Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. February 16, 2021.

Editorial: Renewable energy should be common ground

We know common ground in the state government is hard to come by, but let us suggest something that really shouldn’t be difficult. We’d like to see the Legislature find ways to boost renewable energy in Wisconsin.

There are sound reasons for such an effort that should satisfy both conservatives and liberals. Renewable energy has traditionally been pitched as an environmental cause, and there are certainly benefits there. But the reality is that the advantages go far beyond tree-hugging. Renewable energy has the potential to be an economic driver, a source of new technological innovation, boosted tax revenue and jobs that are better suited to the coming decades’ changes than many others.

The efforts don’t need to be concentrated on large-scale projects like wind farms, either. While those are increasingly common sights in the Midwest, they aren’t the only option. In fact, they may not even be the best option in many places.

Vertical axis wind turbines can work in surprising locations. They’re less vulnerable to turbulence created by wind swirling around buildings, and some are even used as kinetic art. They tend to be a lot quieter than their gigantic cousins, too.

Solar systems are becoming more popular, especially as they become more efficient. Early solar power grids didn’t convert much of the sun’s energy into electricity. But better materials and research are changing the game.

There are other forms of environmentally friendly power, but let’s focus on solar and wind to start. In both cases the technology and acceptance is growing at a good clip. Installation and maintenance require skills that will remain in demand for decades. The research and production of the materials also means jobs in the United States.

The reality is that the power grid will need new sources in the coming decades. The increasing adoption of electrical vehicles will raise demand. And it’s not just going to be the United States pushing that trend. The simple fact is major changes are coming.

In Norway, electric vehicles now make up a majority of cars sold. The U.K. will prohibit sales of cars running only on fossil fuels as of 2030. Many other European nations have similar targets, and the EU itself is mooting a phase-out of such vehicles on a continent-wide basis.

It’s not just Europe, either. India is considering similar moves, as are Japan, Costa Rica and even Egypt. Traditional automakers are taking notice, increasing their efforts to produce electric vehicles. In fact, in Norway it’s VW, not Tesla, selling the most electric cars.

As research and investment grow in a bid to meet demand elsewhere, automakers will have considerable incentive to also broaden the market in the United States. That means we’ll need new ways to produce electricity here.

While we’re not forecasting the end of the oil industry (we know a thing or two about people wrongly predicting an industry’s demise), it seems probable that it will change dramatically as demand shifts. If Wisconsin acts now to make the state more accommodating of solar and wind power, the state could well set itself up to benefit handsomely over the next few decades.

While Wisconsin has unique challenges in terms of weather and terrain, it’s also clear that clean energy can and does work in the region. Minnesota and Iowa, neighboring states, both produce considerably more renewable energy than Wisconsin.

Nor is Wisconsin starting from scratch. We already see more renewable energy generated here than either Illinois or Michigan. But we shouldn’t settle for middle-of-the-pack results. Wisconsin can, and should, be a bigger player in renewable energy.

And that’s where the Legislature comes in. There are plenty of ways it can help boost Wisconsin’s approach. Better tax incentives for installation of renewable energy options could come into play. Mandates for renewable energy in new construction might also be an option.

It’s not difficult to see that the future is going to look considerably different in terms of how people produce energy for use at home or work. History suggests that once such shifts begin, they can move far more rapidly than people would have expected. Wisconsin’s best move is to prepare for the coming changes, to help drive them.

And it really shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

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Janesville Gazette. February 12, 2021.

Editorial: Work of maps commission will provide contrast

If we don’t know what gerrymandering looks like, the People’s Maps Commission will do its best to make it clear.

The commission conducted an online hearing Thursday evening for people in the 1st Congressional District to weigh in on what congressional and legislative maps for Wisconsin should look like. It’s part of an effort headquartered in the state Department of Administration to counter gerrymandering that both Democrats and Republicans have practiced for years.

Current maps for Assembly and state Senate districts heavily favor Republicans, who redrew them after the 2010 Census.

Now, because the 2020 Census is done, it’s time to draw new maps.

It is the duty of the Legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, to draw the maps. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in 2020 created the People’s Maps Commission to craft alternative maps. It is conducting hearings in each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts to gather input.

The nine-member commission will submit maps to the Legislature in 2021, but the Legislature will be under no obligation to approve the maps or even consider them. The primary purpose of the work by the commission, we suspect, will be to provide a contrast to the maps the Legislature draws.

Last time around, Republicans drew maps behind closed doors with help from private law firms. The Legislature passed them, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed them into law.

In the 1st Congressional District, part of Rock County was sliced off but Janesville was kept as an appendage on the district’s west end to accommodate the incumbent, Republican Paul Ryan. At the same time, some of Waukesha County’s most conservative suburbs were added.

The redistricting process in 2011 sparked several lawsuits that cost the state millions of dollars. Different this time, however, is that the Democrats hold the governor’s office. Evers can veto whatever maps the Legislature passes, and the Republicans don’t have enough votes to overturn his vetoes.

Everybody expects the process to end up in the courts, where the work offered by the People’s Map Commission will almost certainly be touted by attorneys for the Democrats as an alternative to the lines proposed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Most people in Wisconsin want maps drawn differently. A Marquette Law School polls shows 70% of Wisconsinites want redistricting done by a nonpartisan commission. Fifty of Wisconsin’s 72 county boards have passed resolutions favoring nonpartisan redistricting.

Tim Cullen, a retired Democratic state senator from Janesville, said he’s given about 80 talks on the topic of redistricting between 2013 and the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. He said in those seven years, he noticed people were becoming better educated on the issue.

“When we first gave talks, we had to explain what the word gerrymandering meant,” Cullen said. “As the years went on, the citizens became much more educated on the issue. The citizenry has become really educated over the years on the issue.”

Democrats are hoping voters are paying better attention and will like what they see from the People’s Maps Commission, even if the work never gets a vote.

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Kenosha News. February 14, 2021.

Editorial: Legalize marijuana in Wisconsin

Gov. Tony Evers said last week he will propose legalizing marijuana for Wisconsin residents in his state budget as part of a plan to generate $166 million in revenue to help fund rural schools and programs for marginalized communities.

Predictably, it was met with a bucket of cold water from state Republicans who can’t seem to spell the word Evers without putting a capital N in front of it.

So, no, we don’t expect Evers’ proposal will come within a wisp of gaining passage from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

But it’s probably a good time for state Republicans to do a reality check.

The reality is this:

Across the country there is a boom in marijuana legalization — both for recreational and medical purposes. In November, voters in Arizona, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota approved ballot measures to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana. Currently recreational marijuana is legal in 15 states and 36 states allow medical marijuana. Next up will be New York, Virginia, New Mexico and Connecticut where strong pushes for legal recreational use are expected in the coming weeks.

Closer to home, neighbors Michigan and Illinois were already on that list — along with Canada to the north and Mexico is expected to go that route shortly.

Cannabis sales are going through the roof and topped $20 billion in the U.S. last year — a 50 percent jump over 2019.

A Marquette University Law Poll in 2019 showed that nearly 60 percent of state residents support legalized recreational pot usage and 83 percent supported legalization for medical purposes. That’s consistent with a Gallup poll last fall that showed 68 percent of Americans favor legalizing pot.

With Congress now controlled by Democrats, chances appear good for the passage of the SAFE banking act, which would make it easier for banks to offer financial services to the cannabis industry, allowing it to use credit cards and move it away from the risky cash-only sales currently enforced.

And, of course, we can’t forget that two years ago 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities voted to support medical or recreational marijuana use in advisory referendums — six of those counties urged making recreational use legal, including Racine County which polled 60.2 percent in favor. (In Kenosha County, in the 2018 election 88% of voters said they would allow medical marijuana.)

We have long advocated a go-slow approach to legalizing marijuana and have urged the federal government to allow more medical testing on cannabis usage and its long-term effects — which is currently all but banned.

But neither are we advocates of putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the realities around us. That reality is that marijuana legalization is likely coming to the Badger State sometime soon and we are foolish to reject the tax revenues that would flow into state coffers.

If state Republicans can’t accept the big gulp of Tony Evers proposal, we would at least urge them to take a sip of reality and accept a compromise proposal to legalize medical marijuana.

END

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