Friday, June 7, 2019

The Pride Flag Flies Over The Capitol — And Republicans Lose Their Minds Over It

State Republicans don't actually care about so-called 'Divisive' Flags — they just want something to rile their bases.

The biggest political controversy of the week in Wisconsin government appears to be the most disingenuous one as well.

In recognition of Pride Month, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers authored an executive order in which he pronounced the rainbow-colored Pride flag would soar on the rooftop on the state Capitol building.

Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
The Pride flag would appear below the state and American flags, and would remain there for the rest of the month, on the wing of the building in which the governor's office presides. The flag was put up on Friday afternoon, per reporting from NBC 15.

Some conservative lawmakers took issue with the decision by Evers.

State Rep. Scott Allen tweeted out his disapproval, trying to make some sort of religious argument against the secular flag. "Is this any more appropriate than erecting the Christian flag over the Capitol?" he wrote.
State Sen. David Craig also went online to express his dismay because — gasp — the flag is controversial! (But only to those who are offended by equality.)

"The US and Wisconsin flags are flown over us as unifying symbols for all Wisconsinites," Craig wrote. "The governor's action today is in no doubt a statement to advance a cause. The only cause that the Capitol flags should represent is fifty states united in one republic."
That's a nice sentiment — but it's also untrue. Lawmakers fly POW/MIA flags on top of the Capitol all the time. And while those flags aren't controversial to most, to some who are conscientious objectors or anti-war, an argument could be made — the same argument Craig is making — that those kinds of flags are indeed offensive.

In fact, the number of people in the state of Wisconsin who find the Pride flag to be "controversial" at all is probably minimal. Despite passing a state constitutional ban on marriage equality in 2006, citizens of the state have since evolved on the issue. Indeed, a Marquette Law School poll from 2016 found that almost two-thirds of all Wisconsinites supported marriage equality, while less than 1-in-3 opposed the idea.

Craig and Allen are in the minority opinion here: the Pride flag is not as offensive as they think it is. There are some other flags, however, that are troublesome, that they and other Republicans in the state have not spoken out against as vociferously.

Former Gov. Scott Walker, for instance, once took a solid and decent position of opposing the use of the Confederate flag across the United States — that is, he held that opinion, before he ran for president and had to court southern voters.

In 2015, after a mass shooting occurred at a black church in South Carolina by a white supremacist, Walker balked on the question of the Confederate flag, stating that he felt it was a debate that state leaders should have themselves "after the victims' families have time to mourn," The Guardian reported.

It's not the only instance of state Republicans being silent. Earlier this year, a group of protesters descended on the state Capitol with "Don't Tread On Me" flags to protest the mere possibility that Gov. Evers might propose legislation that would put restrictions on gun ownership. Oh, and these protesters didn't just have these yellow flags, which have become symbols of far-right movements — they also had pistols and rifles.

Republicans didn't seem to care much about that flag when it was outside the steps of the Capitol. But a flag about inclusion is "controversial," they say.

Of course, there is a difference between protesters holding a flag (and again, wielding flippin' guns!) demonstrating outside of the Capitol building, and the governor endorsing and promoting a separate flag. In the latter example, whatever flag the governor flies receives a tacit government endorsement.

But the way in which Republican lawmakers like Allen and Craig go on about the supposed divisiveness of the Pride flag seems to be more political grandstanding on their part than legitimate concern. It'd be good for them to have an actual lesson on what Pride is really about.

Here's a quick primer: Pride isn't about flaunting an opinion, or promoting being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or anything else. That's a false narrative that many on the right either ignorantly believe or purposely push to deceive others.

Rather, Pride is about the recognition of the political gains that the LGBTQ community has seen and accomplished over the past five decades. It's about celebrating those gains, but also understanding that much, much more need to be realized because full equality, despite what some may argue, has not yet been realized for those groups of people.

Allen and Craig ought to try to understand that there's nothing controversial about a Pride flag flying over the Capitol. It's a celebration of a group of people and what they've accomplished, and a promise from their government leaders that the push for full equality in society has not ended. The only thing controversial about that, is that some stand opposed to such calls to action.

Featured image credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Death By Suicide Is Up In WI Since Gun Waiting Period Law Repealed

The suicide of a young woman in Colorado this week demonstrates that 48-hour waiting periods for gun purchases can save lives

An 18-year-old woman from Florida, who had an unhealthy obsession with the Columbine High School shooting that occurred 20 years ago in Littleton, Colorado, made a pilgrimage from her home to the Rocky Mountain state this week.

Image credit: Wikimedia
Authorities worried that the woman, who had reportedly purchased a gun when she arrived in Colorado, posed a security threat, and many high schools closed their doors rather than risk a repeat of what happened in 1999.

That woman ended up dying by suicide, according to reporting from Fox 31 in Denver. She was able to purchase her weapon in about 20 minutes, as Colorado doesn't have a waiting period to purchase guns.

When I read about those details this week, I was reminded about a series of blog posts I had written in 2015 about Wisconsin's own 48-hour waiting period to buy guns. At that time, state lawmakers justified abolishing that standard, which had been in place for forty years prior, using questionable stories (well, only one story actually, which was flimsy at best) to pave the way to a zero-wait time purchase for guns in the state from that point forward.

I made a sad prediction when the 48-hour waiting period law was repealed — that crime would go up, and more specifically, that suicides would increase across the state as well.

Unfortunately, my predictions on both turned out to be true.

From 2014 to 2017 — the year before the gun ban was ended, and the most recent year where FBI crime statistics are available, respectively — violent crime went up in a significant way. In fact, violent crime across Wisconsin increased by 10.2 percent between those years.

Death by suicide also increased during that period. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate per 100,000 individuals went up by nearly 18 percent between 2014 to 2017.

Why was I confident that this would happen? I had hoped that I would be wrong. Unfortunately, my predictions were based on common sense observations that every lawmaker in the state of Wisconsin was able to access themselves.

I looked to other states that had recently removed their own waiting period laws from the books to see if crime had gone up. South Dakota did so, just a few years before Wisconsin did, and saw a rapid increase in violent crime, for example.

I also did my homework on the subject, and found that people who die by suicide generally formulate a plan to kill themselves, and follow through on the first steps of that plan — whether going to the gun store or making other arrangements — within 20 minutes of making their initial decision.

I wondered, earlier on Wednesday, what would have happened had this young woman made her way to Colorado and found that she'd have to wait for two days before getting a gun. She would have had more time to think things over — she'd probably have been found by authorities before being able to get her hands on the gun — and the gun store itself could have prevented the sale, even if they had begun the 48-hour process, because by the time they would have handed the weapon over to her, they would have been made aware of the danger she posed to herself and to others.

I also wonder about the people of Wisconsin who have died by suicide — how many would have been delayed from doing so, and how many lives could have been saved by that delay. Studies demonstrate that waiting periods do, in fact, save lives, and it's shameful that the state of Wisconsin, under former Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in 2015 (of which many of its members remain in office today), removed the waiting period under suspicious rationales.

Now, correlation doesn't equate causation. Suicide rates may have gone up for other reasons, and violent crime may have increased for different reasons than the removal of the 48-hour waiting period as well. But removing that restriction didn't make the state safer — nor did removing other restrictions on gun ownership in the years Scott Walker was governor.

Those revisions to our laws didn't result in less crime, as was promised to us by the former chief executive of our state. Rather, we saw more crime, and more suicide, across Wisconsin, just as I had predicted.

Reinstituting the 48-hour waiting period ought to be a priority of the current session of the legislature. Unfortunately, since Republicans remain in power, the chances of that happening are slim. As more time passes before such a waiting period can be reimplemented, more lives will be lost in the state in the meantime — a legislative "accomplishment" that Republicans ought to feel ashamed over.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Kristie Schilling Makes Ambitious Push In Write-In Campaign For Mayor Of Monona

The candidate sees a need — and potential — for economic development projects in the suburban city

If you live in the city of Monona, you may have noticed a postcard in your mailbox this week asking you to vote for a candidate named Kristie Schilling. But when you go to vote on Tuesday, April 2, you won't see her name on the ballot.

That's because Schilling, who is running for mayor of Monona, is doing so as a write-in candidate. Schilling is currently the CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance, and believes that new vision is needed for the city in the years ahead.

As a curious voter myself, I sent a series of questions to Schilling hoping that she'd respond so that I could place her answers here, for other Monona voters to read and consider her candidacy. Her responses to my questions are below:

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According to the Herald Independent, you entered the race as a write-in candidate with only 10 days to go before election day. What drove you to make the decision to run? Why do you think change is needed in Monona?

Yes, this just might be the shortest political campaign in history!

I have been serving this city for the past four and a half years as CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance. I love this city, it is my home and my kids will graduate from the Monona Grove School District — so I’m here for the long haul.

In short, the system is not setup for someone like me to run for mayor. I’m a single mom, I own my home, I have a demanding job, and I do not come from a family of means. The role of mayor pays only $200/month and that’s the reason retirees or the independently wealthy run for positions like this. I’m neither of those things. I have to be able to provide for my family but I want to serve my community.

I made this decision so late because I realized that I would have to pledge to resign from my current job at MESBA and find a new job in order to launch this campaign. That is both terrifying and exciting. But I’m hoping that by stepping into the ring, I will inspire others to serve their communities and it will allow me to take my work in Monona to the next level.

When I drive around the Madison and surrounding suburbs, there are cranes going up everywhere. Currently, Monona has one at Yahara Commons, but, we are so well positioned geographically that I believe we should be seeing more developments to help us grow our tax base.

We’re a very small community — 3.3 square miles with a robust business community — approximately 450 businesses in that small footprint. They are a major part of our tax base. We have numerous infill development opportunities available. The majority of transportation infrastructure lies in our backyard — we’re minutes from the Interstate, Highway 51, and Dane County Regional Airport. The busiest Beltline Highway interchange is in Monona at Stoughton Road and the Beltline with 184,000 cars passing through every day.

We need to be more vocal in letting people know that Monona is open for business and that opportunities do indeed exist here.

You've served as CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance (MESBA) for over four years now. What accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure, and how will your leadership within that organization translate to how you might run the city?

When I was hired, I was hired as the Executive Director of the Monona Chamber of Commerce. It was in a fiscal crisis and we’d had over 100 members drop that year.

I started by gathering feedback from current members, dropped members, stakeholders, and anyone that had an opinion to express to figure out what the major problems were. You can’t fix the problem unless you know, specifically, what the problem is right? I joke that I still have the scars on my back from those early conversations.

I allowed people to unload their frustrations on me and it was the start of gaining their trust and forging relationships with people I’d never met before. After a couple of months, I realized that the brand was so badly damaged that the best approach would be to wipe the slate clean and rebrand with a new name. I approached our Mayor at the time and told him my idea and he thought it was brilliant.

After receiving his blessing, I developed a plan for the rebrand and six months after I started, the Monona East Side Business Alliance (MESBA) was born on February 26, 2015. It’s one thing to have big ideas, but it’s another thing to successfully implement those ideas.

We had no money and were working off a $4,000 line of credit so I built the website myself, designed the logo and tagline, established a solid social media presence, and wrote the media releases. I also published the first “Guide to the Monona Area,” an annual magazine promoting our community locally and regionally. I did all of the photography, design, copywriting, and editing myself. It was a one woman shop at that time but it’s the thing I’m most proud of — building an economic engine for the east side with Monona serving as the hub. Three years later, we were 20 members short of tripling the size of the organization.

It’s been interesting seeing the conversations as of late about how businessmen do not necessarily make good leaders in government. That may or may not be true, I think it depends upon the individual. The organizational structure of a nonprofit is very similar to that of a city. With a city, you have the mayor and that equates to the board president or chair. Then you have the hired leader in a city administrator or an executive director. Then you have the staff and all of the committees that branch off underneath the staff.

I’d be very comfortable in the role of mayor because I know exactly what makes an excellent board chair — effective communication, supporting your staff when they’ve made a decision, backing up the staff if a situation arises, assisting staff so that their endeavors are successful, and bringing teams together. Of course, there are many other facets like budgeting, being the face of a city, taking some heat at times...but most of all, the role of a mayor is to stay out of the staff’s way so they can do the jobs they’ve been professionally trained to do. I think that’s where a lot of mayors go wrong — they get too involved in the staff’s work and micromanaging projects and tensions arise.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the Momentum Urban Arts project that is coming up on August 24, 2019. I’m working with a local street art business, Momentum Art Tech, to bring 60-70 street artists to do a live painting event all day on August 24. Street artists will be painting murals on the walls of businesses up and down Monona Drive. This event has incredible potential for the City of Monona! There’s a similar thing called Wynwood Walls in Florida and people travel from all over the country to see it. Search #MononaMurals if you want to learn more. I’m currently applying for arts and tourism grants to get the project off the ground. It will be the first year for the event.

What aspects of Monona are you proud of, and what are you hoping to change as mayor? What policy initiatives or plans do you see for the city's future?

Our retail community is proving to be amazing and I’m incredibly proud that they are rising to the challenge of competing with online shopping. They are facing challenges like never before but they have established themselves as destination retailers. Stores like Rutabaga Paddlesports, Reptile Rapture, The Cozy Home, Booth 121, Habitat Restore, Monona Shoe Repair, Rosy Cheeks Dancewear, Fraboni’s, Ken’s Meats & Deli, Karner Blue Candle & Supply, to name a few.

I’m also amazed at the residents’ willingness to volunteer to help our community with the Monona Farmers Market, Monona Community Festival, the Monona Memorial Day Parade, the Monona Fall Festival & Chili Cookoff. Monona residents have city pride that I’ve never seen anywhere else. We really rally together when needed especially when we know thousands of people will get a chance to experience our awesome little city.

One of the ways I often describe the people and vibe of Monona is through a story of the weekend I moved to Monona. I was driving down Nichols Road and it was the weekend of the City Wide Garage Sales. My kids and I were looking for some specific furniture pieces as well as a bike for my son. We saw some chairs sitting on the north side of Nichols Road. One of the pieces we were looking for was a desk chair and one looked ideal. I stopped and checked them out and saw a kitchen island with a “Free” sign on it. It was exactly the piece I needed for my kitchen! But, it was heavy, solid wood.

I managed to get it to the back of my car and was taking a few deep breaths psyching myself up to hoist it into the back of my Subaru wagon. Just as I was about to start the impossible lift, a woman ran out of her home on the south side of Nichols and yelled, “Wait! I can help you!” I was so happy to see her! We formulated our plan and were just bending down to begin the lift, when a man’s voice rang out, “Step aside ladies. I’ve got this.” And the man who was giving away the chairs and the kitchen island had been observing us and came out to help. Have you ever heard of such things?! I had not. And that was the day I fell in love with Monona.

Another great example of how people in Monona look out for each other is in my immediate neighborhood. My neighbors and I all pitch in to watch each others' kids and as a single mom, it’s incredibly helpful.

Currently, there is no vision for Monona. I see so much potential for this city given its excellent geographic position. We’re situated in a high profile area right off the Beltline Highway, and we’re directly across the street from Madison. We have two major developments flanking either side of the city — the Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison convention and cultural center, and the Alliant Energy Campus redevelopment. There are cranes up all over Madison and its suburbs but there’s only one in Monona.

We have some incredible redevelopment opportunities like the South Towne area. I’d really like to see some revisioning happen for that area. Shopko is closing on May 5 and I’ve been coming up with ideas for a new tenant. It’s highly unlikely that it would be a retailer given the current state of brick and mortar retail, so a family entertainment option may be a great option. I’m looking into an indoor soccer complex, roller skating rink, Dave & Buster’s type of place, or a teen center with cultural activities and employment preparation. But I’ll be collecting ideas from community members at my Community Conversations meet and greet on March 30 at Rosie’s Coffee Bar & Bakery from 11-2pm.

Another opportunity is to get Monona on the map in the tourism sector. Currently, $20 billion comes into Wisconsin each year from visitors. $6 billion of that is spent in Dane County. Monona has yet to tap into that market.

We have enormous potential with Lake Monona and Rutabaga Paddlesports, our bike trail, the Monona Lake Loop, our 30 eateries on Monona Drive, our parks and natural areas. I’m well experienced in tourism — I’ve setup a convention and visitors bureau in Fitchburg and I’ve created tourism maps for numerous chambers of commerce in Wisconsin with my first business.

The Monona Murals project is a perfect example of how Monona could easily grab a piece of that revenue. Our area is also very rich in Native American history — there are over 300 indian mounds in Monona and on the east side of Madison. MESBA wants to do Native History bus tours in partnership with the Ho-Chunk Nation as a way to drive guests to our hotels to build on room tax revenue. But in order to do that, MESBA needs to receive room tax dollars from the City.

I’ve also talked about changing our color palette for the city. We have a lot of buildings on Monona Drive that were built in the 60’s & 70’s. Many cities take the safe route in establishing their color palettes and go with tans, browns, grays. When you put those colors on an older building without a lot of architectural details, it does not improve the aesthetics. We are a waterfront community and adopting a color palette like Egg Harbor — bright blues, yellows, oranges — can really inject a fresh and energetic look into your city. I’ve been talking about that idea since my third interview for my current position.

Write-in candidates have a difficult time winning elections — one of the most obvious challenges is that your name doesn't appear on the ballot. What strategies have you implemented in order to get your name out there, to let people know that you're running and to write your name in?

I have a postcard being mailed out to every household in Monona on March 26-27. I have yard signs in the works. I’m hitting social media hard. My background is marketing so I’ve sent my media release to all of the news outlets around the Madison area. It’s been picked up by four outlets so far and I know a couple more are coming.

I know a lot of people in Monona and they’re helping me spread the word. People seem to be excited about embracing a new generation of leadership and vision and I’m certainly interested in continuing my work in making this community even better!