October 30, 2010

When werewolves, skeletons and heroes share the day

realracine presented its inaugural Skeleton Skamper 5k race and 1k walk Saturday morning in Mount Pleasant, drawing some 700 runners and 500 walkers from all walks of life ... and the afterlife.

There were werewolves, skeletons, superheros, ballerinas (some male, some female), housewives, winged creatures, witches, a bride or two, even three blind mice. Brett Favre made an appearance as well, with a sign indicating his firm decision to retire... well, on one side of it, anyway.

Winner of the 5k -- which was completed by 467 runners -- was Jason Aho of Racine, in 16:17.42. Second place went to Miguel Garcia, also of Racine, whose time was 17:08.20.

Overall results are HERE.

Results by age group are HERE.

Here are some of the creatures that caught my eye.


 Jason Aho as he crossed the finish line first

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October 28, 2010

Wanggaard's no show looms over candidate forum; Lehman rips opponent as extreme advocate for the rich

Where's Waldo....um, Wanggaard? From left are Anthony DeCubellis,
John Lehman, Cory Mason, George Meyers, Bob Turner and Chris Wright

Van Wanggaard is either confident or scared.

Those are the only two explanations for the Republican state Senate candidate's absence Thursday night from a community forum that attracted six of the seven local men (another election, another shortage of female candidates) running for state office, including his opponent, state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine.

Wanggaard's absence allowed Lehman to tee off on him. In his closing remarks, Racine's incumbent senator summed up Wanggaard by describing his five-point platform as:

  • Trickle down policies that benefit the rich in hopes that it will eventually the middle class and poor.
  • Vague promises on government cuts with no specifics on where he'd reduce government spending.
  • Concealed carry for everyone.
  • Tax cuts for the wealthy 
  • End research on embryonic stem cells

The problem for Lehman is painting Wanggaard in extreme (though fairly accurate) terms may do little to sway voters to send him back to Madison for four years. National and local polls suggest Republicans are poised for huge gains on Tuesday, and candidates like Wanggaard may be swept along without the need to debate issues on anyone's terms but their own.

But Tuesday's expected outcome did not deter Community for Change, which organized its third major candidate forum in the past two years. Lehman, State Reps. Cory Mason and Bob Turner, and Assembly candidates George Meyers, Anthony DeCubellis, and Chris Wright all participated in the forum. Marcia Vlach Colsmith, Diana Kovacs, and Betsy Georg served as moderators. About 60 people attended the forum.

Chris Wright, left, and Cory Mason before the forum.

The candidates addressed a variety of issues from job creation to abortion and public transportation. There was a wide variety of answers thanks to the participation of three Democrats, a Republican, and two Libertarians, but discussion focused on cutting government spending and creating jobs.

Left to carry the Republican banner on his own, Wright, who is challenging Mason for the Assembly, was reserved in his stances, like a call for a streamlined state government with a long-term plan to avoid the state's continual budget crisis. He even apologized for a pro-life stance that earned an endorsement from Pro Life Wisconsin Wisconsin Right to Life. His responses led one liberal observer to comment, "As much as I try to dislike him, I just can't. He gives thoughtful answers."

DeCubellis, who is running for Mason's seat, and Meyers, who is challenging Turner, took on the role of critics of state government. DeCubellis wondered if a $5.7 million state loan to lure an Italian packaging company to Racine was worth the 189 jobs it created. At that rate, he said, Racine needs to lure 70 more companies to employ the area's 14,000 unemployed people.

George Meyers
and Bob Turner, right

"$5.7 million to create 200 jobs isn't worth it," he said.

DeCubellis added he's not in favor of tax cuts only for businesses or the rich. "I want to give tax cuts to everyday people," he said.

Meyers continued his mission of educating the public on the Libertarian perspective. His answers came across as mini lectures about the need for a return to 50 years ago when government didn't delve into people's lives, and people didn't rely on government for help.

Anthony DeCubellis, left

He also opened a unique line of discussion around  abortion by explaining the difference between killing and murder, and then exploring the point at which we evolve from being a "vegetable" to being a "spiritual being."

Thursday's forum, though, really came down to Wanggaard's absence. Lehman used the public stage to wail on his opponent over Republican proposals to pass tax cuts for people who make more than $300,000 and to allow corporations to sneak around state tax laws.

Lehman also offered a brief lecture of his own, pointing out all of these calls for cuts at the state level force local governments to increase property taxes simply to maintain services. As they stand, Republican plans would result in massive cuts in local aids to local governments and schools. That means cities, villages, and towns will be forced to tax more or cut basic services like police and fire.

John Lehman, right

"No jobs are created with these cuts," Lehman said. "I don't believe in this 'trickle-down stuff.'"

Wanggaard wasn't there to respond. So was he scared or confident? Probably both. He's confident he'll win Tuesday, and he was afraid to join Lehman at the forum and risk saying something that will turn voters against him.

The good news for Wanggaard is most seem to have checked out of this election. Even The Journal Times felt pulling together six of the seven candidates on next Tuesday's ballot was a ho-hum event. They didn't even bother to send a reporter. (Compared, we'd point out, to RacinePost's 100% attendance at the forum. For whatever reason we actually care about this stuff.)

So Wanggaard's probably going to win Tuesday, along with Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, and many more Republicans nationwide. Let's hope they're as responsive to the public as they've tried to be over the last six months.

Wanggaard is off to a poor start.

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October 26, 2010

Were any voters swayed by 1st District debate? Doubtful

Our three 1st District Congressional candidates shared a stage Tuesday night, comparing and contrasting their positions on a variety of issues. It's impossible to tell whether any of the 80 voters in attendance were swayed; each candidate received scattered applause before moderator Dr. Deborah Ford, chancellor of UW-Parkside, asked for silence.

There were no real surprises; Republican Paul Ryan, Democrat John Heckenlively and Libertarian Joseph Kexel stuck to the party line, as they took turns tackling more than a dozen questions. Best line of the night, though, went to Ryan, who compared himself to ... Goldilocks!

In opening remarks, Heckenlively said Ryan's views are "extreme." He votes, Heckenlively said, "with the most conservative members of his party," "for the fat-cat elites. He's the poster-boy for all that's wrong with Washington."

Kexel said the federal government "is out of control." He advocated repealing the income tax, shutting down the Federal Reserve and returning the election of U.S. Senators back to state legislatures.

Speaking third, Ryan cast himself as the moderate. "It's a Goldilocks thing," he said. "There's a liberal, a Libertarian and something in-between." The case he made for himself was based not on issues, but rather on his accessibility, constituent service and "principled representation."

He seemed to echo Kexel's statement that all that's in our future are "nostalgic stories about when America was great." Ryan said the U.S. is at "that proverbial fork in the road" where "our country will lose its greatness." The "debt-threat," he said, will produce a future with a "lower standard of living."

No one expected the debate to change the election's predictable outcome, given Ryan's millions in campaign funds compared to his opponents' um... any?*; his name recognition as a five-term incumbent; the feeling that we're in for a  Republican surge this year. Still, their answers to specific questions clearly delineated policy differences.

How do you feel about government regulation of executive salaries?

Kexel: "I do not believe the federal government is responsible for redistribution wealth. I'm not going to second guess that salary of a CEO."
Ryan: "I agree."
Heckenlively: "I disagree...but Ryan calls for tax cuts for the wealthy which would massively redistribute wealth." He went on to propose raising the cap on Social Security taxes (so individuals would pay SS tax on income over $100,000, and limiting corporate tax deductions for excessive executive compensation.

Should a tax deduction be given to companies that send jobs overseas?
Heckenlively: "While promoting exports is good (it creates jobs here), our policies give companies tax benefits to move jobs overseas."
Kexel would repeal all corporate taxes (as well as the income tax).
Ryan: "We should take taxes off exports and put them on imports."

How would you increase bipartisanship in Washington?
Heckenlively: "We have the most polarized Congress and Washington in decades," but -- despite that -- the Obama administration "at least reached out," and then passed health reform and Wall Street reform. Bipartisanship, he said, "is up to the people standing in the say saying 'no, no, no.' "
Kexel: "If I'm elected, we'd have tri-partisanship." His real solution would be to remove all domestic issues from federal control and back to the states, leaving only defense, international trade and the court system to the federal government.
Ryan: "The President went far left, with a Congress tht's far left. I do not see what has happened over the past two years as a sincere effort (at bipartisanship)." His preferred solution is that Congress' Democratic majority switches to a Republican majority; "then we'll have bipartisanship."

In southeast Wisconsin, what should the role of improved public transit be? 
Kexel: "A transit system needs to be based on market systems. The downside of KRM is that Racine and Kenosha will pay for it forever."
Ryan: "The cost does not add up." He prefers fixing roads and bridges.  "Infrastructure is a big deal."
Heckenlively agreed on infrastructure "but you have a lot of people who can't afford cars." KRM, he said, "is absolutely essential for economic development."

Social Security has been a success for 75 years. What would you do with it?
Ryan agreed with Social Security's success and said, "I don't support privatizing." His plan, he said, makes no change at all for people now 55 or older.
Heckenlively: "While Ryan argues he doesn't want to privatize Social Security, look at his Roadmap; it is privatization." Heckenlively is "dead-set" against any privatization. "All we need to maintain its long-term solvency is to raise the cap."
Kexel: "I don't believe the federal government should be managing your pension at all." He suggested "educating people" about where to put their retirement funds as they get older. 

What's the answer to environmental challenges like Asian carp?
Heckenlively: "You can't make this a state issue. Pollution crosses interstate lines."
Kexel: "The Constitution does allow the federal government some role in (issues about) navigable waters." But he suggested that "states can work together."
Ryan: "We need better fish barriers." He also suggested "reversing" the Chicago River.

Would you support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)?
Kexel: "I have no objection if the companies have reliability." By which he means proper liability -- the company would be "on the hook" for a complete cleanup.
Ryan: "I do support drilling and liability," he said, but in the past companies "cut corners and permits were rubber-stamped." His long-term answer is to invest in alternative fuels -- "get into nuclear" -- "and get us off Mideast oil. We have lots of our own."
Heckenlively opposed drilling in the ANWR. "This is one of the last pristine places on the planet" and any drilling will have environmental impact. "We need a massive investment -- a Marshall Plan" to move the U.S. beyond carbon and coal and into wind and solar power, he said. "Compared to what we spent on the Iraq war, $500 billion is a bargain to end our dependency."

Given the high unemployment in the region, would you extend unemployment benefits?
Heckenlively: "Absolutely." We have "tens of thousands of people desperate, but Ryan voted against extending benefits six times this summer."
Kexel: "Unemployment benefits shouldn't come from the federal government; it's a state issue." While saying he feels "sorry for those who are unemployed," Kexel said the solution is a free market. "I can imagine a market that is red-hot," he said.
Ryan defended his votes by saying the measures all required borrowing to pay for the extended benefits. "If borrowing and spending were the keys to sucess, we'd be booming right now."

How do you see the end of the Afghanistan war?
Ryan: "Not with the signing of a treaty on a battleship." We're starting to see "material results" he said. "I think President Obama has done a pretty good job on this."
Heckenlively agreed. "There will be no signing ceremony to end this war. It's virtually impossible to come up with a victory scenario...We should recognize it's a quagmire, call it a draw and leave."
Kexel said the issue will "come down to whether the people there want to live together peacefully." But he criticized Congress -- and Ryan -- for letting President Bush declare war, which is constitutionally a Congressional prerogative. Congress "should have declared war -- or not."

How would you change the Health Care Reform Act?
Heckenlively: "I like it, but there should be a single-payer system. The biggest problem with our health care system is how we finance it."
Kexel: "I would repeal it," he said, in favor of a free market system.
Ryan: "I would repeal it. It won't stand, it's a fiscal house of cards that will give us massive deficits."

*Addendum: I just looked up the candidates' campaign finance reports. None from Kexel, which indicates that he hasn't met the minimum $5,000 threshhold for reporting. Heckenlively reported total contributions of $9,388, with $6,530 on hand as of Oct. 13. Ryan reported $3,429,930 in total contributions this election cycle, with expenditures so far of $1,367,485. During the debate, Heckenlively noted that Ryan has spent $700,000 on professional fund-raising for himself and other candidates.

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Racine native joins project assuring gay youth 'It gets better'

Racine's Shaun Aukland wears a red Wisconsin sweatshirt in the video.

Growing up gay is not easy, but now there's an online video project assuring gay teens that "It gets better."

The project has many supporters: One is President Barack Obama.

Another is Racine native Shaun Aukland.

Obama issued a video from the White House on Friday reassuring gay teens, and joining a long list of  celebrities who have made videos telling gay, lesbian and trans-gender youth that the isolation and bullying they experience in high school will end, and give way to a fulfilling adult life.

The President said, "We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage. I don’t know what it’s like to be picked up for being gay but I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling like you don’t belong. What I want to say is this: You are not alone. You didn’t do anything wrong…There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are."

Aukland, who attended West Ridge Elementary, Starbuck Middle School and Case High School before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in May, is part of a video made by his fellow Google employees in California. Growing up as a gay person in the closet in Racine "wasn't easy," he said. Especially since he had four brothers, and was "terrified" that someday he'd have to tell them he was gay. "In the schools, it becomes clear very early that it's not good for a student to be 'different.'  I never faced harassment for being gay, because I wasn't out at the time, but saw other people struggle with it."

Google employees made their video after seeing the recent news of gay youth committing suicide. "I think it contains a great message, and has gotten a lot of attention recently (viewed over 200,000 times over 48 hours; it's now over 300,000). It might also be nice for young people to see someone from Racine contributing to the It Gets Better campaign," Aukland said.

Here's more of what Aukland told us:
I would say that in both middle and high school, I found my niche working on special projects for the school, and was really given the room to explore and see what I was capable of.  At Starbuck this was fixing computers, DJing school dances, and planning others events.  At Case, I was able to lead the technical aspects of the theatre for a few years, and also worked on the school yearbook... and I loved it!

Once I got to University of Wisconsin, I continued this and worked for University Housing, or the residence halls, for four years.  I started out working in the computer labs, and was soon managing a staff of 20 and eight different locations.  At the same time, I became part of the Wisconsin Alumni Association and began planning events on campus. Overall, I think that these experiences really made me confident that I was ready for more challenges.  There are ways to take leadership and learn your strengths, and I'm really thankful that Racine's teachers let me do that.

At Google, I'm now an account manager for their online sales business.  Basically, I work with lots of businesses that advertise through Google and make sure they have a great experience working with the company.  I'm so lucky to have gotten a great job right out of school, and it is no secret that Google takes care of its employees.  They offer us free meals everyday, a free shuttle to and from work, and even an on-site doctor.  Other amenities that we have at work include a gym, haircuts, massage therapy, and fitness classes.  Most of all, though, it is positive place to be and I'm surrounded by some really smart people that I'm always learning from.

Growing up in Racine as a gay person in the closet wasn't very easy. In the schools, it becomes clear very early that it's not good for a student to be "different."  I never faced harassment for being gay, because I wasn't out at the time, but saw other people struggle with it. There are some pretty terrible things said to other students.

I think what is more impacting, even after I left, was seeing a story that ran on the Journal Times website, about the Day of Silence for Racine's new LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin, and then watching the vitriol that began to unravel in the comments.  That stuff sends a message that "you people aren't welcome here." I'm very thankful that we now have the LGBT Center there now.

I also want to reiterate, as we said in the video, to any young person who is worried about coming out or just being accepted as a gay person... it gets better!  You don't have to leave Wisconsin for that to happen, either.  There are lots of really happy, successful LGBT people at home, and things really do improve as you grow up.  Even if that seems a little far away now, it isn't!

October 25, 2010

Clear as mud: City leaders explain budget number

The two city leaders in charge of writing the first draft of Racine's 2011 budget attempted to explain numbers derived from the spending, but instead further confused the situation.

Mayor John Dickert and City Administrator Tom Friedel talked with Journal Times reporter Paul Sloth about Dickert's claim last week that the city's tax levy - the amount of money raised with local property taxes - would increase 1 percent under his plan, even though the numbers clearly showed the mayor was seeking a 2.7 percent increase in the levy. Sloth flagged the discrepancy in his budget story, we followed up with questions, and apparently City Council members were also confused.

Friedel admitted to Sloth the math used to get the 1 percent number was confusing, but Dickert refused to own up to the muddled math.

"I didn't see the confusion at all. The taxpayers in my estimation are concerned about layoffs, furloughs and services," Dickert told Sloth. "I'm doing what the taxpayers asked me, ‘Mayor how much are you raising my budget?' I'm raising it 1 percent. We've tried to play this budget as straight as possible."

But along with the obvious discrepancy of a budget showing a tax levy jump of 2-1/2 times what the mayor claimed in his budget address, the city's administration also declined to acknowledge the, on average, 4.4 percent drop in the value of city homes this year. That means any increase in city spending is compounded by the loss in property value throughout Racine. 

Friedel and Dickert glossed over this issue by declining to release a property tax rate with the mayor's budget proposal. It's the first time in at least a decade a Racine mayor omitted the tax rate information from their budget. The likely reason: the city's property tax rate is headed for a sizable increase to offset the city's overall decline in property value. 

A search through recent news stories found officials in Racine County, Mount Pleasant, Brookfield, and Ozaukee County all released tax rates with their proposed budgets. We couldn't find a municipality or county that did not include the tax rate in its proposal.

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