Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden came out in support of a pair of Wisconsin school district referendums on Tuesday, a week before the state's presidential primary election.The highly unusual move of a presidential candidate weighing in on a local school referendum comes as Biden and other candidates have been sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic. Neither Biden nor his Democratic opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has campaigned in Wisconsin this year.Biden came out in support of school referendums in Milwaukee, the state's largest school district, and Racine. The Milwaukee referendum would cost taxpayers $87 million while the one in Racine comes with a $1 billion price tag. They are among more than 40 districts across the state seeking more than $1.6 billion in referendums in the April 7 election.Milwaukee's money would go toward operational expenses, including staff and programming. Racine's is for the renovation and construction of facilities.
Sure, it’s a little unusual, but it’s also a smart move to motivate voters:
The move Tuesday comes as Biden and other candidates have been sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic. Neither Biden nor his Democratic opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have campaigned in Wisconsin this year.
Biden came out in support of school referendums in Milwaukee, the state’s largest school district, and Racine.
Both are heavily Democratic cities.
The move, they said, is likely a reflection of the new political landscape created by the coronavirus pandemic in which local campaign rallies — where a candidate might tout a local issue — are replaced by internet posts and email announcements.
“I'd say it's pretty good politics for Biden … and a good way to make a local connection — especially while traditional campaigning is not possible,” said Republican strategist Mark Graul. “That said, it may be a liability for him with swing voters, especially in Racine come November.
“My bet is we're likely to see a lot of things that seem 'unusual' for a while,” said Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki. “When you can't come in for a campaign rally or stop at a diner to shake hands, how do you demonstrate to voters that you understand what the challenges facing voters in a particular community are?”
In this case, he said, it's speaking out “on a highly localized issue like these education referenda.”
The move by the Biden campaign appears intended to appeal to a potentially huge voting bloc: teachers. Biden has been endorsed by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which between them have almost 5 million members. The NEA, the nation's largest union with about 3 million members, has endorsed the MPS referendum and has a part-time organizer helping with the Milwaukee referendum campaign.
While national leaders may be backing Biden, some MPS board members and local teachers union leaders are throwing their support behind rival Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders campaign issued a statement Monday announcing its Wisconsin state officers and elected officials who have endorsed the Vermont senator.
Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association President Amy Mizialko is among the state vice chairs, and MPS school board President Larry Miller and at-large member Bob Peterson are among local officials endorsing Sanders.
More than 40 school districts across Wisconsin are asking taxpayers to approve referendums totaling more than $1.6 billion in Tuesday's elections.
The Milwaukee Public Schools request, which was timed to take advantage of the high voter turnout expected for Democratic primary, is for operational funds intended to maintain and expand staff and programming.
MPS is the state's largest district, serving primarily low-income children of color. It's one of just a few districts across the state that have not gone to referendum to seek additional funding for their schools.
While the coronavirus has slowed down and delayed many primaries across the country, the Wisconsin primary is still moving forward:
Wisconsin is moving forward with plans to hold its primary election next Tuesday, creating a chaotic scenario that's left state and local election officials scrambling to hold a primary in the middle of a pandemic.Wisconsin elections officials are trying to keep up as absentee ballots surge, poll workers drop out and supplies are in short demand a week away from a primary in which in-person voting is still set to proceed — despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order and 1,351 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state as of Tuesday afternoon.Other states with April primaries have postponed them or shifted those contests to vote-by-mail only. But in Wisconsin, the governor has said he won't delay the election. Republicans who control the state legislature and have enacted strict voter identification laws in recent years, meanwhile, are refusing Evers' request — made last week, 11 days before the election — to quickly enact a law that would send absentee ballots to every voter in the state.It's left some Wisconsin voters to decide between exercising their constitutional right to vote and their safety and local election officials searching for poll workers and supplies. And a last-minute flurry of lawsuits — five were filed in recent days — could still change the rules.
“The Wisconsin election will be like nothing anyone alive has ever experienced,” said Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “Everyone involved in this election is scrambling to try to make democracy work in an impossible situation.”Already, absentee voting has shattered previous records in Wisconsin. As of Tuesday morning, 972,232 people had requested absentee ballots and 337,563 had been returned, the Wisconsin Elections Commission reported, citing totals submitted by each county.But there were still court battles over lawsuits seeking to delay the primary, extend deadlines for absentee ballots to be requested and returned, allow absentee ballots to be cast without photo IDs being uploaded online, and allow voters to submit their absentee ballots without them being signed by witnesses.The deadline to request absentee ballots is Thursday, and the deadline to return them is 8 p.m. on Election Day. Already, state and local elections officials have said they will struggle to mail out those ballots in time for them to be returned ahead of Tuesday's election. Extending the deadline to request or return ballots could delay the reporting of results.
Ethics rules for judges — often an issue raised in Wisconsin Supreme Court races — are featured in a concrete way in this year’s contest.
Justice Daniel Kelly has stepped aside from two voting-related lawsuits because his name is on the ballot, but has said he might participate in one of the cases if it continues after the April 7 election. His opponent, Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky, has called such a move into question.
Joining a case after initially recusing may be unusual, but it wouldn’t necessarily be unwarranted, national experts on judicial ethics said.
The winner of the election will serve a 10-year term on the high court. Kelly is part of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority and Karofsky has won backing from liberals.
Kelly in December stepped aside from a lawsuit seeking to remove thousands of people from the voter rolls who are believed to have moved.
Those bringing the lawsuit are represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative legal group that Kelly advised before he was on the bench. WILL’s president, Rick Esenberg, in 2016 urged then-Gov. Scott Walker to appoint Kelly to the court, which he did.
An appeals court found the voters should not be kicked off the rolls and the Supreme Court hasn’t decided yet whether to review that decision. Kelly stayed away from the case because he didn’t want to rule on who would be registered to vote in his own race.
But he said he might involve himself in the case after the election.
“(If) there has been no substantive work done on the case by the Supreme Court, then I wouldn't see any basis to continue to recuse,” he said in an interview. “Then I think the general obligation to sit on all cases that come before the court, I think that would kick back in.”
Wisconsin Supreme Court hopeful Jill Karofsky raised more than twice as much money during the last two months as incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly, new campaign finance reports show.
Karofsky raised $1.42 million between Feb. 4 and March 23 and had $643,805 on hand. So far this year she's raised $2.05 million. About $1.3 million has come from the state Democratic Party.
Kelly, by comparison, raised $591,789 during the last two months and had $396,309 on hand. This year he's raised $779,253, bolstered by $65,380 from the state Republican Party.
I know times are tough but Wisconsin is going to be a big state electorally this year and we need to fight hard to win it. Click below to donate and get involved with Biden and Karofsky’s campaigns:
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