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Capital City Sunday: Top legislative issues in 2021, uptick in threats against WI officials

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12-30 Cap City Guests FSG

MADISON (WKOW) -- As 2021 begins, Governor Tony Evers and the Republican-led Legislature have some big tasks ahead, such as attempting to negotiate a new budget and beginning the new process of redrawing legislative maps.

Strategists Bill McCoshen and Scot Ross break down what lies ahead in the legislative session, what agenda items lawmakers might be able to find a compromise on, and explain why the courts will ultimately decide how to draw new district lines.

Also, McCoshen and Ross weigh in on what a Joe Biden presidency will look like and why both agree his new leadership will have little impact on how Republicans and Democrats in Congress negotiate going forward.

Increasing Threats Made Towards Wisconsin Officials

As politics grow increasingly bitter, threats against public officials seem to be on the rise. 

Just last month, the Chair of the Wisconsin Election Commission and Justices on the State Supreme Court were targets of threats.

Ann Jacobs, the WEC chairwoman, faced numerous attacks after she signed off on president-elect Joe Bien's victory in Wisconsin. Jacobs told the New York Times she was targeted on social media, including a message mentioning her children and that a crowd of 'patriots' would show up at her house.

Most recently, Justices on the state Supreme Court faced a handful of threats after the high court ruled in cases against President Trump and his allies who attempted to overturn the election results. 

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said in a statement, "no justice should be threatened or intimidated based on his or her religious beliefs."

Three justices, Brian Hagedorn, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, have faced harassment and threats. Dallet and Karofsky faced a handful of anti-Semitic comments.

State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) has faced harassment and intimidation since being sworn into office two years ago and was one of the only lawmakers who spoke out against the recent threats made towards Wisconsin officials.

“It’s important to speak out about this because it’s absolutely unacceptable," said Vining. "This is not who we are and we need to declare that and make it very clear."

While it’s hard to keep an exact count on how many threats are occurring, Vining said the trend is growing since she was elected in 2018. She said she never expected this type of treatment when becoming a lawmaker. 

“I didn’t think (the job) would shift into being afraid of the people that we serve.”

As to what might be causing an uptick, Vining believes it’s likely tied to the rhetoric in politics as people are more divided than ever before. 

In 2019, she launched a “Words Matter” pledge in wake of the terrorist attack in New Zealand and encouraged her colleagues at the Capitol to join. 

“I think the words we use and how we say them affect what happens in the public sphere. When rhetoric escalates and it becomes more severe, life can get more dangerous,” she said. 

Members of Congress are also seeing an uptick in harassment reports, according to U.S. Capitol police. Capitol Hill law enforcement has testified investigations into threats against lawmakers nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017.

This trend followed the 2017 shooting at a Congressional baseball practice where a gunman injured Congressman Steve Scalise and several others.

“It’s terrifying and I worry about my children. I worry about my family and that’s why I worry about everyone else,” Vining said.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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