Convention speakers provide inspiration

Conventions can be educational, inspiring and just plain fun. It is a time to renew friendships and have spirited conversations.

The Wisconsin Democratic Convention was held at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee on June 1-2. The mood was upbeat as all the newly elected state constitutional officers including Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Treasurer Sarah Godlewski spoke about their forward visions for Wisconsin. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who was reelected in a landslide in 2018, and Congresswoman Gwen Moore also attended and gave inspiring speeches.

Barnes spoke about the statewide listening tour he and Evers took following their election. The purpose was to hear the concerns of all Wisconsinites no matter what political party they identified with. Based on the results of that tour, the governor put together his budget priorities. Expansion of health care, education and roads (transportation) were the top three areas in Evers’ first state budget.

Even though 70% of the public wanted Wisconsin to accept the Medicaid Expansion funds, the Republican legislature refused to do the right thing and accept the federal funds. The “People’s Budget” being proposed by Evers would be used to increase county aid for crisis mental health services, treat those with addictions, provide more support for maternal and infant health and expand dental care.

Accepting the Medicaid Expansion funds would provide health care for 82,000 low-income individuals who can’t afford quality health care and would save taxpayers $324 million. Evers vows to continue the fight to secure our fair share of the federal money.

Many of Wisconsin’s school districts are struggling to make ends meet. Evers’ budget proposes a $1.4 billion increase in K-12 school funding. The Republican-controlled Legislature’s budget committee approved increasing the funding by only $500 million over the next two years. The budget committee also wants to spend only $100 million more on special education, which is one-sixth of what Evers is calling for. Evers says the Legislature’s education funding proposal is inadequate for our schools’ needs, but he is optimistic that he can negotiate for more funding.

Evers promised that he will find a fix for the “damn roads” one way or another. He plans to review the entire transportation funding plan and how it will fit into the larger two-year budget. He won’t rule out the possibility of paying for roads with a gas tax increase along with a variety of other vehicle fee increases.

Godlewski is working hard to find money that could be used to help Wisconsinites. She announced that she has uncovered more than $200,000 so far and expects to continue finding more savings as she works through the state’s finances.

Kaul is beefing up enforcement of the state’s environmental and consumer protection laws. Wisconsin has joined other states in suing Purdue Pharma, which has contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic by downplaying the risky side effects the drug OxyContin. This drug has led to an epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths of thousands in Wisconsin.

Kaul also said he has withdrawn Wisconsin from the lawsuit that alleged that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was unconstitutional.

Sen. Baldwin discussed many of her congressional initiatives. She has proposed legislation to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of junk insurance plans which don’t protect people with pre-existing conditions.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she has led her colleagues in calling for more federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic. She helped to reintroduce legislation to improve the safety of drinking water in small and disadvantaged communities. She also was one of the senators who introduced the Election Security Act which would improve election cybersecurity and combat foreign interference in our democracy.

A major function of the convention was the election of a new chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Menominee Nation native Ada Deer was the nominator for the new state party chair, Ben Wikler. She is Wikler’s godmother. Wikler was the national executive director of the MoveOn.org organization. Outgoing chair Martha Laning, who did not run for another term, was given a standing ovation for her leadership efforts.

The close of a convention can be bittersweet. With renewed enthusiasm, convention-goers have a mandate to continue listening to Wisconsin voters and make them aware of the values that Democrats hold dear.

Jan Koch is a Shawano resident and the chairwoman for the Shawano County Democratic Party.