Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday called on the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a sweeping welfare overhaul package with some of the toughest requirements in the country, including forcing parents on food stamps with school-aged children to work or be in job training and mandating photo identification for food stamp recipients.
Democrats blasted the move, and the timing of the announcement, saying Walker was trying to excite his conservative base and distract from an upset Democratic victory in a special state Senate election Tuesday. Walker labeled that GOP loss a “wake up call” for Republicans.
If enacted, Wisconsin would be one of the first states to increase work requirements for food stamp recipients to 30 hours a week, even for parents with school-aged children, and require food stamp recipients to have a photo ID.
“These are certainly punitive actions that will make it more difficult for low-income individuals ... to access the services and coverage they need for themselves and their families,” said Diane Rowland, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Walker called on the Legislature to approve the bills as part of a special session to run concurrently with the regular one expected to wrap up in March. Several of the ideas have been around for years and many, including the photo ID requirement for food stamp recipients, would require federal approval.
Walker defended the package as a way to get more people off of public assistance and into the workforce at a time when Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is just 3 percent, tied for the lowest on record.
“With more people working in Wisconsin than ever before, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines,” Walker said. “We need everyone in the game.”
Walker is up for re-election in November and Democrats are riding high after an incumbent Republican state representative lost by 11 points in a special election for state Senate Tuesday in a district President Donald Trump won by 17 points.
“It’s sad and desperate that he thinks the best way to win re-election is to go after struggling families who are trying to get ahead,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. “This is not the issue impacting families across Wisconsin and this is not the issue families want fixed.”
Those who work directly with people on state Medicaid programs also criticized the proposals.
“Reform should be a helping hand up for low income people and not a kick backwards,” said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit law firm in Madison that helps people get health care. “Unfortunately, I see more of the latter in these proposals.”
Ken Taylor, executive director at Kids Forward, a group that analyzes policies affecting children and families in Wisconsin, said if policy makers were generally interested in expanding the workforce, “they should develop a bipartisan agenda that helps people achieve their potential by removing the barriers that impede work.”
The Trump administration said last week that it will allow states to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work. Wisconsin was one of 10 states that had already applied for a waiver to impose the work requirement.
Walker’s proposals, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Sen. Chris Kapenga, would:
The current requirement has led to 24,420 able-bodied food stamp participants finding work and 85,972 losing their benefits through November.
Dan Andreola Jr. stood inside his newly renovated coin and jewelry shop, Daniel Michael’s Jewelry and Coin, marveling at the glazed brick walls.
The 1,200-square-foot corner space at 39 S. Main St. once was cubed off as a local campaign headquarters for Rep. Paul Ryan. Now it has been opened up all the way down to the original brick—refloored, repainted, receilinged—and is ready for new business.
Andreola has been working in a back office, and he has had the shop open select hours for a few months now, but he still wells with pride when he looks around his new shop.
He thinks of the storefront, where he’ll buy, sell and appraise jewelry and coin collections for walk-in customers, as a small metaphor for the reinvention and revitalization that’s occurred around Janesville’s Main Street corridor.
“Something is bubbling up here. I’m new downtown, but you can see it. I can feel it,” Andreola said.
Andreola soon will be joined by another business, Angie’s on Main, a gift shop that operates on Main Street but plans to move into the storefront next door to Daniel Michael’s in February.
Both shops will add retail flavor to a block of South Main Street buildings that for years has been associated with consignment sales and antiquing, including Carousel Consignments and, more recently, Modern Charm.
The building’s addition of new shops comes on the heels of new lease and renovation deals that building owner Todd Kimball said he struck with Andreola and Angie’s on Main owner Angie Losee.
Kimball, a Janesville native, said he decided to renovate the spaces to draw new tenants because, like Andreola, he’s feeling a wave of optimism and momentum downtown unlike anything he’s experienced before.
Kimball thinks the city’s effort to revitalize the riverfront west of Main Street through the ARISE strategy, and the ensuing private investment linked to ARISE, have given downtown businesses and property owners wind in their sails.
“Right now, there’s the most positive momentum in downtown than I’ve seen in the last 30 years, I’m telling you,” Kimball said. “There’s been upswings downtown and starts to what we’re seeing now, but it’s always died down after a while. I think this time, things are gaining steam.”
It’s enough steam that he’s been willing to work with a pair of tenants on renovations that include 2,200 square feet of retail space on the street level and on the second floor of the storefronts above Andreola’s store and the future Angie’s.
Kimball said Losee and Andreola jumped on lease deals when Kimball told them he’d pay to gut and reshape retail spaces, and they could paint and redecorate the spaces however they’d like.
“I had shown the first floors to numerous people who had resale and retail they wanted to start downtown. No one wanted to rent it until I started to do the renovations,” he said.
Kimball is renaming the storefronts the Fredendall Warehouse, taking a cue from three-story block’s original name, the Fredendall Block.
For Losee, the Fredendall offers a chance for Angie’s on Main to spread its wings. Losee said her shop, which is now at 30 S. Main St., has grown from 22 vendors to about 157.
Losee said she jumped at the chance late last year to make the move. She has been working around the clock until recently, running her specialty gift shop and working across the street to ready her new storefront space, 37 S. Main St., for a Feb. 1 opening.
Losee said she plans to locate her gift shop on the first floor. The second-floor area that she and Kimball are renovating will be subleased to artisans, crafters and other sellers who otherwise would not be able to afford brick-and-mortar spaces.
She describes the upstairs as a sort of revolving pop-up store for local sellers.
“Everybody in the shop is local, and I want to keep it that way. You’re truly shopping local. I’ve been born and raised here, so that’s important to me,” said Losee, a former nurse and graphic designer.
Losee has run Angie’s on Main downtown since September 2016. During that time, she has heard Main Street shop owners get increasingly excited.
“I wanted to stay on Main,” she said. “I can see the potential of what is about to happen, so why not make this (my expansion) happen now?
“We’re getting a hotel downtown across the river. The city’s doing things. Things are happening here. It might not be all at once, all this year or all next year, but I can see something is happening, and I want to be here.”
Kimball said he plans to erect billboards along Interstate 90/39 that will direct people to downtown Janesville’s “antique shopping district,” and he’s toying with the idea of painting “Fredendall” on the building, as it once was.
Andreola plans to operate Daniel Michael’s alongside his online consignment auction business, Auction Center USA, which he’s headquartering in the shop. He believes he’s “value added” to downtown.
During a recent Gazette visit to Andreola’s storefront, a Carousel Consignment employee stopped in to talk to him about whether he could help auction a set of Warhol-era 1960s nude photo portraits originally composed at a Madison art studio.
Andreola said he’s excited about the chance for camaraderie with like-minded store owners on a block he believes is at the nexus of downtown’s revitalization. He had previously run his online auction house in a Beloit-area space next to a cornfield.
“That was lonely,” he said.
Andreola dreams of a large mural on the side of his storefront along Court Street. The mural would reproduce a view down Main Street as it would have looked in the mid-19th century.
“People would come back here to look at things the way they were at the start of downtown’s history,” he said. “Why wouldn’t anybody want to feel that way?”
Ethan Barclay-Weberpal was home in Janesville over Christmas, on leave from the Marines.
He saw a homeless man on a bitter cold night, stopped, took him to McDonald’s, talked and gave him money.
“That’s who he was. His faith wasn’t just lip service. He lived it,” said his father, Scott Weberpal.
A few weeks later, Ethan, 18, was dead in an incident at Camp Pendleton, California, that his parents struggle to understand.
Scott and Ethan’s mother, Casey Barclay, talked about their son in an interview with a Gazette reporter Thursday night.
They take comfort in the hundreds of messages they have received, many from strangers across the country and the world, many of them in the military.
Scott said his Wednesday Facebook post describing his loss has been shared nearly 12,000 times, and he has received at least 2,000 messages of condolence.
“It’s all been positive. I’ve had Gold Star families reach out, (saying) ‘We know what you’re going through,’” he said. “It’s like the military is one giant family.”
Messages also came from Marines who knew the private first class, “saying what a great guy he was, sharing pictures, offering to help in any way they can while they are hurting themselves,” Casey said.
One of those Marines described Ethan as an “amazing” young man who brought a smile to everyone who knew him, and one of the few who continued to go to church.
The Marine said the pastor once invited anyone who knew the songs to lead them, and Ethan knew all the words.
“He led a lot of people to God,” Casey said.
“Those are messages that make you say, ...” Scott said, hesitating.
“They make you ask why,” Casey said, finishing the thought.
Scott said messages make him smile or cry, but they are a comfort to read when he is alone, keeping his mind from wandering into what-ifs.
“He was really coming into his own as a person. It’s tough. He had so much ahead of him,” Scott said.
Over and over, those who knew him said he never swore or spoke poorly of anyone, even when those around him were, Casey said, “which makes it so hard to understand how and why this happened, because he was such a good person.”
He didn’t party or sneak off to Mexico with others, Scott said.
“He didn’t have to break the rules to have fun,” his mother added.
“I just need everybody to know what a good-hearted kid he was, and how he cared for other people,” Casey said.
His parents described Ethan as a happy kid who loved to have fun, fish and play pranks on people and was determined to do what he set his mind to.
With a summer birthday, they had to decide when he would enter school. They decided he would go early. He played basketball, football and baseball.
“He was never the biggest or strongest kid, but he was always determined to get better and stronger and never gave up because of it,” Scott said.
Ethan was in show choir at Edison Middle School, where his teacher, Sharon Schrank, said he was like a ray of sunshine.
“He helped others. He had a great sense of humor that brought a smile to many! He ate lunch in the choir room with several other kids, some in show choir, and made everyone feel welcome,” Schrank recalled in a message to The Gazette.
Ethan entered Marine boot camp at Parris Island last July. He graduated in October before being sent to Camp Pendleton for infantry training.
He planned to serve out his four-year contract and then go to college with the idea of becoming a youth minister, his parents said.
He was close to the youth pastor and members of the youth group in his nondenominational church in Almont, Michigan.
Two weeks before he shipped out, he preached at church, saying he was called by God to join the Marines, Casey said.
The Marines “is not a place where people who are God-driven are called to frequently, but he felt he was called to be there,” she said.
Ethan is also survived by three half-brothers and one half-sister, ages 8 to 16, with whom he was raised.
Funeral services will be in Janesville. Details likely will be announced soon, his parents said.
A move to censure Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden appears to be dead.
Rock County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni on Thursday told The Gazette he would not place the censure resolution on the county board’s agenda.
The County Board Public Safety and Justice Committee on Monday voted 4-0 to reject the resolution. Podzilni said at the time that he would put the resolution on the full board’s agenda if a majority of board members wanted it, but none had contacted him about the matter.
Podzilni said the committee’s vote and comments by committee members and by members of the public at the meeting weighed on his decision as did a discussion with the county corporation counsel, which assured him he followed proper procedures.
“I feel obligated to honor the vote of that committee,” Podzilni said, adding that the board works on a committee system, and committee members are talented and he has “great faith in what they do.”
Podzilni met with Spoden on Thursday to get Spoden’s version of events.
Spoden had strongly suggested to a Janesville police officer that an investigation of a party that included underage drinking last summer was ill-advised, according to Janesville police reports.
The officer wrote in his report that Spoden also told him he should excuse himself from the case because those involved were prominent people, and that could be bad for the officer and his family.
Spoden’s son Joey was among a number of recent Craig High School graduates who attended the party.
One of the graduates, a close friend of Joey Spoden, was paralyzed in an incident in a pool at the party, and Janesville police were investigating that incident as well as the drinking violations.
A subsequent review by the state Division of Criminal Investigation found no criminal wrongdoing on Spoden’s part, but District Attorney David O’Leary, who asked for the state review, said Spoden should have known better than to interfere in the investigation.
Podzilni said he has heard from concerned citizens.
“The comments I’ve gotten are basically that the sheriff is doing a very, very good job, that he acted emotionally as a concerned parent. Who knows how someone else might have acted?” Podzilni said.
Podzilni said Spoden told him Thursday that if constituents are dissatisfied, they can tell him so with their votes in the fall elections.
“From my perspective, the sheriff is doing an excellent job, and I back him,” Podzilni said.
Spoden said Monday he had not decided whether he is running for re-election. A captain in the sheriff’s office, Gary Groelle, has announced he will run for the second time.
County board member Rick Richard, who sponsored the resolution, said in an email Thursday he believes he has fulfilled his responsibility to the constituent who asked for the resolution and that his understanding is that the constituent is satisfied.
Richard earlier said a censure would have been “simply an official disapproval of an official’s action” that identifies apparent violations of the sheriff’s office’s standards of conduct and code of ethics.
The county board has no authority to discipline or remove a sheriff. Only the governor can remove a sheriff from office.
Local • 3A, 6A
Some rattled by explosion
Law enforcement officials Thursday afternoon were investigating an explosion in a field north of Janesville that was linked to a noise dozens of residents reported hearing Thursday morning. Several residents in the Janesville and Milton areas reported hearing a noise that sounded like an explosion Thursday morning, but at the time the cause was unknown.
Charges reduced in shooting
A man accused in a Janesville shooting death last May is no longer charged with murder. As part of a plea agreement announced in Rock County Court, Barquis D. McKnight pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon. McKnight, 33, of Beloit, shot Eddie L. Jones, 28, of Markham, Illinois, when the two were visiting a Janesville residence.
Nation/World • 6B-7B
FBI looks into NRA funding
The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.
Governors make opioid plea
Less than three months after President Donald Trump declared the U.S. opioid crisis a public health emergency, the nation’s governors are calling on his administration and Congress to provide more money and coordination for the fight against the drugs, which are killing more than 90 Americans a day. The call from the National Governors Association is the first coordinated, bipartisan response from the nation’s governors since the declaration.