By Hubert Hoffman | Guest Contributor

On April 5, state Senator Jennifer Shilling issued a press release pertaining to Senate Bill 76 (SB-76) claiming, in big bold lettering, “Republicans vote to privatize Wisconsin water.”  The reality is the bill relates to: “replacement, reconstruction, and transfer of an approved high capacity well,” not the privatization of Wisconsin water.

First, the word “private” doesn’t appear anywhere in the bill text or the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the bill.  Second, the bill doesn’t undermine the Public Trust Doctrine because the bill doesn’t change current law requiring DNR oversight of the application or permitting process for a high capacity well.

What the bill does is allow those individuals and businesses that already have a high capacity well to repair or replace the well, should it become damaged, without needing to pay additional taxes and fees.  Repairing a damaged well quickly and correctly is the best way to preserve ground water quality.  Owners must notify the DNR of any work done on the well and any repair or replacement must meet all conditions of the originally permitted well.  The bill also allows property owners, who sell their property, to transfer the well permit the new property owner without additional taxes and fees.

SB-76 also adds a requirement that the DNR to do hydrology testing in parts of Adams, Green Lake, Juneau, Marquette, Portage, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago, and Wood counties.  Knowing how the water flows, where the water flows, and how quickly is passes through the soil is something that will help the DNR to better understand and manage Wisconsin water quality.  Yet, Senator Shilling stands in opposition to a bill that will help us all learn about our environment.

Shilling’s office put out the press release knowing that many Wisconsin residents wouldn’t have the time or ability look at what the legislation says. It is embarrassing when legislators get caught putting out statements intended to deceive or mislead as that is what truly undermines the public trust.

It appears that the leader of the Senate Democrats plans to solve her party’s problem of persuading Wisconsin voters to choose their ideas by giving up on offering ideas altogether.

Scott Bauer, Wisconsin’s chief Associated Press reporter, tweeted this earlier today:

Evidently, Sen. Shilling doesn’t think it’s up to the minority party to have any answers. In fact, in a radio interview on WPR several years ago, then-Representative from the 95th Jennifer Shilling said “it’s hard to get anything done when you’re in the minority.”

Indeed, especially if you throw in the towel before the match even begins.

There was a rare sense of bipartisan unity during the Assembly Committee on Transportation’s marathon hearing on transportation funding yesterday – for better or for worse, depending on your position on raising the gas tax or other fees to pay for more transportation funding.

Apparently Sen. Shilling doesn’t want any part of that – and doesn’t want to lift a finger to help forge a long-term funding solution for Wisconsin’s roads.

Sen. Shilling recently won re-election after a recount confirmed her 60-vote victory over Dan Kapanke. Perhaps if Kapanke had won, voters in the 32nd would have a voice at the table as the debate over transportation rages on.

The Senate Democratic caucus has shrunk to a core consisting largely of urban senators that will be strongly affected by the decisions the next legislature makes. One has to wonder what they think of Sen. Shilling’s proclamation that Republicans “own this legislature right now.”

Update: The Democrats re-elected Shilling minority leader unanimously late this afternoon.

Is it time for Wisconsin Democrats to panic over their eroding minorities in the state legislature?

If Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling survives the just-announced recount in her razor-thin victory over challenger Dan Kapanke, will she survive as the leader of the shrinking minority of the Senate Democrat caucus? By the time most people read this, that decision will have already been made.

It’s hard to know what Senate Democrats will decide, but they are caucusing today to elect leadership. If they re-elect Shilling as minority leader and she loses the recount, will they be even more rudderless?

Shilling tentatively beat Kapanke by 56 votes, atypical for a party leader to say the least. The election also saw the election of Dan Feyen, a newcomer to elective office, over the well-known Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, who initially appeared to be the favorite to win. Feyen won the swing district by a strong 56-44 margin.

More significantly, incumbent Julie Lassa lost Senate district 24 to another newcomer to elective office, Portage County GOP chairman Patrick Testin. He knocked off the 12-year incumbent and failed Congressional candidate by a relatively solid margin of around 52-48, despite losing the district’s largest population center, Portage County – the only county he lost in the 6-county Senate district.

The Senate Democrats now have a paltry 20-12 minority in the state Senate, the smallest their caucus has been since 1971. Should the Democrats decide to flee the state again as they did during the Act 10 uproar, they could literally do so in two minivans.

If Shilling loses her recount, that margin will shrink to 21-11, the smallest Democrat caucus since 1967. The fact that the GOP nearly toppled – and could yet topple – the leader of the Senate Democrat caucus in a left-leaning district with a deep blue population center in the City of La Crosse is perhaps the fact Democrats should look most closely at. Any clear-eyed observer of that election (such as myself – it’s my home turf) knows that Shilling did not put in the elbow grease needed to ensure a victory.

They’ll also look at this: Under Shilling’s leadership, Senate Democrats directed appreciable resources into a futile quest to defeat GOP Senator Luther Olsen, who also won. No Republican incumbent Senator lost, so while Shilling was out playing offense, she should’ve been playing defense, especially in the 24th and back home. Shilling took her cue from Hillary Clinton, who ignored states like Wisconsin and Michigan in an arrogant effort to turn the electoral vote into a blowout. She did – for Trump.

President-elect Trump’s victory in Wisconsin was surprising to put it mildly, and it’s hard to fault Sen. Shilling for not seeing it coming. The Democratic Party is out of touch top-to-bottom with average, working Wisconsinites and Americans. For example, in a district where hunting and gun ownership is a cherished tradition, Shilling gets an F from the NRA every cycle. Given a list of far-left pet causes, Shilling checks every box, meaning she’s more in the mold of a Madison activist than a rural seed salesman (Kapanke).

Her decisions are out of touch with the reality Wisconsin Democrats find themselves in. Wisconsin hasn’t been a “blue” state since 2010, with the exception of Pres. Obama’s and Sen. Baldwin’s victories in 2012 (Baldwin’s victory can be as much attributed to the Republican primary, which left eventual nominee Tommy Thompson almost broke). Instead of ensuring her caucus’s walls held, Sen. Shilling launched an invasion of another castle and paid the price, especially in the Lassa race.

To paraphrase Kenny Chesney, bricks of the Democrats’ defenses are scattered on the ground.

In 2014, Democrats ousted Chris Larson as their minority leader after the party ostentatiously lost the centrist Senate district formerly held by Dale Schultz to conservative Republican Howard Marklein. Will Shilling meet the same fate?

Democrats may well retain Sen. Shilling as their leader in the Senate, if for no other reason than they have no one to take her place other than maybe Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Madison-area lefty who would have trouble connecting with increasingly Republican-leaning out-state voters, especially in the populous Fox Valley.

That in itself is a symbol of the current state of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin.

Trump’s at it again: making stupid statements. But at least one Wisconsin Democrat wants to make all Republicans answer for them.

Trump is being sued in a class action over allegations he defrauded people who attended his “Trump University.” Everyone knows about his comments about the Indiana-born judge of Mexican descent presiding over the case. The comments were ridiculous and the insinuation that the judge isn’t qualified to preside over the case because of his family lineage is straight-up racist.

The most prominent Republicans who one might argue have a responsibility to take a stand on the comments have done exactly that.

Gov. Scott Walker – a former top-tier presidential candidate – has been highly critical of Trump’s comments. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump’s comments are “textbook” racist. The venerable Rep. Reid Ribble called Trump a racist. Sen. Ron Johnson was also critical of the comments. Numerous others have appropriately denounced Trump’s rant, and will likely continue to do so as the rant parade (general election) goes on.

While most continue to support Trump’s candidacy, it’s increasingly at arm’s length and everyone knows it’s a matter of political expediency to do so. Few, perhaps with the exception of soon-to-be-failed Ryan challenger Paul Nehlen, do not regret that Trump is the nominee.

Suddenly, however, it’s the business of state-level candidates to weigh in, at least according to Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. Per her statement:

“Donald Trump’s latest remarks have been labeled ‘indefensible’ and ‘racist’ by many in his own party, yet Wisconsin’s Senate Republicans continue to stand by their nominee. They’ve made it crystal clear that they think Donald Trump’s message of racism, xenophobia and misogyny will help them win elections.”

“Donald Trump, through his repeated actions and words, has proven he is too divisive, dangerous and erratic to be President. In order to move our state forward, I implore my Republican colleagues to denounce Mr. Trump’s hateful rhetoric and unconditionally reject his presidential candidacy.”

Republican state Senate candidates have “made it crystal clear that they think Donald Trump’s message of racism, xenophobia and misogyny will help them win elections?” No, they haven’t. The statement is blatant nonsense.

It’s a textbook effort to transform the bloviations of an inane national candidate into a political issue at the local level, a reversal of the old axiom that all politics is local. For Shilling, all politics is national and campaign wedge issues rain down from above.

State Senate candidates don’t need to weigh in on Trump’s comments. Doing so would be a fool’s errand – the gaffes by Trump won’t end any time soon, so state candidates who waste time entertaining questions about him will force themselves to do so again and again, ignoring issues Wisconsin voters care most about.

Many important issues face the state – transportation funding, K-12 education, higher ed, rural broadband access, and so many others. Shilling’s demand that Republican candidates talk about Trump instead of issues important to the next legislative session is a disservice to the Wisconsin public.

Perhaps Republicans should demand to know why Shilling wants them to take their eye off the ball and tarnish local elections with inanity that’s irrelevant to the jobs they seek this fall.

Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) will face a primary challenge. Jared William Landry of La Farge filed papers on April 26 with the Government Accountability Board to run as a Democrat in the 32nd Senate district.

That sets up a primary between Shilling, currently the Senate Minority Leader, and Landry on August 9th.

Sources within the area’s political apparatus say Landry is inspired by the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, much like Congressman Ron Kind’s primary challenger. While this is unsubstantiated and information about Landry is sparse so far, if this is the case, it’s evidence of a trend of far-left populist candidates emerging to challenge establishment politicians.

If Landry’s candidacy is indeed inspired by Sanders, he could use Shilling’s public support of Hillary Clinton against her. Sanders won the 3rd Congressional district handily, and in Shilling’s backyard, La Crosse County, Sanders trounced Clinton 63 percent to 37 percent.

Kind also bucked the district’s trend by throwing his superdelegate vote behind Clinton, despite the popular vote in the district being heavily for Sanders.

Shilling has been in politics essentially her entire adult life, starting as La Crosse County Board supervisor, entering state politics as the 95th Assembly district representative in 2000, and most recently defeating Sen. Dan Kapanke to claim a seat in the state Senate in 2011.

Kapanke recently announced he will challenge Shilling for the seat he once held. Kapanke, too, has a primary challenge from John Sarnowski of Onalaska. Sarnowski has a history of unsuccessful challenges in Republican primaries.

Landry, however, doesn’t appear to have been active in politics. According to GAB records he hasn’t donated money to either Shilling in recent years or to the 2014 Democratic challenger to Rep. Lee Nerison in his home Assembly district, Pete Flesch.

In a rematch virtually nobody saw coming just weeks ago, former State Senator Dan Kapanke will challenge Sen. Jennifer Shilling for the 32nd State Senate. Shilling defeated Kapanke in a heated 2011 recall election in the tempest of Act 10.

Kapanke filed papers with the GAB this week. He will hold an event tomorrow where he’ll likely formally announce his challenge of Shilling.

Since he lost his state Senate seat, Kapanke has returned to private life as the owner of the semi-pro La Crosse Loggers baseball team, which has transformed the main park on La Crosse’s north side into a family-friendly venue.

He retains a sort of heroic status among Republicans throughout western Wisconsin and will therefore put together a strong grassroots operation. He will also likely raise all the money he needs to run an extremely competitive campaign.

Shilling’s state Senate committee reported $64,480.18 cash on hand in its most recent report. That’s a good starting place, but total spending in the race could realistically push $1 million.

Shilling defeated Kapanke by about nine percent in the white-hot 2011 recall, just months after Act 10 generated massive protests in Madison and recall attempts around the state. Shilling got 33,193 votes to Kapanke’s 26,724 in the recall – her voters were highly motivated by Act 10.

Kapanke and his family endured significant harassment in the run-up to the recall. While Kapanke has typically demurred about the vile behavior and threats, it’s commonly known that his wife, a nurse, found roofing nails on several occasions scattered around their driveway late at night when she returned from work.

Kapanke was also harangued by school boards, groups of protesters gathered at his house late into the night, and Kapanke and his family were the top target of at least one death threat sent to state legislators.

Despite the low turnout in the recall, in which government workers were motivated to show up and vote, Kapanke has always enjoyed strong bipartisan appeal in the district. In his 2008 re-election Kapanke got 45,154 votes to opponent Tara Johnson’s 42,647. That election coincided with the Obama wave election in which Barack Obama won upwards of 60 percent in the 32nd Senate district.

In her first general election in 2012, Shilling won 51,153 votes to challenger Bill Feehan’s 36,545. Still steeped in Act 10 fervor, that race hinged on a classic “October surprise” in which Shilling sent a series of mailers accusing Feehan of being a domestic abuser. The mailer relied on a police report from 2000, but the charges had been dismissed 12 years prior to the election (a fact conveniently omitted from the mail campaign) . Shilling’s margin in that election was likely greatly inflated as a result of the smear campaign.

Given the nastiness of her two most recent elections combined with Kapanke’s wide popularity and grassroots appeal, Shilling might once again turn to negative campaigning. That would be a risk for Shilling given Kapanke’s wide respect, painting the race as a bitter partisan versus an upstanding community leader with sky-high name ID.

Turnout in the general election will also matter. While Kapanke may be able to peel away a large chunk of moderate Shilling voters (there were thousands of Obama-Kapanke voters in 2008), Republican turnout will also be a major factor in bridging the 45,000 Kapanke got in ’08 and the 51,000 Shilling got in ’12. If theories of depressed Democratic turnout hold true in November, that could help propel Kapanke to victory.

Kapanke’s candidacy is also likely to motivate Republican voters and activists in the district, who are eager to win. Concurrent with Shilling’s recall win, Democrat Steve Doyle captured Republican Mike Huebsch’s Assembly seat in 2011 when he joined the Walker administration, leaving Lee Nerison as the only remaining Republican legislator in the 32nd. A negative campaign by Shilling could backfire by motivating Republicans into action. Such a strategy could also enhance Kapanke’s image as a well-liked leader with broad appeal and pigeonhole Shilling as an unscrupulous partisan.

In the five years since Act 10 was signed into law, public opposition to the law has largely transformed into support as the law generates more and more taxpayer savings. A recent estimate by the MacIver Institute shows Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers about $5 billion since its enactment. Local governments have been given the ability to reduce taxes or put more money into classrooms, tax cuts, or other operations.

Kapanke says he knew his vote for Act 10 could cause him to lose an election, but he voted for it because the state was on an unsustainable fiscal path. With rising taxes a major concern throughout the district, Kapanke’s vote for Act 10 could be viewed as a positive now that it’s 5 years in the rearview mirror. At the very least, the fervor over the law has certainly subsided.

Kapanke is clearly motivated by an intrinsic desire to serve. At the La Crosse GOP’s Lincoln Dinner in February, he quoted a favorite motto of his: “It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.” He said he realized to his dismay that he’d become comfortable with his life and thus felt compelled to get back into action.

Kapanke versus Shilling will be an interesting race that will capture statewide attention and change the complexion of both parties’ electoral strategy for the Senate.

Disclaimer: I work for the above-mentioned MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly my own.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling got caught off-guard in the last day of the Senate’s session last week. While she and her Democrat friends criticized Gov. Walker’s bill to fund internship coordinators, Senator Rick Gudex shut down their argument with a single question.

Turns out, even though Shilling had just gone through a litany of reasons unpaid internships are terrible, she actually employs unpaid interns in her office because it’s valuable experience – and interns knowingly agree to commit to an unpaid internship, she said clumsily.


From The MacIver Institute:

In the waning hours of the Senate’s last day in session, Senate Democrats took turns lambasting Governor Walker’s higher education package.

In particular, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling criticized the use of unpaid internships under Walker’s proposal. But when Senator Rick Gudex asked if her office uses interns and if they’re paid, Shilling’s response undercut hours of her party’s arguments against Walker’s proposals.

Coverage today on Milwaukee’s Bob and Brian Show demanding the resignation of Sen. Dave Hansen:

This week: What happens in 2018, Scott Walker plays pragmatic politics, and the state of progressivism in Wisconsin, which was once a torchbearer for that cause.

Show Notes

  • A & B BLOCK: Succession Scenarios
    • Governor 2018: What happens in this power vacuum?
      • Becky the BAMF
      • Vos
      • Jen & Jules
      • Kooyenga
      • Farrow
  • C BLOCK: Walker the Pragmatist
  • D BLOCK: Progressivism in Wisconsin, Part I
  • E BLOCK: Progressivism in Wisconsin, Part II
    • Pathetic, small-minded, doomed lawsuits

A show dedicated to the politics and policy behind Right to Work in Wisconsin.