Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Milwaukee Press Club 'Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism' 2020 & 2021 Award Winners

Tony Evers’ Licensing Mess, Delays for Workers Criticized

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“Once again, a state agency is falling short for the workers of Wisconsin” – Alberta Darling on Tony Evers’ licensing delays

State Sen. Alberta Darling sent a letter Tuesday to the acting head of the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), Dan Hereth, asking for an update “on the plan to stop the licensing crisis the agency has yet to resolve in our state.”

DSPS is a state agency that is under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is engaged in a tough re-election battle with Republican businessman Tim Michels. In July, the agency’s head stepped down as delays in getting people’s professional licenses approved hit the news.

The agency licenses everyone from nurses to barbers, and delays in licensing approvals keep people out of work when they are eager to begin.

“For the last year, constituents looking to keep or fill jobs in an already tight labor market were ignored by the DSPS,” Darling said. “They wait on hold for hours and end up getting dumped to voice mail. Often their checks were cashed months before they received an answer on why their license was still on hold. This is unacceptable.”

According to Darling: “Everyone from plumbers to psychiatrists needs to have their licenses approved by DSPS. Without state-approved licenses, people can’t work. Darling says she hopes the agency’s response will show they are closer to having this crisis under control.”

“I am asking DSPS for their plan to help my constituents and workers throughout the state get the licenses they need to work,” Darling said. “I want the agency to know that their inaction is hurting everyone in our state.”

According to a press release sent out by Darling, “This is not the first time the Evers administration has failed to act efficiently for the people of Wisconsin. The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) left thousands unemployed without the money they owed. Like DSPS, people struggled to get ahold of someone at the agency. The non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau found that DWD didn’t even answer 93% of the phone calls made by people seeking information about their unemployment payments.”

Darling, a Republican, represents portions of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties.

Empower Wisconsin has written a series of stories exposing licensing delays.

“In case you missed it, Tony Evers’ state licensing crisis is preventing respiratory therapists – critical health care workers who served at the front lines during COVID-19 – from getting the licenses they need to do their jobs,” the Wisconsin Republican Party wrote in a press release.

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Prosecutors Begin Laying Out Case Against Trump to Jury

Federal prosecutors on Monday began laying out what they say is election fraud in 2016 by former President Donald Trump.

Trump, 77, is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a felony. Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their opening statements to the jury of five women and seven men.

Prosecutors said Trump corrupted the 2016 election, The Hill reported on Monday.

"This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up," Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. "The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 election, then covered it up."

Trump will spend four days a week in court in New York for the next six to eight weeks on state charges that he disguised hush money payments to two women as legal expenses during the 2016 election. Judge Juan Merchan has not scheduled trial days on Wednesdays.

On Monday, his defense attorneys said he had done nothing wrong.

"President Trump is innocent," Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the jury. "He did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney's office should never have brought this case."

Trump pleaded not guilty in April 2023 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Merchan's gag order remains in place, ordered last month before the trial began. Trump, the nation's 45th president, is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about witnesses concerning their potential participation or about counsel in the case or about court staff, district attorney staff or family members of staff.

Prosecutors said Trump's $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels was falsely covered up as a business expense, that the money was to help keep her quiet. Prosecutors say they had a sexual encounter.

Prosecutors also said Trump paid Karen McDougal, a Playboy magazine "Playmate," and reimbursed then attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to cover it up.

"This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior," Colangelo said. "It was election fraud, pure and simple."

Reuters reported that Blanche countered that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg should have never brought the case to trial.

"There's nothing wrong with trying to influence an election" Blanche said. "It's called democracy. They put something sinister on this idea, as if it's a crime."

Prosecutors say Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors say the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. In a reversal of past close relationships now pivotal to the prosecution against him, both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to return to the White House. He's facing the Democratic incumbent who ousted him in 2020, 81-year-old President Joe Biden.

Trump faces 88 felony charges spread across four cases in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington.Trump has said the criminal and civil trials he faces are designed to keep him from winning the 2024 rematch versus Biden.

Waukesha County DA Declines Charges in Brandtjen Campaign Finance Case

(The Center Square) – Another local prosecutor declined to bring charges against a Republican state lawmaker in a campaign funding raising case.

Waukesha County’s District Attorney Sue Opper said she would not file charges against state Rep. Janel Brandtjen. But Opper said she is not clearing Brandtjen in the case.

“I am simply concluding that I cannot prove charges against her. While the intercepted communications, such as audio recordings may be compelling in the court of public opinion, they are not in a court of law,” Opper said.

Wisconsin’s Ethics Commission suggested charges against Brandtjen and a handful of others in a case that investigators say saw them move money around to allegedly skirt Wisconsin’s limits on campaign donations.

Opper said the Ethics Commission investigation was based on “reasonable suspicion and then probable cause.” But she added that those “burdens are substantially lower than proof beyond a reasonable doubt which is necessary for a criminal conviction.”

Opper said the Ethic Commission could pursue a civil case against Brandtjen and the others. She also opened the door to other investigations.

“This decision does not clear Rep. Brandtjen of any wrongdoing, there is just not enough evidence to move forward to let a factfinder decide,” Opper said.

She’s the fourth local prosecutor in the state to decide against filing charges.

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Brad Schimel Says He Won’t Repeat Mistakes of Last Supreme Court Race

(The Center Square) – Judge Brad Schmiel says he’s not going to repeat the mistakes of the last supreme court race in Wisconsin.

Schimel told News Talk 1130 WISN’s Jay Weber he isn’t going to politicize the race like liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz, and he’s not going to ignore his campaign like former conservative Justice Dan Kelly.

Schimel said he can run for the court next year without injecting Republican politics into the court.

“I've had plenty of people on our side that suggested ‘Brad, you just got to do the same.’ No. I cannot do that,” Schimel said. “We still have to respect the rule of law. We still have to respect the Constitution. We still have to respect judicial ethics. I'm not going to go out and promise people what I'm going to do. But I will promise people that they can look at my record, and they know that I've done the right thing. That I have put the law above politics. I put the law above my own personal opinions.”

Republicans roundly criticized Protasiewicz for her comments about abortion and Wisconsin’s state legislative maps during the 2023 campaign.

Republicans also roundly criticized former Justice Dan Kelly, who lost to Protasiewicz, for his perceived lack of campaigning.

“We couldn’t have put a brighter, more reliable conservative on the Wisconsin Supreme Court than Dan Kelly,” Schmiel added. “But, with the campaign there were some mistakes that were made.”

Chief among them, Schimel said, was Kelly’s decision to reject money from the Wisconsin Republican Party that could have gone toward TV ads.

Schimel said that left Kelly at a huge disadvantage.

“Janet Protasiewicz took almost $10 million from the state [Democratic] Party. Dan took the money too late. He realized ‘Oh my gosh, I'm going to get burned on this.’ By the time he took it the best ad buys were gone, and he wasn't able to spend the money effectively,” Schimel said. “He spent $585,000 on TV. That was what his campaign spent. Janet Protasiewicz’s campaign spent $10.5 million. When you are out-spent 20-to-one on TV, you better just start writing your concession speech.”

Schmiel vowed not to be outspent this time around.

“I have made it clear. I will take all legal, ethical contributions to my campaign because we have to win,” Schimel said. “Because we have to stop standing on this hill of principle that we end up dying on.”

Defund NPR

Multiple Bills Introduced in Congress to Defund NPR

Several U.S. House Republicans introduced multiple pieces of legislation to defund National Public Radio following new allegations of “leftist propaganda” from the taxpayer-funded news source.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good, R-Va., Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., introduced similar legislation to prohibit federal funding for NPR, including barring local public radio stations from utilizing money from federal grants to “purchase content or pay dues to NPR.”

Over the years, Republicans have made multiple attempts to defund NPR, citing similar complaints. The latest outrage follows an editorial from former NPR Editor Uri Berliner, who criticized the news source claiming it had "lost America's trust."

Berliner criticized NPR’s coverage of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the COVID-19 lab leak theory and of Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop as examples of the outlet’s left-leaning bias. He described “the most damaging development at NPR: the absence of viewpoint diversity.”

Banks took aim at NPR’s new Chief Executive Officer Katherine Maher, who has expressed criticism of the First Amendment in efforts to combat “misinformation.”

“NPR’s new CEO is a radical, left-wing activist who doesn’t believe in free speech or objective journalism. Hoosiers shouldn’t be writing her paychecks. Katherine Maher isn’t qualified to teach an introductory journalism class, much less capable of responsibly spending millions of American tax dollars,” said Banks.

The Indiana congressman continued by describing the news outlet as a “liberal looney bin” under prior leadership, drawing attention to a systemic problem.

“It’s time to pull the plug on this national embarrassment. Congress must stop spending other people’s hard-earned money on low grade propaganda,” Banks lamented.

Good was a bit more reserved in his take-down of the news outlet.

“It is bad enough that so many media outlets push their slanted views instead of reporting the news, but it is even more egregious for hardworking taxpayers to be forced to pay for it. National Public Radio has a track record of promoting anti-American narratives on the taxpayer dime,” Good said in a news release. “My legislation would ensure no taxpayer dollars are used to fund the woke, leftist propaganda of National Public Radio.”

Tenney, a former newspaper owner and publisher, accused NPR of using taxpayer funds to “manipulate” and promote a political agenda controlled by “left-wing activists.”

"I understand the importance of non-partisan, balanced media coverage, and have seen first-hand the left-wing bias in our news media. These disturbing reports out of NPR confirm what many have known for a long time: NPR is using American taxpayer dollars to manipulate the news and lie to the American people on behalf of a political agenda. It’s past time the American people stop footing the bill for NPR, and the partisan, left-wing activists that control it," Tenney said in a news release.

The lawmakers cited the political make-up of the NPR’s D.C. news team, which they say includes 87 registered Democrats and no registered Republicans.

The Center Square uncovered records showing that Maher exclusively donated to Democratic political candidates before her role at NPR. Her largest donation of $1,500 was given to Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello in 2017, and most frequently donated to Virginia state Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy, in the amounts of $25 over nine times.

Good underscored the original purpose for the publicly funded news outlet, which he says was “created to be an educational news source and to ‘speak with many voices.’” He added that NPR has now become “a primary outlet for advancing biased and radical media coverage of political and social issues.”

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Rep. Janel Brandtjen: Threats to WEC Chief Don’t Help

(The Center Square) – One of the biggest critics of Wisconsin’s election administrator says no one should be threatening her and says threats don’t help fix election integrity issues.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, on Tuesday offered her thoughts after the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed elections administrator Meagan Wolfe is receiving extra security protection.

"Threatening Administrator Meagan Wolfe, or any election official, is unacceptable and counterproductive. Venting frustrations on individuals like Wolfe, clerks, or poll workers is not only illegal but also harmful to rebuilding trust in our elections,” Brandtjen said. “Threats only undermine our republic and empower the courts and media. It's essential to address any concerns about election processes through legal channels. Threats have no place in our democracy.”

Brandtjen has been one of Wisconsin’s loudest critics of Wolfe. She led hearings as far back as 2021 into Wolfe’s role in the 2020 election. Brandtjen also led the push to get Wolfe removed from the Elections Commission.

“Wolfe’s term has indeed expired, and according to Wisconsin Statutes 15.61(1)(b)1, she should be removed, but Republicans are too worried about the press or too compromised to follow existing law.” Brandtjen said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday clarified that Wolfe is receiving extra security but refused to offer any details.

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission has had productive conversations about safety and security with state leadership, including the governor’s office, which is tasked with approving security measures for state government officials,” WEC spokesperson Riley Vetterkind said in a statement. “Those conversations have resulted in additional security measures being approved for Administrator Wolfe and the WEC when the need arises.”

Brandtjen on Tuesday blamed Wisconsin Republicans, and once again blamed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, for Wolfe’s continued time on the Elections Commission.

“It's disappointing that Sen. Dan Knodl and Rep. Scott Krug, chairs of the election committees, have not exercised their investigative and subpoena powers. This inaction has allowed the neglect of essential laws, such as providing ballots to individuals declared incompetent, lack of checks in military ballot requests, an insecure online system, and improper guidance on voting for homeless individuals without proper documentation,” she said. “The Legislature, particularly Speaker Vos' control, is responsible for the frustration caused by election irregularities due to their inaction.”

Wisconsin’s local election managers have reported an uptick in threats and angry rhetoric since the 2020 election, and some local election offices have taken extra precautions. But there haven’t been any cases in Wisconsin where someone has acted on an election threat.

Wisconsin’s Largest Business Group Sues Over Evers’ 400-year School Funding Veto

(The Center Square) – There is now a legal challenge to Gov. Tony Evers’ 400-year school funding veto.

The WMC Litigation Center on Monday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up their challenge to the governor’s summer veto that increased per-pupil funding for the next four centuries.

“At issue is Gov. Evers’ use of the so-called ‘Vanna White’ or ‘pick-a-letter’ veto,” the group said in a statement. “The governor creatively eliminated specific numbers in a portion of the budget bill that was meant to increase the property tax levy limit for school districts in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years. By striking individual digits, the levy limit would instead be increased from the years 2023 to 2425 – or four centuries into the future.”

The WMC Litigation Center is an affiliate of Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce (WMC), the combined state chamber and manufacturers’ association.

Litigation Center Executive Director Scott Rosenow said while Wisconsin’s governor has an incredibly powerful veto pen, there are limits.

“No Wisconsin governor has the authority to strike individual letters or digits to form a new word or number, except when reducing appropriations,” Rosenow said. “This action is not only unconstitutional on its face, but it is undemocratic because this specific partial veto allows school districts to raise property taxes for the next 400 years without voter approval.”

Wisconsin lawmakers and voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1990 that put limits on the governor’s veto power.

Rosenow and the WMC Litigation Center say the governor’s veto goes beyond those limits.

The legal challenge also raises the constitutional issue that all state spending has to originate with, and be approved by, the legislature.

“In no uncertain terms, 402 years is not less than or part of the two-year duration approved by the Legislature – it is far more,” concluded Rosenow. “The governor overstepped his authority with this partial veto, at the expense of taxpayers, and we believe oversight by the Court is necessary.”

The WMC Litigation Center is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case as quickly as possible.

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Five Key Questions Ahead of Trump’s First Criminal Trial

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to charges he paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels through a lawyer and covered it up as a legal expense before being elected president.

Trump has attempted to delay the start of the New York state trial several times, including three longshot tactics judges rejected this week.

What charges does Trump face in the New York hush money case?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to Daniels and another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. Both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the trial. Daniels has said she expects to testify.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg's predecessor, did not bring the case to trial.

What happens on Monday?

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Donald Trump are expected to be present when the trial before Judge Juan Merchan gets started Monday. The first step will be picking a jury, a process that could take a week or more depending on how things progress. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of potentially hundreds of people. Each juror will answer 42 questions designed to determine if they can be impartial in the high-profile trial of a polarizing former president. The jurors will remain anonymous because of security concerns.

Once a jury is seated, it's on to opening statements where prosecutors and defense attorneys will get to address the jury about what they plan to show during the trial.

What is Trump's defense to the charges?

Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong and has accused Bragg of bringing a politically motivated case involving conduct in 2016 during a presidential election year as Trump faces incumbent Joe Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election.

Trump has spoken out against the judge, the district attorney and other involved in the case repeatedly. Trump's comments prompted a gag order from the judge who said Trump can't talk publicly about certain people involved in the case and their families.

"The White House Thugs should not be allowed to have these dangerous and unfair Biden Trials during my campaign for President. All of them, civil and criminal, could have been brought more than three years ago. It is an illegal attack on a Political Opponent. It is Communism at its worst, and Election Interference at its Best. No such thing has ever happened in our Country before," Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social this week. "On Monday I will be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds. All of these New York and D.C. 'Judges' and Prosecutors have the same MINDSET. Nobody but this Soros Prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, wanted to take this ridiculous case. All legal scholars say it is a sham. BIDEN'S DOJ IS RUNNING THE CASE. Just think of it, these animals want to put the former President of the United States (who got more votes than any sitting President!), & the PARTY'S REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, IN JAIL, for doing absolutely nothing wrong. It is a RUSH TO THE FINISH. SO UNFAIR!"

Will Trump take the stand?

That's not clear yet. Trump said last month that he'd be willing to testify at trial if needed.

Could Trump go to jail?

It's too earlier to tell what will happen if Trump is convicted. Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Trump's age and lack of any prior criminal convictions could work in his favor at sentencing if he's convicted. His attacks on the judge could have the opposite effect at sentencing. Before sentencing, the judge would look at sentencing guidelines, recommendations from prosecutors and any other pre-sentence reports.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens during the trial, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to re-take the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.