent less in February than the year before.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he loves his job and isn’t running for any other job. Speculation went rampant late last week when the Republican state leader told a reporter from Politico.com he wouldn’t rule out a run for president in 2016. He also wouldn’t commit to serving a second term if re-elected in 2014. At Monday news conference, Walker told reporters he’s worked long and hard to become governor, winning the race in 2010 and surviving a recall in 2012. He says he’s not looking for any other job. Walker also clarified his comments on gay marriage, saying he is opposed. Over the weekend he suggested he would be open to leaving the determination to religions, rather than the state, to decide who is married and who isn’t. Walker’s comments today came at a news conference announcing a new tourism campaign.
Governor Walker said today that he still supports Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, despite what he said about the subject on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. The Republican Walker said on the national TV show that he sees a generational gap on the issue – and that young people are questioning why the government’s involved in the first place. Walker said it would be quote, “an alternative” not to have the government sanction marriage and quote, “leave that up to the churches and the synagogues and others to define that.” The issue came up after U.S. Senate Republican Rob Portman of Ohio said he changed his stance, and now supports gay marriage. Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to ban gay marriage and civil unions. Walker told reporters in Madison at his tourism conference today that he remains in favor of the anti-gay-marriage amendment – but he’s more focused on economic issues. He says voters care more about the economy and jobs.
The head of the Republican National Committee – Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus – issued a scathing report today which said the GOP’s policies are turning off American voters, and alienating young people and minorities. Priebus commissioned an unusually blunt study after Mitt Romney lost to President Obama last November. The 98-page report included extensive operational proposals for quote, “a more welcoming brand of conservatism.” It said that unless changes are made, “It will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” Speaking in Washington, Priebus – a Kenosha native and former head of the Wisconsin GOP – was unsparing in his criticisms of the GOP’s 2012 White House campaign. Quote, “Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren’t inclusive. Our primary and debate process needed improvement.” He promised solutions to all that. On CBS yesterday, Priebus said Republicans must relate better to everyday Americans. And today’s report said, “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them, or want them in the country.” The report said young voters see the GOP as “old, and detached from pop culture.” The study did not suggest policy changes, except to “counter the party’s image as an arm of business.” It said Republicans should start “blowing the whistle at corporate malfeasance, and attack corporate welfare.”
A candidate for state school superintendent says he is not blacklisting reporters. Assembly Republican Don Pridemore said a former aide misinterpreted comments he made about five journalists – and all he wanted to do was talk directly to them when they call, and not let staffers speak on his behalf. Pridemore said comments he made to the five reporters were misconstrued in the past. They’re from newspapers and their Web sites in Madison and Milwaukee, plus an AP reporter. Pridemore is running against incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers in an election two weeks from tomorrow. Pridemore said the staffer in question resigned two months ago.
Janesville police say a man arrested on seventh offense OUI charges registered a blood alcohol content of more than five times the legal limit. Police say 37 year old Ronald E. Campbell Jr. had slammed his car into a parked vehicle early this morning. Nobody was in the parked vehicle. Campbell initially agreed to field sobriety tests, but he refused to finish. The investigating officer said he smelled a strong odor of intoxicants, the suspect was unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred. He says Campbell admitted to be drunk. The Beloit man was arrested on suspicion of operating after revocation.
People who live in the Madison School District will be able to ask questions of the candidates for superintendent at a form scheduled for Thursday at Operation Fresh Start. Several items already set for discussion include drop-out rates, drop-out recovery efforts, goals for the new superintendent, labor relations and the new budget. Young people with Operation Fresh Start will be participating. The forum will start at 3:30 p.m. at the office, 1925 Winnebago Street.
Wisconsinites could soon learn where millions of their state tax dollars are going. Gannett Wisconsin Media says the Walker administration will launch a new Web site this spring called “Open Book Wisconsin.” Gannett quotes an internal e-mail from Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, which says the new Web site will list salaries-and-fringe benefits of all state employees and lawmakers, including UW personnel. And it will list the state’s spending on capital projects, as well as all state grants and contracts. The state created a Web site called “Contract Sunshine” in 2006 to list the state government’s contracts. But Gannett reported four years later that only 14-of-98 agencies followed the law and put their contracts online. It said compliance got better after that, but it’s not where it should be. The state Government Accountability Board runs the “Contract Sunshine” site – and it says it will keep running the site until the Legislature orders them to stop.
Seventeen people have been arrested for soliciting children on the Internet for sexual activity. The State Justice Department announced the arrests this morning, after it conducted a three-day sting last week called “Operation Black Vail.” Sheriff’s officers from Dane, Brown, Outagamie, and Door counties took part in the investigation – along with Madison Police and other agencies. There were six arrests each in Green Bay and Madison. Five other communities made one arrest each – Wausau, Minocqua, Shawano, Appleton, and Kenosha. The suspects were all men ranging in age from 18-to-54. They were booked on several possible charges including child enticement, child trafficking, and using computers to facilitate sex crimes. Authorities were planning to say more about the operation at a late morning news conference in Green Bay.
One of the governor’s budget proposals would make it easier to lease or sell state-owned property. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says Governor Scott Walker’s budget would give his Administration Department the ability to sell properties without the blessing of the agency that’s directly affected. The State Building Commission – which is chaired by the governor – would still have the final say over all land-and-building sales. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie says the main goal is to make it easier to sell off state-owned power plants or land that’s not used. But UW spokesman David Giroux tells the Wisconsin State Journal that university lands would be affected – and school officials want to know more about the reasons for the budget item. Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha says the budget proposal is overly broad. He calls it a quote, “continuing power grab” on the part of the GOP. Barca says it deserves a debate outside of the massive budget process. He also says that if Walker wants to sell off power plants, then the language of the measure would specifically reflect that.
A 31-year-old man was killed this morning in a one-vehicle crash west of Appleton. Police in the town of Grand Chute said a driver veered off the Highway 41 expressway, slammed through a fence, drove across a town road, and hit a snow-bank. The man died at the scene. Grand Chute Police were looking for witnesses at last word. The victim’s name was not immediately released. Meanwhile, an Appleton man died yesterday in another crash on Highway 41. It happened near Green Bay in the southbound lanes. Hobart-Lawrence Police said a vehicle driven by 70-year-old Donald Liebergen drove into a ditch and through a fence before hitting a tree. Liebergen was taken to a hospital, where he died.