Home / News / Expresso / Issue of the Week: Why Is Abele Afraid to Let the Public Speak?

Issue of the Week: Why Is Abele Afraid to Let the Public Speak?

Plus: Remembering Julie Wichman

Sep. 5, 2012
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With the 2010 Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court made one of the most damaging rulings in its history. The ruling essentially said that corporations can spend unlimited money from corporate treasuries on election campaigns—which, by the way, provides foreign companies with an opening to influence U.S. elections. Millionaires, billionaires and corporations can spend tens of millions of dollars on television ads full of lies and distortions to try to pervert the outcome of any U.S. election. It is completely legal now.

One of the few means available to the average voter to begin to change this perversion of the democratic system is to express his or her position on the error of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Voters can express themselves by such acts as signing petitions, demonstrating in the streets or putting an advisory referendum on the ballot. The citizens of the city of West Allis had such an advisory referendum on their ballot in April 2012, declaring that corporations are not people and that money is not speech—the issues at the heart of the Citizens United decision. The referendum passed with 70% support.

The citizens of Milwaukee County petitioned their county supervisors to add this advisory referendum to the November ballot. The Milwaukee County board overwhelmingly passed it, with a super-majority of 14-4, giving the voters an opportunity to express themselves in their democracy. It was then sent to County Executive Chris Abele's office. Abele did two things. First, he had his office come up with a disgraceful fiscal note—Abele's people calculated that it would cost more than $37,000 to put another line on the ballot. Yes, sadly, this is true: This is the type of silliness that has taken over the county executive's office since Abele's election. But the other thing he did was far more devious. Since he knew the county board would override his veto, he stalled until a state statutory deadline had passed. The state requires that the referendum be passed, signed and slated to be on the ballot 70 days prior to an election. By stalling, as Abele did, the referendum will not be on the November ballot and the people will not be heard. If he had simply vetoed the referendum in a timely manner, the county board would have had the opportunity to override his veto. So much for trying to work with the county board in an honorable way.

So why did Abele execute a backhanded maneuver to kill the advisory referendum? Why would he want to prevent voters from having a chance to express their opinions? Abele claims that he generally agrees with the resolution, but is opposed to spending $37,000 on an advisory referendum. Virtually all rational people would be opposed to spending $37,000 to add one line to a ballot that already has to be printed for the November election. If Abele is paying $37,000 to add one line to the ballot, then we have much bigger problems with Abele running our county. Our advice: Don't give your credit card to Abele and send him out to buy your groceries.

Unfortunately, Abele also has a history of saying one thing and doing the opposite. This duplicity is not something new. For example, he loved former Parks Director Sue Black, persuaded her to reject a job offer from Chicago and stay in Milwaukee and gave her multiple raises, and then suddenly fired her, giving her no reason for the termination.

So what really happened? Why did Abele kill a popular referendum?

Talking to people close to the issue and the Abele administration, they say that it probably comes down to one issue: Abele's political future needs decisions like Citizens United. Few believe that Abele would have been taken seriously as a candidate for county executive were it not for his father's money. He had no experience ever having a real job; he had no college degree of any kind; and he had no public policy or political experience that would have prepared him to even be a staffer in the county executive's office, let alone the county executive himself. He won because of one thing: The family money he spent on the race dwarfed everything else. Despite what Abele says about his feelings toward Citizens United, he knows that without his family money, he would not be where he is today.

Remembering Julie Wichman

Julie Wichman was given a stark choice this summer. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer and told she could live for several months on a respirator or several weeks without, she chose the path of freedom and sociability by rejecting the constraints of the respirator. Julie lived her last weeks at the Zilber Family Hospice and at home, surrounded by family and friends from many aspects of her rich life. She was happy and in good spirits, an inspiration to anyone who was with her before she passed away on Aug. 22.

Julie was managing editor of the Shepherd Express during a critical period of the paper's 30-year history. Joining the staff in 1991 after a stint with Wisconsin Woman magazine, Julie eased the paper through its growing pains as ownership and editors changed and the focus broadened from an East Side alternative to metro Milwaukee's weekly newspaper. Julie was inevitably a voice of reason and a bright light in dark moments. Along with her responsibilities at the Shepherd, she also edited our fondly remembered, monthly sister publication, the Mature American. Julie left the Shepherd Express in 2001 for a position as editor at MATC.

Always an encouraging spirit, Julie moonlighted as an editorial consultant for local writers and helped guide several manuscripts from conception through publication. She was also involved in several environmental organizations. It's in keeping with Julie's concern for family and friends that she didn't want to interrupt anyone's Labor Day plans with a funeral. Visitations will be held 11 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Sept. 9 at Krause Funeral Home (12401 W. National Ave., New Berlin). A ceremony will follow at 4 p.m. (D.L.)

Heroes of the Week
: Wildlife In Need Center Volunteers

Wildlife In Need Center (W349 S1480 S. Waterville Road, Suite B, Oconomowoc) was founded in 1994 and provides rehabilitation to sick, injured and orphaned native Wisconsin wildlife with the goal of safely releasing them back into their natural environment. This nonprofit admits 2,000-3,000 animals every year from as many as 140 different species, ranging from reptiles and amphibians to birds and mammals. In addition, Wildlife In Need Center (WINC) actively offers helpful information about local animals to the public. Each year, volunteer telephone counselors handle about 10,000 calls from citizens with wildlife questions or concerns, and educational volunteers present more than 100 informative programs to various schools, scouts, senior centers and religious and civic organizations, as well as to birding and garden clubs.

"We literally could not do what we do without the helping hands and generous hearts of our volunteers," says Joan Rudnitzki, executive director of WINC.

Volunteers are always needed to help with landscaping, gardening, animal care, office work and educational programs. Those who have expertise in marketing and information systems are desired as well. WINC is currently seeking donations of hull-less seed, berries (fresh/unsweetened frozen), paper towels, flashlights, pillowcases, smelt or minnows, and various office supplies. For more information about the organization or to view a complete wish list, visit www.helpingwildlife.org; volunteer inquiries can be emailed to Lisa Rowe at lrowe@helpingwildlife.org.


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