The following story first appeared at the MacIver News Service.

Americans for Prosperity is warning lawmakers about a possible plot by anonymous special interests to push small breweries, wineries and artisan distilleries out of business.

AFP has a draft proposal they say came from lobbyists who want to prevent microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries from operating taverns and selling their products to wholesalers, which is currently common practice.

This would mean beefing up an onerous “three-tier restricting” law where producers, wholesalers, and retailers are all separate entities. AFP says this would involve creating a new bureaucracy, an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement in the Department of Revenue to enforce the new law.

Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, says the three-tier system is archaic and overreaching.

“I see no need for erecting these barriers,” Garthwaite told the MacIver News Service, adding that other states use less burdensome regulatory systems that serve the public just fine. Craft brewers support reasonable regulations that protect the public, but not protectionist ones meant to benefit particular special interests, he said.

Eric Bott, AFP-Wisconsin State Director, sent a letter on Thursday to Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, detailing what he’s learned about the effort. AFP got its information from small businesses that would be affected and from sources in the Capitol.

Larger, well-established alcohol producers would have a much easier time complying with the strict three-tier system than smaller producers like microbreweries, small wineries, and boutique distilleries that have become increasingly popular. That increasing popularity also poses a competitive threat to larger alcohol producers.

According to Garthwaite, Wisconsin has 131 active craft brewers that produced 500,000 barrels of beer in Wisconsin in 2016, 10 percent of the overall beer market. In 2011, Wisconsin had 73 craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association.

Garthwaite also said craft breweries have a significant economic impact, both statewide and locally. “Customers like to go to the places where their beer is made.” The proposed regulations “fail the consumer” in favor of entrenched interests, he said.

The economic impact of craft breweries in Wisconsin exceeded $1.7 billion in 2014, according to the Brewers Association.

The regulations would certainly have a negative impact on the craft brewing industry, and would essentially halt the formation of new microbreweries or brewpubs – an increasingly popular phenomenon – by forbidding businesses that produce alcoholic beverages from also operating bars and restaurants. “It would kill off a lot of startups,” Garthwaite said.

AFP believes the draft proposal could be slipped into the budget’s “999” motion. That’s historically the final action JFC takes on the budget, and it’s where many policy items can be attached to the budget anonymously and at the last minute, often before even lawmakers have time to review them.

“When government takes the next step of attacking individual small business owners in secret to help the politically connected it rises to a new level of repugnancy. It’s no wonder the proponents of this motion conduct their work in the shadows,” Bott wrote to Darling and Nygren in the letter.

The MacIver News Service reached out to the offices of Sen. Darling and Rep. Nygren. This story will be updated if they respond to our requests for comment.

Is it possible that no viable candidate will step up to challenge Scott Walker for the governor’s mansion in 2018? Well, after what passes for the Democrat Party bench in Wisconsin ran for the hills en masse, one more high profile name declared his intent to sit this one out – Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

From our friends at Media Trackers:

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin bristles at the notion that it is in disarray. But that denial comes at roughly the same time as news that one of their highest profile potential candidates to challenge Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2018 is taking a pass. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Tuesday he will not be running for governor in 2018. Most political observers, both left and right, felt Parisi was a lock to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Walker. Instead, Parisi joins a growing list of names who will skip the 2018 governor’s race.

Parisi’s announcement comes after Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele all bowed out, leaving the party with no candidate with even a modicum of untarnished statewide name ID. Susan Happ, Jefferson County DA who ran a failed bid for Attorney General, hasn’t bowed out yet.

Bader also raises an interesting question. If the Dems can’t shake another business person out of the bush (a la Mary Burke – we saw how that turned out) or cajole someone like state Rep. Dana Wachs into launching himself into a highly unlikely campaign, then they just might be stuck with Bob Harlow, the 25-year-old who ran a failed bid for Congress in 2016…in California.

The Journal Sentinel is also reporting that a Milwaukee businessman, Andy Gronik, 59, also personally funded a poll that compared him to Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Parisi. In an inauspicious turn, the out-of-state polling firm referred to Wisconsinites as “Wisconsinians,” the JS’s Dan Bice reported. Bice wrote, “Think of him as Mary Burke 2.0, but with a skinnier wallet and and less public service experience.”

The poll didn’t ask about Wachs or Happ.

Vinehout, who is up for re-election in 2018 in an increasingly Republican district (her Senate district contains the only seat where a Republican ousted a Democratic incumbent in the Assembly, and she squeaked out a win over Mel Pittman in 2012), is still in the running.

Will Vinehout eschew a potentially tough re-election bid and run for governor instead?


I talked with Vicki McKenna on her WIBA show about the Electoral College vote, which took place at the state Capitol yesterday.

I was there to cover the event and document the anticipated antics of the inevitable protesters. Possibly the two most noteworthy protester moments were when one lady screamed “We’re all going to go to war and die because of you!!!” at the electors and another who audibly thanked all the people who came from out of state to help with the protests. RPW and Electoral College chairman Brad Courtney also gives his perspective.

Listen to the podcast here.


It looks like Dave Cieslewicz, a columnist with Madison’s Isthmus newspaper, is on the same page as Morning Martini when it comes to city leaders’ reaction to Rep. Sean Duffy’s “communist” comment about the city.

In his most recent column, Cieslewicz says that the reaction following Duffy’s comment on Fox News played right into Duffy’s hands. He reminded us that Rep. Mark Pocan, Mayor Paul Soglin, and the progressive Cap Times newspaper blew up over the comment and made the obligatory demand for an apology. He then gave some advice:

Look, I’m not criticizing Pocan, Soglin or the Cap Times. They all did what you’d expect: vigorously defend their community. I might have done the same in their positions.

The problem is that this will have no effect on Duffy at all, and it won’t improve Madison’s standing with the rest of Wisconsin. Duffy got a rise out of just the folks he wanted to irritate. And it probably played in the rest of the state just the way he had hoped. Maybe it played even better because Madison leaders came off as not just defensive, but arrogant when they went out of their way to point out how much better Dane County was doing than everybody else.

Seeing a strategy by Duffy, I gave similar advice at the time, writing:

By picking a city he will never come close to winning in a hypothetical statewide contest – one that most Wisconsinites look at in the Dreyfusian witticism as 76 square miles surrounded by reality – Duffy couldn’t have chosen a better foil.

Duffy leveraged one comment on Fox News into a multi-day media cycle aimed at conservatives in southeast Wisconsin. A congressman from far-northern Wisconsin, Duffy would need to make rapid and solid inroads with voters in the super-conservative Milwaukee suburbs, which is an indispensable puzzle piece for any Republican looking to win a statewide race.

This isn’t really a case about right versus left, just about good political strategy. It’s not surprising the Madison contingent would defend their hometown, but it didn’t help their progressive cause. And the “rubbing it in” that the Cap Times did by reminding everyone that Madison is prospering relative to the rest of the state is just bad manners.

Read the whole Cieslewicz column here.

In today’s La Crosse Tribune I argue that proposals to raise the gas tax are the easiest solution, not the best solution. An excerpt:

Politicians and special interests have lined up to raise Wisconsin’s gas tax, a contentious issue that the recent election did not resolve. But the simplistic solution of a gas tax hike overlooks the complexity of the transportation funding issue and the buffet of alternative options available to legislators who are willing to be creative.

While Wisconsin’s “other season,” construction season, is quickly coming to an end, you still can’t drive more than a few miles in the state without finding a sea of orange construction barrels. There’s also the endless struggle over the contentious north-south corridor, which could put a four-lane highway through the La Crosse River Marsh.

Let’s acknowledge that there’s plenty of work to do as our region grows and demands on our infrastructure increase. Let’s also acknowledge that a gas tax won’t solve the problem. A breathtaking 28-cent-per-gallon hike — a 91 percent increase — would be needed to fully fund all of Wisconsin’s transportation priorities, according to a recent memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

By contrast, the state Department of Transportation’s 2017-2019 budget proposal does not raise the gas tax or registration fees at all. Instead, it redirects more funding to local governments, who will get the largest funding boost from the state that they’ve seen in 15 years. This proposal will help local governments carry out needed maintenance.

The DOT proposal would increase general transportation aid by $65 million, an increase of 8 percent for counties and 4.7 percent for municipalities over the last budget. That’s $14 million more for local roads and $5 million more for local bridges — the largest increase since 1998. It also boosts the highway maintenance fund to $1.7 billion, the largest that fund has ever been.

Whole thing here.

Photo credit: La Crosse Tribune

From the MacIver Institute:

In Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park and on State Street in Madison, demonstrators gathered Thursday night to protest Tuesday’s election results and the victory of President-elect Donald Trump.

The MacIver Institute documented both events, which featured mostly peaceful protesters carrying a variety of signs – some vulgar – and filling the streets with chants littered with profanity. Thanks to reporting by the mainstream media, however, most Wisconsinites saw only a gathering of families and concerned citizens expressing their opposition to the President-elect.

WISN-TV’s broadcast coverage of the protest in Milwaukee reported that, “Mothers and fathers took their young children to demonstrations to see peaceful protests in action…as they walked west on Wisconsin (Street) and across downtown, they hoped the image of people from different faiths, backgrounds, and generations would send a message of solidarity.”

Missing from their reporting were the not-so-family-friendly signs and chants that permeated the event.

Whole thing here (including chants, signs, and vulgarity)

French Island, Wisc. is no stranger to weird crimes involving chest freezers. The latest is a real head-scratcher involving the harrowing tale of an old man, buckets full of fish, and his weapons of choice: a flat bottom boat and a chest freezer.

The La Crosse Tribune reports:

An Onalaska angler faces a fine of up to $24,682 for exceeding the possession limit on Lake Onalaska and the Mississippi River. [emp. added]

A state Department of Natural Resources warden working undercover early Nov. 4 on Lake Onalaska saw 73-year-old Stanley Paalksnis keep at least 22 bluegills and five unidentified fish, according to records filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

He fished again that afternoon, collecting 25 bluegills. The daily limit is 25.

So old Stan is getting the book thrown at him for being too good at fishing. The DNR is also seeking to confiscate the weapons he used in the crime, his freezer and his 15-foot flat bottom boat.

All stories require context, and in this case, scofflaw Stan’s history is replete with getting busted for the high crime of catching more fish than the law allows. “The DNR issued Paalksnis seven citations for fishing over the limit between 1989 and 2011 in Buffalo and La Crosse counties. His fishing privileges were revoked twice,” the paper reports. He has no real crimes on his record.

If Lake Onalaska was so irreparably harmed by his years of scofflawism, how could he still be reeling in such big hauls?

I’ll admit – the guy has a record. And in the bigger picture, if everyone went over their bag limit all the time, the fish stock would plunge. Ol’ Stan isn’t above the law and should once again be subject to consequences for over-indulging his fishing habit.

This is obviously a guy who hasn’t learned from experience, and his fishing license should probably be permanently revoked. If busted fishing, he should pay a reasonable fine. The punishment should fit the crime – in this case, a victimless crime committed by an old man for whom fishing is like heroin.

The man is clearly a skilled angler (most people would pay money to hit their limit so often), but the paper also reported that the man’s freezer, after his house was raided by DNR agents, was found to contain just 150 fish fillets.

Really? That’s it? For the uninitiated, that’s 75 panfish – the product of a few good days of fishing. So the guy was hardly running an illegal fish-dealing ring out of the chest freezer in the basement.

Reasonable people, and some unreasonable people, can agree that the fine is absurdly steep. Should he pay a fine? Yeah. But not twenty four grand.

Should the DNR be able to raid peoples’ homes? No, not unless the home contains a dairy farm nefariously leaking manure runoff into a creek.

Should they be able to confiscate the elderly man’s weapons of choice? No. What’s next? Are they going to confiscate his Fryin’ Magic and canola oil?

The DNR should find more important things to do than investigate fishermen, set up goofy sting operations, and pretend to be real cops pursuing real criminals by invading people’s homes in search of contraband bluegills.

I remember when a scofflaw old man going over his fishing limit would’ve been a laughable non-story met with a fine and some finger-wagging by the fishing cops. Now it’s an offense up there with dealing drugs and just a few notches below hiding your mom’s corpse in the freezer in order to intercept her Social Security checks.

The old saying goes, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Perhaps there are also too many dollars floating around the DNR coffers that could be better spent on rural broadband, education, or some other bipartisan priority.


Republican leader Julian Bradley joined a chorus of opposition on the right opposing provisions in the state budget that make drastic changes to Wisconsin’s open records laws.

“We have to have transparent and open government…I don’t know where the idea came from, but I certainly don’t support it,” Bradley said on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning.

Bradley also called on Governor Walker to veto the changes if they make it through the legislature. “Hopefully it won’t make it all the way out” of the legislature, he said.

Bradley is the first representative of the actual Republican Party that I’m aware of to publicly oppose the provisions.

This is not a right versus left issue, host Joy Cardin pointed out. Leading conservative pundits and operatives join people like Bradley, Brad Schimel, and the conservative MacIver Institute, Citizens for Responsible Government and others in vocally opposing the move.

The vice chairman of the 3rd District Republican Party and popular speaker is often asked to share his perspective on the Cardin show and in other venues.

I also lambasted the proposals, calling the changes “Darkness Provisions” earlier today.

These Darkness Provisions strip Wisconsin taxpayers of their right to see legislative records that belong to them. It’s time to fix this.

Morning Martini had a blast at the Wisconsin Conservative Action Conference on April 11. Guests include US Rep. Paul Ryan, US Sen. Ron Johnson plus Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, and leaders and activists from across the state and beyond.

Analysis and discussion to follow in the next couple of days.

US Sen. Ron Johnson

US Rep. Paul Ryan

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Wisconsin Rep. Dale Kooyenga

Stream all interviews:

An avid listener of Milwaukee talk radio, I’ve been following the debacle of the Milwaukee trolley project, the errand of the fool of a mayor that city has named Tom Barrett.

Few people over here in La Crosse know about the project. But if more of us did, even the Democrats who run this town would pinch the bridge of their nose, look down at the table, and shake their heads at the eye-popping stupidity of the project.

If Milwaukee allows the multimillion dollar boondoggle that is the trolley project to go through to construction, you will be the laughingstocks of the entire state. Here in La Crosse, we’ll forever reserve the right to point at you and laugh with amused superiority.

La Crosse already has a trolley. It harkens back to the olden days in which actual rail-based trolleys, the kind proposed for Milwaukee, shuttled people up and down the streets of the city. Not everyone, after all, could bop around town in horse-drawn carriages, and it was a drag stepping in crap all day.

See more about the La Crosse trolley here.

Let’s compare. The Milwaukee trolley is comparable to spending tens of millions installing retro phone booths all around town. Or commemorative telegraph lines. Or Pony Express stations. Built on an actual rail, the project will require tearing up streets, relocating utility lines, and eliminating valuable parking – all so a select demographic in a relatively upscale segment of the city’s professional population can bar-hop in a cute novelty.

Furthermore, anybody with a shred of objectivity will note that the trolley will snarl traffic, greatly complicate snow removal, and will most likely be dramatically under-utilized when people find out it only goes 8 miles per hour – barely faster than a brisk walk.

It’s a disaster; but it’s even more disastrous to the point of being laughable when compared to the streetcar La Crosse uses. It’s actually a bus. It looks exactly like a streetcar, but it’s significantly less costly to build and maintain. No rails, no relocating anything, no digging up pavement, no traffic snarls, no snow removal issues. It also has the forehead-slapping advantage of flexibility – it can travel a fixed circuit, or it can be appointed to giving speciality tours of our beautiful city as needed during times the normal routes are slow.

And when demographics eventually change, the route can be changed by making a phone call.

People of Milwaukee, listen up. You must stop that trolley, or La Crosse will forever have the right to point at you and laugh at your inconceivable foolishness.