Wisconsin Senate Republicans vote against recreational cannabis

Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate stopped an effort by Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) to force a vote on legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

The Senate took up a bill Tuesday that would increase penalties for a person who uses a butane torch to extract resin from a cannabis plant. Agard introduced an amendment to the bill that, instead of making penalties harsher, would have completely legalized all uses of cannabis.

Agard said she was introducing the amendment because if the goal of the bill is to increase public safety, then increased criminalization is not the direction to go — especially since most of Wisconsin’s neighboring states have legalized either medicinal or recreational use.

Republicans in the Senate killed Agard’s effort by voting that the amendment was out of order and not “germane” to the initial bill.

The original bill, without Agard’s amendment, passed on a 20-12 party line vote.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Madison mayor pushes for voting rights legislation, calls out Wisconsin Republicans

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, criticized the “unreasonable and ridiculous” attacks on American democracy from Republicans in the state Legislature as she called for federal action on voting rights during a virtual event hosted by the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit, progressive policy institute based in Washington, DC.

Rhodes-Conway appeared at the event with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and hosted by Patrick Gaspard, CEO for the Center for American Progress Action Fund to advocate for the passage of bills that would counteract attacks on elections from Republicans in Wisconsin, Texas and across the country arising from conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

“This is such a critical time in our country,” Rhodes-Conway said. “And it really is incumbent on all of us to understand what’s going on and to protect our democracy against the attacks that are coming towards it. Here in Madison, Wis., it has been incessant. We’ve certainly been fighting voter suppression and attacks on democracy for years. But in the past year, it has reached a new level, I think, that is unprecedented. And the attacks have gotten more personal. And they have gotten more just completely unreasonable and ridiculous.”

Madison has been a punching bag for Wisconsin Republicans for years, but as state legislators continue to dig through the 2020 election through partisan reviews and lawsuits, Rhodes-Conway and the city, along with the leaders of other liberal-leaning cities, have been targets of harassment.

Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading a partisan review of the 2020 election that has been criticized as unprofessional and dangerous, threatened to jail Rhodes-Conway and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich over a dispute about how the cities would respond to subpoenas.

Madison, along with four of the state’s largest cities, has been attacked for accepting grant money from a group connected to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help pay for the costs associated with running an election during a pandemic.

At the Friday event, Rhodes-Conway said it’s been exhausting to deal with Republican attacks on elections.

“It’s frankly exhausting,” she said. “And to be fighting so hard to make sure that every eligible voter can vote in a way that is safe and secure and fair and easy. And then to turn around and be attacked, personally, professionally to have our clerks attacked at the level of what we’re dealing with is just unprecedented. We’ve had reams of open record requests, our clerks have been harassed, and in numerous ways. We’ve had many complaints, we’ve had lawsuits. And then now we have this ridiculous, and I have to use air quotes, “investigation” that’s being run by Attorney Gableman at the behest of Rep. [Robin] Vos.”

“But unfortunately, we’re still fighting over the 2020 election here in Wisconsin, and I am being personally attacked and threatened with jail time, for doing everything I could to make sure that people could vote safely and fairly,” she continued.

Vos, the Assembly speaker, has directed Gableman’s investigation and has helped spread election conspiracies.

Among the federal reforms Rhodes-Conway called for was an end to partisan gerrymandering. For the past ten years, Wisconsin has had one of the strongest partisan gerrymanders in the country which has cemented a near veto-proof Republican majority in a state that is evenly divided between Republican and Democratic voters in statewide elections.

The maps that will guide the next ten years of Wisconsin elections are currently in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court as part of a lawsuit, but Rhodes-Conway said if there were a new federal law prohibiting partisan maps, the government would work better for people across the state.

“Ending gerrymandering would transform politics, certainly in Wisconsin, but I think across the country,” she said. “In Wisconsin, in particular, it would end the dominance of anti-city politicians in our statehouse. And that would be just transformational for the city of Madison. You know, right now, the majority in the Wisconsin state house, frankly, hates the city of Madison, and looks for every excuse to punish us. And I tie that directly back to gerrymandering.”

Proposed voting rights legislation is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate because it does not have enough votes to clear the 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have so far refused requests from President Joe Biden and other Democratic senators to do away with the filibuster rule.

Rhodes-Conway said she believes the actions of both Manchin, Sinema and the 50 Republicans in the Senate are “repugnant.”


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin Republicans face potential consequences from circuit courts over partisan election review

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Michael Gableman, the former state Supreme Court justice Vos appointed to lead the partisan investigation of the the 2020 election, are both facing potential reprimands from state courts over their actions during the investigation into the election won by Joe Biden.

A Dane County judge ruled on Tuesday that Vos must appear for a deposition with liberal watchdog group American Oversight after the group filed several lawsuits seeking records related to the review.

American Oversight has for months been seeking documents related to the review and Vos was ordered by a court to release them more than once. After receiving some documents, but not as many as the group believes exist, American Oversight asked Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn to hold the speaker in contempt of court and fine him for failing to comply. Bailey-Rihn refused to file a contempt charge but did say she didn’t understand how so few records had been created during a months-long review.

“Does he not have any itinerary and did he not have any work product for what he did out in Arizona while he was there?” she asked about Gableman in a hearing late last month. “It seems strange to me that this could be going on for three months with, I think, one if not more attorneys working on this and they did nothing. They provided nothing? They don’t even have a copy of the receipt showing that they paid for their plane tickets?”

American Oversight’s deposition of Vos will focus on how his office searched for the records and his effort to comply with the group’s open records requests.

Lawyers for Vos said the requested deposition was nothing more than a “fishing expedition,” a characterization some observers found ironic considering that last week, in an apparent extension of his review — which was supposed to be wrapped up by Dec. 31 — Gableman filed another round of subpoenas, this time his requests include data about individual voters.

“Fishing expedition?” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell tweeted. “Gableman will likely bill the state for his industrial fishing trawlers. He is asking for hundreds of millions of records.”

Also on Tuesday, a lawyer for Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich asked a Waukesha County judge to force Gableman to take out ads in three major Wisconsin newspapers admitting that he mischaracterized how the mayor has responded to Gableman’s review.

In November, Gableman filed a lawsuit against Genrich and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway requesting a judge to order them to appear to testify secretly before him or be jailed by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office.

The mayors called the lawsuit ridiculous and said Gableman was misrepresenting the communications he and his office had with city staff. On Tuesday, Genrich’s lawyer Jeffrey Mandell asked Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez to order Gableman to take out full page ads in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal admitting that he’d mischaracterized the mayors’ actions. He also asked that Gableman appear before the Assembly Committee on Elections to admit he had mischaracterized the mayors’ actions to committee members.

Mandell also wants Gableman to pay a fine and be forced to take a class on legal ethics.

Gableman responded by threatening to seek sanctions against Mandell for writing a letter Gableman’s attorneys say mischaracterized state law.

This back and forth stems from Gableman’s subpoenas demanding the mayors appear to give private testimony in front of the former judge. The mayors refused, saying they’d only testify in public and Gableman told media outlets he was no longer attempting to collect the testimony after the cities provided records also requested in the subpoenas. Then in November Gableman changed course and threatened to have the mayors jailed for not appearing for the requested testimony.

Despite his contract ending on Dec. 31, Vos has now said Gableman’s review could extend into the spring.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

‘The absurdity is stunning’: Chief of Wisconsin GOP's election review blasted for effort to arrest mayor of Madison

Madison City Attorney Michael Haas, in a letter on Thursday to Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez, responded to Michael Gableman’s attempt to arrest Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway as part of his partisan review of the 2020 presidential election.

Haas said Gableman’s effort to arrest Rhodes-Conway and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich was “unprofessional, an abuse of process, and a bad-faith effort to publicly harass local officials with no legal basis.”

Gableman, who is reviewing the election on behalf of Speaker Robin Vos and other Assembly Republicans, has filed a petition in Waukesha County Circuit Court that would enable Ramirez to have the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office travel to Madison and Green Bay, arrest the mayors and detain them in the county jail in order to force them to testify about the election.

The former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice has had a lengthy back and forth with a number of cities and state agencies over his assertion that he has the ability to enforce subpoenas against officials. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is currently fighting a lawsuit against Gableman over his ability to subpoena Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe. City officials in Madison and Green Bay had worked with Gableman’s office to provide an extensive amount of election-related documents he requested through a subpoena and believed that his request to have the mayors testify was no longer valid.

Throughout the Gableman review, local officials have complained about a lack of communication from Gableman’s office and his highly paid staff.

City officials have said they’d be happy to testify before Gableman, but would only do so in a public setting such as before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections — which is nominally the body overseeing the review. Gableman has said he wants to hear testimony in private, but lawyers for the cities say he doesn’t have the legal ability to do so.

In his letter, Haas highlights a number of ways in which communication with Gableman and his staff has been confusing, contradictory or nonexistent.

“First, Mayor Rhodes-Conway and the City of Madison have attempted to engage in professional and open communication with Attorney Gableman, which has not been reciprocated,” Haas wrote. “The Mayor remains willing to testify in public before the legislative committee which issued the subpoena to discuss the conduct of the election in Madison, all of which is public information. Attorney Gableman has not offered any specific time, forum or format for a deposition.”

Haas, like Genrich’s attorney, said that Gableman had completely mischaracterized the facts in his petition to the judge and that the move was almost comical.

“Given these facts, this action is frivolous and the absurdity of the Special Counsel’s assertion regarding the Mayor’s compliance with the subpoena is stunning,” Haas wrote.

The lawsuit over the testimony of WEC Administrator Wolfe involves many of the same issues and is pending in Dane County Circuit Court. Both Rhodes-Conway’s and Genrich’s lawyers have requested that Gableman’s petition be dismissed or for the matter to be settled after the Dane County case is resolved.

A scheduling conference in the mayor case is set to be held Friday afternoon and a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 22.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

IN OTHER NEWS: 'Mark Meadows had a really bad day': MSNBC analyst says ex-Trump staffer accidentally blew up his executive privilege claims

MSNBC analyst says ex-Trump staffer exposed his executive privilege claims www.youtube.com

GOP senator compares treatment of unvaccinated to internment camps

Sen. Ron Johnson, in an appearance on Janesville-area radio station WCLO earlier this week, compared the treatment of unvaccinated people to internment camps.

Johnson was a guest on the program, “Your Talk Show,” with host Tim Bremel to discuss the omicron variant of COVID-19 and to continue his fight against vaccination efforts and public health officials he refers to as “COVID gods” such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

His statement about internment camps came as he inveighed against the treatment of people who have decided not to get vaccinated.

“It’s not irrational for people that are aware of that information go, ‘you know, I think, cause I’ve seen a lot of my neighbors get COVID, and really well, it wasn’t all that bad, and I said, you know, I think maybe I’ll take my chances, and I don’t think I’m going to, I’m going to actually utilize my own freedom, my own health autonomy, and I’m going to choose not to get the vaccine,’ and now we are demonizing those people,” Johnson said. “Around the world, they’re putting them basically into internment camps. What is going on?”

Johnson’s appearance includes a number of misleading or wrong statements about how other countries have fared during the pandemic, the reporting system for vaccine side effects and public health officials’ response to omicron.

Johnson was basing his aversion to getting vaccinated on reported incidents in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database run by the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which tracks reactions to all sorts of vaccines. The problem with using the VAERS data to make conclusions about the COVID-19 vaccine is that anyone can make a report that is then included in the database without any further confirmation.

“We’ve had over 900,000 adverse events on the VAERs system with the COVID vaccine, 19,500 deaths, and our health agencies continued to say, ‘nothing to see here,’” Johnson said. “All I’m saying is that concerns me, we ought to look at that.”

Johnson said he’s concerned about the events and deaths the system includes from the COVID-19 vaccines, but doesn’t include the fact that these are often unconfirmed reports that anyone can submit and that in some cases healthcare providers are required to submit a report to VAERS even if they don’t believe the vaccine is the cause for a negative health outcome.

Johnson, who has repeatedly attacked public health officials and their guidance throughout the pandemic while promoting unproven treatments such as ivermectin, said he’s being persecuted for telling the truth.

“We can’t ask that question, we can’t get a second opinion, there’s only one narrative, and it’s the narrative put forth by the COVID gods,” he said. “And anybody like me, who provides a little more truthful information, they try to destroy us. So that’s what’s happening.”

This isn’t the only time Johnson has been under fire in recent weeks for public statements about public health issues. Earlier this month, the senator appeared on a podcast in which he said AIDS was “over hyped” by Fauci in the same way he’s treated COVID.

“Fauci did the exact same thing with AIDS. He overhyped it. He created all kinds of fear, saying it could affect the entire population when it couldn’t,” Johnson said on the Brian Kilmeade Show. “And he’s … using the exact same playbook with COVID, ignoring therapy, pushing a vaccine. The solution to this I’ve always felt was early treatment. We still haven’t robustly explored that and that’s a travesty.”

ON CNN, Fauci responded to Johnson’s accusations with incredulity: “How do you respond to something as preposterous as that? Overhyping AIDS? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that? Overhyping COVID? It’s already killed 780,000 Americans and over five million people worldwide.”

In his appearance on WCLO, Johnson claimed his comments about AIDS, on World AIDS Day, were taken out of context.

Johnson isn’t the only Wisconsin right wing figure to make comparisons between measures to slow the pandemic and internment camps. In May 2020, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide stay-at-home order, Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in her opinion that making people stay home to prevent the spread of a deadly disease was equivalent to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

‘Comic buffoonery’: Head of GOP-backed election review asks court to arrest Green Bay and Madison mayors

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading Assembly Republicans’ partisan review of the 2020 presidential election, took an extreme step last week when he asked a Waukesha County judge to order the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office to arrest the mayors of Green Bay and Madison.

Gableman’s threat to arrest leaders of the opposing party continued his antagonism of Democrats after an appearance in front of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections earlier in the week resulted in a shouting match with Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit).

Gableman’s call for the arrest of Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stems from his long and convoluted attempts to compel, through subpoenas, elections-related documents from the cities and testimony from the officials.

Earlier this year, Gableman emailed a request to retain documents to a number of cities across the state from a Gmail account under the name “John Delta.” A number of those cities had the email go into their spam folders. Once the cities received the subpoenas, many of them pointed out that the requested documents had already been provided to the committee that Gableman nominally works for. After working with city staff to narrow and define the request for documents in October, Gableman told WISN that testimony from city leaders might not be necessary.

A continued point of dispute over the testimony of local officials has been Gableman’s desire to interview the mayors in private, rather than in public in front of the Assembly elections committee. A lawsuit over this issue and the testimony of members and staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission is currently being decided in Dane County Circuit Court.

Attorneys for the cities of Green Bay and Madison have said they reached out to Gableman’s office about the details for potential testimony but never received a response and hadn’t heard anything about the matter until his petition for the mayors to be arrested.

Jeff Mandell, an attorney for Genrich, requested that Gableman’s petition for the mayors’ arrest be dismissed. Mandell says if Gableman’s work weren’t so serious, his actions would be the stuff of comedy.

“If the stakes weren’t so high and what he was seeking wasn’t so serious it would be kind of funny … the intersection between the comic buffoonery of this and the serious consequences and the high stakes that make it not funny,” Mandell says. “I will say this is a pattern we’ve seen where the special counsel does not provide information to, or address the cities from whom he claims to want information, but instead speaks directly to the public or the Legislature and in doing so uses a bunch of fancy legal words to make it sound like what he’s doing is important and legitimate but those words, they are legal words, but they don’t line up with what he’s trying to do. Given he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court it’s kind of weird.”

In a letter to Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez, Mandell asked for the petition for arrests to be dismissed on a number of grounds. First, Mandell says Gableman is not part of one of the bodies of state government that is empowered to request such an order. Second, he says Waukesha County isn’t the proper place to file this request. Third, he says it’s not clear that a Waukesha County judge has the ability to send sheriff’s deputies across the state to arrest a mayor in a different county. Finally, for such an order to be granted the mayors would have had to be acting unreasonably, which he says is plainly not the case.

“Even he acknowledges he doesn’t have the power to arrest anyone,” Mandell says. “It would be like going to a doctor to get a prescription to give to someone else to get the drugs. More specifically what had happened in Green Bay and with the other cities, there was a provision of documents that was understood to set aside the subpoena requests and with those documents came a statement that if the office of special counsel wanted additional information, they should be in touch and we’d consider the requests. While Mr. Gableman never responded to our response, he did tell a number of media outlets there were no further requirements, ‘How dare you not obey my unilateral changes to these subpoenas I said no longer had any effect.’”

A hearing in the case has been scheduled for Dec. 22 but Mandell says Ramirez could take a number of actions, including dismissing the petition, transferring the case to Dane County to be combined with the already existing lawsuit or waiting for the Dane County case to be resolved.

As Gableman is trying to send sheriff’s deputies after Democratic mayors, his review and the legislators who’ve ordered it are facing their own troubles on the issue of transparency.

Until this week, many of the people who were working and how much they were making, as well as other documents related to the investigation, remained secret. Media outlets and the government watchdog group American Oversight sued for the release of these records in October.

Last month, a Dane County judge ordered that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who has authorized the review, release the records with a Nov. 19 deadline. On Friday, American Oversight asked for the judge to hold Vos in contempt for failing to provide the records.

American Oversight requested that Vos be fined $2,000 for each day he fails to provide the requested records.

“At the same time that his hand-selected Special Counsel is trying to have local officials detained for failing to comply with his contradictory and ridiculous subpoenas, Speaker Vos is flagrantly defying an actual court order to release records to the public,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said. “This shell game demands accountability and needs to end.”


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Kyle Rittenhouse no longer enrolled in classes at Arizona State University

Kyle Rittenhouse, who testified last month at his homicide trial that he was a student studying nursing at Arizona State University, is no longer enrolled at the school, according to a report from the Phoenix New Times.

Rittenhouse, who was found not guilty on self-defense grounds earlier this month for shooting and killing two people and wounding of a third during protests in Kenosha in August 2020, said in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News that he planned to attend classes on campus. After his testimony, ASU said he was a non-degree student enrolled in classes at the school.

A number of student groups on campus mounted protests against Rittenhouse’s enrollment at the university, which is one of the largest in the state.

Since his acquittal, Rittenhouse — who became a right wing martyr following the shootings — has appeared on a number of conservative news outlets and met with former President Donald Trump.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin Senate Republicans move school culture war bill forward

Republicans on the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Education advanced a bill on Monday that would ban teaching certain topics about race and the harms of racism in schools, setting the bill up for a potential vote in the Senate when it returns in January.

The advancement of the bill aimed at prohibiting the teaching of so-called critical race theory in schools is part of a national effort that Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country have made into a campaign issue.

Critical race theory — a graduate-school-level framework that states American institutions are shaped by racism — was a key issue in an attempted recall of several members of the Mequon-Thiensville school board. The recall attempt drew the donations and attention of high profile Republicans across the state, including gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch.

Even though the recall attempt failed, Republicans in Wisconsin say they’ll continue to focus on education.

“Supposed blue state Virginia elects a Republican governor that ran on Education,” former Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt tweeted after Republican Glenn Youngkin, running on a platform that included opposition to critical race theory in schools, was elected earlier this month. “This is a winning issue for Republicans in 22. ‘Education’ [Gov. Tony Evers] should be hitting the panic button.”

Senate Bill 411 was approved and recommended for concurrence with the Assembly version in a series of 4-3 party-line votes by the education committee on Monday. The bill’s stated goal is to prevent students from being taught “that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.”

Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego), one of the bill’s co-authors, said in testimony about the bill that it would ban the use of words and topics such as “critical self-reflection,” “marginalized communities” and “racial prejudice.”

The bill includes a provision that makes the state superintendent of schools withhold 10% of a district’s state funding where a teacher is found to have violated the law. It also includes a requirement that districts post their entire curriculum online.

Democrats have countered by saying critical race theory isn’t taught in schools but that limiting what can be taught will have a chilling effect on the teaching of U.S. history in classes — especially around topics such as slavery and the civil rights movement.

“There were several educators, [who] came to testify that talked about the fact that they were not teaching anything remotely close to critical race theory,” Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee), a former teacher, said when the bill passed the Assembly in September. “They talked about how if this was passed, they would feel uncomfortable, because you would be walking a tightrope and not knowing what you could say that could eventually get you in trouble and take money away from your district, which is problematic.”

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) says he doesn’t think the focus on critical race theory in Wisconsin schools will help Republicans win elections and will ultimately reflect poorly on the legislators who voted for the bill.

“It’s part of a national effort that is just doing the latest iteration to keep the Lost Cause going,” Larson, who sits on the education committee and voted against the bill’s passage, says. “[It’s] trying to paper over some of the more racist history ingrained in our country. History is going to find it’s way out and ironically, those who try to cover up history are not viewed very fondly by those who study it in the future.”

The attempt to ban critical race theory isn’t the only culture war issue Wisconsin Republicans are focusing on in schools. On Sunday, a lawyer for the right wing law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, appeared on the WISN show “UpFront” to talk about a lawsuit filed against the Kettle Moraine School District over a student’s ability to be referred to by a preferred gender identity in school without parental permission.

The lawsuit stems from an unidentified 12-year-old who identified as transgender and requested that teachers change the pronouns they used to identify the student.

WILL is suing the district, saying parents should have control over that decision. Luke Berg, the WILL lawyer, said the district’s decision to allow students to express their true gender identity is unconstitutional.

“Schools have to defer to parents about major decisions involving their children,” Berg said. “They normally do, yet they have carved out this one exception for gender identity transitions, and in our view that’s unconstitutional. They need to defer to parents about this major decision. So the goal is ultimately for a court to say that parents have a constitutional right to make this decision, and that schools must defer to those decisions.”

Earlier this year, Wisconsin and Republican states across the country passed laws that prohibited transgender women and girls from participating in youth, high school and collegiate sports. The Wisconsin bills were vetoed by Evers.

Larson says he thinks education is a major issue in Wisconsin, but not for the same reasons Republicans are pushing when they try to legislate how racism is taught or who can play women’s basketball.

“I think if anybody’s voting on education the first thing they’re going to care about is that our schools are criminally underfunded and the money is being used to give huge tax breaks to businesses that don’t need them or just being sat on,” he says. “I think it’s going to backfire as much as they think they’ve got something.”


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Kyle Rittenhouse's risky decision to testify paid off, law professor says

In testimony that took nearly all of Wednesday, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse detailed step-by-step his actions on the day he killed two people and wounded a third during protests against police brutality last summer in Kenosha.

Rittenhouse got emotional as he tried to describe the first shooting and during cross-examination his attorneys filed for a mistrial during what UW-Madison School of Law professor Ion Meyn says was a confusing day for the prosecution.

Rittenhouse, who is facing charges of reckless, intentional and attempted homicide, repeatedly said he didn't do anything wrong and only shot his AR-15 rifle because he believed his life was in danger. Late in the afternoon, lead prosecutor Thomas Binger, showing a number of videos of the night, questioned Rittenhouse about why he needed to be carrying the rifle and why he considered the men he shot a threat. Meyn says this line of questioning was one of the few times the prosecution made up some ground, but it took too long to get to those questions and by then Binger may have lost the attention of the jury.

“I didn't understand where the prosecutor was going with his cross," Meyn, who has worked for the Wisconsin State Public Defender and the Wisconsin Innocence Project, says. “There should be no guessing. The general rule in cross-examination is, either you know the answer or don't care what the answer is. I felt that rule was not being followed. There was always one question too many, even if the prosecution sort of made a point, he asked that one additional question to further explain what he meant. By the time they got to what I thought was their most effective cross-examination of the day, it was the very end of the day. By that time you might have lost half the jury. To lose half the jury during a cross-examination of the defendant himself is a problem."

Binger started his cross-examination by asking about events much earlier in the night and occasionally took tangents into topics such as Rittenhouse's video game preferences or the fact that he ignored the citywide curfew in Kenosha that night.

“If that's what you're basing your murder charge on, then you have big problems," Meyn said. “I don't know what that was supposed to accomplish except sympathy for the defendant. The optics for the prosecution would be terrible, the last thing they want to emphasize is that it's a kid."

“They started with the curfew, oh my gosh," he adds. “You have a murder case and you're talking about a curfew violation first? Who cares if someone's not supposed to be there, what does it have to do with intentional homicide?"

Instead of focusing on video games or curfew violations, Meyn says he would have focused more on why Rittenhouse thought his life was threatened and how he could claim that he himself wasn't a threat to Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz, his victims.

“I would have gone through each of these things, these people aren't related, aren't together, aren't in a gang, none of them know each other," Meyn says, “That should be the emphasis of the cross. You shot three people in three minutes. You describe a mob, no one here knew each other. These incidents had space between them. And then the first two didn't have a weapon."

“How strong does that get after he shoots someone, after he's running down the street with an AR-15?" he continues. “That is a threat. I would've focused on Grosskreutz, when you saw him with a gun he became a threat, yes? So it's OK that you — it's reasonable when you see someone with a gun [to view them as a threat] but not when he sees someone with a gun?"

The decision over whether or not a defendant should testify is always a risky one for the defense, but according to Meyn it mostly paid off for Rittenhouse.

“Rittenhouse as a witness did phenomenal," he says. “[He] maintained control of his narrative during the entirety of cross. Never waivered, regardless how many times he was asked to admit x, y or z. That's extraordinary."

“To put a defendant on the stand is such a risk," Meyn adds. “Putting an 18-year-old in with a seasoned prosecutor of a homicide division of an urban city, that's a recipe for disaster."

Early in his testimony, Binger started down two paths of questioning that lead to the defense's request for a mistrial with prejudice — which would prevent the state from bringing Rittenhouse to trial a second time.

In the first, Binger started asking Rittenhouse about the fact he hadn't publicly spoken about the events of Aug. 25, 2020 for more than a year — which Meyn sees as edging toward asking him about his constitutional right to remain silent.

“The prosecutor was, through his questioning, commenting on, allegedly, the defendant's right to silence, which is absolutely forbidden and everyone knows it," he says. “So if you're up against experienced defense attorneys, you don't try it, it was too obvious to the judge and the defense. You might get away with something like that in a misdemeanor trial but these are high-level guys."

The second infraction came when Binger started to ask about an event that occurred in the weeks before the shootings and was recorded on video. Rittenhouse and a friend were sitting in a car across the street from a CVS store when they saw people they believed to be shoplifting.

“I wish I had my AR, I'd fire some rounds at them," Rittenhouse said about the apparent shoplifters.

Before the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder had already ruled that this incident would likely not be able to be admitted as evidence. According to Meyn, this incident counts as “other acts," and the general rule is that something a person did in the past does not have any bearing on why they committed a crime later. Judges have to rule on whether or not “other acts" evidence will be admitted.

Despite Schroeder's previous ruling, Binger started asking a question that would have touched on this incident — without asking permission from the judge first — and the defense immediately objected. After the jury left the courtroom, the defense requested a mistrial with prejudice and Schroeder admonished Binger.

“I don't believe you," Schroeder yelled at Binger after he'd said he was making his arguments in good faith.

Meyn says he has no idea what the prosecution was doing unless they were purposefully trying to get a mistrial because they don't believe the trial is going well and want another shot at it. In order to grant a mistrial with prejudice, Schroeder would have to rule that the prosecution is tanking the trial intentionally in order to get a “second bite at the apple."

“Both those things, the first one has been doctrine for 50, 60 years and the other one was already decided," Meyn says. “To start down that road without even checking in with the judge on why the judge should reconsider his motion, he's asking for trouble. The only thing that could explain this is the prosecution is intentionally trying to get a mistrial because it's too obvious. The judge is super mad. It's not the first time. I've been on the receiving end of a mad judge, when you're on homicide trials you're going to be vigorous and right up against the line and it was too much for the judge."

Schroeder allowed the trial to go on and gave Binger time to come up with an argument against the motion for a mistrial.

Meyn says he isn't sure the case against Rittenhouse is being argued to its full potential, but he also sees an issue with Wisconsin's laws and how it values a human life.

Wisconsin's self-defense statutes allow a person, even if they were the first aggressor, to still claim self-defense if they can't escape the situation.

“The person is not privileged to resort to the use of force intended or likely to cause death to the person's assailant unless the person reasonably believes he or she has exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm at the hands of his or her assailant," the statute states.

Meyn says the defense is doing a good job highlighting this part of the statute, arguing that when Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum he was cornered against parked cars and when he shot Grosskreutz and Huber he had fallen in the ground in a vulnerable position.

But ultimately, Meyn says, the state's laws could make it impossible to stop an active shooter from killing more people.

“At a certain point we have to look at the law in Wisconsin," he says. “I can tell you talking with law professors, I'm in awe of the statute in Wisconsin, and in the end it's very forgiving. I'm wondering how cheap life is in Wisconsin."

“It doesn't matter if he was the first aggressor," Meyn continues. “He never waives his right to self-defense, even if other people are in fear because of his actions. It's an extraordinary thing, it means you can't disarm an active shooter who's on his butt. What are we doing? That's the law. This is playing out, and again it's a kid, but i think it's time, we're mad about this situation, it's tragic. Are we mad at Rittenhouse? Yes, a lot of people are. But is your anger better directed not at a 17-year-old kid but how cheap life is in Wisconsin?"


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Republicans continue to use Wisconsin Elections Commission as a partisan punching bag

In a hearing of the Legislative Audit Committee on Tuesday, Republican legislators continued their attacks on the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) as the commission's administrator Meagan Wolfe attempted to push back.

Wolfe appeared before the committee to testify and respond to questions about a report into elections administration during the 2020 presidential election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

Republicans have used the report, which found the 2020 election was conducted safely and securely, to further their claims of election fraud and problems with the election administration. Following the release of the report, Republicans in the Senate announced they'd be opening yet another investigation into the election to further investigate what was discovered in the audit bureau's investigation.

Wolfe opened her testimony by commending parts of the LAB report and said many of the report's 30 recommendations for the WEC are common sense and should be easy to implement. But she also tried to push back on what she says are errors and inaccuracies in the report that the commission believes need to be corrected while occasionally clashing with Republicans.

Wolfe told the committee that because the six elections commissioners hadn't yet met to discuss the report and respond to the recommendations, she wasn't able to provide any information beyond the facts of what happened and her own personal opinion. The commission is planning to meet on Dec. 1 to discuss the report.

In a heated series of statements, Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview), who is reportedly considering a run for governor, said the actions of Wolfe and the WEC were “repugnant."

“I find it repugnant and insulting for you to start a conversation that says you can't speak for the team first of all that you couldn't even get together," Macco said. “So I just find this whole thing a joke today, and you've done nothing to help allay my fears and concerns."

Macco also objected to Wolfe's statements that the WEC hadn't been given a chance to respond to and correct errors in the report before it was published — an opportunity other state agencies get when audited by the bureau.

“I don't know what world you come from where you get to have a report and an input on the report of an audit before the audit comes out," he said. “I've never heard of such a thing in the businesses that I've had, I've gotten audited on an annualized basis, and I don't get the pleasure of sitting down with the SEC, or the DOR or the IRS and have me give opinions as to as to the input of what I'm doing and input on the report before it comes out."

The standard process for reports by the audit bureau includes giving state agencies a chance to respond pre-publication. The audit bureau said in its report it didn't do so in this case because it was concerned that if it sent a draft to the entire elections commission, the commission's staff and the elections clerks who were involved in the investigation, the confidentiality of the draft couldn't be maintained.

Wolfe, who has been the subject of personal attacks from Republicans following the LAB report and allegations from the Racine County Sheriff that the WEC violated election law, contested Macco's claims that Wolfe should have done more to respond.

“I'm not sure what you're implying that I should have done, other than provide the facts about how it works, how elections work," she said.

Wolfe spent much of her prepared testimony attempting to correct the errors she said are in the report.

The most dramatic error, she said, involves how often the WEC receives data from ERIC, a multi-state organization that coordinates the sharing of information regarding situations such as when a voter moves to or dies in a different state.

The LAB report states that the WEC did not regularly receive all available data.

“WEC did not regularly obtain all types of data from ERIC in recent years," the report states. “From September 2016 to May 2021, WEC obtained some types of data every two years, but it obtained other types of data once during this period of time."

The report said the WEC did not regularly request voter data involving voters who may have moved, voted twice in the same election or died. Wolfe said that many of these data sets are only available at certain times in the election cycle or haven't always been available to ERIC's member states.

“Unfortunately, the LAB's discussion of ERIC contains numerous inaccuracies, in particular, the ERIC data … implies that Wisconsin missed many opportunities to obtain that data. This is an error," Wolfe said, “and perhaps the most significant mistake in the report. The WEC obtains all ERIC data sets when they're made available to Wisconsin, with the full approval of the Wisconsin Election Commission and in full compliance with statutory requirements. Each ERIC report has specific periods of availability, and several of the reports did not even exist when Wisconsin first joined ERIC."

The LAB report also includes a section about how the WEC maintains voter records and works with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health Services to track when voters may have moved through their driver's licenses or when they may have died through the state's vital statistics records. The report states that the WEC did not maintain copies of voter signatures because it did not have enough storage space to maintain the files in its computer system. Wolfe said that this decision was made by the Legislature because it didn't make sense to have two state agencies spend the money to store identical data.

“These reports repeatedly and very clearly established the Commission's determination that the Department of Transportation shall be the custodians of voter signatures, but that WEC would be able to access them whenever needed," Wolfe said. “Put simply the Wisconsin Legislature, the Elections Commission and the Department of Transportation, each recognize that there was no rational reason for the State of Wisconsin to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, ultimately millions over time, to maintain copies of data that was already in the state's possession, professionally secured, backed up and readily available to WEC, whenever needed."

Wolfe's testimony wasn't the only pushback from the WEC during the hearing. When staff from the LAB testified about what was in the report, a staff member was asked why only three of the six elections commissioners participated in the investigation. He responded that the three members of the commission appointed by Democrats, Ann Jacobs, Mark Thomsen and Julie Glancey, had either not responded or declined to participate.

During the testimony, Jacobs tweeted that this was untrue, including a screenshot of an email to the LAB asking when she'd be able to speak with auditors.

“LAB falsely claims I refused to speak with them," she wrote. “Not only did I send them a letter, I reached out to confirm that they were going to speak with me. They never responded."

After Wolfe's testimony, a number of local elections officials and voting advocates spoke to defend the commission and push back at attempts to discredit the election.

“First and foremost, the audit confirmed that our elections are 'safe and secure,' as Chairman Cowles noted so succinctly," Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said. “Despite all the toxic sound and fury we've all been hearing about our elections, the report found nothing to demonstrate that the results of the elections were invalid. It presented no evidence of sweeping improprieties or calculated partisan maneuvers that might have distorted the outcome of the elections. None of that is in this report. Nothing of that kind. So that canard should be put to rest, once and for all."


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Kyle Rittenhouse trial fights a societal battle over the 18-year-old’s life

After one week of testimony in the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with multiple counts of homicide after killing two people and wounding a third during a protest against police violence in Kenosha last year, the contours of each side's case have come into view.

For the prosecution, a lot of testimony has focused on the actions of other individuals in Kenosha that night and why, amid all the chaos, Rittenhouse was the only person who shot anyone. For the defense, which is making the claim that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, the case has hinged on breaking down the shootings into the few seconds before Rittenhouse decided to shoot and why his decisions were reasonable.

“On one side you have the state, the general theme, we have an individual who has shot three people in the span of three or four minutes and the people he shot had no relationship to each other," Ion Meyn, a professor at UW-Madison School of Law, says. “He wasn't being attacked by a gang, a mob, an organized group of people. Each [was] shot within three or four minutes. And the defense is supposed to be saying, under the law, it was justified to shoot them. It was a tough atmosphere to deal with for the defense."

“The defense is trying to look at each incident in a microscope and completely separately in a few seconds," Meyn continues. “Just that moment right before the shot was fired as if the other context doesn't matter. They said in the pre-trial they're going to take that three of four seconds and analyze frame by frame. To decontextualize these encounters, to see from a straightforward view, action and reaction."

The entire case, according to Lanny Glinberg, director of the Prosecution Project at UW-Madison School of Law, will come down to what was happening in the moments before each shooting.

“What he was aware of is what matters," Glinberg says. “He has to, in order to get the benefit of the privilege, the actor had to realize he had the reasonable belief of death or great bodily harm and acted reasonably to stop that threat. This is going to turn on what was going on in the moments leading up to his firing his shots."

Throughout the trial, both sides are trying to shape the narrative around the actions of law enforcement in Kenosha and whether the occasionally explicit approval from the cops toward firearm-wielding counter protesters contributed to an environment that led to the deaths.

As the case went through its pre-trial process, the prosecution and defense fought over whether or not the jury would be able to hear evidence of law enforcement's role in the chaos. Videos showed officers offering Rittenhouse water and saying they “appreciate" him and the other armed citizens he was with. Earlier this year, internal text messages between the officers that were obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner showed that the armed citizens were considered “friendly."

On Friday, Kenosha Police officer Pep Moretti testified that the Kenosha streets were like a “war zone" that night.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said before the trial that he didn't want the case to become about “what law enforcement did or didn't do that night."

“Officers thought open-carry folks were part of the havoc, versus preventing the havoc," Meyn says. “As you know, this is a contested issue. The defense is going to show video of the officers offering water and saying thank you. The defense is going to say they were emboldened by the officers. That's one big theme that's contested by both sides."

The high-profile trial has gotten national attention after the Rittenhouse incident became a flash point in America's racial reckoning in the summer of 2020. Meyn says he thinks it's “extraordinary" that our society is litigating issues such as race and gun ownership in a trial that could send Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, to prison for life.

“You're a minor, for purposes of whether or not you can carry a weapon you have to be 18, for the purposes of being prosecuted you're charged as an adult," Meyn says. “Because the law is treating this individual as an adult we all get behind it. This is a kid that's really susceptible and feeling a sense of camaraderie with these older adults. You can see the draw for a kid. There's no accountability for these guys, they let a 17-year-old roam around with an AR15 in a situation that could pop off in a second. What are we doing as a society allowing this kid to walk around with an AR15 and incarcerate him for life? What are we doing?"

“These are problems created by these unbelievably defensive, violence-prone, fear-based adults," he continues. “Now this societal fight is being played out in this case, and we're forgetting the individual involved is a minor. That kid was way over his head through and through. Whether or not he was justified or not, he was panicking, scared and had a 17-year-old brain. Part of this is on us. Whenever I see a 17-year-old walking around with an AR15, a certain part of that is on us."

The prosecution is planning to rest its case on Tuesday and then the defense will get a chance to bring its own witnesses. Rittenhouse's attorneys have said he will take the stand and testify, a decision that might be needed to help bolster his claim of self-defense, but one that may be fraught for the defense, according to Meyn.

“If Rittenhouse testifies it's going to be a disaster for the defense," Meyn says. “As a defense attorney, no matter what, it's going to be the decision that hurts you. Either way there's going to be damage. Especially here, by the way, with an 18-year-old kid on the stand against a seasoned prosecutor in cross [examination]. I'd be terrified as a defense attorney."

For the prosecution, cross-examining Rittenhouse comes with its own challenges. For one, the prosecutor doesn't want to appear to the jury as if he's being a bully to a teenaged defendant, according to Glinberg, a former Dane County assistant district attorney.

“They don't want to come across [as a bully]," Glinberg says. “In terms of cross examining Rittenhouse, they would have to, to the extent they can, pull out a few themes they want to identify and draw out from him. It could be about his credibility, is he credible when he's testifying? And, on direct examination, in a way that's self-serving? Similarly they would want to draw out or identify why his beliefs that he faced that threat may have been unreasonable."

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Legal expert: If Rittenhouse testifies it’s going to be a disaster for the defense

After one week of testimony in the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with multiple counts of homicide after killing two people and wounding a third during a protest against police violence in Kenosha last year, the contours of each side's case have come into view.

For the prosecution, a lot of testimony has focused on the actions of other individuals in Kenosha that night and why, amid all the chaos, Rittenhouse was the only person who shot anyone. For the defense, which is making the claim that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, the case has hinged on breaking down the shootings into the few seconds before Rittenhouse decided to shoot and why his decisions were reasonable.

“On one side you have the state, the general theme, we have an individual who has shot three people in the span of three or four minutes and the people he shot had no relationship to each other," Ion Meyn, a professor at UW-Madison School of Law, says. “He wasn't being attacked by a gang, a mob, an organized group of people. Each [was] shot within three or four minutes. And the defense is supposed to be saying, under the law, it was justified to shoot them. It was a tough atmosphere to deal with for the defense."

“The defense is trying to look at each incident in a microscope and completely separately in a few seconds," Meyn continues. “Just that moment right before the shot was fired as if the other context doesn't matter. They said in the pre-trial they're going to take that three of four seconds and analyze frame by frame. To decontextualize these encounters, to see from a straightforward view, action and reaction."

The entire case, according to Lanny Glinberg, director of the Prosecution Project at UW-Madison School of Law, will come down to what was happening in the moments before each shooting.

“What he was aware of is what matters," Glinberg says. “He has to, in order to get the benefit of the privilege, the actor had to realize he had the reasonable belief of death or great bodily harm and acted reasonably to stop that threat. This is going to turn on what was going on in the moments leading up to his firing his shots."

Throughout the trial, both sides are trying to shape the narrative around the actions of law enforcement in Kenosha and whether the occasionally explicit approval from the cops toward firearm-wielding counter protesters contributed to an environment that led to the deaths.

As the case went through its pre-trial process, the prosecution and defense fought over whether or not the jury would be able to hear evidence of law enforcement's role in the chaos. Videos showed officers offering Rittenhouse water and saying they “appreciate" him and the other armed citizens he was with. Earlier this year, internal text messages between the officers that were obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner showed that the armed citizens were considered “friendly."

On Friday, Kenosha Police officer Pep Moretti testified that the Kenosha streets were like a “war zone" that night.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said before the trial that he didn't want the case to become about “what law enforcement did or didn't do that night."

“Officers thought open-carry folks were part of the havoc, versus preventing the havoc," Meyn says. “As you know, this is a contested issue. The defense is going to show video of the officers offering water and saying thank you. The defense is going to say they were emboldened by the officers. That's one big theme that's contested by both sides."

The high-profile trial has gotten national attention after the Rittenhouse incident became a flash point in America's racial reckoning in the summer of 2020. Meyn says he thinks it's “extraordinary" that our society is litigating issues such as race and gun ownership in a trial that could send Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, to prison for life.

“You're a minor, for purposes of whether or not you can carry a weapon you have to be 18, for the purposes of being prosecuted you're charged as an adult," Meyn says. “Because the law is treating this individual as an adult we all get behind it. This is a kid that's really susceptible and feeling a sense of camaraderie with these older adults. You can see the draw for a kid. There's no accountability for these guys, they let a 17-year-old roam around with an AR15 in a situation that could pop off in a second. What are we doing as a society allowing this kid to walk around with an AR15 and incarcerate him for life? What are we doing?"

“These are problems created by these unbelievably defensive, violence-prone, fear-based adults," he continues. “Now this societal fight is being played out in this case, and we're forgetting the individual involved is a minor. That kid was way over his head through and through. Whether or not he was justified or not, he was panicking, scared and had a 17-year-old brain. Part of this is on us. Whenever I see a 17-year-old walking around with an AR15, a certain part of that is on us."

The prosecution is planning to rest its case on Tuesday and then the defense will get a chance to bring its own witnesses. Rittenhouse's attorneys have said he will take the stand and testify, a decision that might be needed to help bolster his claim of self-defense, but one that may be fraught for the defense, according to Meyn.

“If Rittenhouse testifies it's going to be a disaster for the defense," Meyn says. “As a defense attorney, no matter what, it's going to be the decision that hurts you. Either way there's going to be damage. Especially here, by the way, with an 18-year-old kid on the stand against a seasoned prosecutor in cross [examination]. I'd be terrified as a defense attorney."

For the prosecution, cross-examining Rittenhouse comes with its own challenges. For one, the prosecutor doesn't want to appear to the jury as if he's being a bully to a teenaged defendant, according to Glinberg, a former Dane County assistant district attorney.

“They don't want to come across [as a bully]," Glinberg says. “In terms of cross examining Rittenhouse, they would have to, to the extent they can, pull out a few themes they want to identify and draw out from him. It could be about his credibility, is he credible when he's testifying? And, on direct examination, in a way that's self-serving? Similarly they would want to draw out or identify why his beliefs that he faced that threat may have been unreasonable."


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin sheriff may have broken the law during election investigation: Democrats

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling alleged in a press conference Thursday that the Wisconsin Elections Commission broke the law when it directed local clerks not to send people into nursing homes to help residents vote during a pandemic that has been especially dangerous to the health of the elderly.

Nearly a full year after the election, and ten months after a complaint was forwarded to the sheriff's office, Schamling and Sgt. Michael Luell laid out the case for what they believe is a harmful attack on the state's election integrity.

“The purpose of this presentation today is not political," Schmaling said. “It's not about Democrats or Republicans. It's about integrity. It's about accountability in the election process."

Both law enforcement officers said repeatedly that they weren't attempting to change the results of the election and that when starting their investigation — which originated as a complaint to the WEC — neither knew how election law works. This assertion of ignorance about election laws echoed a statement by another one of Wisconsin's election investigators, former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman who is looking for evidence of fraud on behalf of Republicans in the state Assembly.

Several audits, investigations, recounts and court cases have repeatedly affirmed that Joe Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes.

While the Racine County investigation focused on just 42 residents who cast ballots from one Mount Pleasant nursing home, Schmaling and Luell said they were concerned this was a statewide problem in which the elderly were taken advantage of and used for their votes.

In mid-March 2020, Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency because of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. On March 12, the WEC held a special meeting to discuss how voting in the upcoming April election would be affected, including the use of special voting deputies who are authorized to go into nursing homes to help people fill out and cast absentee ballots. In that meeting, the six-member commission voted unanimously to declare the special voting deputies “non-essential" which meant they wouldn't be allowed in nursing homes that were restricting visitors.

Instead, the commissioners decided that residents of nursing homes should be mailed absentee ballots. This decision remained in effect for every election held in 2020.

Outlining his investigation, Luell said that without the special voting deputies, staff members of the nursing home he looked into helped residents fill out their ballots, even if they were cognitively impaired. Luell said that he spoke with eight families of residents of the facility including one who was stripped of the right to vote after being found incompetent by a judge.

Schmaling and Luell allege that the decision by the WEC to not have special voting deputies and the subsequent assistance from nursing home staff violated the law.

“We don't want to stifle any vote," Luell said. “People have a right to vote, but we're concerned that people were being taken advantage of."

While the six WEC commissioners returned to the issue of special voting deputies several times over the last year and some of the Republican-appointed commissioners occasionally expressed doubt that the guidance to send absentee ballots was legal, the guidance was approved again and again because of the health threat.

“Based on the most recent guidance from health experts at DHS, it's our understanding that DHS health leaders continue to have significant concerns and their consensus was they would not advise that SVDs be used for this election," a WEC report on special voting deputies from September 2020 states. “Given the high vulnerability of so many care facility residents, we would defer to the health experts and their conclusion that it is not safe to dispatch SVDs for the November election."

WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe said in a statement that the decisions about special voting deputies during the pandemic are more than 18 months old and were made in public meetings, but that commission staff can't make statements on behalf of the commissioners, who the Racine Sheriff's office is accusing of crimes.

“The discussion about Special Voting Deputy access during the COVID-19 pandemic is over 18 months old and occurred entirely in public meetings," said WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe. “Information about the topic is available on the WEC website. Agency staff cannot speak on behalf of our Commissioners without their guidance to do so."

There are less than 19,000 nursing home residents in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. So even if nursing home staff had illegally influenced the vote of every nursing home resident in the state and all of them had been forced to cast a vote for Biden, that influence would not have changed the results of the election.

Luell and Schmaling said repeatedly they didn't have access to, and don't know, how each of the 42 residents in the Mount Pleasant nursing home voted.

Schmaling said that there was more investigating to be done but also that it was a “natural stopping point" for Luell's investigation. Luell and Schmaling also said that so far there have only been “conversations" with the Racine County District Attorney's Office and the case hasn't been turned over to the DA for charging.

Even though the case isn't yet ready to be handed over to prosecutors, according to Schmaling and Luell, its findings were ready to be announced at a widely watched news conference that drew the attention of former President Donald Trump — who has spent the last year baselessly claiming the election was stolen.

Ultimately, Schmaling and Luell said they believe the decision not to use special voting deputies lead to violations of election law in all 72 counties of the state and called on the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that the department was in previous contact with Schmaling and suggested he conduct more interviews before moving forward with the case. The spokesperson added that other allegations are not being made elsewhere in the state.

“We're confident that local law enforcement and District Attorneys in Wisconsin take voter fraud seriously and that, if there are credible allegations of fraud, they will be thoroughly investigated by local law enforcement," the spokesperson, Gillian Drummond, said. “In the event that local law enforcement or District Attorneys need assistance in any case involving credible evidence of fraud, the Wisconsin Department of Justice is available to assist. Here, DOJ was previously in contact with Sheriff Schmaling and DOJ advised that certain interviews be conducted that had not been at that time. Significantly, no charges have been filed in this case by the Racine County DA's office. DOJ is also currently not aware of similar allegations anywhere else in Wisconsin."

Schmaling's allegations that election officials trying to adapt to a deadly pandemic broke the law comes after he repeatedly ignored government measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 over the past two years. In July 2020, Schmaling announced that his deputies wouldn't enforce a statewide mask mandate, and earlier this year, Schmaling directed his deputies to continue executing evictions despite a moratorium from the CDC against them.

The Racine Sheriff's investigation is one of several ongoing reviews of the 2020 election. Gableman's partisan investigation is still ongoing despite a series of errors and widespread condemnation. Earlier this week, Republican leaders in the state Senate announced the start of yet another investigation to investigate the findings of a recently concluded investigation by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. That review will be conducted by the Senate Committee on Elections.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) whose district is in Racine County and has been central in continuing investigations into last year's election, said the sheriff's office's findings show the law was broken and called for Wolfe's resignation.

“People's trust in Wisconsin's elections has been tested," Vos said. “Many Wisconsinites feel elections are not safe and secure, and now the Racine County Sheriff's investigation found clear violations and law-breaking within the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Clearly there is a severe mismanagement of WEC, and a new administrator is needed. I am calling for the resignation of Meagan Wolfe as Elections Commission Administrator. Cover-ups and complacency with law-breaking are red flags Wisconsinites cannot ignore."

In response to Vos' comments, Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement, “Elected officials can — and often do — disagree on plenty. But what is beneath the offices we hold and the responsibility entrusted to us is using our platforms to publicly and baselessly disparage and singularly belittle public servants."

“Speaker Vos' comments are unbecoming of his office and the people we serve," Evers added. “It's my expectation — and one Wisconsinites share — that elected officials in this state treat others with civility and respect. The speaker's behavior today fell woefully short of those expectations."

Democratic Party of Wisconsin interim Executive Director Devin Remiker said in a statement that Racine's investigators may have broken the law in their handling of ballot certificates during a “publicity stunt" of an investigation that only further spreads disinformation about the 2020 election. The DPW alleges that by removing ballot materials from the custody of the local elections clerk, the Sheriff's Office may have violated state and federal law that requires those materials to remain in the hands of election officials.

“Today's press conference was nothing more than a publicity stunt," Wikler said. “The Racine County Sheriff's Department has been wasting taxpayer money in an attempt to rehash discredited claims about the 2020 election results. There weren't any charges filed or even any suggested. The press conference didn't shed light on any election fraud, but did reveal the Racine County Sheriff's department may have broken the law during their own farce of an investigation."

The Wisconsin Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on Schmaling's call for a statewide investigation.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP candidate accepts nearly $12k in donations from casino magnate accused of sexual harassment

Republican congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden accepted nearly $12,000 in campaign donations from Steve Wynn and his wife Andrea. Wynn, a Las Vegas casino mogul, stepped down from his company in 2018 after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment.

Van Orden, who is running for the second time in the now-open Third Congressional District, has himself faced accusations of sexual harassment in the past. In 2020, when Van Orden was running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, an episode from Van Orden's time in the military that he'd written about in his book was unearthed.

That incident occurred after a training mission in which a lieutenant had a rash from poison oak on his testicles. At a naval hospital, Van Orden called two young women in the Medical Corps over to him and the lieutenant, lifted the towel he had on his lap and exposed the swollen testicles to the women.

“Here's this lieutenant sitting behind a little curtain, spread eagle, (scrotum) huge as a cantaloupe, and his eyes swollen nearly shut," Van Orden wrote. “That's when I spotted two ensigns, who happened to be young girls in their early twenties."

“'Excuse me,' I said to the two cute girls, approaching them. 'Could I ask you something'"

“'Sure,' one of them answered."

“After walking them over to the outside of the lieutenant's location, I whipped the curtain back. 'Have you ever seen anything like this?' I asked. They gasped in horror as they saw the LT in all of his glory. I'm sure they never wanted to have anything to do with a man ever again."

Last year, Van Orden said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he was just “instructing two junior Medical Corps officers in recognition and treatment for an advanced case of contact dermatitis."

Kind, who is set to retire after his current term ends in 2023, called the incident sexual harassment.

“His sexual harassment detailed in his book is not something to brag about, it's something to be condemned," Kind said at the time. “It's outrageous and wrong. These aren't the values I was raised with here in Wisconsin and it's not how my wife and I raised our two sons to treat others. This is not the behavior of someone who should be representing Wisconsin in Congress."

In September, Steve and Andrea Wynn each made $5,800 donations, the maximum allowable amount under federal law, to Van Orden's campaign.

There are two Democrats currently running in a primary to determine who will run against Van Orden in 2022 — state Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) and Eau Claire business owner Rebecca Cooke. A spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said Van Orden accepting money from Wynn shows he isn't qualified to represent the Western Wisconsin district.

“Derrick Van Orden's campaign is bought and paid for by Washington Republicans and far-right GOP mega-donors, so it's no surprise that he's filling his campaign coffers with thousands of dollars from disgraced billionaire Steve Wynn," DCCC spokesperson Elena Kuhn said. “Not only has Van Orden bragged about sexually harassing women, now his campaign is boosted by an accused fellow sexual harasser — proving yet again he's far out of step with Wisconsin values."

In 2018, at the peak of the #MeToo movement, the Wall Street Journal reported that multiple women said Wynn had harassed or assaulted them and that one case led to a $7.5 million settlement with a former employee of his company. Wynn has denied the allegations.

After the accusations were made public, a number of Republicans — including now-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — said they would donate campaign contributions from Wynn to charity. Wynn also resigned from his post as campaign finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But Wynn has recently begun heavily spending on Republican campaigns again, in April the Associated Press reported that a political action committee that fundraises for McCarthy and other Republicans had received a donation of more than $770,000 from Wynn in March.

Van Orden, who advertised in a news release that he had raised more than $1 million in the last quarter, also raised money from several high profile conservative donors. He received a $1,000 donation from the state's largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, $5,800 from Beloit-area billionaire Diane Hendricks and $500 from Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Robert Spindell.

The Van Orden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin Republicans use new audit report as basis for yet another election investigation

Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Senate are using the results of an audit released Friday by the Legislative Audit Bureau as the impetus for opening yet another investigation into the 2020 presidential election.

The audit report found that the election was conducted safely and securely in Wisconsin but made some recommendations to the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) and the Legislature for changes to the rules and laws that guide election administration in the state.

Republicans, who have continuously made baseless claims of election fraud in Wisconsin and across the country, seized on the report's findings to criticize the WEC and call for more investigation.

“The audit findings released on October 21st paint a grim picture of the Wisconsin Election Commission and their careless administration of election law in Wisconsin," a news release from the Senate Republican leadership states. “The audit shows numerous failures within WEC which undermined the free, fair, and transparent elections Wisconsinites deserve."

The Republican leaders in the Senate have often indulged false allegations of fraud from other members of their party.

In a statement, WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe said the commission will be happy to provide clarity to the Senate investigators.

“We don't know anything more than what was in the press release at this point," Wolfe said. “Once we learn what it's all about, we'll be happy to provide any clarity we can. Meanwhile, we remain proud of the great work done by nearly 2,000 clerks and thousands more poll workers across Wisconsin to carry out a safe, secure and accurate election during a national pandemic."

The audit found that there were minimal examples of voter fraud in 2020 and affirmed what lawsuits, court cases and recounts had already found — that Joe Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes.

Thus far, the Republicans in the Assembly have taken the lead on probing into the 2020 election. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has been hired by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) to search for fraud. Gableman's review has been criticized as partisan, unprofessional and harmful to democracy.

Now, the Senate is getting into the game with an investigation by the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform And Ethics. The elections committee investigation will look further into the findings of the audit and the City of Madison's decision not to provide documents and ballots to the auditors — a decision that has infuriated Republicans.

“I was disappointed to see that an elected official tasked with the administration of fair and transparent elections would refuse their duty to provide requested information necessary to prove they did their job adequately," Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said in a statement. “That is unacceptable."

The city clerk is not an elected position in Madison. But the audit report gives some reasoning for why the city did not provide documents.

“The U.S. Department of Justice indicated that election officials are responsible for retaining and preserving election records, regardless of who physically possesses them," the report states. “In part as a result of this guidance from the Department of Justice, the City of Madison clerk did not allow us to physically handle election records."

That guidance, which was released by DOJ in July, states that election officials who turn over ballots could be held responsible for violating the Civil Rights Act.

“But the Department is concerned that some jurisdictions conducting them may be using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act," the guidance states. “The duty to retain and preserve election records necessarily requires that elections officials maintain the security and integrity of those records and their attendant chain of custody, so that a complete and uncompromised record of federal elections can be reliably accessed and used in federal law enforcement matters. Where election records leave the control of elections officials, the systems for maintaining the security, integrity and chain of custody of those records can easily be broken."

City of Madison Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl also said on Monday that the auditors were offered alternatives to physically taking the city's ballots, but did not accept that offer.

“We offered the LAB the opportunity to schedule appointments to view but not touch documents, as we have offered everyone asking to see or handle election documents," Witzel-Behl told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Molly Beck. “They did not schedule any appointments in response to that offer."

While Gableman's partisan review continues amid legal pressure and criticism, the Senate elections committee is set to investigate the findings of the Legislative Audit Bureau's investigation. The elections committee is chaired by Sen. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), a former Chippewa County clerk who ran election administration in her county for 12 years. Bernier has been one of the few Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature who has consistently dismissed allegations of fraud in last year's election.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.