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Pelosi orders impeachment probe: 'No one is above the law'

WASHINGTON

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.

The probe focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic rival Joe Biden and help his own re-election. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”

The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats of the Trump administration, sets up the party’s most direct and consequential confrontation with the president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.

Trump, who thrives on combat, had all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

Meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, he previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!”

Pelosi’s brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic weeklong stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment probe.

For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide. The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.

The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, risk their own re-elections but say they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon often considered the conscience of House Democrats.

“Now is the time to act,” said Lewis, in an address to the House. “To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”

At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine—prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.

Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations, the president “will leave Congress ... with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”

The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public today.

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.

Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi addressed the nation Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had declared their support for moving toward impeachment probes.

The burden will likely now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.

Building toward this moment, the president has repeatedly been stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in the variety of ongoing investigations.

After Pelosi’s announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded: “While Democrats ‘Sole Focus’ is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s well-known “efforts to restrain her far-left conference have finally crumbled.”

Pelosi has for months resisted calls for impeachment from her restive caucus, warning that it would backfire against the party unless there was a groundswell of public support. That groundswell hasn’t occurred, but some of the more centrist lawmakers are facing new pressure back home for not having acted on impeachment.

While Pelosi’s announcement adds weight to the work being done on the oversight committees, the next steps are likely to resemble the past several months of hearings and legal battles—except with the possibility of actual impeachment votes.

The House is expected to consider a symbolic but still notable resolution today insisting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower’s complaint. The Senate, in a rare bipartisan moment, approved a similar resolution Tuesday.

The lawyer for the whistleblower, who is still anonymous, released a statement saying he had asked Trump’s director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistleblower to meet with lawmakers.

Pelosi suggested that this new episode—examining whether a president abused his power for personal political gain—would be easier to explain to Americans than some of the issues that arose during the Mueller investigation and other congressional probes.

The speaker put the matter in stark terms: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of his national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”


Education
top story
New science curriculum off to fast start in Milton elementary schools

MILTON

Students in Ryan Phelps’ second-grade class at Harmony Elementary School cheered and scribbled on their worksheets as a computer played the croak of an American bullfrog.

The students were in the middle of a science lesson—something Milton elementary students are doing more of this year after a curriculum change.

Elementary schools didn’t have a set science standard before the district implemented the Next Generation Science Standards this year. Grades six through 12 have used the standards for three years, and district officials wanted to get the elementary schools on the same page.

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Many teachers used to work science concepts into English and math lessons, while others set aside a block of time just for science. Now the district is focused on expanding science education to all students.

“We’re looking at building consistency across all of our K-3 schools so students have a similar amount of time on science and follow the same scope and sequence so when they head off to Northside, they’ve all had the same experience with science,” said Sarah Stuckey, Harmony Elementary School principal.

Students in kindergarten and first and second grades learn science visually through videos, images and real-life applications in a “multisensory” approach, Stuckey said.

In third grade, they start a more textbook-based study of science. Topics include problem-solving, technical writing in science, sequencing, and cause-and-effect.

“Science has always been important, and we’ve always taught it, but we’re beefing things up where we’re providing more of a curriculum and more materials for them (teachers) to provide more hands-on experiences with the students,” Stuckey said.

Ryan Ruggles, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the change comes as education has shifted in recent years.

Years ago, schools pulled back on science and social studies because state testing focused more on English and math, he said. Both science and social studies have gotten renewed focus recently.

Angela Major 

Second-grader Emersyn Hebert, center, speaks to classmate Owen Cresswell, left, during a science exercise in which students listened to frog sounds and tried to identify the type of frog Tuesday at Harmony Elementary School in Janesville. The Milton School District has new science standards and a new curriculum for elementary schools this year.

Interim Superintendent Rich Dahman agreed.

“Those areas were never gone, but they weren’t a focus for a while,” Dahman said. “In school districts and at the state level, we’ve been waiting for an update to the science standards for a while, so part of this is driven by changes to science standards.”

Teachers are being trained on the new curriculum, Dahman said. Oct. 7 is a teacher development day, and some time will be devoted to the science curriculum and planning next steps.

The transition is going smoothly, Ruggles said. Both he and Dahman think a stronger emphasis on science will better prepare students for the future.

“The two biggest things employers are looking for in their new employees are creativity and collaboration, and those are two things that come out of this curriculum,” Ruggles said.

A school district science and engineering fair is planned for January. As Harmony students spend more time around the subject, Stuckey hopes their excitement grows.

“I think it’s going well,” she said. “The thing that’s helped the most is the passion students are showing toward science. It’s an exciting subject for students, and they really enjoy it and look forward to it.”

The students in Ryan Phelps’ class demonstrated that excitement as they learned to distinguish between the bullfrog’s croak and the spring peeper’s chirp. The district hopes that enthusiasm for learning about science continues through the school year.

Angela Major 

Second-grader Jacob Jenson participates in a science exercise Tuesday at Harmony Elementary School in Janesville.


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 25, 2019

LaVern Joseph Bahl

Samuel James Crosby

Arthur W. Edwardson Jr.

Marilyn Ann Hafferkamp

Catherine T. “Cathy” Leonard

Dwight W. Quisberg

Beverly Schulz

Margaret P. Sturdevant

Stacey Lee Updike

Traugott Weingartner

Lois Kathryn Wolf


Local
top story
Janesville assessments up 25%. What's that mean for my taxes?

JANESVILLE

The city’s assessed value increased by about $1 billion after last year’s revaluation process.

But what does that mean for taxpayers?

Assessment notices were sent in May. Since then, the city has completed its open book process when homeowners could meet with assessors if they had questions or disagreed with their assessments.

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In December, homeowners will receive property tax bills based on property values set during revaluation, City Assessor Michelle Laube said.

Residential property value increased on average 31%, Laube said. Overall property value increased 25%.

The Gazette spoke to Laube to learn more about the city’s revaluation and how it affects taxpayers.

Q: Why did the city choose to go through revaluation last year?

A: The state Department of Revenue requires municipalities to keep their ratios of assessed value to fair market value between 90% and 110%.

The city’s last revaluation was in 2011, and the city’s ratio dropped from 88.2% in 2017 to 82.8% in 2018.

If the city had let its ratio remain outside the limits for three more years, the state Department of Revenue would have forced the city to complete a revaluation or the state would have performed a revaluation at city expense.

Last year was the first year since 2011 the city has had proper staffing to perform a revaluation, Laube said.

She hopes to ask the city council for funding to perform revaluations every two years to keep the city’s assessed value better in line with market value and to keep property value changes more consistent.

The assessor’s office spends about $75,000 more in revaluation years than assessment years, Laube said. The lion’s share of extra expense is postage.

Q: Why didn’t the city review my house in person?

A: It would cost at least $2 million for city assessors to visit all 24,194 parcels each year, Laube said.

Assessors visit homes where building permits have been issued, new construction has been done, property has been transferred, land has been split or other changes have been made.

The city will send an assessor to any property upon request, Laube said.

Q: How does the city determine a property’s market value?

A: The city compiles data on property sales in the city where competitive bidding occurs, where neither seller nor buyer is compelled to act quicker or slower than an average sale and where conventional financing occurs.

Assessors then determine other properties’ market values by making comparisons to comparable properties and making adjustments, Laube said.

Q: Will I have to pay more in property taxes?

A: Not necessarily.

Increased assessed value typically drives lower tax rates. The city’s tax rate for next year has not been determined but likely will decrease, Laube said.

If a property’s value increased more than the city’s average of 25%, the owner might see an increase in city property taxes, Laube said.

The city has a tax calculator on its website to help people predict, based on the 2018 tax rate, what they will owe the city in property taxes this year.

Q: How many people appealed their assessments with the city?

A: In 2019, 581 of 24,194 property assessments were appealed through the open book process or city’s board of review. That’s 2% of all properties, Laube said.

Of those, 215 value changes were made, and 24 went to Rock County Court.

Mistakes in data entry happen from time to time, she said, which is why the city encourages property owners to review their information online and schedule appointments with the assessor’s office if they have questions or disagree with assessments.

In 2011, 8% of property assessments were appealed.

Laube believes there were more appeals in 2011 because people thought the recession would have caused greater decreases in property values, but many properties increased from the 2002 revaluation.

Most people understand the housing market now is strong and were not shocked to see values increase, Laube said.



John Minchillo 

Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of the team’s baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)