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Capitol Punishments: Ramming down

Wisconsin’s Legislature and Supreme Court make it clear that the punishment will continue for the state’s largest cities.

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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Removed for a reason

Wisconsin Republicans apparently didn’t learn any lessons from the “tough on crime” era. They heard the words “increase” and “crime” and reflexively trotted out the old classics: more police and more punishment, ignoring the lack of evidence that locking up a generation of disproportionately Black and brown men had any impact on crime rates. 

One proposal introduced by Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) would require schools to use COVID-19 relief funds to reinstate School Resource Officers (SROs) if they have a certain number of “incidents” per year. The legislation is another clear attempt to preempt local governments in Madison and Milwaukee. In both, school districts terminated their contracts with police amid the summer 2020 uprising.

Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) pushed back on Duchow’s proposal, pointing out research that has shown SROs exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly for students of color, by referring students to prosecutors for low-level offenses. 

Wisconsin has a particularly ugly track record on this issue. An investigation led by the Center For Public Integrity found that during the 2017-18 school year, Wisconsin schools were twice as likely to refer students to police for prosecution than the national average, and had the fourth-highest rate in the nation. It had the highest referral rate for Native American students nationwide, the second highest referral rate for students with disabilities, and the fifth highest referral rate for Black students. 

More recently, Madison Police Department officers pepper-sprayed East High School students during a fight in November 2021. The incident stirred up new calls to bring back SROs, while also perfectly demonstrating why people might not want cops around kids.

“There is no doubt that the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic fatigue, and a myriad of other societal stressors have impacted our students and lent to the recent spike in schoolyard fights,” Hong wrote in a statement to the Assembly’s education committee. “In order to truly keep Wisconsin safe and not just offer a reactionary response, we must treat this as a public health crisis.”

A word of warning

Yes, Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) is running for governor. 

A man who is STILL trying to recall Wisconsin’s 2020 electors, even though that is not a thing.

A man who is so far right he lost his sole staffer—not because he has spread lies about the 2020 election being stolen, but because he managed to piss off Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) by claiming Vos had conspired with Hillary Clinton to authorize the use of drop boxes.

A man who wears suits and ties of every color and this shirt.

Oh, and of course, he said that God told him to run.

It’s tempting to chuckle and take it in as harmless entertainment. After all, how many Wisconsinites could possibly vote for that guy? The last time I felt that way about a candidate was in the summer of 2015 when a blowhard reality TV star descended a gold escalator.

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It’s hard to say what impact Ramthun’s campaign will have on the Republican primary, the other candidates and Wisconsin as a whole. But it’s already bringing a host of grifters and conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork and into Wisconsin. Who knows how long they plan to stay. 

Fine one election, banned the next

The latest installment of Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings that don’t make any sense: apparently it was fine to have drop boxes during the February 15 primary, but they are not allowed during the general election on April 5.

All of this confusion is thanks to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which is on a mission to prove that Wisconsin state law does not allow drop boxes. 

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, along with voting rights and disability rights advocates, spoke against the decision, calling it “wrong-headed.”

“No one thought drop boxes were a threat to democracy until five cities—Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine—had them installed to keep voters safe and make it easier to vote during the pandemic,” Rhodes-Conway said.

She also pointed out that 47% of all voters of color in Wisconsin—74% of all Black voters and 44% of all Latino voters—live in those five cities that WILL is targeting.

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