November 3, 2010

County Republicans make a clean sweep -- almost

Paul Ryan, right, brought Van Wanggaard to podium before his race was decided

There's a new sheriff in town -- literally and figuratively.

Racine County elected Sheriff's Department Investigator Christopher Schmaling as its new sheriff, but the bigger news was the Republican sweep across the country, which echoed in Wisconsin as well as locally.

Wisconsin has a new senator and a new governor. Three-term Democratic senator Russ Feingold will be replaced by Republican Ron Johnson. "It's on to the next battle; it's on to the next fight; it's on to 2012," said Feingold. The governor's mansion will be occupied by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Locally, 21st District State Sen. John Lehman, who spent eight years in the Assembly before moving up to the State Senate in 2006, was ousted by Republican Van Wanggaard.

John Lehman, right,
with Cory Mason

The only challenged Democrat to withstand the Republican onslaught was 62nd District Rep. Cory Mason, who won a third term by defeating Republican Chris Wright.   Democratic Rep. Bob Turner, who's been in the Assembly since forever -- 1990 -- easily defeated his Libertarian opponent, George Meyers.

In his concession speech at 11 p.m. at the Buona Vita restaurant, where the Democrats gathered for what felt like a wake, Lehman said "It's a Black Tuesday" with both houses of the Legislature and the governorship changing from Democratic to Republican control. "But we have done all we could do and we still talk straight. So many folks in this room have so much to be proud of. We talked issues, but we didn't get the best response with the word "progressive" but we have to keep at it.

"This is not the last election that will take place. It's been an honor for me."

Mason said he was "excited, honored and humbled" by his victory, almost the only Democratic bright spot.

Cory Mason celebrates
with his wife,  Rebecca,
and their baby, Amelia

"This is a tough night," Mason noted, recalling something that Harriett Tubman, of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War era, said. "She said, 'Anytime the dogs are coming for you, you just keep going.' Well, it's the same for progressives." Mason said jobs and the economy are still his priorities. "I'm ready for the fight," he said.

All that took place at the Democratic gathering. Over at the Republicans' party at the Marriott -- which was much more like a celebration from the get-go with numerous TV screens declaring Republican victories around the country as soon as the East coast polling places closed -- the evening started with a victory speech by Rep. Paul Ryan, no less sincere with its inevitability, as he easily defeated Democrat John Heckenlively.

Paul Ryan, accepting congratulations Tuesday night

Ryan said, "A year ago, I would have been surprised (by these national results), but not now." Still, there was one outcome that surprised him: "I can't believe we beat Mike Sheridan in Janesville." Sheridan, the Assembly Speaker, a Democrat, was narrowly defeated by Republican Joe Knilans.

The national results, in which the U.S. House of Representatives went from Democratic to Republican control, mean a big promotion for Ryan: He now becomes chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. But before that, his wife, Janna, pulled him away from the party at about midnight, to put his children -- boys 5 and 7 and a daughter, 8 -- to bed in their hotel rooms.

There was a small glitch in the Van Wanggaard victory celebration, as I discovered when I tracked him down near 11:30 p.m.. He was huddled with his staff in a small hotel room down a long corridor, pointedly staying away from the media. Reason: He still wasn't sure of the race's outcome.

Although Lehman had given his concession speech at the Democratic gathering 45 minutes earlier, that word never got to Wanggaard. Lehman told the Dems that he'd called Wanggaard to offer congratulations, "but he didn't pick up, so I left a voicemail message." Well, when I finally got to Wanggaard, he checked his cellphone, and couldn't find the message -- and his staff certainly wasn't going to take the word of a mere reporter.

Van Wanggaard has a kiss for his wife, Mary Jo, as he accepts State Senate victory

Eventually, the message was found and Wanggaard came forth to give the good news to his supporters at the victory party. After giving his wife, Mary Jo, a kiss -- well, a few of them to satisfy the cameras -- he said, "It's going to be almost a complete sweep in this county. Now we have to step up to the plate and do what we say we're going to do.

"Today we sent a message to the Madison spenders. We're going to restore accountability to Madison, and that starts in Racine County."

Here are some of the final numbers reported by the Racine County Clerk:
With 116,760 registered voters in Racine County, there were 73,498 votes cast.

There were 15,707 straight Democratic votes cast; compared to 19,551 straight Republican votes. The Wisconsin Green Party garnered 53 straight party votes; the Libertarians got 97.

For Congress:
Paul Ryan: 46,584
John Heckenlively: 24,366

State Senator, District 21
John Lehman: 28,922
Van Wanggaard: 32,031

Assembly, District 61
Robert Turner: 10,024
George Meyers: 2,166

Assembly, District 62
Cory Mason: 10,453
Chris Wright: 8,571
Tony DeCubellis: 403

Assembly, District 63
Robin Vos 19,520

Racine County Sheriff
Joseph Buckley 23,085
Chris Schmaling 44,802
Jeffrey Gerrietts 3,427

Advisory Referendum on possible additional taxation for transportation
Yes: 12,578
No: 51,316
Final Racine County vote totals are HERE.
The detailed count -- precinct by precinct -- is HERE.

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November 2, 2010

Hooray, it's election day!

Hey, there's an election today!

A political parlay! (And a cause célèbre)

Your vote can sway the ruling par-tay

And whisk away, until another day,

The ones who say, "Nay!"

Elephants will play, roll in the hay,

and eat donkey fillet, is what the polls say

Not all will obey, and perhaps Dems will stay,

and sashay with cache, back to the Belt Way.

So as you may, lay down your dismay,

And hop in a sleigh, or fly like blue jay,

your heart don't betray, your bed do not lay,

your hope do not slay, your toe do not X-ray,

(but your cat please do spay)

Do ignore Tina Fey, and Bill O'Reil-ay

and rise above the fray, and all the gray,

without delay, the issues do weigh,

then shout "ole!" your convictions display,

and proudly portray, this American holiday.

May we all meet halfway. OK?

So bring out the tray, serve the parfait,

pour the cabernet, dance a ballet,

cheer for Green Bay, study Monet,

play some croquet, tip the valet,

turn a double play, and get a little risque (oy vey!).

Hooray, it's an election day! Let's all celebray!

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November 1, 2010

Library renewal is almost complete

Boxes of books show some of the work still to be done.

 Hang in there, readers! Our months of library withdrawal are nearly over.

The Racine Public Library adult department is nearly back to normal. Asbestos abated. New carpet installed. Atrium filled in. Books moved back into their new places -- well, most of them.

Darcy Mohr, head of adult and youth services who's in charge of the project, said the library's second floor should be open well before the original Thanksgiving completion date -- maybe in just two weeks. It can't happen soon enough!

It's been a tough two months. I think I've read only two books since the second floor was closed off -- and one of those was a dreary procedural spy novel recommended by the New York Times Book Review (Thanks for nothing, guys!). I actually tried to slog through one of my wife's book club selections. Gah!

But on Friday Mohr gave me a tour of the second floor, and I could see the progress that's been made...  and the library improvements that will make this period of withdrawal fade from memory:

Librarian Darcy Mohr in the new Racine History Room

-- There's a new Racine History Room, full of books by Racine authors, or about Racine, or with some Racine connection. Far more than you would have expected -- including a complete collection of Western Publishing's Little Golden Books  given to the Library by the company when it moved to New York, and from reader donations.

-- There will be a number of new "neighborhoods" in which the Library ignores the Dewey Decimal System (About time: it dates from 1876!), instead shelving books the way most bookstores do: with theme-oriented topics all together. There'll be a Holidays neighborhood, one for Health & Fitness, another for Travel. Holidays, for example, will have books about arts and crafts projects, cooking and history in one place. Travel will have travel guides and language books together; today they are at opposite ends of Dewey Decimal and far apart in the stacks.

-- There also will be a Young Adult area, with shelves of graphic novels, college guides, books on careers.

-- The best improvement will be to the library's magazine collection. New shelves have been bought that will display more than 100 magazines with their current issue cover fully visible, and recent editions near at hand. Say goodbye to stacks of magazine spines! Thus, it now will be easy to stroll past the display and instantly see the covers of Architectural Digest, Car and Driver, Dwell, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, Maxim, National Geographic, Popular Photography, Redbook, Smithsonian, Utne Reader -- and scores more! -- without having to search through the stacks of back issues for your favorite. I predict we'll all see, and read, magazines we'd never thought would interest us. And, yes, there will be a convenient reading area as well.

The moving and restacking of the library's collection -- some two-thirds of the library's 250,000 books are involved -- has been delegated to Hallett and Sons Library Movers of Summit, IL, which has moved the collections of libraries all over the world, including the Newberry Library of Chicago, with its 40,000 shelves.

On Friday, Jack Hallett was supervising some 20 employees, most of whom were moving huge stacks loaded with books. In a maneuver executed with military precision ten guys attached wheeled metal lifts to both sides of a long row of reference books. On command they lifted the entire row a few inches off the ground, and then pushed the entire row -- rolling on sheets of masonite to protect the new carpet -- from one side of the library to the other.

Hallet, 79, has been doing this since he was a boy He recalled working with his brothers for his father's moving company for six cents an hour and asking for a raise; instead, his father offered to rename the company Hallet and Sons. "We were just kids, and we took it!"

As you'd expect from someone with 73 years' experience, he knows his stuff, down to the smallest detail. He told me our library has 6,300 lineal feet of book shelves -- "More than a mile!" And the long row of reference books the ten movers were muscling into place, "That weighs 4,800 pounds," he said.

I know what you're thinking: What's so hard about moving library books, besides the fact that they're so heavy? Well, generally, librarians want to be able to find a book when the job is over. One of the movers recalled a story from a library that did not hire Hallett, only to be asked by one of its movers, "How do you want us to keep these books in order?" I don't know all of Hallett's tricks, but a careful examination of some of the shelved books showed an extra numerical sticker -- 3571 in the picture here -- that will -- somehow! -- tell movers exactly where the books should go after their move.

In any case, add library moving to the categories of legislating and sausage-making. You don't necessarily have to know how it's done, as long as it is done right. And soon!

It's all about the books you can take home, as these two young readers know.

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October 31, 2010

The monster arrived on something new this year...

The pagan ritual of giving all the neighborhood kids tooth decay continued Sunday, as little beggers dressed as Elvis, wrestlers I never heard of, princesses and all sorts of monsters rang the doorbell.

"Trick or treat" said the older ones. "Happy Halloween" said the younger ones, not quite "getting" how this is supposed to work. No matter: everyone left with a handful of candy and a smile.

There seemed fewer than in prior years. I attribute the shortage to the earlier-in-the-afternoon Packers game, or the Vickings-Patriots battle that was going on during Trick-or-treat hours, presumably keeping some Dads glued to the TV screen, unable to chaperone.

The most unusual creature to ring our doorbell was the young lady at left, who took some candy and then lifted her toes and scooted down the driveway -- courtesy of wheels in her sneakers! Sneakers with wheels!  What will they think of next? A quick Google search found 'em -- some with lights, even! Not sure yet whether they come in adult sizes, but I'll keep looking.

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