Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)

Dec. 2, 2020, headlines from around Wisconsin

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has refused to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and stoked conspiracy theories about non-existent voter fraud but he doesn’t believe some of what he’s saying, according to one constituent who wrote about a recent phone call.

In a Nov. 14 conversation with former Brown County Republican Party Chairman Mark Becker, Johnson openly admitted Biden won the presidential election but said going public with the basic acceptance of reality would be “political suicide,” according to a first-hand account of the conversation published in The Bulwark, a conservative news outlet edited by prominent Wisconsin never-Trumper Charlie Sykes.

“Senator Johnson knows that Joe Biden won a free and fair election,” Becker wrote. “He is refusing to admit it publicly and stoking conspiracies that undermine our democracy solely because it would be ‘political suicide’ to oppose [President Donald] Trump.”

Johnson reportedly told Becker he does not mind Trump’s attempts to undermine the electoral process because he thinks the country’s institutions will survive whatever attacks Trump makes.

“This response shocked me, since it suggested that the truth was ultimately unimportant and that Sen. Johnson viewed what the president was doing as someone else’s problem,” Becker wrote.

Among other highlights, Johnson reportedly said Trump “is an asshole” and dismissed the idea that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) love America.

Read the full account of the conversation here.

Biden Electors, National Democratic Party Ask to Intervene in Trump Lawsuit

The Democratic National Convention and President-elect Joe Biden’s Wisconsin electors on Wednesday asked to join the defense against President Donald Trump’s attempt to disenfranchise more than 220,000 voters in Milwaukee and Dane counties.

Trump, who lost Wisconsin by about 20,500 votes in the Nov. 3 presidential election, filed a lawsuit Tuesday with the state Supreme Court baselessly alleging that vast swaths of votes were illegal. Trump wants those categories of votes—such as in-person absentee ballots and absentee ballots where the envelopes were “cured”—thrown out in the state’s two largest, most Democratic counties, but not the state’s 70 other counties.

“Such a blatantly discriminatory result would be an afront [sic] to our most cherished constitutional and democratic values,” the DNC and electors’ filing reads. “We are unaware of any state or federal court that has ever endorsed such relief, which would violate both the Wisconsin and federal constitutions.”

The nullification of more than 220,000 votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties would almost certainly reverse the election results.

The Trump lawsuit drew harsh rebukes from the state’s top Democrats like Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul. Evers said the suit had “no merit,” while Kaul said the suit blatantly asks the Supreme Court to disenfranchise people by “establish[ing] a two-tiered system” that would toss out votes in just two of the state’s 72 counties.

Two other lawsuits filed by conservatives ask the Supreme Court to throw the entire election out and let the Republican-led Legislature appoint electors, a proposal at odds with state law.

Fire and EMS Captain Dies of COVID-19 on Thanksgiving

Kelly Raether, a registered nurse and captain with the Town of Ixonia Fire and EMS Department in Jefferson County, died of COVID-19 on Thanksgiving, the department announced on Facebook.

Raether was a 15-year veteran of the department and served as an advanced EMT, EMS lieutenant, and EMS captain. She also taught nursing at Carroll University in Waukesha; the college wrote on Facebook that Raether “selflessly risked her life to care for others.”

Raether was just 42 years old at the time of her death, according to WTMJ

The department said it is treating Raether’s passing as a line-of-duty death, implying she caught COVID-19 while responding to a call.

Racine Extends COVID Ordinances Through June

Racine’s Common Council on Tuesday night voted 13-2 to extend its COVID-19 safety measures, including a mask mandate, through June 2021, the Racine Journal Times reports

Racine has experienced uninhibited COVID-19 spread, with confirmed cases growing by 90% since Oct. 20. 

Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox told the council the spread can be blamed on people not wearing masks properly or at all, and people stubbornly gathering in-person, according to the Journal Times.

The Racine Public Health Department, which also holds jurisdiction over the small suburbs of Elmwood Park and Wind Point, reports 5,921 confirmed cases and 56 deaths in its coverage area. The Central Racine County Health Department, which oversees the rest of the county, is reporting 7,314 confirmed and 849 probable cases of COVID-19.

Nygren Resigns, Born Will Head Finance Committee

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) will become the new co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, filling the seat of Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who unexpectedly resigned from the Legislature on Tuesday.

Born, who was just elected to his fifth term in the Assembly, will take up the Joint Finance co-chair mantle as the state moves into its 2021-23 budget period early next year. He has been a member of the committee since 2017.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced Born’s appointment in a Wednesday afternoon press release. He said Born and committee Vice Chair Rep. Amy Loundenbeck (R-Clinton) will “continue to look out for the best interests of Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Nygren, a seven-term incumbent who just won an eighth term, had been Assembly chair of the Joint Finance Committee since 2013. He was reappointed to the position last month after his re-election. He is resigning to take a private sector job. 

His former Senate counterpart, Alberta Darling, won’t be in the other co-chair position. The River Hills Republican has been replaced after 10 years with the gavel. With the departure of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) to Congress, new Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu announced Wednesday he has chosen Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) to co-chair the budget writing panel.

State of the State, Budget Addresses Go Virtual

Gov. Tony Evers will deliver his annual State of the State and biennial budget addresses virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his office announced Tuesday.

Evers will virtually broadcast the State of the State address 7 p.m. Jan. 12. He is asking the Joint Finance Committee to let him deliver the budget address 7 p.m. Feb. 16; state law dictates that budget addresses are to be given by the last Tuesday in January, but governors can request additional time to prepare the address.

In a letter to top lawmakers, the governor said to protect against COVID-19, “elected leaders must lead by example.” He encouraged the Assembly to watch the addresses virtually rather than in-person.

COVID Is Out of Control, But One City Is Planning a Holiday Parade Anyway

Against the recommendations of virtually every health expert, Fox Lake will hold its annual downtown holiday parade this month, the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen reports.

“It’s all about the children,” Fox Lake Chamber of Commerce President Vicki Matheys told the Citizen.

Matheys told the paper the chamber will be “adamant” in enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing. She said “we’re not necessarily hoping to get a whole bunch of people,” despite the fact she is overseeing a parade.