Once again, adolescences will frolic at the Marshall Middle School pool.
This time, however, the pool won’t have any water, and the boys will be expected—nay, required—to wear clothing.
The Janesville Performing Arts Center is transforming the old middle school pool into space for summer camps, JPAC’s youth acting and performance troupes, rehearsals and community outreach.
Workers will put a floor across the pool, said Nathan Burkart, executive director of the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
The space is needed.
“When we started the summer camps, we had about 20 kids,” Burkart said. “Last year, we had about 75.”
Kids who attend camp there might want to ask their grandfathers if they attended the school and used its pool.
On second thought, maybe it would be a better idea if they didn’t. In grandpa’s day, boys were required to swim naked during gym. Nobody wants to think about grandpa naked. Not even grandma.
It’s true. When The Gazette wrote about naked swimming in 1967, school staff said nobody could remember when the tradition began but insisted it was a health department recommendation. At the time, the health department insisted they never made such a recommendation, and no law required it.
But further research shows that in 1926, the American Public Health Association suggested that showering with soap and then swimming naked was the best to prevent disease. Of course, pool filters and chemicals changed significantly in the five decades between 1926 and 1967, but perhaps no one noticed those changes.
The practice was still going on in 1976, according to Gazette archives.
Burkart said the remodeling would retain some of the tile settings from around the pool.
When remodeling work started, the large, painted “J” surrounded by blue and red was still on the wall but barely visible. The “J” comes from the period when the building served as Janesville’s high school.
The words “A quitter never wins” are still on the wall, but the remainder of the quotation, “A winner never quits” came off a long time ago—which just shows you.
Money for the remodeling came from fundraising done by ARISEnow, the fundraising group for renewal projects in downtown Janesville, and the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
The two groups announce in November they had received $450,000 in donations to pay for improvements at JPAC.
Part of the money will be used for technology upgrades and to replace decades-old sound and lighting production equipment. The money also will be used to transform the pool.
Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling protecting same-sex marriage, LGBT leaders in Wisconsin say the election in April of a gay rights critic to the state Supreme Court is not a harbinger of changing tides on the issue.
But as public opinion continues to trend in favor of LGBT rights, opponents of the gay rights movement say the culture war is not over, even as some see the Republican Party drifting away from its once ardent support of traditional marriage and conservative social values.
After the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, LGBT issues have twice followed Wisconsin voters into the ballot box in state Supreme Court races and both times voters rejected concerns brought by left-wing groups that the conservative-backed candidate held anti-gay views.
In 2016, conservative-supported candidate Rebecca Bradley, now a Supreme Court justice, apologized on the campaign trail for calling gay people “degenerates” and “queers” in columns written for her college newspaper. She went on to defeat her liberal-backed opponent in an election that occurred alongside the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
More recently, conservative-backed candidate Brian Hagedorn, whose personal views LGBT activists described as “disturbing,” won election by a slim margin.
Hagedorn espoused views against gay marriage and several other issues in a personal blog he kept more than a decade ago. In it he argued a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality.
He founded and continues to be a board member of an academy in Waukesha County that employs a code of personal conduct that lists “immoral sexual activity”—including certain sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage—by teachers, staff, board members, students or their parents as grounds for dismissal.
While Hagedorn did not make his personal views the subject of his campaign, he vigorously defended them and regarded criticism as an attack on his Christian faith.
Some LGBT activists in Wisconsin say Hagedorn’s election says very little about voter attitudes toward gay rights, and voters simply have other issues on their minds.
“It’s just too far down their list of things … that motivate them as voters,” said Megin McDonell, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, an LGBT activist group.
If April’s election has any overwhelming message, it’s that Wisconsin is a purple state, McDonell said. She said its message toward gay people is more muddled, especially given the overwhelming victory of openly gay Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who defeated her Republican opponent by a nearly 11-point margin.
“The fact that a person is out LGBT doesn’t seem to be a liability in an election,” McDonell said.
One of the nation’s first openly gay presidential candidates, Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has generated early enthusiasm among the crowded Democratic presidential primary field.
Meanwhile, support for same-sex marriage continues to trend upward. Public opinion polls nationwide show about two-thirds of Americans support same-sex unions, while about one-third are opposed.
A Marquette Law School Poll in 2016 found 64% of Wisconsinites support same-sex marriage, including 84% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans.
Public opinion on gay marriage has experienced one of the most profound shifts of any issue in modern history, which some experts attribute to gay people coming out of the closet in larger numbers starting late last century.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who is openly gay, said he largely agrees being openly LGBT is no longer a liability. He said some people will always have a problem with his sexuality, but their numbers are decreasing. The decline has been notable even since he first ran for office in the 1990s.
“I would have a newspaper article about me running for the County Board, someone would put an X through my face and send back with the words ‘dead faggot,’” Pocan said. “That’s 25 years ago, and you don’t really see that now.”
Like McDonell, Pocan believes the result of April’s Supreme Court election says little about where the LGBT movement stands. Too few people, he believes, even know who Hagedorn is, let alone what his views toward gay issues are.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party, however, is wary about the implications of April’s Supreme Court election result.
Howard R. Berra
Luann Kay Komprood
Sandra E. Lawarance
Jodi K. Lund
William E. Pace
Gary Michael Schildt
Thor T. Tellefson Jr.
Ralph M. Weberpal
Lisa Tollefson had to get a security clearance from the FBI as part of her work in protecting elections from evil-doers intent on swaying the vote.
“I can’t tell you,” the Rock County clerk said.
It’s just one of the things Tollefson won’t talk about.
“We don’t want them to know what we’re doing,” Tollefson said.
Saying too much could help those with intent to cause trouble find ways to undermine the voting system and public confidence in it, she said.
Tollefson is concerned about foreign actors such as the Russians or hackers who might try to freeze voting systems and demand payment to unfreeze them.
The secrecy is one aspect of changes in how local elections officials handle threats to the voting system since 2016.
Some changes are simple and practical, such as one at Janesville City Hall.
Janesville City Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek and his deputy clerk are the only ones with keys to the room where voting tabulators are stored. Before the 2016 election, a much larger number of city workers had access to the room.
Tollefson keeps some critical equipment used for elections in her office, which is kept locked and sealed when she’s not there. Even the night cleaning crew can’t get in. She cleans the office herself.
“The biggest change, from my perspective, is we’re really aware of the threats that exist,” Godek said. “Lisa (Tollefson) in particular has done a lot of training on those cyber security threats, and although I think we always have done a good job in Rock County to minimize those, I think we’ve found areas to improve, and we’ve improved those.”
With the 2020 presidential election approaching and with U.S. officials saying they expect more attempts at fiddling with U.S. elections, local officials say they are preparing for hacking but also disinformation attempts of the kind seen in 2016.
Tollefson has been involved in training at the state level, including the state’s first tabletop exercise, held in Madison, where officials figured out how they would respond to different kinds of threats.
The exercise was so sensitive officials denied news media access, Tollefson said.
Safeguarding the vote has always been important. Tollefson noted the county bought new voting tabulators that have been used since 2015. These are the machines into which voters slide their ballots.
Other states are struggling with older machines that could be more vulnerable to attack or machines that don’t have a paper backup, making it impossible to verify results.
Tollefson randomly picks polling places after each vote for an audit, and the machines’ totals have always squared with the hand count, she said.
State voting records are kept in the WisVote system, and hundreds of county and municipal clerks around the state have access to those records.
Local officials must update the system with address changes, lists of who voted and who is registered—all key to running elections.
Clerks have a username and password to gain access to WisVote, and last year the state added a third access requirement: an electronic key that plugs into a computer, said Marcy Granger, clerk for the town of Milton.
The username, password and key all must match.
“Mine is under lock and key, and I have the key for it at all times,” Granger said.
Godek said the key has a way of knowing that the attempt to access the system is a person at a computer and not some remote computer hacker.
WisVote is a place where a hacker could do much damage.
Russian hackers probed voter information systems in 21 states in the run-up to the 2016 vote and gained access to at least two systems, according to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
An attempt to gain access to Wisconsin state computer systems through an apparently random attack on a Rock County Job Center computer was unsuccessful, officials have said.
Tollefson said threats are continually evolving, and officials have to be on the lookout.
“You have to keep anticipating what might happen,” she said.
“We look for potential vulnerabilities and try to shore those up,” Godek said. “Lisa has done a nice job of developing that thought process with (municipal) clerks.”
The attitude is to look for ways to make it harder for the bad guys. Godek likens it to locking your car so thieves will skip it in favor of the unlocked car down the street.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission has upped its game in protecting the vote at the state level, as well. Training of local clerks in the state’s decentralized system is a big part of that.
The commission received a $6.9 million federal grant to upgrade security last September. The agency hired six new employees dedicated to security and spent $1 million on “immediate security needs” in advance of the fall election, according to a news release.
But the commission also asked local officials and the public for ideas and developed training for local officials, Tollefson said.
Trainings included table-top exercises around the state, including one in Rock County last summer, Tollefson said.
Some of the training remains secret so bad guys can’t get clues to dodging countermeasures.
Exercises include contingency plans for power outages, floods, bomb threats and other attacks, Granger said.
Tollefson sees the biggest threat as one she can’t control: false information.
A minor example is the postcards sent by an apparently well meaning advocacy group last summer that listed wrong locations for some Janesville polling places.
More subtle attempts include those of the Russian Internet Research Agency, which published Facebook ads in the run-up to the 2016 elections, apparently designed to play with people’s emotions in an attempt to divide the nation.
Tollefson suggested voters have a responsibility in securing the vote, as well.
“It is extremely hard to control social media, which is the biggest influence a foreign actor could have,” Tollefson said. “So look at your sources when you’re getting election stuff.”
While elections officials can’t stop most disinformation, they can counter it. Tollefson makes sure in advance of each election that she has contact information for newspapers and TV and radio stations that cover Rock County so she can counter bad information with corrections.
Tollefson keeps a binder in her office that lays out best practices. It’s called “The State and Local Election Cybersecurity Playbook” produced by the Belfer Center.
The manual encourages local governments to provide “strong leaders who encourage staff to take all aspects of election security seriously. Most technical compromises start with human error—a strong security culture can help prevent that.”
Godek and Granger credit Tollefson with building that kind of culture locally.
Municipal clerks, county clerks and state officials make up a decentralized system, which “makes it hard, though not impossible, for a single cyber operation to compromise multiple jurisdictions,” the handbook says.
“Smaller jurisdictions with fewer resources may be seen as more vulnerable targets by adversaries,” the handbook continues, and insufficient resources is the most frequent concern noted by election officials.
Granger said she feels confident in her training and precautions.
Tollefson said she feels good about election security at the local and state levels. She points to an award the U.S. Election Assistance Commission gave the Wisconsin Election Commission in February for “outstanding innovations in elections for its cybersecurity training program series.”
“I’m pretty confident because we’re trying to stay so far ahead and stay on top of everything,” Tollefson said. “And if something comes up, we have contingency plans.”