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Assembly speaker hires retired cops to investigate general election


Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is hiring retired police officers to investigate aspects of the November election, joining with Republicans from around the country who have questioned President Joe Biden’s victory.

Vos, of Rochester, said he recognizes Biden narrowly won Wisconsin and is not trying to change the results.

He said he hopes the investigators can get to the bottom of issues Republicans have raised unsuccessfully in court, such as how the state’s largest cities used more than $6 million in grants from a private group to run their elections.

Vos in a Wednesday interview said he was giving the investigators a broad mandate to spend about three months reviewing all tips and following up on the most credible ones. In addition to the grant spending, he said they could look into claims of double voting and review how clerks fixed absentee ballot credentials.

“Is there a whole lot of smoke or is there actual fire? We just don’t know yet,” Vos said.

Ann Jacobs, a Democrat who leads the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said she was worried the investigation would undermine confidence in an election that was conducted properly.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the Legislature is using its resources to investigate what has already been thoroughly investigated, and it is my hope that instead they could work toward expanding opportunities and ease of voting for Wisconsin voters,” she said.

Vos said he is hiring three former law enforcement officers along with an attorney who will oversee them.

As contractors with the Legislature, they will have subpoena power. Anyone they subpoena will be immune from criminal prosecution, he said.

Vos said the investigators likely will provide him a report by the fall with their findings. He said he wants to identify laws that should be changed rather than try to find people who the investigators believe have violated the law. He did not rule out the possibility the investigators would refer some matters to prosecutors.

The move comes after voters in Georgia sued to review ballots and the Arizona Senate seized Maricopa County’s ballots so a private company called Cyber Ninjas could review them. Some Republicans have called the Arizona review laughable and dangerous because it involves a company that has not previously audited elections using microscopes and UV lights to examine ballots.

Vos said he couldn’t speak for Arizona but that he expected to avoid that kind of controversy by hiring investigators who will produce a report the public can trust.

“My hope is that they come back and they build the case to show Gov. (Tony) Evers and the Democrats who are in the ‘Casablanca’ mode—‘nothing to see here,’ ‘everything’s fine,’ ‘they just want to suppress the vote.’ No. These are professional investigators,” Vos said.

“A sizable chunk of people believe the election was illegitimate. And democracy cannot flourish if both sides don’t believe in the end both sides had a fair shot.”

Already Republican lawmakers have directed the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to review aspects of the election. The investigators Vos is hiring would perform work separate from the audit bureau.

Vos said he didn’t know how much the taxpayer-funded investigation would cost.

Despite his claims of irregularities, Vos acknowledged there is no way to change Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump. He said the report could help Republicans who control the Legislature write new election laws.

“The election’s already over,” he said. “My job is to be frustrated with the result, which I am, especially with what’s going on in Washington, D.C. … My job is to say where are the laws being followed, where are they not? If they’re not being followed, how can I fix it?”

Republicans have already started passing election legislation, and any bills they approve face likely vetoes from Evers.

After Biden won, Trump and his allies challenged numerous election practices.

They argued clerks were wrong to fill in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes. They claimed too many people were allowed to claim they were indefinitely confined because of age or disability, which allowed them to vote absentee without submitting a copy of an ID. They said cities shouldn’t have established drop boxes for absentee ballots.

All those issues were raised in lawsuits only to be quickly shot down by state and federal courts.

Republicans have also questioned grants provided to Milwaukee, Madison and other Democratic-leaning cities by the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The nonprofit group gave funds to cities around the country using hundreds of millions of dollars provided by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Courts have rejected three lawsuits over the grants, but conservatives have filed new complaints over them with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission consists of three Republicans and three Democrats.

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Janesville's Rock Aqua Jays gearing up 2021 season


After a year off because of the pandemic, the Rock Aqua Jays water ski team is back in action this summer with flips, spins and pyramids on the water.

“We’re excited, very excited,” said Brian Cullen, an announcer at the Aqua Jays shows. “Deep down we really missed doing the shows, and the fact that we’re going to be on this year is awesome. We’re looking forward to having some fun.”

The first show of the season will be at 7 p.m. Sunday. Additional shows will follow at 7 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays through Labor Day at Traxler Park.

On Saturday,June 26, the Aqua Jays will host the Mercury Invite, which Cullen said will include a full day of tournaments and family-friendly shows with skiers speeding along the Rock River.

This year’s theme is “Toy Story,” featuring many new and exciting acts and some skiers in costume, said Duane Snow, a past president and longtime member of the Aqua Jays organization.

“The jumpers are doing an outstanding job. Everybody is practicing hard,” Snow said. “The skiers look good. You wouldn’t really know that we did not perform last year.”

Snow added that the Aqua Jays plan to add a brand new boat to their fleet later this season.

The Aqua Jays will be running raffles with individual tickets for $10 each or packs of three tickets sold for $25. The grand prize is a choice between a jet ski or a four-wheeler with a snow plow. Additional cash prizes will also be offered as part of the raffle.

Performances are free to the general public, but free-will donations are appreciated.

Cullen said the skiers will be engaging with the audience as usual. As the water skiers glide past the stands, team members will seek audience participation in cheering for their favorite characters.

“We’re trying to give the audience a really good ski show with a light theme around it. If we have fun, the audience picks up on it and it makes it a good experience for everybody,” Cullen said.

At the June 26 invitational, Cullen said water skiers from around the Midwest will compete in a full team tournament, a swivel tournament and nighttime jump competition.

The competition is intense, but the camaraderie among the skiers is inspiring, Cullen said.

“The jumping they do is extraordinary. It takes a lot of courage to do that. When somebody does something unique, everybody is excited,” Cullen said.

Snow said the Rock Aqua Jays have multiple national champions on the team. There are about 90 skiers involved, a number of whom are returning from school for the summer to participate.

The Aqua Jays have been busy practicing every week to gear up for the season.

“It’s very exciting to watch. Some of these girls can do incredible things on a swivel ski. It’s very interesting and fun to watch,” Snow said.

Traxler Park can seat roughly 400 people in the stands with enough space to allow for social distancing, Snow said, and hand sanitizing stations will be available.

“There’s plenty of room to spread out so you feel safe while you’re there,” Snow said.

Cullen said he is happy to be with fans again, adding that people travel from around southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois to see the shows.

Snow said the Aqua Jays shows also provide an economic boost for Janesville when visitors spend money in the area while shows and tournaments are happening.

“It’s a testament to water ski shows and water ski clubs as many of these members stick around for years. It’s great family entertainment. The kids grow up with a real sense of accomplishment. It’ll be good to put on a show in front of people again,” Snow said.

For more information, visit rockaquajays.com.

Obituaries and death notices for May 27, 2021

Edwin Brien

Carlos Alberto Cruz Portillo

Rylee Hetzner

Jeffrey Allen Lund

Jacqueline Marie (Jacquet) Melvin

Jack Lee “Three Fingered Jack” Oberley

Robert “Bob” Tews

Timothy Wynn Weaver

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Local car wash partners to make a splash with rebranding


If you don’t already know the name Mr. Splash, you’ll be at least three times likelier to know it later this summer when you’re seeking a nearby car wash in Janesville.

Mr. Splash, an independent car wash chain, is merging with its local sister company, Janesville-based car wash Sponge Spa. By midsummer, Sponge Spa will lose its moniker and be renamed Mr. Splash.

Dave Javan, the general manager for both Sponge Spa and Mr. Splash, says the change comes as the two local companies merge under a unified brand. The change means that the tunnel-style Sponge Spa car wash at 2904 Milton Ave. will become a Mr. Splash.

That plan comes along with the demolition and complete redevelopment this summer of Splash Car Wash, another, existing car wash that the two companies also run at 1608 Milton Ave. along the southern end of the Milton Avenue retail spur.

That location, which for about 20 years has housed a touchless car wash, will be the home of a brand-new, tunnel-style Mr. Splash car wash. Demolition and the rebuild is slated in June, Javan said.

It’s a lot to sponge up and splash over, but when new signs and the construction dust settles late this year, it all means Mr. Splash will become the local face of a unified and rebranded car wash group fronted by a set of Janesville and Sun Prairie operators.

Both sets of owners remain as “managing partners” of six locations, including two in the Madison area and another car wash in Fort Myers, Florida.

“We are locally owned, we’re family run, but the goal is to be a little like a McDonald’s, where you can go to any McDonald’s around the world and you get the same experience,” Javan said.

Javan said under a changeover that will roll out over the summer months, the Sponge Spa at 2904 Milton Avenue will undergo some sign and equipment changes. The goal is for it to have a look and operations similar to a Mr. Splash built in 2011 at the Five Points intersection near downtown Janesville.

The same would go with the new Mr. Splash being built farther south on Milton Avenue. Javan said the change will unify the sister companies under a common, membership-based structure that allows people to choose a single wash or a monthly membership that allows unlimited washes.

Javan said customers who've already bought tokens for use at the touchless, Splash Car Wash set for demolition this summer at 1608 Milton Ave. will be able to redeem the tokens for use at any Mr. Splash car wash. 

Javan said the new, Milton Avenue location will come with some hiring because under Mr. Splash’s model, each location would have its own dedicated staff, including an onsite “concierge” who manages customer service as people pull into the car wash.

Javan said owners are still deciding about whether to rebrand an existing Sponge Spa on Milwaukee Road in Beloit.