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Capitol Punishments: Don’t vote here, don’t live here, don’t smoke here

This week’s horrible, foolish, and weird goings-on 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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Haven’t election officials been through enough?

When Kevin Nicholson announced he was entering the the Republican gubernatorial primary, Democrats had a moment of schadenfreude, thinking about all the money and mud-slinging that will go into the GOP infighting. 

This week, Republican front-runner Rebecca Kleefisch, in her fight to prove who is the Trumpiest of all, said she’d dissolve the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) so there would be “one throat to choke” if “elections go wrong.”

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell tells Tone Madison that he thought Kleefisch’s comment was “incredibly inappropriate.”

“I know clerks around the state have been harassed, stalked, and threatened,” McDonnell says via email. “That language only fuels those individuals to think violence is acceptable.”

In response to criticism from WEC chair Ann Jacobs, Kleefisch claimed that “one throat to choke” is a common expression in policy making circles. McDonnell said he’s never heard that term used before. 

Kleefisch’s comment is probably just the beginning. Expect more as she and Nicholson race each other to the bottom. 

Why are we still listening to NIMBYs?

Madison is a majority-renter city with renters who are predominantly rent-burdened—meaning they’re spending more than 30% of their income on rent—due to a growing population and low housing stock. 

So the redevelopment of a church lot into multi-family housing should be a no-brainer, right? Nope!

Susan Detering, a local realtor and resident NIMBY, complained to The Capital Times that the project had changed from a condo project to “another rental” and that she’d “rather let (the church) stay empty and vacant and be a community center.” 

Fortunately there are voices of reason saying that a 32-unit apartment building with underground parking (though there was no mention of affordability in the article) would do a lot more for the neighborhood than an unused lot.

Another resident, Anne Reynolds, told the Cap Times she was “concerned that this sets a precedent for large dwellings directly on residential streets.”

You know who’s not concerned about that? Working-class Madisonites who are finding themselves priced out of their own city. Everyone who shook their heads in disbelief at the number of homeless people camped out at Reindahl Park should be shouting from the rooftops that we need more affordable housing in this city. 

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And it’s worth remembering that there’s a statewide worker shortage. As Madison pushes workers out, they will have no problem finding jobs in places that are more welcoming. After all, who would want to commute into the city to clean the offices, remove the garbage, or teach the children of people who don’t want to live near you? 

Now you care about marijuana

As we swing into election season, expect bills whose sole purpose is to pander to voters, even though they have little chance of actually becoming policy.

Assembly GOP state Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Schofield) and state Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) put forward a bill that would allow medical marijuana to treat a limited number of medical conditions. This is Felzkowski’s second push for a medical marijuana bill.

Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), who has been a longtime proponent for medical and recreational legalization, said in a press release that while she “appreciate[s] more folks are coming to the table” on the issue, “Wisconsin will best move forward through fully legalized cannabis for adult, responsible usage. That is where I am putting my time and energy.”

Wisconsin voters widely support a change; a Marquette Law School poll found that 83% of Wisconsinites support legalizing medical marijuana and 59% support legalizing recreational marijuana. 

Statehouse Republican leadership has stymied any progress on medical, much less recreational, marijuana for years, while the wider caucus has sent mixed signals on the issue. 

Gov. Tony Evers put medical and recreational legalization in both his proposed budgets, but they were removed by the GOP heads of the Joint Finance Committee.

Last fall, a bipartisan group proposed making marijuana possession a $100 civil forfeiture statewide. That would lower the penalty in some communities but raise the penalty in many larger cities, such as Madison, where smoking less than 1 ounce is legal in private homes and on public sidewalks. 

Another bill that was sent to Evers’ desk earlier this week would increase penalties for people charged with possession multiple times.

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