April 2, 2010

State Senate's top Republican stops in Racine, campaigns for Wanggaard

Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, stopped through Racine on Thursday. He and local Republican Senate candidate Van Wanggaard ate lunch at Gus's Gyros on Douglas Avenue and talked with people in the restaurant.

A reader sent in a recap and photo:
Most of the questions from the room revolved around KRM/RTA and the high levels of unemployment in Racine. Wanggaard and Fitzgerald said government restrictions and regulations are hindering the growth of small businesses and the production of new jobs that are needed in Wisconsin.
People eating were tradesmen, doctors, small business owners, retirees, and lawyers.
When asked what brought him to Racine, Fitzgerald played to the crowd. "I came for one of Gus's Gyros," he said.
Wanggaard is running against incumbent Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, this fall.

City: Tousis' West Racine development may not be worth enough

After a period of relative calm, it appears the city and Tom Tousis are headed for a clash over a proposal to build a grocery store, gas station and restaurant at the corner of West Boulevard and Washington Avenue.

The Redevelopment Authority, which has already approved giving Tousis an option to buy the land, now may reconsider its decision after questions about the project's total assessment were raised.

City Development Director Brian O'Connell issued a memo Thursday saying Tousis' project will have an assessed value of $2.8 million, which is well below the $5 million assessed value the city was hoping for the site. The city needs a $5 million development on the corner to pay off loans it took out to demolish old buildings and create space for redevelopment.

O'Connell's memo was based on a review by City Assessor Ray Anderson. Here's O'Connell's memo:

The request of Tom Tousis for an extension of the deadlines in his option agreement is on the agenda for your meeting on April 7, 2010.

In the time that elapsed between receiving the request from Mr. Tousis and your meeting, Mr. Tousis submitted his development for design review. The application for design review stated that the cost to construct the development is estimated to be $2.8 million. Later reports in the media stated the cost to construct the development would be $4.2 million. The projected value of the development is relevant because the tax incremental district for West Racine (TID-11) anticipates that the property on the south side of Washington Avenue will have an assessed value of $5.0 million after redevelopment.

Because construction cost differs from assessed value, I asked the City Assessor, Ray Anderson, to estimate the assessed value of the proposed development. Mr. Anderson considered all the parts of the proposed redevelopment shown on Mr. Tousis’ plans, including the gasoline pumps and canopy. Mr. Anderson estimates that the assessed value would be $2.8 million.
A copy of Mr. Anderson’s memorandum is attached to this e-mail. I have also attached copies of Mr. Tousis’ plans.

I provide this information in the interest of having a more informed discussion at Wednesday’s meeting. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.
Zak Williams, a spokesman for the Tousis project, said O'Connell's memo fails to note that there is additional property in TID-11 on the north side of Washington Avenue, which is the former Piggly Wiggly building. Land on the north side makes up 60 percent of the TID.

The assessed value of Tousis' project would cover its share of the TID, Williams said.

The RDA has twice put off votes on Tousis' extension of deadlines due to a lack of quorum at its last two meetings. Now, based on O'Connell's memo, it appears the RDA may not only reconsider the extension, it may reconsider the project all together.

With no other projects in line to build on the site, the RDA is faced with the decision of going with an less-than-desirable assessment and paying off some of the debt, or scrapping the development and hoping a $5 million project comes along.

Williams is pessimistic any one else is interested in the site.

"If this doesn't go through, no one will build on this site for at least five years," he said. "Then the TID will be upside down, and development will never pay off the loan."

Update: Ryan Rudie, Tousis' architect on the West Racine project, fired off an email to the city development department and several city officials saying the project should be valued at $4.2 million - closer to the desired $5 million level. Here's Rudie's letter:

Dear Mr. O'Connell,

I sure hope this is the last time I have to repeat this to you or Mr. Sadowski or anybody in your department, but the application form was filled out incorrectly by me and did not take into consideration the cost of the gas pumps, gas pump canopy, gas storage tanks, and building fixtures such as refrigerated grocery cases, grocery shelving, walk-in coolers, and walk-in freezers. All of these are items that would be purchased and installed by the Owner or another entity employed by the Owner and were not part of my Architectural plan and thus were not included in my original building estimate when I filled out the form. All of these items are necessary costs of development and therefore should be included in the overall budget which is $4.2 million.

Your email stated that you "provide this information in the interst of having a more informed discussion at Wednesday's meeting". Not only are you informing everybody incorrectly, it seems to me you are trying to muddy the waters and create obstacles for this development.

I hope once and for all we can put this issue to bed___!

Ryan M. Rudie, AIA
Butterfield, Rudie & Seitz Architects, Inc. 
920 Goold Street

April 1, 2010

CATI's Wagner in Washington: Giving, Getting Insight

By Dave Buchanan, UW-Parkside

When Matt Wagner (left) went to Washington in March, he was looking for a little give and take. Representing the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Wagner was in the capital as an invited guest at a forum sponsored by the White House Council for Auto Communities. Wagner was asked to provide insight into “on the ground” issues and challenges of helping entrepreneurs, companies, and workers create new economic and employment opportunities.

Wagner offered what he called “a view from the trenches” of entrepreneurship.

“Remember, these are Washington folks, they don’t see what’s happening in the trenches as much,” Wagner said. “My focus was on the Parkside SBDC and what we’ve been doing with our partners relative to workforce development and entrepreneurship.”

A program of UW-Parkside’s School of Business and Technology, the SBDC offers entrepreneurs and existing southeastern Wisconsin businesses education, training, and one-on-one counseling. It also connects businesses to faculty, students, and other university resources.

Wagner said he’s seen a doubling in the number of people taking his entrepreneur classes in the last few months as the economy struggles to rebound and unemployment remains high. One of the problems he pointed out to government officials while in Washington—what he called “a headache” for entrepreneurs—is income generation for a start-up company.

“When you are on unemployment and you launch a business, if you start to generate income, you start to lose your unemployment [benefits]. When in reality, you’re still not able to ‘pay yourself’ a salary once all of your expenses are accounted for each month. So, there are some policy implications of more unemployed going into entrepreneurship,” Wagner said.

While giving Washington officials a dose of entrepreneurial reality, Wagner also did some taking. Top on his “to-do” list was taking a peek into the capital’s crystal ball.

“The thing I took away was some insight on what’s coming down the pike,” he said. “Anytime we can get a jump on what new initiatives might be coming out of D.C.; things we can work on with our political leaders, here at UW-Parkside, and also with our economic development partners, we stand a better chance at putting proposals together that might bring funding here.”

Through some dedicated networking, Wagner got a better understanding of who at the federal level is making policy decisions that affect our region. And, indeed, he came home with a list of potential budget initiatives that may be useful in the future.

So, for Wagner, the trip to Washington was successful … thanks to a little give and take.

RUSD reinvestment meeting, candidates on Cable Channel 20

Two Racine Unified School Board meetings are on Cable TV.

1. Monday's Racine Unified Board of Education meeting that included a presentation of the District’s Reinvestment Plan is now on RUSD Channel 20, on Time Warner Cable. The video is shown at 4:30 p.m. daily.

The School Board reviewed a plan that includes the construction of three new elementary schools and additions/improvements to five existing elementary buildings. The plan would also improve building access for people with disabilities and provide operating funds to maintain staff levels. The total price tag would range from $58 million to $73.1 million for the construction and $7.5 million for annual operating costs.

The board is seeking public input, and may schedule a fall referendum in June.

2. The RUSD candidate forum of March 25 is on Channel 20 at 5 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. daily.

The four candidates on the Tuesday, April 6 election ballot answered questions from media representatives and took questions from the audience during the two-hour event at the Golden Rondelle.

Candidates are: challenger Fran Eulingbourgh, and incumbents Julie McKenna, Susan Kutz and Bill Van Atta.

$87,665 spent on Circuit Court race ... so far

The race for a judicial seat on Racine's Circuit Court bench is a costly one.

Finance reports filed on March 31 by the two candidates -- Georgia Herrera and Eugene Gasiorkiewicz -- show the two campaigns are neck-and-neck, with the total nearing $100,000, and almost certain to go over that figure by the April 6 election..
Herrera reports spending $39,277.
Gasiorkiewicz reports spending $48,388.
Herrera reports campaign contributions of $42,620, which includes $32,000 in loans she has made to her own campaign.

Gasiorkiewicz reports campaign contributions of $41,019, which includes loans totalling $31,720 from himself to his campaign.

Herrera's $10,620 in contributions from others includes three of $500; one of those came from Helen Johnson-Leipold, of SC Johnson.

Gasiorkiewicz's $8,720 in contributions includes six of $500.

Both candidates received a $500 contribution from Dennis Anderson of Franksville, who is listed as a physician at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.

Where has all the campaign spending gone so far? Advertising spending at the Journal Times by Herrera  totalled $14,063. She also spent $941 at Southern Lakes Newspaper in Burlington, $4,455 on Time-Warner cable advertising, and $3,553 at Watts Communications, Waukesha, on media/TV.

Gasiorkiewicz spent $12,978 at the Journal Times, plus $1,777 at Southern Lakes Newspaper in Burlington. The bulk of his spending, $25,737, has gone to The Shop Consulting of Madison, for advice, media and TV, and mailings.

The candidates' complete finance reports are available online, on the Wisconsin Campaign Finance  Information system website. Plug in "Circuit Court" under Office, and "Racine County" under District/County.

Assembly committee passes RTA for Racine, southeastern Wisconsin

An Assembly committee just passed a regional transit authority for southeastern Wisconsin. The proposal passed on a 8-2 vote and now heads to the Joint Committee on Finance for a public hearing and then to the full Assembly for approval. If it passes, the proposal will move to the Senate, where just a few weeks ago its prospects were dim.

The state needs to pass an RTA for southeastern Wisconsin in order to extend commuter rail from Kenosha to Milwaukee. The federal government could award up to $250 million to create the KRM rail line, but the application will require a strong public transit component to get approved.

Here's the J-S story on the vote. And, the Daily Reporter interviews Robin Vos, who isn't happy.

More as reports come in ...

Transit Now, the organization lobbying for KRM and the RTA, is happy about the committee vote, which included support from one Republican.

Here's one blogger's preview story of the Assembly committee's vote.

March 31, 2010

Racine students, organizer play key role in Saturday's Clean Energy Forum

Creating a clean, sustainable source of energy in the United States may be a huge national issue, but Rachel Pettit sees the roots for meaningful change in Racine.

"If certain things can work in Racine and Wisconsin, they'll work well nationwide," she said.

That's the message Pettit and others will bring to the Clean Energy Forum in South Milwaukee this Saturday. The forum is designed to bring attention to the environmental and economic benefits of developing renewable energy.

Pettit, 17, is the youth representative to the panel. She's a senior at Walden III High School and one of the "Green School" students who helped bring solar panels to the school. She's a strong advocate for generating energy using locally available resources, like wind or the sun, as opposed to coal or natural gas. "We shouldn't have to rely on other countries for power," Pettit said.

Change can start locally, she said. Racine is a microcosm of the entire country; if change can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And from Pettit's persective, it's youths who will make it happen.

"Youth has a really strong voice in this," she said. "We'll be living with the decisions made now 50 years from now."

"The youth are really leading this movement," Pettit added.

Young leaders from Wisconsin are hosting the Clean Energy Forum as part of a national campaign organized by the nonprofit Focus the Nation.

Saturday's forum will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the American Legion Post in South Milwaukee. (Click for map.)

The forum is designed to present a different perspective than the typical conversations surrounding climate change. Participants will discuss the benefits of successful clean energy policy for Wisconsin and the nation, as well as explain the intricacies of building a clean energy infrastructure and new clean energy economy.

“Wisconsin has been leading the way in energy efficiency, and what we want people to understand is how Wisconsin can be a national and world leader in efficiency and clean economy manufacturing,” said Jamie Racine of Racine, the event organizer and a recent Will Steger Foundation youth delegate to the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.

Racine described the forum as an opportunity to explore the many ways communities can benefit from aggressively pursuing clean energy. Along with helping the environment, it will create jobs, improve national security and help control the surge in asthma, cancer and other diseases in people who live near coal plants. Bringing all of these perspectives together helps open discourse, which leads to meaningful action.

"It's not one side or the other side," Racine said. "It's more of an octagon."

States like Texas and California has already demonstrated that building clean energy resources immediately creates jobs and helps local economies, Racine said. Alternatives, like nuclear plants, take at least a decade to get up and running and come with a host of environmental issues, like where to dispose waste.

Solar, wind, geothermal and other energy sources don't have the same problems, she said. Wisconsin could tap all three, including solar. Germany is one of the top solar-powered countries in the world, and its actually located further north than Racine.

"The time to hesitation is through," Racine said, borrowing a line from Jim Morrison.

The Clean Energy Forum will host a diverse panel of experts and policy makers including war veteran, Robin Eckstein, with The Truman National Security Project, and Amy Hart of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Racine has also invited Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to speak on the panel.

The event in South Milwaukee is part of a national effort by Focus the Nation. Off the heels of a tumultuous health care fight, young leaders across the country are working to help leaders in Washington realize green energy can boost the struggling economy, especially in declining manufacturing cities like Racine.

“After observing the incredibly disrespectful tactics of older tea party organizers in the recent health care debate, I am proud to see that our generation of young people is demanding change differently,” said Garett Brennan, executive director of Focus the Nation. “In spite of our defeats in Copenhagen and the slow moving Senate, we are forging even stronger composure and focus on the towns we want to build and the way we power them. Our teams are educating communities about what clean energy jobs look like, how energy works, and engaging people in what we see as another historic legislative moment.”

Other forums scheduled around the country include:

April 3
Lewiston, Maine; Jonesboro, Ark.; South Milwaukee, Wis.

April 8
Fargo, N.D.

April 10
East Lansing, Mich; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Minneapolis, Minn; Chicago, Ill; and Bloomington, Ind.
After each forum, organizers will sign a Declaration of Energy Independence and personally deliver them to Senate offices with the help of RePower America, 1Sky and Consequence09. Focus the Nation will continue to work with teams after the events on identified priorities that surface in the panel discussions.

A full map and list of events is available at: http://focuslocal.focusthenation.org/en/index/event/page/1/.

Race the major issue during Mayor Dickert's first 'Community Conversation' (with video)

About 60 people attended Mayor John Dickert's first "Community Conversation" Wednesday night at the Tyler-Domer Community Center.

Dickert seemed a little disappointed in the turnout, saying at one point that he'd hoped to attract between 200 and 300 people. The crowd was largely filled with familiar faces in the city's political scene. Several city officials, aldermen and community organization representatives were in attendance.

Circuit Court Judge candidate Georgia Herrera was there and received a nice acknowledgement from a Hispanic member of the audience. Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw also attended the meeting. Neither Herrera or Shaw spoke publicly.

The 90-minute meeting included several displays by community organizations, a presentation by Dickert and then questions from the audience. The mayor initially took submitted questions, which included questions about city spending, the city's community center and extending I-794 into Racine County.

Dickert used the questions to talk broadly about how the city evaluates programs and its spending decisions and the need for the community to work together to solve problems.

"We're either going to get better or continue on the path we're on, which, in my opinion, is unacceptable," Dickert said.

On the 794 question, Dickert said he favored a regional transit system over continually expanding roads the bypass the city. He noted right now there's no public transportation to get city residents to 200 jobs Bucyrus is adding in Oak Creek. Meanwhile, the state is spending a billion dollars to add lanes to I-94, which will have little impact on creating jobs in Racine.

The forum turned a little confrontational when the mayor opened up the floor to questions. Five speakers addressed Dickert on race. Three people said the city needs to do a better job of listening to and working with minorities.

Alphonso Gardner brought the most pointed attack against the mayor, saying the city wanted to give land away to a white business owner with a criminal record, but refused to allow an African-American businessman with no criminal record the opportunity to buy land to develop.

Gardner's accusations involve Jeremy Bloom, the owner of Treasures Media, and Brent Oglesby, who wanted to build a mixed-use development on State Street near the proposed KRM commuter rail station.

Dickert responded with a strong defense of Bloom, saying he had atoned for the mistakes in his past. The mayor noted Bloom hires ex-criminals to work at his growing business, and that the only reason he couldn't build a new plant in the Southside Industrial Park is because he expanded too quickly.

Oglesby, meanwhile, wanted to buy land near the transit station that wasn't for sale, Dickert said.

Jameel Ghuari, who is running for the City Council, followed up Gardner's question by asking about city claims there was a moratorium on the property. Dickert said four other developers had asked to buy the land, and the city told them no.

Maria Morales asked the mayor to create a safe place for local Hispanics to approach Racine police when they're in trouble. The mayor said it was a good idea.

Dickert will hold a similar meeting from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at the MLK Community Center.

Here's some video from the forum:

Guitar Maker: Racine's Nate Mortensen creates instruments by hand

Nate Mortensen stands at a workbench in the basement of his apartment building surrounded by curled, yellow wood shavings he chiseled away from the arch top of a guitar body he's crafted over the past three months. The apartment building's elevator whirs to life in the background.

His hand runs a Stewart-MacDonald tool, made just for sculpting guitars, over the aspen surface. Each turn, just millimeters thick, brings the instrument closer to life. It's taken Mortensen three months to reach this point on the guitar, and it'll take him three more months to finish. When done, if lucky, he'll sell the guitar for enough money to buy materials to build his next guitar. Basements, elevators and meticulous, patient work with little reward. It's the glamorous life of an artist in training - a life Mortensen is fully committed to. 

"You're building something that outlives you. It's a family treasure," he said. "Everything around us loses value. This is something that won't depreciate in value. It won't disappear."

By trade, Mortensen is known as a luthier, which comes from the French word for "lute." Luthiers build plucked and bowed stringed interests like guitars, basses, banjos, violins and fiddles. While most new guitars sold are manufactured by large companies using automated machines, there's a niche for craftsmen and women who can build and repair guitars.

Mortensen, 27, builds his guitars on Thursdays and in the spare time he gets on weekends. Otherwise he  works during the week, usually serving coffee at Dunn Bros. on Main Street. His "dream job" is to make instruments full time, but that takes putting in thousands of hours to learn the craft, develop a reputation and build up their own confidence to take on more complicated jobs.

"I don't want to rush it," Mortensen said. "I wouldn't want to do anything before I'm ready."

Mortensen invited me to his makeshift studio at the Mitchell Wagon Lofts in Racine to see firsthand how he crafts his stringed instruments using little more than a block of wood and specialized hand tools. On the guitar he's building now, the only pieces he bought were the tuning keys used to tighten and loosen strings. The neck has an inlaid padauk, a red wood from Africa, and the body was shaped using tools Mortensen built himself. One tool is a guitar body mold cut out of several pieces of plywood and the other is a pipe that's heated to a high temperature and used to bend wood soaked in water. 

Each step requires an intricate attention to detail, Mortensen said. It can be a painful process. A broken guitar body was hanging on the wall of his studio. It took him several weeks to build the body, only to realize it was warped and unusable. 

"There' a lot of disappointment and frustration," Mortensen said, "but when it works it's such a joy."

During my visit, Mortensen shared two finished instruments, one a guitar and the other a gourd instrument. Taking a break from his work, Mortensen plays impromptu jams on both instruments. Along with building guitars, he's learning to play and has had a couple of local gigs. Playing the instrument is an important part of building them, Mortensen said. 

"You have to have a knowledge of how to play so you know where to go with the instrument," he said. 

Working full time to pay the bills, Mortensen gets a day or two a week to build guitars. Despite the slow pace, he's had success in finishing instruments. He has two for himself, has given away a few instruments and has another three on display at Gary's Music at 312 Sixth St. in Racine.

He got into guitar making as an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Mortensen, a Racine native, said he was interested in sculpture, but knew early on he wanted to create art that had a function. One day, he walked into a guitar shop and met the owner, who was a luthier. Mortensen worked as an apprentice with the owner and learned basics of the trade while finishing his degree.

After college, Mortensen and girlfriend, Maria Swandby, who is also an artist, moved to Racine in 2008 to live at the Mitchell Wagon Lofts, which includes space and equipment for artists. Mortensen's basement studio is actually a collective space used by painters, ceramics artists, woodworkers and others. ]

"This building is the reason we moved back to Racine," he said. "I didn't plan on moving back here."

The move has worked well. Mortensen and Swandby are part of a small, but active, arts community at the Mitchell Wagon Lofts that puts on shows and supports each other's work. For Mortensen, the workspace in the building's basement gives him plenty of room to work. 

He has ambitious plans. After he finishes the archtop guitar he may try a bass guitar. Mortensen said he'd also like to experiment with some exotic woods to come up with some unique sounds. As word gets out about his art work, Mortensen said some people have asked if he'd give lessons on building guitars. He's also done some repair work, which could be a future source of income. 

For now, you can see Mortensen's work at Gary's Music during Downtown Racine's "First Friday" event this Friday from 6-9 p.m.

Congressman Paul Ryan is a workout warrior

Rep. Paul Ryan did an on-camera interview with Politico recently that included an in-depth look at our Congressman's daily fitness routine. Ryan does a workout call "P90X," which Ryan describes as "muscle confusion and cross training." Among his exercies: pull-ups, sit-ups, push ups, cardio, karate, yoga and jump training.

Ryan says in the video he was a fitness trainer after he got out of college, and this exercise routine helps break through the "plateau" of doing the same exercises every day. Ryan also reveals he's 6-foot-2 and 163 pounds, and he wears a heart monitor while working out.

Here's the two-minute video:

March 30, 2010

VIDEO: Reinvesting in Racine Unified presentation

Welcome to the RacinePost Video Experience. After wrestling for the better part of a day with video formats, video editors and YouTube, we have three videos of Racine Unified's Monday night presentation on its plans to spend up to $80.6 million building new schools and maintaining current staffing levels.

There are three videos, each about 10 minutes long. The first talks about the building proposal, which includes building three new elementary schools. The second talks about the need for an operating referendum to maintain staffing levels once the federal stimulus money disappears. And the third talks about how the district would pay for the construction and operating proposals.

If you'd like a clearer, more complete broadcast of the forum, tune into Racine Unified's public access station later this week. They'll be airing the meeting in its entirety.

Update: The presentation of the District’s Reinvestment Plan is now on RUSD Channel 20 (Time Warner Cable.)  The meeting may be viewed at 4:30 p.m. daily.

The School Board, on Monday, March 29, reviewed a plan that includes the construction of three new elementary schools and additions/improvements to five existing elementary buildings.  The plan would also improve building access for people with disabilities and provide operating costs to maintain legally required staff levels. The total price tag would range from $58 million to $73.1 million for the construction and $7.5 million for annual operating costs.

The School Board is currently seeking public input to the plan and may determine in June whether to schedule a referendum in the fall.

Two Appeals Court judges endorse Herrera

Two of Wisconsin's Court of Appeals judges today endorsed Georgia Herrera in her race against Gene Gasiorkiewicz for the Circuit Court seat Stephen Simanek is vacating. (That leaves only 14 Appeals Court justices to be heard from, in this election contest that seems to focus on endorsements.) The election is April 6.

Judge Lisa Neubauer of Racine, who was appointed to the Appeals Court in 2007, District 2, which includes Racine County, said, in a press release:
 “I know Georgia.  She is the right person for this important job.  Her broad experience and good judgment are needed on the bench. Georgia has the experience and temperament to be an excellent judge.  As a prosecutor, court commissioner, and attorney in private practice, Georgia knows her way around all of the Racine County courtrooms.  She will be fair, firm and consistent, and will manage the court room effectively.  She will serve us well as Circuit Court judge.”
Judge Paul Higginbotham, a District 4 Appeals Court justice in Madison since 2003, said in a press release:
"I know Georgia Herrera well. She has great experience and judgment, and the highest ethical standards. I worked with Georgia in an early part of her career, when we were trying cases for Milwaukee’s Legal Aid Society. She tried many cases to the jury and excelled at it. She knows the court room well. I know she continued that work as a criminal prosecutor for Racine County, trying hundreds of cases and helping protect the public from crime. She opened her law practice, and then began her lengthy service as circuit court commissioner, preparing herself for the duties of circuit court judge. I know, as a former Dane County Circuit Court judge and now judge on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, that her work as court commissioner is an invaluable experience to help prepare a judge to serve at the Circuit Court. I strongly support Georgia Herrera’s candidacy for Judge, and urge all of Racine County to vote for her.” 
 For those keeping score, four Racine County Circuit Court judges endorsed Gasiorkiewicz on Monday; three endorsed Herrera last Thursday; and one more endorsed Gasiorkiewicz last Thursday. Three are yet to be heard from.

YouTube stars! Gifford Children's Choir get worldwide acclaim with Internet video

A local elementary school's choir is an Internet sensation.

The Gifford Children's Choir's performance of a song from a popular video game has spread around the world since it was posted on YouTube two days ago. The kids sing the song "Still Alive" by Jonathon Coulton from the credits of the game Portal.

Director Jon Senzig posted the video on his YouTube channel on Sunday. Since then, the video has attracted more than 186,000 293,000 views, more than 1,000 1,300 comments and dozens of blog posts around the world. People from Germany, Australia, Poland and India were among the viewers, and nearly 4,000 4,900 people labeled it a "favorite."

Senzig writes about the song and video post on his own blog here. Here's how he picked the song:
 I am a video game addict and fell off the wagon to play Portal.  My son kept telling me it was such an amazing game but I had to wait until I had 20 hours straight to play it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop.   Going to work with no sleep is no fun but I had to play it for “research” purposes. 
One of the reasons I chose this piece is because of the beautifully thin and pure quality the song calls for.  That is our usual tone color.
The Gifford Children's Choir is an all-volunteer choir that practices once a week for an hour and half before school. About 75 students between third and fifth graders are in the school's top choir, which performed "Still Alive" at Gifford Elementary on March 25. 

The choir sang the song in the dark and used flashlights to choreograph the show. Also, the soloist, a third-grader, wore a light-up dress designed by Gifford strings teacher Angela Janota-Peavler. Middle-schooler Hallie Senzig accompanied on bells, high-schooler Jeremy Peters played guitar and other adult volunteers contributed to the song. 

The Internet acclaim is the latest success for the choir, which, thanks to Senzig, has something of an international following. Senzig, with the support of the Dairy Statesman singing group, organized a competition last year to commission an original piece of music for the Gifford Children's Choir. Composers from around the world inquired about the contest, and entries were received from the U.S. and Brazil. 

A song by composer Harvey Sollberger was selected, and the choir debuted the composition at the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association's annual meeting in January. They were the only elementary school in the state to perform at the conference. 

Along with "Still Alive," which is a fairly simple choir piece, Senzig said his students perform high level compositions with three and four-part harmonies. At the school's concert last Thursday, where "Still Alive" was recorded, the choir performed three remarkably difficult pieces, Senzig said. 

"It was the hardest music I've ever done with kids," he said. "They really stretched for those performances." 

Local residents can get a chance to see the students perform "Still Alive" at UW-Parkside at 3:30 p.m. on May 2. The choir will also sing a song with the UW-Parkside choir and premiere a new piece by Alyssa Seversen of Eau Claire called “El Tiburron." Tickets for the show are $6 general admission, $4 for students, staff and seniors. For tickets, contact the Box Office at 595-2564 or email boxoffice@uwp.edu

All of the work done to organize and run the Gifford Children's Choir is volunteer, and the choir actually runs at a deficit to put on performances. Not even Senzig, who is a music teacher at the school, is paid to oversee the choir. 

Any contributions to help the Gifford Children's Choir are appreciated. If you are able to donate at this time, make checks out to Gifford School 8332 Northwestern Ave, Racine WI 53406 and turn them into me or the office with a note that it is a donation to “choir club.” Get a receipt and it should be tax deductible.

You can also donate to Senzig through PayPal at: jacksenzig@yahoo.com

Update: Here's a video of the original song, which appears over the credits for the game "Portal" ...

And just who owns that $100,000 home?

As I was writing up last night's story on Racine Unified's reinvestment presentation, one nagging thought came to mind: Just how many homeowners living within the school district own that $100,000 home on which taxes would rise $92 to $120 per year?

Keep in mind, we're not chastising Unified for using the $100,000 figure; every taxing body does when talking about bonding costs. Still... how relevant is it, except as a starting point?

I called Jim Ladwig, County Registrar of Deeds, who set me onto Patrick J. Harmann, manager of the Real Property Lister's Office. Pat sent me voluminous spreadsheets listing far more information than I needed, but it came down to this.  We divided the total assessed valuation of all residential property by the number of homes in each community to come up with an average figure. The value of undeveloped homesites slightly skews the resulting average home value figure, but it's the best we can do.

In any case, here's what the numbers show:

If I've calculated the math correctly, the average home within the school district is assessed at $168,695. (Total value of $7,576,936,310 divided by the number of homes: 44,915.)

Someone else had second thoughts about a set of numbers. Caledonia Unplugged took exception to David Hazen's bar chart comparing the  amount spent per student by Unified, before and after referenda costs are calculated, with other area districts and the state average. Nobody's questioning the actual figures, but Caledonia Unplugged says the graphic, taken from one of Dave Hazen's slides, "struck me as disingenuously intended to amplify this supposed difference."

Here's Hazen's bar chart, followed by one from Caledonia Unplugged. Clearly, depending on where you set the X axis  changes the graphic representation of the difference in spending among districts. Caledonia Unplugged set his at $0, thus minimizing the representation of the different spending levels. Hazen did the opposite.

Caledonia Unplugged sees this chart example as a "to what extent will they try to trick us" issue, and there's no question that he's right about the graphic representation being skewed. I tend to look at the numbers rather than the graphic depiction -- no matter how you draw it, Unified is still spending $798 less per student than the state average. And that's not a pretty picture, especially given our student population's needs. You decide. Not that the amount of money spent is the be-all, end-all answer...

March 29, 2010

Mayor Dickert's first 'Community Conversation' is Wednesday at Tyler-Domer Community Center

Mayor John Dickert will hold the first of two Community Conversations on Wednesday at the Tyler-Domer Community Center, 2301 12th St.

The second Community Conversation will take place the following week on April 8 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1134 Martin Luther King Drive.

The events are being held in an effort to build upon Racine’s greatest asset: its diversity. Both events are open to the public and will take place from 5:30-7 pm.

The purpose of the meetings will be to discuss issues facing the city and present information regarding programs and initiatives that address the minority and low income population of Racine.

Organizations like Community Economic Development Corporation, African American Business Professional Association, Hispanic Business Alliance, Hispanic Business and Professionals Association, Racine Vocational Ministries, First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program, Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, Racine County Workforce Development, Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency, Inc., Racine Unified School District, and the 2010 Complete Count Census Committee will be on hand and be set up at tables with information for attendees.

City Department heads and representatives from the Racine Police Department will also be on hand to answer questions.

Four more judges endorse Gasiorkiewicz

Four more sitting judges have come out in support Gene Gasiorkiewicz for the county's open judge's seat.

Judges John Jude, Wayne Marik, Emily Mueller and Stephen Simanek all released a letter Monday "in strong support" of Gasiorkiewicz, who is running against Georgia Herrera in the April 6 local election.

Herrera and Gasiorkiewicz are running for a six-year term to replace Simanek, who is retiring. The race turned contentious in recent weeks after Herrera erroneously attacked Gasiorkiewicz's resume. She apologized for the mistake.

The dust up caused Judge Allan Torhorst to come out strongly in support of Gasiorkiewicz, and Herrera to respond with endorsements from two sitting judges - Gerald Ptacek and Faye Flancher - and retired Judge Dennis Flynn.

Monday's letter from Jude, Marik, Mueller and Simanek leaves three judges on the sidelines in next week's election. Judges Dennis Barry, Richard Kreul and Charles Constantine have not endorsed either candidate.

Here's Monday's letter:

March 29, 2010

To the Editor:
We write in strong support of Gene Gasiorkiewicz for Circuit Court Judge.
Each of us has known Gene for more than 30 years as a lawyer of great integrity, superb legal skills, and sound judgment. He has earned our respect for his excellent work and for his dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession.
Gene's depth and breadth of experience make him uniquely suited for the bench. If elected as judge, he would serve our communities well.

John S. Jude
Circuit Court Judge

Emily S. Mueller
Circuit Court Judge

Wayne J. Marik
Circuit Court Judge

Stephen A. Simanek
Circuit Court Judge

RUSD lays out its reinvestment wishlist: $73 million...
plus $7.5 million, plus...

 RUSD's two approaches to improving student learning: 
New schools and better operations

A key element of Racine Unified's "reinvestment" plan was made clear Monday night -- its cost.

David Hazen, the school district's financial officer, right, outlined the program to about 50 people, most of whom appeared to be board members or district employees or members of the 72-person committee drafting the plan.

Not to keep you in suspense any longer: $58 million, for the "base" bricks-and-mortar portion of Phase 1. That would be accompanied by an additional referendum for operations funding of $7.5 million.

Those are preliminary numbers, Hazen cautioned, admitting that "some will say no" immediately, blaming the economy. Others will say, "You want what? for what?" and that's where the board must go out to the community for "pushback and feedback."

Key elements of the program, so far, include three new K-5 elementary schools, renovations to five more and district-wide ADA improvements. The $58 million bottom line looks like this:
  • Bull Fine Arts: $4,000,000
  • Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary: $2,250,000
  • Roosevelt Elementary: $5,350,000
  • Schulte Elementary: $2,825,000
  • Wind Point Elementary: $7,325,000
  • District-wide ADA improvements: $4,150,000
  • 3 New K-5 schools: $32,100,000
But that's just a base version. Construction options that would add three classrooms to Bull, or provide a K-8 school instead of a K-5, re-roof all renovated schools, maybe build a new Wind Point Elementary instead of remodeling, since the added cost is "only" about $2.7 million more,  and add air conditioning to Bull and Roosevelt would raise the Construction Referendum's $58 million total by $15,186,389 ... call it $73 million. The construction and remodeling would add 936 spaces for elementary students and free up one building for a secondary school, RUSD says.

The Phase 1 Operations Referendum would raise $3.5 million as an ARRA bridge for the 2011-2012 school year (covering the end of stimulus funding); $1 million for financial stability (money put into the district's "surplus" account, which helps lower bond interest rates), and $3 million for educational efficiencies.

And what would all this cost you?  That depends upon the assessed value of your home, of course. The district estimates that the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $92 to $120 per year in additional taxes, depending on which options are approved. Also relevant is the per-pupil cost at Unified, compared to other districts. The bar chart below shows where the district is today, and where it would be if the referenda pass. Of course, all those districts we're compared to would also (probably) increase spending as well. Hazen noted, "we don't want to over-burden the taxpayers."

Hazen spent time outlining the various "pillars" on which the district hopes to build. The construction funds would provide efficient school size, smaller classes and ADA compliance. All elementary staffing would be revised, there would be a 13-1 student/teacher ratio in K-1st and 26-1 in 2nd through 5th grades. There would be 14 schools with 312 students, 10 with 468 and 1 with 624. Operations funding would fill the district's existing "staffing gap" of 81 teachers (average yearly cost of each teacher: $74,475.)

The timeline for all this:
  • April and May: Community feedback
  • Fall 2010: Referendum
  • February 2011: Issue bonds
  • May 2011: Break ground
  • September 2012: Open new schools
This timeline would be "aggressive," said consultant Peter Scherrer. "We'd need to be moving with the design work as soon as the referendum passes." Another issue the district has yet to decide is where any new schools would be built, because a "rural" school requires a different design than an "urban" one -- and "rural takes longer." But the district cannot begin to buy land for new schools. "It's hard to negotiate when you don't have the money," Hazen said.

Hazen said "now is a good time to build," with construction companies hungry and interest rates low. The program would create 200 construction trade jobs for a year, he said.

"Is the fall too soon (for a referendum), given economic conditions?" Hazen asked rhetorically. "If we wait," he answering his own question, "construction goes back another year."

A Phase II referendum in Spring 2012 would be aimed at reducing secondary school size (High schools: 1,800 and Middle schools: 702), replacing Walden with a Green School, replacing Red Apple, remodeling Olympia Brown and perhaps the new project on the drawing board: a high school partnered with Gateway Technical College.,

The result of all this would be updated facilities ("2012 vs. the existing 1856"); ADA improvements, efficient school size and efficient class size. Looking at the reinvestment program like a business plan, Hazen said nearby area districts have already committed to building: Kenosha has a new high school, Burlington has newer schools, Oak Creek is building, he said. "We need to compete that way," he said.

Two other points: Earlier in the evening, the School Board approved the proposed $8.5 million technology refresh plan, that will replace all 8,000 of the district's computers and servers. Second, the $1 million to "maintain financial stability" would be on-going, with no sunset clause.

Hazen's complete presentation, and more background on the reinvestment plan, will be posted HERE on Unified's website. 

Questions about the plan may be sent to referendum@racine.k12.wi.us Answers will appear on Unified's website at: About us>Reinvesting in RUSD.

The auditorium at Starbucks was mostly empty for RUSD's presentation

Libertarian Joseph Kexel running against Ryan, again

Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, gained a second opponent today, should he decide to run for a seventh term in Congress.
Joseph Kexel, the Libertarian candidate in the 2008 Congressional election who received 1% of the vote, announced today that he is running again. Paulette Garin of Kenosha, who came in second in the four-way Democratic primary that year, losing to Marge Krupp who got 35% of the vote in the general election, has also talked about a re-run.

Kexel, 45, a self-employed information technology consultant of Kenosha writes:

I am running for Paul Ryan's congressional seat. I am running as a Libertarian, so I will not be kicking Paul from the ballot. If he is on the ballot in November that is up to him and the voters in the Republican primary. Personally, having spoken with him at forums during the 2008 campaign, I like him. He would make a great neighbor, but having served over a decade in Washington he has become a career politician. If you ask me what my profession is, I would tell you it is being a businessman. Currently, that is in Information Technology support. Do you really think Paul Ryan could say anything else than Congressman?

As a Libertarian I have a very strong opinion that liberty must extend as far as possible. I, also, feel that responsibility is the powerful counter-balance to that liberty. Owning a gun may be a right, but society can hold you responsible for murder or improper use of your firearm. Only virtuous people can be allowed to be free for they can govern themselves.

As for my run for Congress, my platform is pretty much the Constitution of the United States. I have reviewed many of the votes Paul Ryan has made. Some I am sure you agree with, some I am sure you don't. However, I have to ask the question, "Are these even authorized by the Constitution?" If Congress stayed true to the Constitution, Paul Ryan would be paid at most $50K and have a real job back here in Wisconsin!

Much that Washington does is supposed to be done by the states. We have two important tasks ahead of us. We must get back to the Constitution and successfully petition our state to do its job without federal money.

I have mailed in my Declaration of Candidacy to the state election board and will likely be in the database next week.

Mason bill re-establishes Wisconsin Conservation Corps

Reps. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, introduced a bill today to revive the Wisconsin Conservation Corps. The legislation was unveiled at historic Devil’s Lake State Park, the site of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps and the base of one of the most active Wisconsin Conservation Corps’ crews in the 1990s.

“We have an opportunity to bring back a popular program proven to develop young leaders and create the jobs our state so desperately needs,” Clark said. “We believe it is an important component of our state’s economic recovery plan.”

The Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WCC) was created in 1983 to provide employment to the state’s young men and women ages 18-25. For twenty years, young people had the opportunity to participate in conservation and natural resources projects. At one time, as many as sixty WCC crews were working throughout Wisconsin, all with their distinctive WCC green hard hats. The WCC ceased operations in 2003.

Mason said, “During these tough economic times, reestablishing the WCC is more important than ever. Drawing upon Wisconsin’s proud tradition of stewardship of our natural resources, the WCC will offer experience, hope, and opportunity to the young people throughout the state struggling right now to find meaningful work and pay for higher education.”

The legislation would recreate the WCC primarily by leveraging newly available federal AmeriCorps funding. Participants would work on conservation and natural resource projects throughout the state, supervised by experienced crew leaders, while receiving a stipend and educational credit.

The bill was introduced with twenty-six other Assembly co-sponsors and will be referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, of which Rep. Mason is a member. Mason anticipates that the bill will be approved during the spring legislative session.

Vigil tonight; death puts focus on domestic violence

The Women's Resource Center and the Racine Interfaith Coalition will hold a "memory vigil" tonight to honor domestic violence homicide victim Starkeesha Wilkins and the three children and other family she left behind.

The vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. on the front lawn of Racine City Hall.

Wilkins was believed shot by her boyfriend, Fredrick Bolden, on Thursday, in what police tentatively called a murder-suicide.

Cherie Griffin, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, writes:
Those of us in the local domestic violence community join in outrage that an innocent life was taken and that children are left alone in suffering.

A tragedy like this may bring us to search for explanations, reasons, previous signs that may have prevented it. Domestic violence is unreasonable, it is unexplainable. For someone to harm another whom they say they love does not make sense, is not logical. It is important for us to remember that every day, victims of domestic violence are in harm’s way.

Some neighbors and friends of the deceased have been quoted as saying that they were a quiet couple; that there were no domestic problems. Domestic abuse takes many forms: verbal; emotional; sexual; financial and physical. Domestic abuse perpetrators seek power and control. In seeking that power the abuser uses many different types of tactics. The abuser may not need to be loud, or even physical to make the point to his victim about her behavior, her choices, her activities or any other expectations he has of her.

We may not know exactly what led to this terrible death. The facts may not spell out what led to this tragedy. What we do know for sure, however, is that domestic abuse gets worse over time. The risk gets higher. The abuse becomes more and more brutal over time.

Perhaps some are asking, “How could this have been prevented?” It is up to the entire community to make domestic abuse our concern. It is not a family problem. It is a crime. We need to watch for signs that a relationship is unhealthy.

Possible signs include:
  • Isolation of the victim from family and friends
  • Inconsistent behavior or changes in behavior
  • Person seems withdrawn or evasive
  • Victim appears unable to concentrate, scattered, worried or nervous
  • Abuser makes all of the decisions
  • Abuser controls behaviors, movements, choices
These are some signs, but there are many.
As a community, as neighbors, as family or friends we must be willing to directly ask the questions: “Are you being hurt in your relationship?” “Are you safe in your relationship?” and “Do you need my help to be safe?”

Women’s Resource Center can help you become prepared to support a loved one or think through a good response to a possible victim. Call us at (262) 633-3274 and we can talk together about how you can help someone find safety.

Women’s Resource Center is always here, we are always available, offering shelter services, counseling, legal advocacy and counseling for children. There is an open support group every Tuesday night at 6 p.m., call for more details. All services are free and completely confidential.

When a tragedy like this occurs, it may bring up additional fears for those living with domestic violence. The Women's Resource Center confidential hotline is available 24 hours a day.

Root-Pike WIN to offer rain garden workshops and grants April 10 at Gateway

The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network announced today that its 2010 Rain Garden Initiative will offer free rain garden workshops this spring in Racine, Kenosha and Franklin and funding for at least 20 rain garden grants.

According to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, one rain garden on a quarter-acre lot can reduce annual runoff by 25 percent. Workshop participants will learn how to keep storm water runoff from polluting streams, rivers and lakes by learning how to build and maintain a rain garden. Each class will focus on the causes of polluted stormwater runoff and the role of rain gardens to capture and infiltrate rainwater before it runs off to driveways, parking lots and streets, where it picks up pollutants and carries them untreated to storm sewers and our waters.

Instructors from UW-Extension and Root-Pike WIN will teach the technical standard for a building rain garden that was developed by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource. Participants will learn how to select a site, determine its size, depth and shape, the role of native plants, and how to plant and maintain the garden. Workshops are open to the public and participants are not required to reside in the Root-Pike watershed. Pre-registration is required.

Workshop schedule

· RACINE--Saturday, April 10, 9:30-10:30 am , Gateway Technical College, Racine Building, 1001 Main Street, Racine. Enter from lakeside (rear) parking lot. In partnership with Leaderships Racine’s Green Revival Fair.
· KENOSHA--Saturday, April 24, 9:30-10:30 am, Gateway Technical College, 3520-30th Avenue, Kenosha. In partnership with Gateway’s Celebrate Earth Day Fair.
· FRANKLIN—Saturday, June 5, 10:00 am-2:00, Hands-on workshop (workshop followed by a garden installation), Franklin Public Library, 9151 W. Loomis Road, Franklin. In partnership with City of Franklin Environmental Commission.

Rain Garden Grants

In addition to the workshops, the Rain Garden Initiative will award at least 20 rain grants to help fund the cost of plants and mulch, thanks to contributions from the SC Johnson Fund, E.C. Styberg Foundation, Wild Ones, Wisconsin Energy Foundation and individual donors. Grants will fund 100 percent of the cost of native plants for a Demonstration Rain Garden that is open to the public, and 50 percent for private homeowner gardens, both up to 300 square feet. Grant recipients will also receive free mulch.

The grant application can be printed from the website: www.rootpikewin.org and click on Rain Garden Initiative logo or a copy can be obtained by calling 262-898-2055 or emailing: info@rootpikewin.org.

To be eligible for a rain garden grant, applicants must meet the following requirements: 1) reside in the Root-Pike watershed. However, a small amount of funding is available to fund gardens in the Des Plaines and S.E. Fox watersheds. 2) Attend a free workshop where they will learn how to build a rain garden, 3) Have their garden site and excavation pre-approved by Root-Pike WIN.

This is the third year of the program, which has funded 59 rain gardens, which together infiltrate over 500,000 gallons of rainwater and snow-ice melt annually. For more information about the program, including directions on how to build a rain garden, locations of previously funded public gardens and photos of private gardens, go to: www.rootpikewin.org and click on the Rain Garden Initiative logo.

The Root-Pike watershed encompasses parts of Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, where the organization and volunteers work to protect, restore, and sustain the ecosystems of the Root River and Pike River. Root-Pike WIN grew out of a group convened in 1998 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to identify critical natural resource issues in the Root River and Pike River watersheds.

SC Johnson, JohnsonDiversey ordered to recalulate retiree benefits

SC Johnson and JohnsonDiversey retirees won a court ruling against their former employers, forcing the companies to recalculate retirement benefits they paid out. How much this amounts to is yet to be determined.

Read the court ruling here.

The retirees won the ruling in Wisconsin Eastern District Federal Court. The case was filed by Michael J. Thompson and others against the retirement plans for SC Johnson and JohnsonDiversey.

The retirees had asked for two rulings against the companies. They first claimed the retirement plans "backloaded" benefits, which the court dismissed. The second was that SCJ and JohnsonDiversey miscalculated how much it paid out in "lump-sum payments" to the retirees. The federal court agreed with the retirees and ordered the companies to refigure the payments. From the ruling:
The court finds that the unlawful conduct here is the Plans' calculation and payment of lump sum benefits in an amount less than the present value of the participants' accrued benefits at age 65, which generated an alleged forfeiture of benefits to the plaintiffs. A forfeiture of benefits pursuant to an improper calculation cannot occur until the "lump sum" amount is determined and dispersed to the participant.
The two sides have a July 11 deadline to reply to the court. After these filings the court will enter a final order on damages.

March 28, 2010

Porshe: A cat named after the place she was found

Maggie Skovera, rescue coordinator at Countryside Humane Society, tells us the story of this little cat:
 I was working very late one night and heard a car pull up in the parking lot. I thought I had all the doors locked but then I thought I heard a door open. When I investigated, I did not find anything... but the porch door was unlocked.

The next day, this kitten came came strolling in from the porch like she owned the place. I can only imagine the car I heard was someone dumping the cat on our porch. We named her Porshe; she's a 4-year-old female Maine Coon mix. A declawed, spayed brown tabby.

She is very laid back and has a sweet disposition. She has been here at CHS since Oct. 26, 2009. We have put Porshe in different settings so she has not been caged that entire time. She is a staff favorite and we all hope she will soon find her "forever home."

To see whether Porshe is your cat, visit Countryside Humane Society at 2706 Chicory Road.

Barrett campaigns here for the second time; big issue is jobs

Milwaukee Mayor -- and, more relevant, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful -- Tom Barrett brought his campaign to Racine Sunday, meeting with about 60 residents at Park 6 for a fund-raiser, meet-and-greet. This is the second time Barrett has been here during the campaign; he made his first official campaign stop at Wilson's Coffee on Nov. 15, the day he announced. As far as we know, neither of the two already-announced Republican candidates -- Scott Walker or Mark Neumann -- has been here since they began campaigning. Nor has rumored Republican candidate Tommy Thompson. (Correx: Neumann was here on Jan. 3.)

Barrett spent more than an hour meeting the faithful, and another 20 minutes or so speaking of what he hopes to accomplish as governor. With a nod to Mayor John Dickert in the front row, he spelled out the difference between being mayor and being governor: "People don't care whether their garbage is picked up by a Democrat or Republican; being mayor is a very practical job."

But as governor, he said, the issue is jobs. "My priority as governor of this state is to create, retain and attract jobs." He said he's focused on that issue as mayor, and pointed to recent successes in landing new operations by Republic Airlines and Talgo. "That didn't happen by accident; we were pro-active," he said. Taking note of some criticism regarding Talgo, the Spanish train manufacturer, Barrett said, "I don't care if they're from Mars."

As governor he promised to look at existing programs by such agencies as the Department of Commerce, WHEDA, the DNR and others, "and I will put more meat on the bones that are working." Pointing to State Sen. John Lehman and Rep. Cory Mason, among "name" Democrats in attendance, Barrett said he would focus on programs like ones they have proposed, tying tax credits to job creation. "Getting our fiscal state in order" is a top priority he said, noting that states with governors from both parties -- Arizona and California headed by Republicans, for example; and Illinois and Michigan by Democrats -- are in trouble.

"It sounds masochistic," he said, but "I would rather have someone who shares my values making the tough decisions. In hard times, someone who shares our values is important. You saw that last week in the debate on health care." Voters, he said, should ask those who want to repeal the new health care bill "why they would want to deny health care to that child who needs it."

"The debate has to change now. They've had their fun for the past 12 months, talking about Death Squads and Armageddon. Well, there is none of that."

Holding up his still-bandaged hand, injured in the August State Fair Park incident when he aided a woman who was being attacked, Barrett said voters should take away two lessons about him from it. First, Wisconsin has "tough challenges," a "a tough, tough period" ahead, and "Tom Barrett doesn't run from a fight." And, the second lesson, Barrett said -- with a smile -- as he pointed out that the attack he broke up was really about five blocks from the State Fair. "Tom Barrett doesn't like to pay for parking."