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 May 29, 2020


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Happy birthday, Wisconsin!  On this day in 1848, President James Polk signed into law an Act of Congress that admitted Wisconsin to the Union as America's 30th state.


If you think politics was simpler in the old days, think again.  America in the late 1840s was wrestling with deep and partisan issues that would eventually lead to the Civil War.  The United States went to war in 1846-1847 against Mexico; many northerners such as former president John Quincy Adams and future president Abraham Lincoln bitterly opposed this, in part because they feared (justifiably, as it turned out) the expansion of southern slave-holding territory and in part because they believed President Polk's actions unconstitutionally exceeded his authority.  As the war neared its end, President Polk lost confidence in his peace negotiator Nicholas Trist and fired him; Trist ignored this (can you imagine?!) and convinced a new Mexican government to agree to the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Meanwhile, U.S. Democrats had lost the 1846 midterm elections to the ascendant anti-war Whigs, but the U.S. Senate voted (surrounded by great controversy) to ratify the treaty anyway in March 1848, just a few weeks prior to Wisconsin statehood, ultimately leading to the creation of 10 more western and southwestern states.


The Wisconsin Territory was not immune from the deep divisions.  Our state constitution took two tries to pass; the first version, advanced by the territorial legislature in fall 1846, failed at referendum in spring 1847, but a second version succeeded in spring 1848.


I think my favorite part of Wisconsin's statehood story is the fact that a big dispute over banking, of all things, nearly prevented us from becoming a state at all.  The first (failed) version of our state constitution would have effectively banned all commercial banking in Wisconsin; prohibited the legislature from authorizing banks; and allowed the use of paper money only in small denominations.  In those days, former president Andrew Jackson's dim views of banks and paper currency still held a lot of sway in the Midwest.  These anti-banking proposals, and other proposals concerning such issues as black suffrage and women's property rights, proved too controversial and were not included in the second version of the state constitution that was enacted in 1848.


I'm sure glad we figured it out.  And, hey, I think we look pretty good for 172 years of age.


Best wishes on your weekend!


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A PSA From Tommy

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Former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson wants you to know that Wisconsin's hospitals and clinics are safe, clean and ready to serve you.  Many folks had no choice but to delay routine care or postpone a visit to a primary care physician over the past few months, but your healthcare professionals are eager once again to see you now that most facilities have resumed most services.  Click on the picture of Tommy to hear him in his own words!



More Trouble at DWD



In recent weeks, my staff and I have heard from a whole lot of you who lost a job due to no fault of your own, but who now seem to have gotten lost in the Unemployment Insurance system.  When we learn of a situation like this, we are able to alert our liaison at the Department of Workforce Development to your difficulty and ask them to call you directly.  (This can be especially beneficial for those individuals who have tried and tried and tried to call DWD but failed to get through on the busy phone lines.)  We have heard from some of the first folks we served that they have at long last been contacted by the Department, gotten any obstacles sorted out and begun receiving UI benefits.


Unfortunately, this week we learned more about just how bad the problem really is at DWD.  The backlog of unpaid claims has grown to more than 700,000 and the agency says it could be fall before they catch all the way up.  This is simply unacceptable.  The agency has said it is hiring more employees and expanding the call center operating schedule by two hours, but I understand that other states' agencies in the same situation are working 24/7 to get through the backlog.  DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said this week that he thinks his department is doing a great job handling the crisis, but I don't think that the 30 percent of claimants who haven't been paid and are barely hanging on would agree.


Another problem has arisen also: Governor Evers and DWD aren't following the law (which I voted for and which the governor signed) on this.  The law we passed in mid-April required UI claims specifically related to the COVID-19 emergency not be charged to a contribution employer's UI account for the remainder of 2020.  But they have taken no action at all yet to change the normal practice of charging employers' accounts.  The legislature alerted Governor Evers this week to the fact that DWD has chosen so far not to follow the law and that employers could therefore face massive tax increases that we specifically acted together to avoid.  At this critical moment when employers are struggling to get back on their feet and bring their workers back, it makes no sense at all for DWD to make things harder.


Republicans will continue to advocate for a better response.



Office of Representative Terry Katsma
State Capitol, Room 306 East
P.O. Box 8952
Madison, WI 53708

(608) 266-0656
Rep.Katsma@legis.wisconsin.gov |