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Capital City Sunday: Kind on COVID-19 relief, response to Johnson pushing conspiracy theory

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Democrats in the House and Senate are split over how to approach the issue of raising the minimum wage as part of the COVID-19 relief package.

After the Senate Parliamentarian ruled the wage language could not be included in the bill, the most liberal Democrats sought to push forward with the wage hike, ignoring the ruling.

More moderate members of the party, including Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) said they could accept taking out the wage increase and taking it up later as its own bill.

"I don't suspect it will be a part of any final bill but that still gives us time to work in a bipartisan fashion to increase the federal minimum wage," Kind said. "Because, right now, $7.25 is an embarrassment."

While the bill would immediately raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and then reach $15 by 2025 through annual increases, Kind said he still had concerns about how steady increased could small businesses, particularly in rural parts of his western Wisconsin district.

"We recognize it has to be a transition," Kind said. "It can't be overnight because that would be too much of a shock, especially to our small businesses."

report from the Congressional Budget Office found the measure would increase federal spending by $54 billion by 2031. Much of that increased spending was based on an estimated increase in prices for goods and services resulting from the higher wages.

As for the $1,400 relief checks slated to reach Americans who earned less than $75,000 a year, Kind said he would have preferred a more targeted approach.

"For the sake of speed, there wasn't time to do that type of adjustment," Kind said. "But, personally, I think more means testing was warranted."

Kind told the La Crosse Tribune in a forum earlier in the week he was opposed to forgiving student loan debt up to $50,000. He maintained that stance, saying it wouldn't be fair to those who've paid their debts and added it would also create uncertainty over what to do with future students.

"What do you tell previous generations that took student loans, worked hard, and paid them off, and then suddenly, students later had all their debt wiped out?" Kind asked. "There's a sense of unfairness in that."

Kind said he was considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2022 but was focused on the short-term work of providing pandemic relief and overseeing the effort to vaccinate people before COVID-19 variants become more widespread.

"It's all hands on deck in D.C.," Kind said. "But, down the road, I'm sure we'll be taking a look at that."

Johnson faces criticism from the right

Republican Senator Ron Johnson garnered national attention throughout the week following his questioning of former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund during a hearing on the January 6 insurrection.

Johnson opted to use much of his time to read the eyewitness account of a right-wing writer who has claimed, based on body language he observed that day, the attack's instigators included "provocateurs" and "fake Trump supporters."

James Wigderson, editor of the conservative site, Right Wisconsin, has criticized Johnson's embrace of conspiracy theories. Wigderson said he believed Johnson was among the GOP lawmakers catering to the party's most hardcore supporters of former president Donald Trump.

"I think there's a fear of the Republican base right now," Wigderson said. "The Republican base doesn't want to hear that it was Trump supporters that [were behind the Capitol riot]. They don't want to hear, even want to hear that Trump lost the election and Johnson has been pandering to that base rather than speaking the truth."

Wigderson said his biggest concern was the gravity of the wild, unfounded claims being pushed by the far-right; by convincing millions of Americans their candidate had the election stolen, Wigderson said it opens the doors to the type of extreme response the country saw on January 6.

"The type of conspiracy theories the Republican Party is embracing right now, they're the type that undermine a democracy," he said. "Because they're the type that say if everything is illegitimate, then that justifies anything you do."

Wigderson said, these days, his inbox is about a "50-50" mix of conservatives who said they were ashamed of the party's direction and those livid Right Wisconsin would criticize Republicans instead of liberals.

Wigderson cited the Waukesha County GOP's recent screening of Mike Lindell's movie claiming, through the use of debunked evidence, the election was stolen from Trump.

As for whether he himself regrets any of his past writings and if they may have contributed to the resentment a number of conservatives feel, Wigderson said he wishes he could go back about a decade and push back on the birther movement that claimed former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

"I never advertised that theory, I never promoted that theory but at the same time, I probably should've done more to criticize that theory," Wigderson said. "We can draw a direct line from that to the current paranoid political theories that are out there right now in the Republican Party."

Wisconsin Republican Seek to Change Absentee Voting Rules

GOP lawmakers this past week were circulating a total of ten proposals that would place new restrictions on how people are able to vote in Wisconsin. Most of the proposed bills put new rules in place for how voters obtain and submit absentee ballots.

The measures would require voters to provide proof of ID every time they seek to vote absentee, force people seeking 'indefinite confinement' status to show proof from a medical professional every two years, limit where voters can get an absentee ballot, and provide additional paperwork for those seeking to vote early in-person.

The language restricting the use of indefinite confinement was especially troubling to advocates for the disability community.

"Many voters with disabilities and voters who are elderly are apprehensive to use that option, even though it's perfectly legitimate," said Denise Jess, CEO of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired.

Jess said she believed aside from 2020, when use of the provision allowing voters to avoid presenting a photo ID rose dramatically statewide amid the pandemic, voters with disabilities were more likely to not apply for status even though they qualified.

"People get really nervous about it. They get apprehensive about whether they are considered indefinitely confined, if they get out to go to church or go to the grocery, does that count as indefinitely confined," Jess said. "So we know that, in general, our populations may underutilize that very important provision."

Republican sponsors of the bill said the measures would remove any doubts about the secure use of absentee voting.

Democratic Governor Tony Evers has indicated he will veto any bills he believes would make it unnecessarily more difficult for people to vote.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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