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Municipal clerks pan GOP idea to move 2020 presidential primary elections

MADISON

A Republican proposal to move Wisconsin’s presidential primary in 2020 would create headaches for election workers, create confusion for voters and might be all but impossible to implement, city and county clerks say.

GOP lawmakers are considering the election change to improve conservative Justice Daniel Kelly’s chances of winning his bid to remain on the state Supreme Court. The plan would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and would require voters to go to the polls three times in the spring of 2020—likely in February, March and April.

In a joint news release, 30 county clerks from around the state, including Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson, said GOP lawmakers would be “extremely hard-pressed to find a county clerk, Republican and Democratic alike, or a nonpartisan municipal clerk, who thinks this is a good policy change, or frankly, even doable.”

Clerks would need to process absentee ballots for different elections at the same time, which would run the risk that some ballots would get in the wrong batch and not get counted, clerks said in interviews and the news release.

Poll workers would have to be persuaded to work an extra election, which could be difficult when recruiting poll workers is already difficult, the clerks said. Some clerks would need to buy more memory cards for their voting machines because they would need to preserve results for one election while programming their machines for a different election.

And voters could wind up at the polls to vote in one election only to discover a different one was being held, clerks said.

“From my perspective, it would be virtually impossible for any county clerk to do all we need to get ready for an election in that scenario,” outgoing Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Novack said of adding a March election in 2020. She was one of the 30 clerks who signed on to the joint news release.

“There isn’t anyone among the 72 county clerks who thinks it even has a shred of a possibility to be done logistically,” Novack said.

Republicans who control the Legislature are considering changing the date of the presidential primary because they are concerned there will be a surge of Democratic turnout for it that will hurt Kelly’s chances in the Supreme Court race. Walker appointed Kelly to the high court in 2016. He will have to stand for election in 2020.

Lawmakers are discussing changes to the election schedule as part of a lame-duck session they want to hold between now and Jan. 7 when Democrat Tony Evers will replace outgoing Gov. Scott Walker. That session could also include measures to limit Evers’ power and add more Republican appointees to state boards so Evers would have less control of them.

Walker, who would need to sign off on any bills passed during the lame-duck session, last week said he was open to changing the election schedule and other proposals GOP lawmakers are considering.

As it stands now, two elections are planned for the spring of 2020—in February (when the primary for state Supreme Court and local offices would be held) and April (when the general election for those offices and the presidential primary would be held). Republican lawmakers want to move up the presidential primary from April to March, creating the third election.

Aides to Walker; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester; and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not say whether the concerns of the clerks would influence their proposal to change when the 2020 presidential primary is held.

The 2016 presidential primary cost about $6.8 million, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Adding an extra election in 2020 could cost a similar amount.

Fond du Lac County Clerk Lisa Freiberg said she struggles to find election workers and believes it would be hard to get them to work three elections in the spring of 2020. Voters, too, would face challenges, she said.

“It would definitely cause voter confusion,” said Freiberg, the president of the Wisconsin County Clerks Association.

Absentee ballots for the March and April elections would be available to voters at the same time. Clerks could use different colored envelopes for the two elections, but some voters might put the wrong ballots in the envelopes, she said.

“I wouldn’t even know how to begin to try to explain this to everyone,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Madison Democrat, on Monday told reporters he was urging Vos not to change the election schedule.

“You don’t change elections because you may not like the outcome, right?” Pocan said. “How much more ... third-world country can you get?”

Republicans have downplayed the significance of their plans for a lame-duck session, saying they don’t believe they are going as far as Democrats did in 2010 when they tried to approve labor contracts for state employees just before Walker was sworn in as governor. That attempt failed when two Democratic senators declined to go along with the plan.


Education
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Unicorns and pie topping: Adams students share things for which they're thankful

JANESVILLE

One child was thankful for “food and paper.”

Another felt blessed to have “art and carrots” in her life.

Tuesday, The Gazette asked Adams Elementary School youngsters about their plans for the holidays and the things and people they were thankful for.

Most of the answers were random, a kind of abstract existentialism without the dread. But what else would you expect from kindergartners? They are masters of unexpected answers and stream-of-consciousness talk.

That is why we know that someday, Cody Montalto, 6, plans to take a can of whipped cream, tip it upside down, and squirt it directly into his mouth.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Destiny Rainey, 5, was thankful for teachers.

Her friend Cody offered a litany of thanks.

“I’m thankful for everything, everywhere at the school, the teachers and all the people who work in the library, all the people who work in PE, and all the people who work at art, and all the people who work in music,” Cody said without taking a breath.

On Thanksgiving, Destiny plans to assemble a Powerpuff Girls puzzle and eat pumpkin pie.

Cody said he was “new to all pies out there.”

However, the mention of pies reminded him of pie topping. It was then he revealed that “someday” he would spray whipped cream into his mouth.

Charlize Low, 6, jumped her way into the room and opened the interview by saying that she got Play-Doh ponies for her birthday.

“I’m thankful for unicorns and rainbows and my family and my teachers,” she said.

Jayce Roehl, 5, perhaps overwhelmed by his friend’s loquacity, pondered thankfulness long and hard. Charlize tried to help him by loudly whispering a suggestion—“Santa!”—into his ear.

Later, he expressed thanks for his friend Ashton. Ashton’s mom’s name is Ashley, he said, and his dad’s name is Dan.

“I have a friend named Dan,” Charlize said.

Jayce reported that he planned to “eat strawberries” on Thanksgiving.

What kind of pie did he like best?

After much pondering, he said quietly, “Apple.”

Charlize had an opinion, too.

“I like pumpkin,” she said. “And apple and cherry and lemon and green lime and grape.”

“Yes,” Jayce agreed. “I like those, too.”

N.J. Pharmer-Eden, who reported that he was age “five and one-half and one-quarters,” is going to Door County to join his cousins for a big party.

Kailey Mulderink, 6, was thankful for “Auntie Cheri’s salad with marshmallows.”

What’s in that salad? Could we make it at home?

“It has marshmallows and rainbows,” Kailey said.

Later in the day, Adams students participated in special activities. One involved making turkeys by tracing a hand on construction paper and cutting it out.

This is harder than it looks.

Despite the challenges of having to trace around one’s own hand and then cut it out with tiny scissors, Kayden Spickler, 6, was ready to talk.

He likes pumpkin pie. Turkey is also good.

Yes, he’s thankful for his family, but where should he put the eyes on his turkey?

In the seat behind him, Itzamara Perez, 6, said she liked pie, too. Then she rapidly segued into a monologue about the turkey she was working on at that moment. The scissors were making her hands sweaty.

Janesville students have Wednesday through Friday off school, and one can only hope that by Monday, all that excitement about turkeys and pies will be out of their systems.

Of course, Christmas is just around the corner.


Business
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City wants Monterey Hotel owner to agree to repairs by Nov. 28

JANESVILLE

If Jim Grafft wants his Monterey Hotel to remain standing, he might not have much longer to agree to demands the city has laid out for repairs to the ailing building.

City officials want Grafft to sign a repair plan for the downtown hotel by Nov. 28, according to a letter sent to Grafft earlier this week.

That letter comes with a set of city-imposed deadlines that require Grafft to fix most of a laundry list of problems found in earlier inspections of the hotel, 5 S. High St.

The deadlines give Grafft until the end of May 2019 to fix broken or missing windows, repair crumbling exterior brick, and fix a chronically leaking roof that has left parts of the iconic Art Deco-era hotel with water damage.

Grafft would get a bit more leeway—until the end of July 2019—to fix crippled structural supports in a one-story part of the hotel. City inspections suggest that water and the elements have deteriorated the supports to the point that part of the hotel could collapse.

The city requires Grafft to agree to its mandated repairs and the spring and summer deadlines for them, as well as a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline under which he must meet several fire code requirements in part of the hotel that a tenant uses to access cellular antennas.

Tucked in with the city’s Nov. 16 letter is the alternative to repairs: a raze order for the Monterey Hotel that city officials also signed Nov. 16.

The raze order could go into effect if Grafft opts not to agree to required repairs or meet the city’s deadlines, according to the city’s compliance agreement.

Those are two of the lines the city has drawn to force Grafft to decide how to proceed on a raze-or-repair order officials handed him Sept. 10. The order notes that the historic hotel has become “unsafe and unfit for human habitation.”

Janesville Building Director Tom Clippert’s letter and the repair compliance agreement, delivered to Grafft on Monday, are in response to a plan Grafft submitted Oct. 30 for repairs to the hotel—his second try since September to provide Clippert with a framework for the work.

The Gazette obtained Clippert’s letter, the repair agreement and the raze notice through an open records request.

Tuesday, Clippert declined to say whether his latest letter represents a day of reckoning in a raze-or-repair process that’s rolled out over the last three months.

He also would not comment on whether Nov. 28 is the hard date by which Grafft must sign a repair agreement to stave off the city’s threats to raze the hotel.

Clippert said he didn’t want to negotiate terms through a news outlet before he was sure Grafft has seen the city’s letter.

Clippert said the letter was slated to be hand-delivered this week, but he hadn’t gotten word on whether Grafft had received it.

According to Clippert’s letter and the agreement, city officials will hold Grafft’s feet to the fire with monthly meetings and spot inspections to make sure he meets repair deadlines.

The Grafft family did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment on plans for the hotel. Earlier this fall, the family told a Madison TV reporter that it intended to repair the Monterey.

It’s not immediately clear whether Grafft or the city are considering any other plans or remedies for the property besides raze-or-repair.

In the raze order, Clippert wrote that the hotel has a current assessed value of about $255,000, but repair costs to save the building exceed “85 percent” of its assessed value.

That degree of disrepair meets the legal threshold of a “public nuisance,” Clippert wrote.

According to contractor estimates Grafft submitted to the city in October, he now faces at least $114,000 in repair costs at the hotel, but the costs could be higher.

One X factor might be revealed in an analysis of structural problems in the one-story portion of the hotel.

In October, Grafft told the city he had hired a local architect to analyze and compile a report on the hotel’s structural integrity. Grafft told the city he expected the architect to complete a report this week.

It’s not clear whether the architect’s report would detail or recommend the work necessary to fix the hotel’s structural supports. Clippert said he’s not sure whether the building’s structural integrity hinges on shoring up its one-story section, although Grafft’s plans indicated that some roof repairs could hinge on the outcome of the structural study.

“That’s why they need the structural analysis to see what’s tied into what,” Clippert said.

Under the city’s repair agreement, Grafft would have until Feb. 1, 2019, to submit signed work contracts for structural repairs. For roof and window repairs, the city requires him to sign work contracts by the end of this year.


Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 21, 2018

Cheryl L. Altermatt

Richard H. Brown

William Benjamin Church

Norbert A. Fike

Donald H. Hansen

Larry G. Johnson

Michael D. Kuhnle

Jewel Liebenstein

Stanley David Myers

Carol J. Okray

Evelyn M. Pagel

Robert David Turk

Lorelei J. White