A tiny moment of weak March sunshine lights up Miriam’s face as she dances, hands raised in the air.
Around her, women and girls dance in celebration of their freedom from slavery.
Even when the sun disappears behind the clouds, the stained-glass story shimmers, the natural variations in the glass creating movement and life.
First Congregational United Church of Christ will unveil two new stained-glass windows to its congregation Sunday. The two windows, which were installed this week, will be dedicated officially at an April 7 service that will honor the families of the donors.
It’s the first time in more than 50 years that the 174-year-old church at 54 S. Jackson St. has installed new windows. Their existence is a tribute to the estate of Darlene McWilliams and the Kay Mork memorial fund that includes the family of Tim and Barb Cullen.
Those donations translated into a couple of two-story stained-glass windows and more than a year of work for the Rev. Tanya Sadagopan and her congregation.
“We looked around at the other stained-glass windows in the church, and we looked for what was missing,” Sadagopan said.
The sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion were two important parts of the church’s life that were not represented.
The other missing element? The women of the Bible.
Sadagopan worked with Ed Gilbertson of Gilbertson’s Stained Glass in Lake Geneva. It was particularly important to her that the two chosen women’s stories were told in a way that would represent the congregation’s values. She also wanted the windows to depict people of Middle Eastern origin instead of the Caucasian images that dominate in most churches.
The windows were designed to feature the biblical women in the lower half and the sacraments in the upper half.
Sadagopan and her congregation picked Miriam for the Kay Mork memorial window.
In the Christian tradition, Miriam is the first named female prophet in the Old Testament. The Jewish Talmud considers Miriam one of the seven major female prophets of Israel.
“There aren’t very many stained-glass windows featuring Miriam,” Sadagopan said. “And if there are, they’re part of the Jewish tradition.”
Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. After the Hebrews were liberated and fled across the Red Sea, Miriam led the women in song and dance. She is known for singing one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew Scripture, Sadagopan said.
Exodus 15:20-21 reads this way: “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.’”
Miriam is celebrating the liberation of the Hebrews from oppression. For Christians, the story also can represent God’s ability to liberate people from real or metaphoric oppression.
Miriam’s singing also testifies to First Congregational Church’s strong musical tradition.
The Darlene McWilliams window features the unnamed woman at the well.
In John 4:4, Jesus meets a lone Samaritan woman at a well. Traditionally, the woman at the well is described as a fallen woman whom Jesus comforts. But Sadagopan points out that the conversation goes far beyond her personal life.
“It’s the longest conversation that Jesus has with anybody in the Bible,” she said. “They’re talking about theology. She and he engage in conversation as equals.”
The woman asks Jesus why the Jews insist that everyone worship in Jerusalem while the Samaritans worship on “this mountain.”
Jesus tells her that, in the future, God will not care where people worship, only that they worship with honesty.
“It’s so inclusive,” Sadagopan said.
Both windows represent more than just beautiful additions to the church, she said.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we want to tell future worshippers about who we are?’” Sadogopan said.
The congregation wanted to be seen as a church that embraces earthly ministry, cross-cultural engagement and welcoming strangers.
“That’s very much who we are,” Sadagopan said.
After years of researching the issue, Rock County will launch an interactive online map within the next month that identifies areas with potentially high levels of groundwater nitrates.
Rock County Board members accepted a $2,500 grant from the National Environmental Health Association on Thursday night. The fellowship has provided some Rock County Public Health Department employees training on data visualization.
Over the past few years, the county has earned several grants to address its dangerously high groundwater nitrate levels, which are some of the highest in Wisconsin.
Rick Wietersen, the environmental health director for Rock County’s Public Health Department, said drinking water with nitrate levels above 10 parts per million can increase the risk of such conditions as blue baby syndrome and may have links to diabetes, thyroid disease and possible birth defects.
Private wells in several areas in the county have average nitrate levels greater than 10 parts per million, according to the county’s 10-year testing data.
Nitrates are found in fertilizers and food and waste materials. They can leach into groundwater if they are not carried away in runoff or absorbed by plants.
Wietersen said grants like the one accepted Thursday have allowed the county to partner with UW-Whitewater students and the state Department of Health Services to develop an interactive nitrate risk tracking tool.
Nick Zupan, an epidemiologist with the Rock County Public Health Department, said the county applied for its latest grant in the fall and was the only recipient in the country. County officials were able to utilize state Department of Health Services data expertise to build the tool, Zupan said.
Wietersen said the geographic information system-based tool evaluates potential groundwater nitrate risks by considering such factors as fertilizer use, septic densities, geology and irrigation.
He said people can search the data by address. Zupan said the map will identify potential risks but will not necessarily indicate the parts-per-million value of private wells. He said he hopes residents will get their wells tested if their area is at risk.
Once it is available, the map will be found online at gazettextra.com/nitrates.
It is unclear why Rock County has such high nitrate levels.
In 2017, the county formed the Ground Water Nitrate Work Group to research the matter and consider mitigation solutions.
More efficient fertilizer application and observing more closely how rural communities manage their septic systems were among suggestions from the work group, said Nick Baker, a Rock County agriculture agent with UW Extension and a group member.
Baker said the group has also looked at increasing cover crops in agricultural areas to curtail nitrate leaching.
Baker said the county collects data on three test wells on county-owned farmland near the Rock County Jail. He said they are monitoring groundwater and nitrate levels in the well water and trying to find correlations.
This story was changed March 15, 2019, to reflect the following correction:
A story on Page 1A on Friday incorrectly attributed a statement to Rick Wietersen, environment health director for Rock County's Public Health Department. Weitersen said drinking water with high nitrate levels may have links to diabetes, thyroid disease and possible birth defects. UW Extension Agriculture Agent Nick Baker, who is a member of the Rock County Groundwater Nitrate Work Group, said nitrates have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that the state budget he proposed is “pretty close” to not raising taxes, even though it would increase them by $1.3 billion over two years.
Evers, in an interview on WTMJ radio, said that there “may be some small tax increases.” The comments drew an incredulous reaction from Republican legislative leaders.
“Is this a joke?” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald tweeted. “The governor’s budget contains over $1 billion in tax hikes after he told Wisconsin voters he planned to not raise taxes at all.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted that it was indisputable Evers wants to raise taxes and, “It’s unfortunate that (Evers) can’t even admit it.”
Evers promised during the campaign not to raise taxes, only to then put forward a budget that would raise the gas tax and some vehicle registration fees and reduce tax credits available to manufacturers and wealthier tax filers with capital gains.
In total, taxes and fees would increase by about $1.3 billion under his plan, based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Evers was asked during Thursday’s interview about his campaign pledge not to raise taxes.
“We’re pretty close, to be honest with you,” he said, before adding that there might be “some small tax increases.”
His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said Evers’ point was that the impact of any tax increase on most people would be small. An independent analysis of Evers’ budget and the impact on taxpayers is pending from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Baldauff defended his proposals, saying Evers wants the money to invest in the state’s priorities such as roads, schools and health care while also cutting income taxes for the middle class.
“The governor’s budget produces a fairer and more progressive tax system where tax relief is broadly shared instead of narrowly concentrated for certain filers,” Baldauff said.
In the radio interview, Evers described himself as a pragmatist and said he believes he can reach a deal with Republicans to pass and sign a budget close to the June 30 deadline.
“I have no animosity, but I also understand the need to huff and puff, and that happens on both sides,” he said. “That’s unfortunately the way it works.”
Republicans have said they expect to reject much of what Evers is proposing as they work on a budget they can support. In addition to opposing the tax increases, Republicans have spoken against increasing funding for special education by $600 million as Evers wants, legalizing medical marijuana, freezing enrollment in private voucher schools and expanding Medicaid.
Evers defended the budget as realistic, citing support he heard during listening sessions held across the state and responses from Marquette University Law School polls showing support for many of the proposals.
On Foxconn, Evers said the state Department of Natural Resources had completed its review of air quality permits issued to the Taiwanese company for its planned development in southeast Wisconsin and determined that no changes were necessary.
Those permits were issued under former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration and Evers campaigned on promising to review them amid concerns about the environmental impact of the project, which includes a display screen manufacturing complex.
Evers reiterated Thursday that his primary concern with Foxconn is that the company’s intentions be transparent to taxpayers, who could be on the hook for about $4 billion in tax credits if the company invests $10 billion and hires 13,000 people.
Foxconn executives insist they remain on target to do that, though critics say the company’s shifting plans for what it will manufacture at the Wisconsin plant point to a much smaller investment in money and employees.
In a stunning rebuke, a dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats on Thursday to block the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared so he could build his border wall with Mexico. The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.
The 59-41 tally, following the Senate’s vote a day earlier to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency. Trump had warned against both actions. Moments after Thursday’s vote, the president tweeted a single word of warning: “VETO!”
Two years into the Trump era, a defecting dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take that political risk. Twelve GOP senators, including the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended elsewhere.
“The Senate’s waking up a little bit to our responsibilities,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become “a little lazy” as an equal branch of government. “I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place.”
Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents—namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.
“This is constitutional question, it’s a question about the balance of power that is core to our Constitution,” Romney said. “This is not about the president,” he added. “The president can certainly express his views as he has, and individual senators can express theirs.”
Thursday’s vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday’s on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even though there’s not likely to be enough numbers to override a veto, the votes nevertheless sent a message from Capitol Hill.
“Today’s votes cap a week of something the American people haven’t seen enough of in the last two years,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump.”
The result is a role reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters—in some states where senators face stiff re-election fights—who are expecting more from Congress.
Centrist Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who’s among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she’s sure the president “will not be happy with my vote. But I’m a United States senator, and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may.”
Trump’s grip on the party, though, remains strong, and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.
“A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!” Trump tweeted. “Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he said in another, referring to the speaker of the House.
A White House official said Trump won’t forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.
“I don’t think anybody’s sending the president a message,” said Jim Risch of Idaho, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He blamed the media for “reaching” to view every action “through the prism of the presidency, and that isn’t necessarily the way it works here.”
Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he all but dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall or risk a federal government shutdown.
Congress declined, and the result was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Against the advice of GOP leaders, Trump invoked the national emergency declaration last month, allowing him to try to tap some $3.6 billion for the wall by shuffling money from military projects, and that drew outrage from many lawmakers. Trump had campaigned for president promising Mexico would pay for the wall.
The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and lawmakers seethed as they worried about losing money for military projects that had already been approved for bases at home and abroad. The Democratic-led House swiftly voted to terminate Trump’s order.
Senate Republicans spent weeks trying to avoid this outcome, up until the night before the vote, in a script that was familiar—up until the gavel.
The most promising was an effort from Sen. Mike Lee of Utah for legislation that would impose limits on future presidential actions. That would give senators some solace as they allowed Trump’s order to stand. GOP senators huddled with Vice President Mike Pence and seemed optimistic the White House might support their plan. Then Trump called Lee in the middle of a private Republican lunch meeting and, in the time it took the senator to step out of the room to take the call, it was over. Trump was opposed.
Lee and other senators were peeling off against the president. In a last-ditch effort the night before the vote, Lindsey Graham and other senators dashed to the White House to try once again for Trump’s support to broker an alternative plan. Trump was frustrated by their arrival. They mostly failed.
Trump did tweet ahead of the vote that he would be willing to consider legislation to adjust the 1976 law at some later time.
That was enough of a signal for GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who faces a potentially tough re-election in North Carolina, to flip his vote, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the private thinking and granted anonymity.
Tillis had been one of the first senators to say he would oppose the declaration, writing in a Washington Post opinion column last month that there would be “no intellectual honesty” in backing Trump after his repeated objections about executive overreach by President Barack Obama. But on Thursday, he did.
Trump’s public support in that tweet also helped bring on board several other Republicans, including Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, who had been part of the private huddles, the person said.
For some, said Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip, “the emergency declaration was just a bridge too far.”
Melanie “Lala” Bach
Muriel K. Bumgarner
Rafael J. Hernandez Sr.
Doris E. Nelson
Marian E. Olsen
Timothy J. Sullivan
Joan Dolores VanPamel
Tre’ron L. “Gambino” White