Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 5
Please, Rep. Weininger, tell us more
A key state lawmaker finally jumped into the statewide debate over how best to draw voting district maps across Wisconsin.
Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, wrote a short column last week for his hometown newspaper, the Green Bay Press Gazette, calling the Iowa model to end gerrymandering "a gimmick."
We welcome Weininger's input on the important issue of redistricting reform. In fact, we'd love to hear more. Let's keep the dialog going, Rep. Weininger, with an official public hearing — something newspaper editorial boards (including the Press Gazette's) and citizens across Wisconsin have been seeking for months.
Is a public hearing, Rep. Weininger, in front of your Assembly State Affairs and Government Operations Committee, really so much to ask?
Let's hear your concerns about Assembly Bill 185 in detail, which a hearing would allow. And if you are right — if the bill really is flawed — then let's fix it. But don't shut down the legislative process without a real discussion.
In his column last week, Weininger complained about "a lot of spin in the media that would lead the public to believe that this is a meaningful proposal that would have a positive impact on the future of our state."
We're all for meaningful and positive impacts for Wisconsin — guilty as charged there. But far from spin, we're pushing the very law that Republicans and Democrats alike say has worked well in Iowa, leading to near-unanimous votes for congressional and legislative district maps there following each major census.
Iowa also enjoys more competitive elections. And unlike Wisconsin, Iowa doesn't spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending rigged maps in court.
In his column, Weininger argued AB 185 would be "unenforceable." He suggested newspaper editorial boards and the public have been duped because "members of the 2020 Legislature will be able to use any redistricting process they so choose," even if AB 185 is on the books.
Yes, under the Iowa model, the legislature could undermine fair maps by repeatedly rejecting revised versions drawn by a nonpartisan state agency.
But Iowa's legislature hasn't done that. Iowa's lawmakers for decades have respected the work of their trusted agency, which operates under strict rules encouraging fairness. The results are compact districts with more choice for voters — all at virtually no cost.
Maybe Wisconsin's leaders are more devious than those in Iowa. Maybe Iowa's nonpartisan bill isn't strong enough to withstand the partisan scheming in Madison. Maybe a constitutional amendment — as originally proposed by reformers here — makes the most sense to stop the politicians from drawing outlandish maps.
A public hearing is the best way to find out what's best for Wisconsin.
La Crosse Tribune, Feb. 6
If you're looking for a sign of spring in Wisconsin, opponents of openness are once again proposing restrictions on public information contained on one of the nation's most accessible online systems of court records.
As we've said many times, restricting public access to public information is a bad idea.
This week, legislative committees will begin deliberating the potential removal of select information from the Wisconsin Court System's Consolidated Court Automation Programs.
CCAP has been hailed for providing open, free access to public information contained in our court system. Opponents, however, say it provides too much information. They want to purge information about cases that have been dismissed, adjudicated as not guilty or overturned on appeal.
But what if someone has several arrests for the same crime? What if a particular criminal charge in a specific jurisdiction is repeatedly dismissed? What can we learn from public information about the individual, the prosecutor, the judge?
If the opponents of openness have their way, we won't learn a thing.
The CCAP system has been modified over the years to improve transparency. The site itself — wcca.wicourts.gov — reminds visitors about their responsibilities.
First, it reminds us that a not-guilty verdict presumes innocence. In addition, it reminds employers that they must not discriminate against a job applicant because of a criminal charge. Even a conviction shouldn't be considered unless it has direct relation to the type of job being sought.
Restricting access also opens the way for a cottage industry of companies that likely will charge for that information — not exactly a model of accessibility.
Besides, if the site only contains convictions, that means each prosecutor would appear to have a perfect conviction rate — and only guilty people would be listed on the site.
Conversely, how does an innocent person prove innocence from an earlier arrest if that information is purged?
One of the legislators proposing the change, Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, told the Wisconsin State Journal that CCAP allows "any busybody who wants to can see you were charged."
Well, senator, we can't seem to find the word "busybody" in Wisconsin's open-records, open-meetings laws. Apparently open means open — regardless of busybody status or any other reason for accessing public information. That's a foundation of democracy.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council whose column appears in the La Crosse Tribune, told the State Journal: "It's unclear why so many state lawmakers believe their constituents are so stupid and mean that they can't comprehend that a charge was dismissed or an individual found not guilty without leaping to unfair conclusions or wrongful actions. But that is what drives legislation like this."
So, as we wrote on Feb. 27, 2008, on Oct. 1, 2010, and on other occasions when limitations were proposed for CCAP, we think anything that hinders public access to public information is a lousy idea.
Here's how we ended our 2010 editorial on this topic: "A democracy cannot operate, and people cannot truly be free, if they cannot trust that they are getting the full story about what is happening in their courts."
Nothing has changed our view.
Green Bay Press-Gazette, Feb. 5
Packers hike prices, spike playoff plan
The cost of attending a Green Bay Packers game next season at Lambeau Field just got a little more expensive.
The Packers on Monday announced an increase in ticket prices for the general seating area and suites. The $3-per-seat increase will keep Green Bay in the middle of the pack when it comes to average ticket price, according to Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy.
The average ticket price is projected to be 17th out of 32 teams — not the most expensive yet not the cheapest.
Murphy said the Packers have a responsibility to offer other NFL teams "a fair visiting team contribution."
That may be true, but the team also has to be mindful of the market here in the Midwest.
With a season-ticket waiting list of about 110,000 and a game-day experience that makes many bucket lists, we have no doubt the Packers could charge even more than a $3 increase and still sell out Lambeau.
But they would risk alienating their fans. The costs associated with attending a game, from parking to concessions to tickets, are considerable. Some fans are already priced out of ever attending a game at Lambeau. While the increase seems modest on its face, it adds up for the average season-ticket holder who has been loyally backing the team for years.
Loyalty is a two-way street and the Packers must remain aware of it when considering future increases.
The team also announced it was anticipating changes in how fans pay for playoff tickets.
We applaud the Packers for doing this after what happened in December with wild-card game tickets.
When playoff tickets went on sale in late November, the Packers told season-ticket holders they would be charged for the best-case scenario — two home playoff games. If the team didn't make the playoffs or didn't play a second home game, the unused portion of the payment would be applied to the cost of next year's season tickets.
The problem was that the best-case scenario seemed as unlikely as a 70-degree day in December. The team situation and timing couldn't have been worse.
Team-wise, the Packers were without their superstar quarterback, and their record was plummeting. In order to sneak into the playoffs, Green Bay had to rely on epic chokes by the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears and the Packers had to win almost all of their remaining games. All three teams complied.
Timing-wise, the deadline to purchase the playoff package was less than a month before Christmas, and the payment method guaranteed that season-ticket holders would have hundreds of dollars tied up, all in the unlikely event the Packers made the playoffs.
Once that unlikely event occurred, sales were tempered by forecasts for game-day temperatures of around zero. As sales lagged leading up to the game, we heard from many fans upset with the Packers' payment plan.
The pay-as-we-play procedure that the Packers are anticipating offering makes a lot more sense. It would charge ticket holders only when it was certain the team was hosting a playoff game.
The fan outcry and the rare threat of a blackout at Lambeau Field, for a playoff game nonetheless, certainly were enough motivation for change.
The issue of how to pay for playoff tickets is a good problem to have. It's something fans in many other NFL cities don't have to worry about. But with the costs associated with attending a game, playoff or otherwise, it's good to see Packers respond to fans' complaints.