Capitol Punishments: Please stop imagining things

Ron Johnson’s cruel child care proposal and other heinous flights of fancy.

Ron Johnson’s cruel child care proposal and other heinous flights of fancy.

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 recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.


Whose job is it?

US Sen. Ron Johnson doesn’t think it’s “society’s job” to ensure access to child care (although it would go a long way towards helping Wisconsinites pursue their careers) but he does think it’s the job of “mothers on public assistance.”

Johnson’s “imaginative solution” (his words) comes weeks after he told a radio station in La Crosse that he didn’t support any government solutions to help families access child care, even if it meant that more parents would be able to enter the workforce.

“People decide to have families and become parents, that’s something they need to consider when they make that choice,” Johnson said. “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

The best part is that one year ago, Johnson wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he was concerned about “a long-term shortage of workers throughout the economy…” which he acknowledges is caused in part by low birth rates. 

So you want more people to work, and you want them to have babies (so that they, of course, can eventually work), but you don’t want to help them find quality child care for those babies while they work. Instead, you want to force mothers who are receiving public assistance to care for those babies. 

This gets at the heart of the issue with child care: some people just think it’s glorified babysitting. That’s the only way I can understand why we as a society have decided that child care is so essential centers must remain open during a pandemic, but we’re fine with child care workers being some of the lowest-paid professionals in the state. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the mean wage of child care workers in Wisconsin is $11.45 an hour, even though many have at least an Associate’s degree. 

We also have countless studies showing that investment in quality early childhood education pays dividends in terms of upward mobility for those children. Even if you don’t think quality childcare is “society’s responsibility,” it is certainly to its benefit.

This is also part of a wider effort by Wisconsin Republicans to blame public benefits for keeping people out of work—even though our unemployment rate is 2.8%—and finding new and “imaginative” ways to punish them. 

As US Rep. Gwen Moore tweeted, “Most women on public assistance work, what they need is for Senators to work for them.”

Maybe 4th or 5th time’s a charm

The smartest move Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has made in months was to kick Rep. Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) out of a meeting Vos held with people who support decertifying the election, even though both the nonpartisan Legislative Council and Legislative Reference Bureau have said that it would not be possible. But despite putting his foot down where Ramthun is concerned, Vos is still completely fine with continuing to spew unfounded nonsense about voter fraud.  

At the same time he’s been authorizing and enabling Michael Gableman’s witch hunt—including extending his contract and putting taxpayers on the hook for the already costly investigation’s legal fees—Vos has been making public statements for months agreeing that de-certification is not possible.

“You have people who are paid around the country to write an opinion to say it is, but there is no constitutional scholar in Wisconsin who says that it can,” Vos said earlier this month in an appearance on WSAU. “There is no one who believes that we can decertify the election and go back and put Donald Trump in office.” 


Also this week in an exit interview (because the Legislature decided to wrap up the session for the year in February) Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said he would like to see the Gableman “investigation” end.

So end it. Cut off Gableman and everyone else’s salary and tell them that if they want to continue suing Wisconsin public officials for not giving private depositions, they have to pay for it. Or take those depositions in a public hearing. Or, if you are Steineke, go back in time and take a stand on this when it would have actually mattered.

Now that he has one foot out the door, Steineke is also saying that marijuana legalization will happen “at some point.” Too bad he didn’t feel the need to take action on that in the dozen years he’s been in office, even with overwhelming statewide support. 

Meanwhile, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling’s crusade against the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for making emergency changes to voting rules in 2020 so seniors would be able to vote has been denied by a third district attorney. 

Prosecutors in Racine County, and Milwaukee County declined Schmaling pleas to press charges against WEC. This week they were joined by a third DA, Gerise Laspisa of Green County, because she does not believe “there is sufficient evidence… that a crime was committed.” 

Schmaling has also asked prosecutors in Sheboygan and St. Croix Counties to take the case. 

Doing our civic duty

Just a reminder ahead of the spring election that Isthmus has profiled the candidates running for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board, including this treat of a write-in candidate who swears that most of his supporters are liberals even though his whole campaign is centered on stopping what he calls “the woke pedagogy that has taken over the district.” 

David Blaska’s whole statement to Isthmus, published with little in the way of context or challenge, is full of red flags, including a gem about trying “to find a minority person to run because we know plenty of minority parents aren’t happy with the district’s leadership, either… I got to the point where I said I would settle for a Norwegian.”

Anyway, make sure you’re registered to vote before the spring election on April 5. Even if you’re not, Wisconsin has same-day registration, just make sure you have the documents you need. Tone Madison‘s Oona Mackesey-Green has more about upcoming local elections in the latest edition of Microtones

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