April 5, 2008

Feingold rips Dems on Iraq

Sen. Russ Feingold ripped his fellow Democrats today for their stance on the Iraq war. Dems leaders laid out their position in a letter to President Bush. The leaders called on Bush not to send more troops to Iraq, change the mission of troops already there, and begin a phased redeployment within six months. Here's the relevant graph:
Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror. A renewed diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, is also required to help the Iraqis agree to a sustainable political settlement. In short, it is time to begin to move our forces out of Iraq and make the Iraqi political leadership aware that our commitment is not open ended, that we cannot resolve their sectarian problems, and that only they can find the political resolution required to stabilize Iraq.

Feingold's main contention seems to be Democrats are wavering on calling for a full withdrawal from Iraq. Here's his statement:
"I am deeply disappointed with the letter sent by Democratic leaders to the President regarding Iraq. Rather than calling on the President to redeploy our troops from Iraq, it endorses a plan put forward by General Petraeus that could entail leaving tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. This would be dangerous for our troops, further the perception that we are occupying Iraq, provoke instability in the country and the region, and keep us from focusing on the global al Qaeda threat.

"Contrary to what the letter suggests, we should not be waiting around for a 'political accommodation which will allow us to reduce U.S. troop levels substantially.' We must redeploy our troops to break the paralysis that now grips U.S. strategy in the region."

20-year-old Racine man killed

Update: 19-year-old Nicholas Gorske was charged today with second-degree reckless. homicide.

Original post: From the Racine Police Department:
Deceased: Nicholas J. Heiligenthal Male / White 06-30-87

On Friday, April 4, 2008 at approximately 2:56 p.m. Heiligenthal was carried into the emergency room of Racine's Wheaton Franciscan Hospital (St. Mary's) by some of his friends. Heiligenthal was unconscious and possibly suffering from some blunt trauma injuries to the head. Heiligenthal was transferred by Flight for Life to St. Luke's Hospital in Milwaukee to the Neural Intensive Care Unit.

St. Luke's Hospital officials notified the Racine Police Department that Heiligenthal died at approximately 10:45 p.m. on April 4, 2008.

Racine Police Investigators determined that a physical altercation had occurred inside of an apartment in the 2700 block of Mt. Pleasant St. in Racine. Heiligenthal was struck in the head by a 19 year old acquaintance during an argument.

Investigators drafted and served a search warrant to inspect the crime scene in the apartment on Mt. Pleasant Street.

The 19 year old suspect was contacted via telephone and convinced to turn himself in. The suspect was picked up and interviewed by Racine Police Department Investigators. The 19 year old suspect is currently being held in the Racine County Jail on a Probation Violation. The suspect was on probation for an assault conviction in April 2007.

It is anticipated that Investigators will charge the suspect in connection with this homicide upon completion of the investigation.

April 4, 2008

First Fridays draws a varied crowd Downtown

First Fridays is for shopping, for art, for music and for lovers.

The first of Downtown Racine's special art-and-music-based shopping events was accompanied by clear weather -- a little cold, but not unbearable -- and drew shoppers of all stripes. Main Street and Sixth Street were full of people making the rounds from store to store. Young and old, rich and poor. Families with kids who danced happily in Monument Square. Lovers who walked arm-in-arm.

Even Sixth Street's construction zone didn't keep them from the galleries, bars and restaurants. There were lookers, and there were shoppers. There wasn't an empty seat at Timothy York's Bistro; the counter at Sugar Shack was equally busy.

Music was everywhere: guitar, saxophone, keyboard, drums and vocals.

And this first of the year's First Fridays apparently was not a night for alfresco beer drinkers: the controversial "beer garden" in Monument Square -- more a beer tent at the north end of the square -- closed up early, a victim of the cold and a lack of customers.

Julian Mireles, the One-Man Band

Ben Jerry discusses his paintings with fans

Choices to make, at 716 Gallery

Ronnie Nyles and Tina Dimmer, ChixMix

Horse-drawn carriage rides down Main Street

Eddie Muniz & Bennit Carl Jazz Duo

Shopping for a ring at Art Metals Studio

Zachary Scott Johnson at Dunn Brothers

Lovers oblivious to Sixth Street's construction

Former Kenosha mayor working for city of Racine

Soon-to-be former Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian is working for the city as a consultant. Here's an e-mail from Mayor Gary Becker to the City Council explaining the arrangement:
From: Becker, Gary
Sent: Thu 4/3/2008 11:47

Subject: former mayor John Antaramian

Just so you know and do not hear it on the news, the city through a professional services contract has put the former mayor under contract as a consultant.
John will be working with brownfield sites, neighborhood planning and any other revitalization project he can help with.

If you have any questions please give me a call.

Gary Becker
Mayor, City of Racine

Antaramian has been mayor of Kenosha since 1992. He decided not to run for another four-year term this year. Keith Bosman defeated Pat Moran in an April 1 election to replace Antaramian.

Timothy York's Bistro: The dream is passed on

Joan Stepanski at Timothy York's Bistro

Timothy York's Bistro is the story:
-- Of a dream briefly realized, cut short by tragedy -- and then passed on to someone else.

-- Of days when receipts wouldn't cover the utilities bill; when the one-person staff (the owner), after a night of tending bar and a day of cleaning the premises and managing, was too broke to buy spirits by the case and so had to shop retail at Timers.

-- Of a landlord dealing sympathetically with a tenant who couldn't pay the rent.

--Of friends and customers and performers pulling together.

-- And finally, of hope and optimism -- but with the villain of the Sixth Street roadwork looming ahead ... just two blocks down the street, in fact, and moving steadily toward the front door.
Let's start at the beginning, back in 2006 when Ed Scharding was gutting the building next to his plumbing gallery, the former "What About Me?" tavern at 600 Sixth Street. Lory Patin, a chef, drove by and visualized what it could be, and talked her partner in life, Joan Stepanski, into a life-changing experience: they would open a bistro together. "We thought we were in a position to make her dream come true," Joan says today.

And so they came to a buildout agreement with Scharding: he paid for some of the renovation; they paid for new flooring, light fixtures, the 220 electric service. "It was an unusual arrangement, but we felt we were part of it," Joan says. Scharding's work on the building exterior won a facade award from the Downtown Racine Corporation. The interior is attractive, too: warm wood floor, stylish lights, exposed brick, the bar faced with wainscoting taken from the walls. Everybody was happy and the Bistro, named after Lory's son, opened on Dec. 6, 2006.

"Things went like gangbusters; the place was packed," Joan remembers. It wasn't making a profit, she clarifies -- "We went 'way into debt to build the place, put the kitchen in from scratch" -- but optimism reigned. Lory ran the kitchen and Joan, still working as a process improvement specialist at a business forms company, ran the front of the house.

And then in February, Lory got sick. At first it appeared to be heart trouble, but a stress test showed nothing to worry about. "We thought she was just run down from starting up and running the Bistro kitchen," said Joan. But four months later, in June of '07, Lory came downstairs and said, "Something is wrong. I have no energy." Another chest x-ray was ordered, and Joan recalls the doctor looking at it and saying, "I think we have our answer." It was lung cancer ... too spread out for radiology and resistant to chemo. Lory lost 50 pounds and died at Thanksgiving.

"I really didn't know what I was going to do," Joan said. "We were broke; we hadn't been taking any salaries. We'd closed the kitchen 10 days before Lory died. But I found in the year we were open that I really, really loved this business. Nobody was more surprised than I was."

Still, she couldn't afford a chef (she defines the difference between a cook and a chef this way: a chef can create dishes and flavors; a cook just follows someone else's recipes) so the kitchen went through nine cooks in short order, none proving satisfactory. "I learned that if we didn't have good food we weren't going to make it ...but how could I find a chef willing to work with me?"

Joan laid off the entire staff, keeping the Bistro open herself; for six weeks she couldn't afford to buy any beer or liquor, selling just what was on hand. "In December, I told Ed I couldn't pay the rent." They negotiated a different kind of lease; she sold him some of the equipment they'd put into the place -- "the range hood, sinks, stuff I'd never be able to take out anyway" -- and then leased it back as part of the rent.

"Then three things happened that saved me," Joan says. First, Tony Hall showed up. "He came in while Iron Chef was on the TV over the bar; he made a couple of comments and we talked, but I didn't know who he was. Then he came in the next week, said he was the sous chef at Waves, and we talked about business. I was too terrified to be hopeful.

"Tony has a great reputation. He's a big man, with a big personality and big flavors in his cooking." Tony started as Timothy York's chef on March 1, after revamping the kitchen and creating an ambitious new menu.

The second thing that happened was a loan from a former co-worker, enough to pay the bills for a while.

Finally, Joan's friend Tom Kaiser "took me under his wing," and has been "talking up the restaurant downtown, putting flyers on car windshields" and generally corralling customers.

In addition, performers -- Timothy York's used to have a lot of them -- have been rallying. On First Friday, Ronnie Nyles -- Female Vocalist of the year -- and her drummer, Tina Dimmer -- they go by the name ChixMix -- performed. There wasn't a vacant seat in the house. Every other Sunday afternoon there is karaoke. "Things like that have kept me going," says Joan.

"Business is better; I'm cautiously optimistic," she says, although Sixth Street construction will have to be weathered. For now, you can still drive right up to Timothy York's front door (East on Seventh, a left on Villa or Park to Sixth and you're there). The Bistro will delay the opening of its outdoor patio until July 3 -- the day construction is scheduled to be finished for the summer.

Joan looks around the place -- after putting down her broom this afternoon to let in a delivery of beer and liquor -- and smiles at the picture of Lory on the piano. "This place is not the same without her. I had to buckle down and make it my own," she says. "In some ways I feel like a traitor... but in others it feels very good."

Timothy York's Bistro, 600 Sixth Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday. Hours are 4-midnight on Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The next karaoke Sunday is April 13, from noon to 6 p..m. A Mother's Day brunch and dinner is also being scheduled.

City adds its support to Great Lakes Compact

The Wisconsin Legislature may be unable to make up its mind about the Great Lakes Compact, but the Racine City Council has no such problem. At Wednesday's City Council meeting, the following resolution was approved:

Racine City Council's support of Great Lakes Basin Compact

WHEREAS, the governors of the eight states that border the Great Lakes, to-wit: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, signed the Great Lakes Basin Compact in 2005, the purposes of which are set out in Article I of the Compact, as follows:

1. To promote the orderly, integrated, and comprehensive development, use, and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basis (hereinafter called the Basin).

2. To plan for the welfare and development of the water resources of the Basin as a whole as well as for those portions of the Basin which may have problems of special concern.

3. To make it possible for the states of the Basin and their people to derive the maximum benefit from utilization of public works, in the form of navigational aids or otherwise, which may exist or which may be constructed from time to time.

4. To advise in securing and maintaining a proper balance among industrial, commercial, agricultural, water supply, residential, recreational, and other legitimate uses of the water resources of the Basin.

5. To establish and maintain an intergovernmental agency the end that the purposes of this compact may be accomplished more effectively; and

WHEREAS, congressional approval of, and consent to, said Compact is dependent upon the passage of the Compact by the legislatures of each of the party states; and

WHEREAS, the Compact is currently pending before the Wisconsin legislature; and

WHEREAS, the Common Council of the City of Racine feels passage of the Compact is in the best interest of the people of the City of Racine, the State of Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, by the Racine Common Council to support the immediate passage of the Compact and to notify all members of the Wisconsin legislature of the Council’s support for the Compact and its request for legislative action.
So far, four of the eight Great Lakes states have approved the compact: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and New York. In Wisconsin, the State Senate approved it by a vote of 26-6, but the Assembly -- so far -- has been contentious.

Cannons' journey is over; Council OK's base funds

Passage Wednesday night of the following simple resolution establishes a permanent home -- once again -- for Racine's Civil War cannons:
Resolved, that up to $15,000 be appropriated from Monument Square Fund 932 for the costs associated with returning the two Civil War cannons back to Monument Square, and that a revenue account be established for donations from individuals and organizations that have publicly stated they would help fund the costs of this project. Donations will be accepted up to the amount of actual expenses incurred.
Bases designed by Monte Osterman of Osterman Granite and Marble should be ready by the scheduled installation date, Flag Day, June 14. The cannons will sit next to the Civil War monument; a dozen benches, game tables and art pedestals will also be installed at Monument Square.

Our earlier stories are HERE, HERE and HERE.

Ending stadium tax early would cost/save $93 million

There are two ways to write this story.

1. The taxpayer version.

Ending the Miller Park Stadium Tax on Dec. 31, 2014 could save regional taxpayers $93 million by sunsetting the proposal three years early, according to a state fiscal estimate.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, is pushing for the earlier end to the 0.1 percent sales tax. While the fiscal estimate doesn't break out Racine County's share of the tax, based on the numbers we pay between $3 million to $4 million per year toward the cost of Miller Park.

Current estimates expect the stadium tax will raise $31 million a year from 2015 to 2017. If the tax ends in 2014, another revenue source would need to cover the remaining expenses on the stadium, the estimate said.

2. Brewers' Home Opener version.

The Miller Park Stadium Board would lose $93 million in revenue under a proposal to end the five-county stadium tax on Dec. 31, 2014, according to a state fiscal estimate.

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, would sunset the 0.1 percent tax three years before the state allowed deadline. The stadium district, which operates Miller Park, would lose an estimated $31 million per year from 2015 to 2017.

The board would then have to come up with another source for the money to pay off the Milwaukee Brewers' stadium, which according to one UW-Milwaukee study brings in $327 million to the five-county tax region.

April 3, 2008

Minority candidates go 1 for 6 in local elections

Pending the outcome of Ken Lumpkin's recount for the County Board, it looks like the number of minorities holding elected office in Racine County will remain the same. Lumpkin appears to be off the County Board, while the Rev. Melvin Hargrove was elected to the School Board.

The African-American community had several solid candidates come up short on Election Day. Jameel Ghuari ran a strong campaign in the Second District, but came up short against incumbent Bob Anderson. Lumpkin lost to Alderman Jim Kaplan in both the City Council and County Board race, Karen Norton finished fourth for the School Board and Melissa Taylor lost her County Board bid. African-Americans made up 20 percent of Racine's population in the 2000 Census.

No Hispanic candidates ran for office this spring, and as far as I know, none hold local office. About 14 percent of people living in Racine were Hispanic in the last census.

Women are also under-represented. Sandy Weidner is the only woman on the City Council, and five of the 23 County Board members are women (Katherine Buske, Gaynell Dyess, Diane Lange, Karen Nelson and Pamela Zenner-Richards). Four of the nine School Board members are now women (Pamala Handrow, Susan Kutz, Julie McKenna, Gretchen Warner). Racine County has the fewest women holding elected office in southeast Wisconsin.

It's clear women and minorities are under-represented in our local government. As for what can be done, that's largely up to candidates. Hargrove worked hard, got key local endorsements and received the most votes in the School Board election. It's a good model for others to follow.

Local government can help by finding and encouraging minorities and women to attend committee meetings, get involved and get appointed to local boards and commissions. From there, they should get needed experience and contacts to run for office. This seems especially important for Hispanic leaders, who haven't gotten much traction at the polls.

Out with the adult bookstore, in with ...

One man's dirty book store is another man's opportunity. The building that has housed a porn shop on Main Street for more than 30 years has been empty for barely a month, and today we learn that it's been sold and has a brighter future than its avert-your-eyes past.

Barely six weeks ago, on Feb. 27, Downtown's only remaining "adult" bookstore, the covered-window storefront inaptly-named Racine News, next to Salute Italian Restaurant, closed for good, after operating at 316 Main Street since 1976. Although it looks as though Racine News and Salute, at 314 Main, are in the same building, they are separate structures.

On Wednesday, the building was sold to Doug and Sara Nicholson -- he of the Ivanhoe Pub and she an optometrist at Warren Eye Care Center.

The Nicholsons, who did most of the renovation of the Ivanhoe themselves five years ago, gutting it with the help of family and friends, are not sure what they're going to do with the building, beyond fixing it up. "Ideally, I would like to open another business that adds to the quality of life for the citizens of Racine," Doug said. "I do not plan on selling the building; this is not going to be a flip-that-building scenario."

Doug and Sara have been married for five years, are the proud parents of Laura and are expecting again in the fall. In January, Doug Nicholson was given two key awards by the Downtown Racine Corporation: the Downtown Champion Award, for being a catalyst in improving downtown; and the Downtown Showcase Award for creating the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

How do you undo nerve gas?
(and other library reference desk howlers)

Who knew librarians had a sense of humor? (SHHH!)

Whatever, we're just a few days away from National Library Week (April 13-19), and our favorite librarian was chuckling over this video homage to the 7.2 million questions answered weekly by the nation's public and academic librarians.

Where can I get information on insect dating habits? No, really.

Click HERE.

So, what was the real margin of Unified's referendum?

Just how close was the vote approving Racine Unified's $16.5 million school maintenance referendum?

Hard to tell, if you compare the community's two primary news sources, the Journal Times and (cough!) RacinePost.com.

Our story Wednesday night put the totals like this:

Our front page at RacinePost.com did the math, dropped the fractions and rounded out the margin of victory into this headline:

(The actual victory margin, according to our numbers, is 54.26% vs. 45.73%, although the county computes it differently; see below.)

So imagine our surprise Thursday morning to see this in a Journal Times story (Page 13 and on the web) about students who went door-to-door on Tuesday campaigning for the referendum:

Where'd those vote totals come from? (Actually, we shouldn't have been surprised by those numbers at all -- they were printed in Wednesday's paper as well -- but we didn't notice it then.)

In any case, this morning we went back to the Racine County elections website, which still shows the totals like this:

(The 1,090 figure is the number of ballots cast with no vote for or against the school referendum, which leads to the county's computation of the result:

Some clarification came from Joan Rennert, Racine County Clerk, who pointed out that the county doesn't canvass school and local elections, only federal, state and county. In fact, the county's Elections results website has this caveat right at the top: Final Unofficial State & County Only - No Local or Schools. So the official numbers for the referendum will have to come from Unified ...

One thing is clear: As President Bush told a group of New York school kids last fall, "Childrens do learn."

UPDATE: We finally got through to the right person at Unified on Thursday afternoon, and got an explanation: Unified had the numbers somewhat wrong Tuesday night -- by about 300 on each side of the ledger we were told. What happened is this: as some numbers were phoned in to Unified, the totals for a different referendum -- the state's 'Frankenstein' veto -- were wrongly given to Unified as its referendum numbers. At some point during the canvass, the error was caught -- but apparently not before the Journal Times got its figures.

In any case, the positively, absolutely, correct-up-to-the-minute Unified referendum total is, for now, anyway -- drum roll, please!: 11,480, yes; 9,681 no. A split of 54.25% vs. 45.75%.

But the most interesting point is how the various communities voted.
In Caledonia and Sturtevant, "no" votes outnumbered "yes" votes...more so percentagewise in Sturtevant than in the larger Caledonia where the talk of secession has been centered. Here's the closeup from Unified:

So, you want to be a Democratic kingmaker?

How it looked in 1936
Photo: Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Want to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, help choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? (And maybe Al Gore? Nah.) Hey, it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!

Wisconsin will have 92 delegates to the Aug. 25 convention, and some of those seats will be up for election in a process that starts this Sunday. State Democrats will choose 48 District delegates, 16 unpledged Party leaders and elected officials delegates, 2 unpledged add-on delegates, 10 pledged Party leader and elected officials delegates and 16 at-large delegates. And 12 alternates. The entire delegation is split 50/50 between men and women.

Based on the Wisconsin primary results, the 1st Congressional District will choose three Obama delegates and three Clinton delegates.

The process starts Sunday at noon, with a county caucus to be held at Union Hall 1840 Sycamore Ave., Racine.

As of April 2, 46 people filled out and filed the necessary Delegate Intent Form (with only 11 of them listed as favoring Hillary Clinton). Among the names you might recognize: Cory Mason, Gary Becker, John T. Dickert, Margaret Andrietsch and Michael Shields -- all for Barack Obama.

For a list of everyone who has filed a Delegate Intent Form, click HERE.

To run for one of the delegate spots you must file a copy of Delegate Intent form; to get one, click HERE. The forms must be returned to the State Party by Friday, April 4 at 5 p.m., and then you must attend the county caucus on Sunday.

Those voted on from the county caucus will be delegates to the Congressional District caucus on May 4. Ours will be held on May 4, at noon, at Kenosha County Center, 19600 75th St, Bristol, WI. Delegates to the CD caucus will choose who will be sent to the national convention in Denver.

More information is HERE.

AND, for those of you of the other political persuasion, the 1st District Republican caucus will be held Saturday, April 5, at 9 a.m. at the Monte Carlo Room, 720 North Wisconsin St., Elkhorn. The Republican Party State Convention will be Friday, May 16, and Saturday, May 17, at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, in Stevens Point. The 2008 Republican National Convention will be held Sept. 1-4 in Minneapolis. The Wisconsin Republican Party website is HERE.

April 2, 2008

United Way honors Dan Risch, looks forward

Dan Risch, center, receives President's Award
from Greg Anderegg, right, and Dave Maurer, left.

Coming off its most successful fund-raising year ever, the United Way of Racine County held its annual meeting Wednesday, thanking retiring directors, electing new ones and looking toward the future.

Although last fall's record-setting $5.125 million campaign, directed by campaign chair Bruce Duerr of Great Northern Corporation, was a pleasant touchstone, the meeting wasn't about money -- it was about "Live United," the United Way's focus on long-term solutions. As Dave Maurer, executive director put it, the "evolution from fund-raising and entitlement to community-building and community impact" that has been going on here for a number of years.

United Way Board President Greg Anderegg of SC Johnson presented the annual President's Award to Dan Risch of Lincoln Lutheran, "for his effective board stewardship, and for constantly challenging us to think outside the box."

United Way members elected four new board members: Denise Wilcox, Twin Disc; Jeff Van Koningsveld, IBEW Local 430; Pastor Pedro Lopez, Primera Iglesia Luterana and Hispanic Roundtable; and Jeff McKeown, Express Personnel.

Re-elected to the board for a second term were: Chris Terry, Carpetland; Therese Rocole, Wheaton Franciscan, All Saints; Jill Hartmann, Neighborhood Housing Services; Dave Titus, M&I Bank; Tom Berger, SEIU; and Robert O'Brien, Extendicare.

Maurer, a United Way executive for 25 years, noted the "disconnect between the public's understanding of what we do" and how the organization, which began in 1887, is evolving. People ask him, "What do you do the rest of the year?" assuming United Way is mostly a fund-raising organization. Words they use to describe it include "charity," "safety net," "handout," an organization "for them."

Instead, Maurer emphasized, the vision of United Way is as a change agent, working for the common good. Words he prefers are "interdependence," "all of us together," "not just them."

The United Way, he said, is all about lasting change and prevention. "We're advancing the common good, creating opportunities for a better life for all, through education, income and health." The prime example is the creation of HALO three years ago; the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization is far more than a homeless shelter.

"Our goal is to create long-lasting changes by addressing the underlying causes of problems," Maurer said.


Racine Post had one of its best days ever Tuesday with everyone checking in on the election results. We had nearly 5,000 page views and 2,000 visitors. Thanks much to everyone for reading the site, giving feedback, encouragement ... even criticism! We'll keep working to cover local news with a positive twist, fill in some gaps and maintain an independent voice in the community. Again, thank you!

April 1, 2008

Racine Unified referendum passes

Racine Unified voters passed the district's 5-year, $16.5 million referendum. The final vote was 11,434 to 9,638, a decent margin for the district's first request from voters since Superintendent Tom Hicks left.

The proposal's best selling point may have been this list of how the money will be spent. With the public skeptical of how much teachers and administrators are paid, the list clearly showed the money would go to maintenance projects.

This type of clear planning may be Unified's best chance of getting future referendums passed. Dave Hazen, Unified's finance director, said Monday that the district is already working on long-term plans to assess Unified's needs and to provide that information to the public.

It's also interesting to note that around the state, it appears maintenance and operating revenue referendums are passing. Germantown rejected a $16.5 million proposal to build a new elementary school, but otherwise, voters are approving money to help districts cover revenue shortfalls and address maintenance issues.

We'll have a clearer sense of this in the morning, but right now, the only school referendum I saw go down was the Germantown vote.

One new face on the City Council

Here's a wrap on the City Council races:

* Bob Anderson defeated Jameel Ghuari in the Second District, 439-373. There were a lot of votes cast in this race, and the incumbent held off an aggressive run by first-time candidate Ghuari. Anderson will serve his second term on the council.

* Jim Kaplan beat Ken Lumpkin 208-151. That's a solid win for the incumbent, who was outspent in the race about 10-to-1. (Note that 359 ballots were cast in this race ... far less than the First District.)

* Sandy Weidner was unopposed and will return to the council. She received 480 votes, which is a lot in an uncontested race.

* Q.A. Shakoor II was unopposed and will serve another term.

* Terry McCarthy defeated Troy Johnson 346-223 for Pete Karas' old seat. McCarthy narrowly lost to Karas two years ago.

* Tom Friedel ran unopposed and will be back for another two years.

* In possibly the surprise the of night, Aron Wisneski crushed Joey LeGath 859-369. The candidates raised the most money of anyone running for council, but LeGath's heavy spending didn't gain much traction against Wisneski. Looks like Wisneski is locked into this seat for awhile.

* Ron Hart is back for another two-year term. He ran unopposed.

In all, no new faces on the council. That's good news for Mayor Gary Becker, who is operating comfortably with the incumbents. Ghuari and Lumpkin could have given the mayor trouble, but they'll have to wait another two years for another chance to run.

Incumbents take two seats in Mount Pleasant; Caledonia incumbents survive

Results are coming in faster now ...

* Two incumbents on the Mount Pleasant Village Board were re-elected. Long-time board member Ken Flones and John Hewitt were re-elected. Challenger Harry Manning received the most votes; he was an outspoken critic of the current board.

* Caledonia Village Board incumbents Wendy McCalvy and Gale Morgan were re-elected - barely. McCalvy beat challenger (and blogger) Kathy Burton by 40 votes. Morgan defeated Matthew Schmidt by 162 votes.

* All of Sturtevant's incumbents were re-elected. Interesting to see Allan Acker back on the ballot ... voters weren't interested in putting the former village president back on the board.

* John Wisch was elected to a full two-year term on the County Board. He defeated Melissa Taylor 660-559. Their district is located in Caledonia.

Hargrove, Handrow, Wiser elected to School Board

Unified's new School Board members. Photo/Pete Selkowe

UPDATE 2: It's worth noting that the three new faces on the School Board were endorsed by RAMAC. The biz group also endorsed the referendum, which passed. Think they have some say in this town?

UPDATE: No numbers yet, but Melvin Hargrove, Pamala Handrow and Dennis Wiser have been elected to the School Board. Karen Norton finished fourth, followed by John Lieber and Carly-Ann Ravnikar.

ORIGINAL POST: There's a close race brewing for the School Board. Here are the results with 55 percent reporting:

Hargrove 5,534
Handrow 4,973
Wiser 4,512
Norton 4,119
(the other two are too far behind)

Norton closed the gap on Wiser from the last update, but Wiser is about the same number of votes behind Handrow. This one could go down to the wire.

Hall cruises past Dey for County Board

Ken Hall easily knocked off Brian Dey for the County Board, outpacing the former Unified School Board member 1,236-697.

Hall won his second term on the County Board. His district includes Wind Point, North Bay and the east side of Caledonia.

Dey served on the Racine Unified School Board before deciding not to seek re-election.

The race turned heated in recent weeks after Dey alleged Hall wanted to spend $250,000 on Frisbee golf courses. Hall said he wanted to spend $25,000 on two courses.

Kaplan takes two; Lumpkin wants recounts

Update 2: Lumpkin is planning on recounts in both the City Council and County Board races. He believes absentee ballots may have not been counted. It appears his argument is stronger in the County Board race, where he lost by two votes and there are 38 undervotes - registered ballots without a vote in the race. He lost by 51 votes for City Council, an insurmountable number considering there were about 350 total votes cast in the race.

You may recall Lumpkin is no stranger to recounts. He lost by two votes to James Rooney for the County Board in 1998. Lumpkin defeated Rooney two years later by 20 votes.

Well, our headlines holds ... for now. The county results show Kaplan defeated Lumpkin by two votes for the County Board seat, 220-218. Expect a recount here.

Original post: Jim Kaplan will be working double duty for the next two years. The City Council member won re-election to his District 4 seat and also beat Ken Lumpkin for the District 4 County Board seat.

Kaplan is a former city employer who has won two straight contested elections for the council.

Lumpkin is out of elected office after eight years on the County Board.

Lange easily wins re-election

County Board Supervisor Diane Lange easily won re-election over challenger Lou D'Abbraccio, according to unofficial results.

Lange, who represents District 3 on the board, won 885-396. Her district is on the north side of Racine.

Lange, 55, is one of the most liberal members of the County Board. She's been in the news lately raising questions about the county's contract with Superior Linens.

D'Abbraccio, 45, was making his first run for elected office. He is a Republican.

Problems arose during voting in the race. The Ward 14, City Council District 5 polling site at the Cesar Chavez Center didn't have signs saying voters could also vote for County Board supervisor.

As a result, there were 414 total votes cast at the site, but about 40 ballots did not have a vote for the County Board race. People were aware of the problem, but it apparently was not addressed during the day.

Another new press secretary for Ryan

A new Ryan press secretary already? Is there a story we won't be getting? Count on it.

Barely two months ago (Jan. 24, to be exact), we posted a short note here for political wonks only: Congressman Paul Ryan's longtime (seven years) press flack, Kate Matus, was leaving to have a baby. Bowing to pleas that the new guy hadn't yet made his goodbyes to his current employer, I withheld his name at the time.

Turns out, you didn't need to remember it after all.

Matt Lavoie, a New Yorker who took over Ryan's press reins in early February, is now gone, and already replaced. "Things didn't work out," is the best we could pry out of Ryan's office.

That and the name of Ryan's new press secretary, Conor Sweeney, who tells us he is a Badger through and through: "born, raised, educated and more in Wisconsin," who has worked for Ryan in various capacities since graduating from Marquette University.

Vos proposal would exempt pensions from income tax

Rep. Robin Vos is trying to pass a bill that would exempt up to $20,000 in pension payments from the state income tax. The proposal would be gradually implemented over 20 years starting in 2009.

A state fiscal estimate estimated the proposal would reduce state revenue between $3.6 million and $6.1 million in 2009, escalating to tens of millions of dollars once the exemption goes into full effect.

The estimate does not give a final estimate on the proposal's impact, but does note that if all pensions were exempt to $20,000 in 2009, it would reduce state revenue by up to $168 million.

Vos' proposal (AB952) has some bipartisan support. Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, signed on as a sponsor.

Racine one of 15 counties to benefit from Mason bill, state says

Racine County would be one of 15 counties to benefit from Rep. Cory Mason's proposal to boost funding at technical colleges to address unemployment, according to a state fiscal estimate.

The $10 million grant program (AB947) is limited to communities with unemployment rates at 125% or more than the national unemployment rate. Money could be used by technical colleges, including Gateway, to recruit students and expand programs. Fifteen counties and six cities could apply for the funds, according to the estimate.

Students without high school diplomas could attend technical colleges for free under the proposal.

The annual $10 million program would come from state funds. It's designed to offset any property tax increases at the local level, but would have an impact on administrative costs at the state level, according to the fiscal estimate, which was completed on March 21. The overal financial impact is listed as "indeterminate."

Mason introduced the proposal on March 4. Mason, D-Racine, is the former lobbyist political director for the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, a union that represents technical college teachers.

Property transfers, March 17-20

Click here if you can't see the table below.

March 31, 2008

Sponsors needed for high school talent show

If anyone is looking for examples of youth making a difference in our community, looking no further than the Film Seeds program. Organizers Nicholas Ravnikar and his kids are doing some amazing work. Here's another example:
YESSS Presents … “Rayscene from the Streets”

Local youth have spent the past six months organizing a day-long event that will feature the artistic talents of high school students in Racine Unified School District. The youth are hoping to bring in a large audience to this event that will be held on June 7th. Prizes will be awarded to the best talent in each category.

Talented teens who want to compete can pick up an application and reserve an audition slot in the main office of their school starting March 31.

Because the event is being put on as an incentive for students to avoid truancy, performers cannot have any unexcused absences during the 4th quarter, which begins April 7. In addition, the event will promote literacy, public speaking skills, organizational skills, and the opportunity to bring youth from all backgrounds together.

The planning committee that originally comprised of five youth quickly grew to around 20, who broke down into sub-committees to handle various tasks, such as fundraising, promotions, and the day of the event, to get this event up and running.

They hope to start planning for this event much earlier next year so it can become even bigger and better. It’s a great experience for the youth of Racine to do something positive for their community.

YESSS would like to thank their sponsors and partners, who include Racine County Truancy Committee, the Racine Arts Council and the City’s Weed ‘n’ Seed Program.

The youth who are spearheading this project would like to encourage any businesses who are interested in donating gift certificates for prizes to contact the prize committee’s chair Stephanie Howard at (262) 619-4615.

YESSS would also like for the youth to start thinking about joining our committee next year or participating in the talent show.

For more information, or to schedule and interview with YESSS staff and youth, contact program director Nicholas Ravnikar at (262) 909-2221 or by email at film.seed@gmail.com. He can also be reached at the Racine Arts Council (262) 635-0261 Monday through Friday from 2-5 p.m.

Two-mile challenge

Reader AD is in a Spring mood. She sent over this website in hopes of motivating readers to ride their bikes more as the weather gets warmer. Here's her message:
I thought this might be interesting to some of your readers. Maybe you'll find it to be post-worthy this Spring? It would be a nice way to get into an article on the bike paths in Racine County as well.

We'll work on a story about the bike paths. We're also looking forward to writing about the new environmental center in Racine, which will rent canoes for use on the Root River.

Wisconsin's income gap: We're falling behind U.S., region

This gloomy Monday brings another of those reports about Wisconsin's economy guaranteed to add to your malaise. (Like last week's report on the county's slow real estate value growth, Property values, the have's and the have not's.)

Today's report -- Measuring Success: Benchmarks for a Competitive Wisconsin -- grades the state (alas, no curve, no Gentleman's C) by comparing us to other states. Sit down before you read further, because the news isn't good.

-- For example: Wisconsin's per capita income is $34,476, compared to the national average of $36,629, a difference of 5.9% (and the largest gap since 1991). The comparison is worse when our incomes are matched against folks in Illinois ($38,297) and Minnesota ($38,751).

-- Not only do our jobs not pay as much, but we're not growing very many more of them. In 2006, the number of Wisconsin jobs increased 0.7%, down from a growth rte of 1.1% in 2004 and 1.2% in 2005. Wisconsin trails the national average of 1.8% job growth.

-- How about the growth in private businesses? The number of new private businesses in Wisconsin dropped 0.4% in 2006, while the number of businesses nationally grew 2.5%. All of Wisconsin’s neighbors had increases in 2006.

The study is released annually by Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), a nonpartisan consortium of state agriculture, business, education and labor leaders. Measuring Success grades Wisconsin on 33 areas of interstate competitiveness; compared to our performance in past years, 17 benchmarks changed this year: eight improvements and nine declines.

In October of 2007, CWI released its Competitive Mandate, for economic development in Wisconsin, which, the organization says, has the potential to grow Wisconsin's economy by $22 billion and generate $1.32 billion in new tax revenue each year, without a tax increase. “The goal of the CWI Competitive Mandate is to raise Wisconsin’s per capita income to the level of Minnesota’s – an increase of $4,275 per year to $38,751,” said Bill McCoshen, former Wisconsin Commerce Secretary and executive director of Competitive Wisconsin.

You can read the Mandate HERE, and decide for yourself whether this pro-business agenda is good or bad. For now, here are more of the state's grades from Benchmarks for a Competitive Wisconsin 2007.

--Despite our lower per capita income, a state-by-state comparison of the cost of living shows Wisconsin was 3.1% above the national median. Since 1985, our cost of living fluctuated between 1.9% and 4.0% above the median state.

--Wisconsin’s median household income ($51,692) rose above the national average ($48,201), recovering from the 2005 drop. Since 2001, median household income in Wisconsin has risen 14.0%, nearly twice as fast as household income in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.

--We've heard a lot about Wisconsinites without health insurance. Well, it could be worse: Wisconsin’s uninsured rate (8.8%) declined for the third consecutive year and was the lowest since 2001 (7.3%). The state’s rate remained well below the U.S. average (15.8%) and was lowest in the region; Illinois has 14% uninsured.

--Violent crime rose in 2005 and 2006; at 284 crimes per 100,000 residents, the state's 2006 violent crime was a new high (after seven years of declines). Still, much of that is in Milwaukee, and the state as a whole is far below the national average of 474 per 100,000. And Illinois (542) and Michigan (562) are worse.

Health is a mixed bag: Below-birth-weight babies declined slightly, to 6.9% in 2006, below the national average (8.3%), Illinois (8.6%) and Michigan (8.3%). Fewer of us smoke -- 20.8% in 2006, compared to 24.1% in 2000; but more of us are obese: 26.6%, compared to 20.1% in 2000.

One more: return on federal dollars, a statistic at least partially dependent upon our Washington delegation's stand on earmarks. The state's return on federal tax dollars rose in 2005, reaching 86 cents per dollar paid in federal taxes. The state ranked above Illinois (75¢) and Minnesota (72¢), but has dropped 4.4% in the past five years.

You can
download the full 53-page report HERE.

Strapped: Unified not alone in broken system

Racine Unified is hoping to pass a $16.5 million referendum Tuesday that would add $3.3 million to the district's maintenance budget over the next five years. (Here's a list of how the money would be spent.)

Working on a freelance story for another publication, I researched the other 62 school referendums on the ballot in Wisconsin Tuesday. That's right, there are 62 of them.

Of the 48 school districts holding referendums (some have more than one question), 33 are seeking money for maintenance funds or operating expenses. That's nearly 8 percent of all districts in the state.

Talking with several superintendents today, they all said the state's revenue caps have stripped away everything they can cut. I don't know if that's true or not. One superintendent said they'll cut consumer education and agriculture programs (it was a rural district), and extracurriculars if the vote fails. Another they hadn't even contemplated a no vote, because they didn't want to look like they were blackmailing voters.

What's interesting about these districts is tomorrow is their first referendums in at least 20 years (probably longer, but no one could say for sure). These are small districts in conservative areas that cut their budgets and held spending tight as long as they could. They drew down their fund balances, deferred maintenance, left positions dark and generally cut every corner they could find. Now, with no where else to go, they're asking voters for help.

By comparison, Unified has gone to voters a few more times. By the J-S's count, Unified asked voters to exceed revenue caps 16 times since 1993. Voters have approved nine of the referendums for a total of $59 million, according to the Milwaukee paper.

Tomorrow will be No. 17. Much has been made about Unified's poor leadership in recent years. I agree with this - to a degree. Hicks and company clearly couldn't make things work here. His plans may have been brilliant, but he couldn't get teachers to buy into them, couldn't get students to respond to them, and couldn't get the community to rally around them. So it goes for a school administrator.

Hicks' decision (and the School Board's) to outsource Unified's finances wasn't a great idea. But in reality, it didn't affect the bottom line. I know, I know ... they paid the incentive fees and had to buy out the contracts. But Alioto and PBCG did save Unified money. So, it's basically a push and now we can get back to bringing things in house and leaving consultants in the past (hopefully).

No, in reality there are underlying pressures that will make any superintendent look bad. The state revenue formula boosts the revenue cap 2.5 percent a year, while expenses are increasing at 3 percent or more. Cut a half-percent or more out of your budget every year since 1993, and things are going to get interesting, to say the least. Declining enrollment compounds the problem (it's the reason Kenosha is building new schools while Racine hopes to fix the steps on 100-year-old buildings) because school districts are paid per student. Fewer students, less cash.

The alternative to a systemic problem is that Unified has had an incredible string of poor administrators and School Board members dating back 15 years. The same goes for the 33 School Districts going to referendum today, plus the dozens of others who will go next year or had gone in the years past.

Nope, the reality is public schools are borrowing the Annual Meeting concept from town governments. In that system, voters from a town can show up at a meeting once a year and pass anything they want. They can double the budget or cut it in half - majority rules. Those meetings have left more than a few elected officials unhinged, but so goes democracy (remember Churchill's quote: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.").

Good or bad management, rich or poor school district, the Wisconsin system is going to force schools to place questions on the ballot every year going forward. Some will pass, some will fail (Unified has a 56% passing rate - not bad for baseball, but hardly a passing grade) and everyone will have an opinion.

That's all OK, but realize the impossible position school officials and voters are in. The numbers will not work out. There is no fix. We're all frustrated. And yet, every day children are educated. In a few months, thousands of young adults will graduate. Many will go to college, earn degrees, study some more and get their master's and doctorates. Others will join the Armed Services and serve our country, or get jobs, work hard and raise families.

Racine Unified is a good school district. I know, it sounds absurd. We're told over and over that we live in the worst city in the state with the worst schools and the worst problems. But it's not the truth. Why do we do this to ourselves? To others? Why the cynicism?

I think it's the frustration. The system is broke, we all want it fixed, and we don't have the first idea on what to do. Some people yell and criticize, others detach and ignore. Then, in the middle, you find people who do what they can. These are the people who bring me hope. They're the ones who really care. They're the ones who make a difference.

McKeown named Young Professional of the Year

At 16 years old, Jeff McKeown was a high school dropout in the small central Illinois town of Monmouth, located about an hour south of the Quad Cities. McKeown was the middle son of two alcoholic parents, spending most of his childhood on welfare. With no real parental guidance, he simply stopped going to high school for about a year.

That was then and this is now. Today, McKeown is the owner of Racine’s Express Personnel Services, a temporary employment agency with 10 full-time employees that puts more than 275 employees to work at 80 companies in Racine every day. For the past two years, his company has been among the top six fastest growing franchises amongst the more than 600 agencies nationwide.

On April 8, at RAMAC’s Annual Awards Dinner, McKeown’s transformation from high-school dropout to successful business owner takes another step forward as he will be named Racine’s Young Professional of the Year. The award is given out by Young Professionals of Racine.

“I have been active in the community and work to make Racine a better place to live and work,” he said. “I have been fortunate to be in positions that are visible and that get public attention.”

McKeown is a past president of YPR. He is also a graduate of Leadership Racine and Rapport Leadership International. McKeown is also a board member of the Racine Founders Rotary Club and Racine County Economic Development Corporation. He and his wife, Meredith, have two daughters, Reagan, 6, and Georgia, 2.

As a teenager, he returned to school after a one-year hiatus, largely because of one influential teacher named Brian Cirks. “He taught me many lessons, but the most important was that it does not matter where you come from or your circumstances. Everyone has the potential to be successful,” McKeown said. “I always strive to invest in others the way that he invested in me.”

McKeown recently hired a general manager for Express to handle the day-to-day business. He’s in the process of opening a second office in Kenosha and hopes to open additional locations.

YPR Program Director Dana Grueter said McKeown befriends everyone he meets and truly fits YPR’s motto of Connect, Grow, Succeed, Have Fun. McKeown credits much of his success to his wife, a teacher in the New Berlin school district.

“Many times it feels like work and volunteering take a more prominent role than they should,” he said. “I am very lucky because Meredith and I have similar goals and beliefs about what we are doing. She picks up slack and that allows me to focus time and energy on helping others.”

McKeown was selected as the winner from three finalists, including Melinda Wilke, managing director of Northwestern Mutual in Racine, and Chris Terry, a contract salesman with Carpetland USA Flooring Center.

McKeown joins Doug Nicholson (Ivanhoe Pub & Eatery), Anne Stillman (CNH), Jay Christie (Racine Zoological Society) and John Busey (Robert W. Baird) as previous winners of the Young Professional of the Year Award.

Racine Reads: The Camel Bookmobile

Racine Reads' ninth selection will be The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton.

Racine Reads is a community-wide reading project in which residents are encouraged to read the same book at the same time. The project seeks to promote reading and dialog among the people of Racine County.

Masha Hamilton's main character leaves a good job in the city to move to Africa and take books to a nomadic people. Instead of a bookmobile, the Camel Library Service in Kenya loads camels with books. The people must return all the books they borrowed before they are allowed to take out more books. It's a wonderful look at how literature enhances and impacts the lives of the Kenyan people.

The book was selected because of its emphasis on library outreach: taking library services into the community. In 2008, the Racine Public Library celebrates the 60th anniversary of its mobile library services.

The following Racine Reads events will take place in April and May:

• Book Discussion at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St., on Tuesday, April 15, at 2 p.m., led by Muggs Mueller. Call the library at 262.636.9217 for more information.

• "The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back: Transitioning to New Careers," at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh Street, on Monday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. led by Michelle Nevarez-Larkin of the Workforce Development Center. Call Michelle at 262.638.6428 for more information.

• Book Discussion and Book Drive for the Camel Library Service in Kenya at the Rochester Public Library, 208 W. Spring St. in Rochester, on Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. The Racine Reads Camel will be accepting donations of new or gently used books for the Camel Library Service in Kenya. Call 262.534.3533 for more information.

• Afternoon Delight book discussion at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 2710 S. Green Bay Rd., on Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 1pm. Call 262.598.9757 for more information.

• Author Masha Hamilton will speak and sign books at the Racine Public Library on Saturday, May 31, at 2 p.m. The Racine Reads Camel will be accepting donations of new or gently used books for the Camel Library Service in Kenya. The Mobile Library will be parked outside the library with an exhibit of Sixty Years of Mobile Service, and will be offering tours. Call 262.636.9217 for more information.

Artists Gallery to feature work of Benjamin Jerry

The Artists Gallery show for April 2008 features guest artist Ben Jerry in an exhibit of current work.

Benjamin Jerry was born and raised in Racine. He graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a BFA and received a Masters degree from Carthage College. He teaches art at Bose and Somers Elementary Schools in Kenosha.

Ben Jerry’s paintings often cover personal subjects and narratives and are painted in layers. The artist feels that the layers in his paintings represent the different realities that can be present at the same time, but not always perceived at the same time. He uses just about medium that can be applied to a surface, but primarily, acrylics and oil.

The exhibition reception will be held on Friday, April 4, from 5 to 9 p.m. The public is invited. This show runs through Sunday, April 27. The public is reminded that, although construction has closed 6th Street to traffic, the Artists Gallery is open and accessible.

The Artists Gallery is located at 312 Sixth St. This year, the Artists Gallery celebrates 10 years in business as Racine’s only artist-owned gallery, with 35 local and regional member and supporting artists. Business hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday and special hours are available by appointment. For more information, call 262-635-9332 or go to www.ag-racine.org

March 30, 2008

Democrats honor three; 'November is our turn'

Diane Lange receives Phyllis Dresen Spirit of Democracy Award
from Doug Dresen, and Phyllis' granddaughter

Racine County's Democratic Party held its annual banquet Sunday night, honoring three long-time members and declaring, in the words of keynote speaker Rep. Cory Mason, "November is our turn."

The dinner was a combination pep rally, campaign meeting and celebration, as some 200 Democrats heard brief speeches from a number of candidates while honoring County Board Supervisor Diane Lange with the first annual Phyllis Dresen Sprit of Democracy Award, for making a positive impact supporting democratic principles; Michael Corona with the James Arena Award for long and continuing contributions to the county party; and Judy Van Koningsveld with the Democrat of the Year Award for Party-building activities during the past year.

Some of those who spoke included:

Ken Lumpkin, county board supervisor also running for city council, noted: "It's exciting having two sharp candidates on the ticket, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama."

Lisa Neubauer, running for a full term on the Appeals Court to which Gov. Jim Doyle appointed her in December, noted that hers has turned into "the most overtly political race," especially unfortunate since judges are non-partisan. "What people are looking for," she said "is someone who is hard-working, competent and has integrity.'

Doug Dresen, who with his son, Scott, and two granddaughters, honored Diane Lange with an award named after his late wife, pointed out "how pleased she'd be" to see the award go to "such a force for positive activism, someone who does what's right even when the cause is unpopular."

For her part, Lange noted, "a woman is like a teabag; she never knows how strong she'll be until she's in hot water." She said, "Politics is serious work; it matters, it affects the whole world... and the world is ready to welcome us back."

Racine Mayor Gary Becker said, "Lord knows, this country needs the Democrats to take control."

Paulette Garin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, said "every issue can be tied to the economy...we need fair trade over free trade." She also noted, "we are so past due in creating universal health care."

One of her opponents, Marge Krupp, said, "We have a real chance at taking this seat back. Tax breaks for big oil does not work to create jobs here."

Rep. Bob Turner agreed with both of them, hoping "we can remove that old rubber stamp Ryan from Congress." Turner also pointed out that the state is just a few votes shy of having a Democratic-controlled Assembly, "and it's a big difference being part of the majority. We need it to bring the bacon home." He noted that the Assembly has spent $24 million so far this session, but met only 23 days -- far fewer than in previous years.

Mason, a freshman legislator with just 15 months in the Assembly, said "a freshman legislator in the minority party is humbled pretty quickly." The situation is "unreal," he said, noting hours of debate for such no-brainer questions as "should children under five who are deaf get hearing aids, or should autistic kids get health insurance?"

"These are the things we spend our time on; universal health care? Not so much."

But "the long political winter of our discontent" is nearly over, he said hopefully. "We say this every two years, that 'this is the most important election ever.' But this year it's true."

Ray DeHahn gives Michael Corona the James Arena Award;
at right, his wife Carol

Democrat of the year Judy Van Koningsveld,
given her award by Brent Nance

Michael Shields, Jeff and Lisa Neubauer, Bob Turner