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Capitol Punishments: Caught in a loop

A week of demoralizing but familiar themes in Wisconsin politics.

A week of demoralizing but familiar themes in Wisconsin politics.

Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our new recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

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Gableman Groundhog Day

The last takeaway I thought anyone would have had from Michael Gableman’s farcical presentation and report on his investigation into the 2020 election is that his contract needs to be extended. 

While Gableman laid out how our tax dollars are being wasted on this bungling and purely political exercise, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office decided the biggest problem was that Gableman’s contract had expired at the end of 2021. This past Tuesday, Vos quickly drafted an extension until April 30 (which Gableman will probably blow right past). The new contract doesn’t increase his budget, but it does put the Assembly—and taxpayers—on the hook for Gableman’s legal expenses. 

That same day, Dane County Judge Frank Remington sided with the liberal watchdog group American Oversight, that has been fighting for public records on Gableman’s investigation, and released 700 pages of documents to the public. American Oversight is continuing to pour through the documents, but so far they’ve noticed that Eric Kaardal from the far-right Thomas More Society and Harry Wait from Honest Open Transparents (HOT) Government in Racine County—whose brother Gary Wait worked for the investigation for three months—have been more involved in the investigation than previously disclosed.

Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) requested a vote at the state Senate floor session this week to have the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau audit the Gableman investigation. That, like so many efforts by statehouse Democrats to shut down and get a full account of Gableman’s actions and spending, failed. But three Republicans—Senators Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls, Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield, and Jerry Petrowski of Marathon—crossed the aisle and voted to hold Gableman accountable. 

Look, if you’re tired of reading about Gableman, I am just as tired of writing about him. The fact that no one has stepped in at this point to stop this debacle is just as disheartening as Wisconsin’s Republican leadership allowing a former president to dictate how they should waste Wisconsin taxpayer dollars in the first place. 

Ah, that old chestnut

I can just picture Sen. Ron Johnson seeing the latest Marquette poll numbers—which showed his disapproval rating has grown to 45 percent while his approval rating slid down to 33 percent—then racking his brain to find an issue to reconnect with the electorate. Then, BAM! It hits him: Obamacare. 

Johnson recently gave a flurry of interviews saying Republicans need to revitalize calls to repeal and replace Obamacare, a talking point that he’s already walking back. Republicans failed to repeal the law in 2017 when they controlled the Presidency, Senate, and Congress, and have never provided a consistent alternative to the healthcare law.

According to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the approval rating for the Affordable Care Act reached the highest it has ever been in October 2021 at 58 percent. Maybe because a record 31 million Americans received healthcare through the program in 2021, in the midst of economic upheaval and a pandemic. 

In fact, if you’re going to repeal-and-replace, you should probably consider single-payer healthcare, which has become more popular among Americans of all political leanings. 

Maybe instead of bringing back an outdated talking point, Johnson could walk back years of COVID-19 misinformation? Or his attempts to gin up paranoia about the 2020 election? Maybe, if his numbers continue to drop and he gets desperate. Don’t hold your breath.

Madison behind on Black homeownership

Yet another study has come out showing that Wisconsin’s racial disparities are some of the worst in the nation. This time, the Wisconsin Policy Forum looked into Black homeownership in Wisconsin’s major cities, including Madison.

Nationally, the gap between white and Black homeownership nationally is 30 percentage points; in Wisconsin that gap widened to 47 points. That’s because the Black homeownership rate in Wisconsin, 25 percent, is significantly lower than the national average, 42 percent.

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And while Milwaukee gets a lot of flack for its racial disparities, when compared to other Wisconsin cities, it is actually at the top of the heap. The Milwaukee Black homeownership rate is 27 percent, which is not great, but much better than Madison (15.3 percent) and Green Bay (5.6 percent). 

Several factors affect minority homeownership rates, and they’re not all related to income. Black and Hispanic families with the same credit profiles as white mortgage applicants are still more likely to have their applications denied or be offered subprime or predatory loans. Those loans have made them more vulnerable during previous foreclosure crises—factors that play out in Madison’s prolonged struggles to create more affordable housing

Also, out-of-state real estate investors have been scooping up investment properties disproportionately in Black and brown neighborhoods, leaving fewer homes on the market for residents.

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