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Reader Mailbag: Milwaukee's negotiations with Robin Vos, the race for the 8th Senate District, hope for the WOW counties, more
In these discombobulating times, let's recombobulate together.
The Recombobulation Area is a six-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
The reader mailbag used to be a regular part of The Recombobulation Area, but with all of the elections and craziness happening this year, somehow this is the first one of 2022. You all had some great questions, and hopefully, we were able to give you some answers.
So, let’s recombobulate.
Greg Schueller, comments:
David Crowley and Cavalier Johnson are saying the right things, in regards to wanting (and needing) to work with the State Legislature to improve funding for all municipalities. Do we think Robin Vos and Co. will actually come to the table and negotiate in good faith?
Robin Vos and good faith negotiations don’t typically mix, but I do think there’s a growing bipartisan recognition that something needs to be done to address the broken local revenue formula in Wisconsin. This is not just a Milwaukee problem, even if it is often painted as one. This is a problem for every municipality in the state.
Vos also shared some comments about this issue in a recent virtual event with the Wisconsin Policy Forum that were pretty interesting. Well, they were occasionally infuriating and he was pretty openly insulting to Milwaukee (no surprises there), but he did leave the door open to some level of negotiation on this issue. If you’re interested in this issue, I’d encourage you to watch this one.
On the local sales tax issue, Vos said, “Revenue without reform is DOA.” You can look at that as an endpoint of this conversation, an “all strings attached” approach to this negotiation where Vos wants to dictate all parts of it. Or, you could look at this as progress.
When Gov. Evers brought this issue up almost two years ago at the outset of the last budget cycle, Vos said, “There is no chance this is going to happen. It’s dead on arrival, never going to happen.”
So, perhaps the new leadership and the unique alignment of those leaders – not only through the executives in County Executive Crowley and Mayor Johnson, but the legislative bodies in the city and county who are on the same page, as well – has broken through, to some extent.
Then again, perhaps it hasn’t.
Here’s what Vos also had to say in that chat with the Wisconsin Policy Forum (Question was asked at about the 24:00 mark, and discussion on fiscal challenges facing Milwaukee begins at about 15:00).
“People in Milwaukee have to admit that they have been an abject failure in the way that they have chosen to govern Milwaukee. That’s at least one of the things that people are finally starting to admit, that they have done a bad job over the course of the past 30-40 years of managing their resources. So, once we accept that that’s the truth and that now we know that it’s a reality, we have to find out how are we going to guarantee with as rock solid a guarantee as you can ever have in government that we do not have these problems returning?”
Vos preceded these comments by criticizing 20-year-old issues that long predated current leadership and followed these comments by criticizing Milwaukee’s budget process without acknowledging that the state legislature’s cuts to shared revenue removed $150 million from the city’s budget, which forced tough decisions at the municipal level. Vos’ Democratic counterpart on the forum, Assembly Assistant Democratic Leader Kalan Haywood of Milwaukee, did a good job pushing back on these criticisms, as well.
So, to return to that original question, it’s going to be very challenging to see a good-faith argument from the Assembly Speaker on this issue. Or any issue, really. But the door is cracked open for some level of compromise in ways that it was not just two years ago. That’s not nothing.
Luke Knapp, comments:
With significant budget cuts coming next year and even more so in the 2025 budget, if you could preserve the funding for one City program/department what would it be and why? What should the City be prioritizing when cuts need to be made everywhere and the real savings really come from Police and Fire?
Folks, here at The Recombobulation Area, we get budget questions. And apologies to Mr. Knapp here, but I’m going to do what Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer did so successfully in her re-election campaign: Reject false choices. Because we can fund both police and public works, both fire and public health, both city development and libraries. The city doesn’t have to choose. Well, it shouldn’t.
If — and only if — the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature decides to cooperate and negotiate with a its largest, most diverse city and its economic and cultural hub, then we won’t have to choose which department gets a deep cut and which doesn’t. Right now, the choice is not the city’s or county’s; it’s the state’s. If the state legislature can’t find a way come to an agreement, the city be forced to cut everywhere, and we’ll have to cross this bridge of prioritizing which city department has to bear a deep cut. But at that point, it will absolutely, unequivocally be the fault of one man: Robin Vos.
So, do Republicans want Milwaukee to have a chance to succeed, or not? That’s the big question hanging over the next legislative session right now.
Jennifer Giegerich, email:
I am constantly amazed at all the issues you cover from politics to sports to good places to hang out in Milwaukee. Who are the people you follow to keep up? Basically, when trying to take in a lot of information, who are the people whose hot takes you trust.
You are certainly overstating the level at which I am able to cover a range of topics, but hey, I’ll take the compliment. I am a news junkie and I like to take in a lot of information before firing off my own hot takes, so I’ll shout out a few fellow journalists here because journalists are awesome.
For politics, Molly Beck, Mary Spicuzza and Corri Hess at the Journal Sentinel, Jessie Opoien at The Cap Times, JR Ross at WisPolitics, Shawn Johnson at WPR, Matt Smith at WISN 12, Jason Calvi at Fox 6, and AJ Bayatpour at WKOW. For Milwaukee-specific political news, Jeramey Jannene at Urban Milwaukee and the terrific staff at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Wisconsin Watch is also a must-read.
For sports, Eric Nehm of The Athletic covers my beloved Milwaukee Bucks better than anyone, Adam McCalvy and Curt Hogg’s Brewers coverage is always terrific, and for the Packers, I enjoy some of the nontraditional media folks like Paul Noonan and Andy Herman.
For Stuff To Do around Milwaukee, you always have to start with my friends and media partners over at Milwaukee Record. Matt Wild and Tyler Maas are the best. I’ll also add in Ann Christenson at Milwaukee Magazine for dining and Matthew Mueller at OnMilwaukee for movies. Tarik Moody at Radio Milwaukee and HYFIN does a ton of amazing things.
There are many more and I apologize to those who I’m forgetting. I know there’s going to be someone I’m going to be mad at myself for for not including here, so I’ll shout you out on Twitter when that inevitably happens.
Kevin Alexander, comments:
Q1: Is there hope for the WOW counties yet?
Q2: With talk of an Amtrak station in Madison, what are your thoughts on how that may/may not change travel/transportation in WI?
I’ll have to assume, given who most of my readers are here, that “hope for the WOW counties” means something along the lines of how Democratic they’ll be voting in coming elections. And as we’ve now documented in our post-election breakdowns in both 2020 and 2022, I’d say there’s a considerable amount of hope for the WOW counties.
Well, perhaps just the OW counties. Washington County, while shifting slightly, is in a much different space than Waukesha and Ozaukee now. It seems like it might have more in common with Dodge or Fond du Lac counties going forward, at least in the northern and western parts of the county.
But the suburbs in Milwaukee took longer to shift than many others across the nation, and that shift has no sign of slowing. That’s going to be a real problem for Wisconsin Republicans in statewide elections for years to come. And considering the state GOP has stubbornly refused to moderate in any way, particularly in a state legislature made completely unaccountable through gerrymandering, they’re going to keep running into the same set of problems in statewide elections.
I was raised in Waukesha County, and during the leadup to the midterms, it blew my mind to be back around my old neighborhood – where just about every last yard had a Bush/Cheney sign in it less than 20 years ago – and see more than a few Mandela Barnes yard signs.
As for your second question, I’ll keep it simple because so much has been written about this.
A rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison could revolutionize the relationship between Wisconsin’s two largest cities. There’s an incalculable level of potential just waiting to be realized.
Tim McCollow, comments:
Why does no group, organization, nonprofit or local media attempt to discredit/embarrass/humiliate the Bradley Foundation for their funding of demonstrated racist, extreme rightwing, climate change denier, anti public education, fake election fraud (except for CMD in Madison & 1 New Yorker story) ? What makes such a public, horrific group untouchable?
I’m honestly really not sure why there’s so little focus on them. Taking a more in depth look at how this group is so interconnected to some of the most damaging policies on the right is something I’d love to do more of, even right here at our little publication.
I do think, however, that Wisconsin Democrats – particularly those in Milwaukee, where the foundation is based – should be putting more public pressure on the Bradley Foundation. That can often be a way to force the issue into the larger discourse. I mean, they continue to have someone on their board who tried to overturn the election. Isn’t that an opening right there? To demand Cleta Mitchell be removed from the board? It’s something to consider.
Jake from Madison, email:
The 8th Senate District of Wisconsin seems to be the latest example of every Republican being fine with jumping in on their primary, but Dems seem to look around and try to figure out the candidate behind the scenes. Am I reading too much into it, or is it a reflection of the different worlds the two parties seem to operate in, especially at the primary level?
There could be an element of some behind-the-scenes maneuvering at play here, but I’ve always found those types of conversations to be a bit overblown. In this case, the two Republican Assembly representatives within the Senate district decided to run, with one of those candidates – leading election denier Janel Brandtjen – being a real wildcard, so it’s hard to make characterizations about this primary being indicative of a broader trend. And it’s still early, and it’s possible that other Democrats could jump into this campaign.
I’m fascinated by this race, though. I do think this is a winnable one for Democrats. Yes, it’s a very red district. Yes, it got even more red in redistricting, going from a GOP+7.5 seat to a GOP+12.5 seat. Yes, it’s a weirdly-designed district that includes parts of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties.
But as we continue to note, the Milwaukee suburbs are shifting, and the suburbs on the north shore are shifting significantly.
And Democrats appear to have a very strong candidate running, and Republicans are looking at a potentially tumultuous primary. Democratic candidate Jodi Habush Sinykin is running, and she has already landed endorsements from Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, and State Rep. Deb Andraca (whose Assembly district is located within this Senate district). Habush Sinykin is an attorney who has worked on many environmental law issues, particularly those involving water, including challenging Foxconn’s water diversion plan in 2018, as part of Midwest Environmental Advocates.
For Republicans, it is going to get complicated. Along with Brandtjen, State Rep. Dan Knodl of Germantown is running, and he can’t exactly say he’s that far off from Brandtjen on election denialism, as he was one of 15 state legislators who asked then-Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the election results in a Jan. 5 letter. The other Candidate running is Van Mobley, who is currently serving in his fourth term as Thiensville village president. Mobley was among the earliest endorsers of Donald Trump in Wisconsin. This could be a scenario where Trump jumps in and endorses a candidate – he’s had many positive things to say about Brandtjen amid her anti-democracy crusades – and that spells doom for them in a general election in a leftward-shifting suburban area.
This is going to be an important race to watch, to be sure.
OK, time for some weird ones from twitter dot com, a very normal website where everything’s been going fine.
I wouldn’t say it’s my “favorite” necessarily – though it is a truly great movie – but the Milwaukee line from Bridesmaids is one that my wife and I quote all the time.
“Oh, you live in Milwaukee? I’m sorry.”
Somehow that movie has become underrated. Kristin Wiig is a comedic genius.
Yep, the best kids show is indeed Bluey. But for my youngest, who is now almost two years old somehow, the best is still Sesame Street. Don’t overlook the classics!
And the best Bluey episode is “The Sleepover,” which is the one where their cousin Muffin comes over while she’s going through the process of no longer taking a daily nap and is going crazy. That one is way too real (and legitimately laugh out loud funny).
I spent all of two minutes researching this so it could be wrong, but if a website called concertarchives.org is to be believed, this will at least be the first multi-night concert happening at Miller Park/American Family Field.
But I do not know what this thing called a “Morgan Wallen” is.
Sports are great. I would LOVE to take my daughters to WNBA games in Milwaukee. But the answer is clearly D.
Two words: Funnel cakes.
And this is not the first time a cream puff-related question has made it into the mailbag! (see: the very end of this one)
Sometimes the answers to questions like these come through in the mentions, from Milwaukee’s City Engineer himself.
Thanks to everyone for sending in questions, and apologies to those that I was not able to answer. We’ll get ‘em next time.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s won 13 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.