Residents of the one-lane, blacktop hinterlands of Rock County won’t notice it this winter, but in the future, it might take a bit longer for snowplow crews to reach them.
That’ll be if the county’s highway division doesn’t have more luck recruiting candidates to fill plow truck driver vacancies the county believes could come in the next few years amid a wave of expected retirements.
Rock County Assistant Public Works Director Nick Elmer said the county’s seen a turnover of about half of its plow truck staff in the last few years as a growing number of workers retire. At the same time, Elmer said, the county has seen a marked decrease in new applicants for truck driver openings in the county’s highway division.
Before a few years ago, the county would average a pool of about 120 applicants for plow truck driver openings. But the pool has shrunk as fewer younger drivers locally seem to have training or commercial driver’s licenses, Elmer said.
A future shortfall in experienced plow drivers would be doubly felt in any county given that the state Department of Transportation does not own plows or employ plow drivers. County highway departments statewide shoulder the responsibility to clear miles of state highways in addition to hundreds of miles of county and town roads.
In Rock County, Elmer said, the highway division has 13 county routes, 17 township routes and 30 state highway routes—including stretches of Interstate 90/39.
Elmer said each route assigned to a county plow driver is geared to take between 90 minutes and two hours to clear of snow. That’s a schedule that ensures that the county’s 60 or so plow drivers can handle clear roadways after a moderate snowfall within a couple of days.
That model assumes that the county’s plow operators are experienced—some with decades of winter snow plowing under their belts—and that there are enough plow drivers to handle deluges of snow covering all county highways, roadways and bridges.
So far, the county has enough drivers to shoulder the burden.
But Elmer said the county now is discussing ways it could tweak or augment internal hiring and training protocols in hopes of cultivating a more expansive pipeline of plow drivers.
“Right now, it hasn’t been an issue. We’ve still been able to get guys in. But it’s getting harder and harder. Some things we’re having some internal discussions about is the (commercial driver’s license) component,” Elmer said.
He added, “We’re discussing if we need to start investigating some training opportunities, internally. One question is if ... we have to hire applicants without a CDL, how could we get them one?”
Until this week, Rock County has had little snowfall. After about three inches of snow and slush covered the area Wednesday, plow crews were kept running and gunning well into Thursday.
If long-range forecasts hold, Saturday—New Year’s Day—could bring another winter squall with 3 to 6 inches of snow, blowing and drifting over roadways, according to forecasts by AccuWeather.\
Such snowfalls—particularly those with freezing or blowing snow that roll out over multiple days—can take days to clear countywide, Elmer said.
“Some of these events can turn into three, four or five days in a row, and then you’ve tapped all of your extra plow guys. And that’s when you start losing ground,” he said. “And when that happens, you’ve got to start lengthening routes or taking levels of service down, and those are things that we don’t like to do.”
Elmer added, “The (higher traffic-volume) Interstate routes we’re responsible for requires the contracted services. A low-volume county road may have its plowing cycle time stretch out, so we can cover it and the Interstate.”
YWCA Rock County will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2022 with several special events—starting with an event focused on empowering people through art.
The first event to celebrate the organization’s first century is the Artful Empowerment Event. YWCA is looking for local artists to create art on 8-inch by 10-inch cotton canvas panels. Participants may use any media. The only requirement is that artists must use the theme “empowerment” as their inspiration.
YWCA will raffle off the completed panels as a fundraiser. Those who wish to participate and pick up canvases can contact YWCA Communications Director Kari Dray at 608-752-5445 ext. 206 or email kdray@ywca rockco.com
Jan. 13 is the deadline for completed art to be dropped off at Raven’s Wish at 101 W. Milwaukee St. in Janesville. The art will be exhibited at Raven’s Wish from Jan. 28 to Feb. 23. The art raffles will be held Feb. 24.
All art will be sold for $100 each through a random number draw raffle. All proceeds will benefit YWCA’s programs.
Along with the Artful Empowerment Event, the YWCA will hold a Women of Distinction Event on May 11, a CARE House Golf Outing on June 10, the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Event (on a day still to be determined) and its Racial Justice Conference next November.
The YWCA began in 1905 when a group of Janesville women met at Sue Jeffris’ home. However, they were unable to successfully establish the group because the national YWCA was not permitting the formation of affiliated groups in communities of fewer than 25,000 residents.
Nevertheless, local organizations in Janesville formed the YWCA in 1921. The then Janesville Gazette reported that “the support given the organization is evidenced in the report of the treasurer in which it was shown that 1,000 people donated $19,010 for establishing and conducting the organization during the coming year.”
The YWCA was first located in a rented space on the third floor of the Janesville Gazette building. The YWCA moved to 420 Jackson Street near the Tallman House in 1929. Marian Leavit donated the home.
In 1953, YWCA moved again. James A Craig, local businessman and philanthropist, acquired the home of the late Allen P. and July Stow Lovejoy at 220 S. Lawrence Ave. and donated it to the YWCA.
The YWCA’s current location is 1735 South Washington Street, behind the CARE House, in Janesville. The CARE House, Rock County’s first and only child advocacy center in Wisconsin, was built in 1993 on Conde Street in South Janesville.
With only a few days left in 2021, the YWCA is still looking to raise money for its Hope on the Horizon campaign. The effort helps YWCA programs, including its CARE House, child care, anti-violence, immigrant outreach and racial justice programming.
“This funding helps sustain these programs throughout the year and ensure that we are able to continue to provide these important services to our community,” Dray said. “We are currently at 33% of our goal and any little bit helps us get closer to achieving our end of year fundraising goal.”
Donations can be made by mailing checks to YWCA Rock County, 1735 South Washington Street, or by visiting YWCA website, ywcarockcounty.org.
In the weeks leading up to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a handful of Americans—well-known politicians, obscure local bureaucrats—stood up to block then-President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to overturn a free and fair vote of the American people.
In the year since, Trump-aligned Republicans have worked to clear the path for next time.
In battleground states and beyond, Republicans are taking hold of the once-overlooked machinery of elections. While the effort is incomplete and uneven, outside experts on democracy and Democrats are sounding alarms, warning that the United States is witnessing a “slow-motion insurrection” with a better chance of success than Trump’s failed power grab last year.
They point to a mounting list of evidence: Several candidates who deny Trump’s loss are running for offices that could have a key role in the election of the next president in 2024. In Michigan, the Republican Party is restocking members of obscure local boards that could block approval of an election. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislatures are backing open-ended “reviews” of the 2020 election, modeled on a deeply flawed look-back in Arizona. The efforts are poised to fuel disinformation and anger about the 2020 results for years to come.
All this comes as the Republican Party has become more aligned behind Trump, who has made denial of the 2020 results a litmus test for his support. Trump has praised the Jan. 6 rioters and backed primaries aimed at purging lawmakers who have crossed him. Sixteen GOP governors have signed laws making it more difficult to vote. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans do not believe Democrat Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president.
The result, experts say, is that another baseless challenge to an election has become more likely, not less.
“It’s not clear that the Republican Party is willing to accept defeat anymore,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.” “The party itself has become an anti-democratic force.”
American democracy has been flawed and manipulated by both parties since its inception. Millions of Americans—Black people, women, Native Americans and others—have been excluded from the process. Both Republicans and Democrats have written laws rigging the rules in their favor.
This time, experts argue, is different: Never in the country’s modern history has a a major party sought to turn the administration of elections into an explicitly partisan act.
Republicans who sound alarms are struggling to be heard by their own party. GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, members of a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, are often dismissed as party apostates. Others have cast the election denialism as little more than a distraction.
But some local officials, the people closest to the process and its fragility, are pleading for change. At a recent news conference in Wisconsin, Kathleen Bernier, a GOP state senator and former elections clerk, denounced her party’s efforts to seize control of the election process.
“These made up things that people do to jazz up the base is just despicable and I don’t believe any elected legislator should play that game,” Bernier said.
Bernier’s view is not shared by the majority of the Republicans who control the state Legislature in Wisconsin, one of a handful of states that Biden carried but Trump wrongly claims he won. Early in 2021, Wisconsin Republicans ordered their Legislative Audit Bureau to review the 2020 election. That review found no significant fraud. Last month, an investigation by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty came to the same conclusion.
Still, many Republicans are convinced that something went wrong. They point to how the nonpartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission—which the GOP-led Legislature and then-Republican governor created eight years ago to run the state’s elections—changed guidance for local elections officers to make voting easier during the pandemic.
That has led to a struggle for control of elections between the state Legislature and the commission.
“We feel we need to get this straight for people to believe we have integrity,” said GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, who represents the conservative suburbs north of Milwaukee. “We’re not just trying to change the election with Trump. We’re trying to dig into the next election and change irregularities.”
Republicans are also remaking the way elections are run in other states. In Georgia, an election bill signed this year by the GOP governor gave the Republican-controlled General Assembly new powers over the state board of elections, which controls its local counterparts.
The law is being used to launch a review of operations in solidly Democratic Fulton County, home to most of Atlanta, which could lead to a state takeover. The Legislature also passed measures allowing local officials to remove Democrats from election boards in six other counties.
In Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled Legislature is undertaking a review of the presidential election, subpoenaing voter information that Democrats contend is an unprecedented intrusion into voter privacy. Meanwhile, Trump supporters are signing up for local election jobs in droves. One pastor who attended the Jan. 6 rally in the nation’s capital recently won a race to become an election judge overseeing voting in a rural part of Lancaster County.
In Michigan, the GOP has focused on the state’s county boards of canvassers. The little-known committees’ power was briefly in the spotlight in November 2020 when Trump urged the two Republican members of the board overseeing Wayne County, home to Democratic bastion Detroit, to vote to block certification of the election.
After one of the Republican members defied Trump, local Republicans replaced her with Robert Boyd, who told The Detroit Free Press that he would not have certified Biden’s win last year.
Boyd did not return a call for comment.
A similar swap—replacing a traditional Republican with one who parroted Trump’s election lies—occurred in Macomb County, the state’s third most populous county.
The Detroit News in October reported that Republicans had replaced their members on boards of canvassers in eight of Michigan’s 11 most populous counties
Michigan officials say that if boards of canvassers don’t certify an election they can be sued and compelled to do so. Still, that process could cause chaos and be used as a rallying cry behind election disputes.
“They’re laying the groundwork for a slow-motion insurrection,” said Mark Brewer, an election lawyer and former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.
The state’s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, warned: “The movement to cast doubt on the 2020 election has now turned their eyes ... to changing the people who were in positions of authority and protected 2020.”
That includes Benson.
Multiple Republicans have lined up to challenge her, including Kristina Karamo, a community college professor who alleged fraud in the 2020 elections and contended that the Jan. 6 attackers were actually antifa activists trying to frame Trump supporters.
Trump has been clear about his intentions: He is seeking to oust statewide officials who stood in his way and replace them with allies.
“We have secretary of states that did not do the right thing for the American people,” Trump, who has endorsed Karamo, told The Associated Press this month.
The most prominent Trump push is in Georgia, where the former president is backing U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who voted against Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, in a primary race against the Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger rejected Trump’s pleas to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner.
Trump also encouraged former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the GOP primary. Kemp turned down Trump’s entreaties to declare him the victor in the 2020 election.
In October, Jason Shepherd stepped down as chair of the Cobb County GOP after the group censured Kemp.
“It’s shortsighted. They’re not contemplating the effects of this down the line,” Shepherd said in an interview. “They want their pound of flesh from Brian Kemp because Brian Kemp followed the law.”
In Nevada, multiple lawsuits seeking to overturn Biden’s victory were thrown out by judges—including one filed by Jim Marchant, a former GOP state lawmaker now running to be secretary of state. The current Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, who is term limited, found there was no significant fraud in the contest.
Marchant said he’s not just seeking to become a Trump enabler, though he was endorsed by Trump in an unsuccessful 2020 bid for Congress.
“I’ve been fighting this since before he came along,” Marchant said of Trump. “All we want is fair and transparent elections.”
In Pennsylvania, Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who organized buses of Trump supporters for Trump’s rally near the White House on Jan. 6, has signaled he is running for governor. In Arizona, state Rep. Mark Finchem’s bid to be secretary of state has unnerved many Republicans given that he hosted a daylong hearing in November 2000 that featured Trump adviser Rudolph Giuliani. Former news anchor Kari Lake, who repeats Trump’s election falsehoods, is running to succeed Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who stood up to Trump’s election-year pressure and is barred from another term.
Elsewhere in Arizona, Maricopa County Auditor Stephen Richer, who defended his office against the conspiratorial election review, has started a political committee to provide financial support to Republicans who tell the truth about the election. But he is realistic about the persistence of the myth of a stolen election within his party’s base.
“Right now,” Richer said, “the incentive structure seems to be strongly in favor of doing the wrong thing.”
In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Democratic governors have been a major impediment to the GOP’s effort to overhaul elections. Most significantly, they have vetoed new rules that Democrats argue are aimed at making it harder for people of color to vote.
Governors have a significant role in U.S. elections: They certify the winners in their states, clearing the way for the appointment of Electoral College members. That raises fears that Trump-friendly governors could try to certify him—if he were to run in 2024 and be the GOP nominee—as the winner of their state’s electoral votes regardless of the vote count.
Additionally, some Republicans argue that state legislatures can name their own electors regardless of what the vote tally says.
But Democrats have had little success in laying out the stakes in these races. It’s difficult for voters to believe the system could be vulnerable, said Daniel Squadron of The States Project, a Democratic group that tries to win state legislatures.
“The most motivated voters in America today are those who think the 2020 election was stolen,” he said. “Acknowledging this is afoot requires such a leap from any core American value system that any of us have lived through.”
Mary Alice Anacker
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