Thursday, March 23, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Tons of angry citizens take to the street and social media to send up distress signals about Donald Trump.  Protests have sped past any stop or go signal from the Democratic Party or established progressive groups. People on their own pick their causes and decide how to rise up -- women’s issues, general health care, refugees, immigrants, climate change, sanctuary cities, public education,  public health, opiates, social justice, drinking water and the list goes on to encompass the anger that has seeped into every corner of America.

Which begs the immediate question – how much of that will show up at the polls April 4?

The Wisconsin spring election is not overflowing with vital races where the anger can be centered  – there’s only one statewide – and all the races state and local  are described as nonpartisan.  Indeed in several Milwaukee races the candidates are pretty similar in ideology.

So maybe this election coulda shoulda ought to be a test of the public’s anger but it well might not be. Those on the receiving end of the anger might therefore delude themselves, look at the turnout April 4 and tsk-tsk “How typically fickle  of the electorate, in rage today and calm tomorrow.”  I wouldn’t count on that interpretation either.

Tony Evers an easy vote.
Sensible voters should turn out big-time for the lone statewide election for state superintendent of schools, re-electing Tony Evers, who has done a lot with too little and found a way to stand up to,  yet still work with,  the GOP dominated legislature and executive mansion.

The electorate should get excited about this race since it spells what’s going to happen to our children. Evers is a true educator who looks better and better once you assess the opposition and  the dark money showing up against him that wants less public feedback and more obsequious to the monied masters.

He sure stands out compared to Lowell Holtz, who every week faces a new revelation about his shaky work past,  his unsavory political connections – including to a family notorious for its voter suppression billboards – and his weak performance in head to head debates with Evers.

The choice here is almost so easy that you can’t read too much into the turnout, though if Holtz survives in any reasonable fashion I would have a lot to say about the corrupting power of money in our elections.

Milwaukee has some clear choices in school board elections but a difficult choice, ideologically, in the lone competitive circuit court race, where each candidate can point to notable names in support.


Of course, some of those endorsements came early for Kristy Yang, because for a while she was floated as a candidate against Cynthia Davis, a former Milwaukee assistant district attorney appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker.  Davis is now running unopposed, partly because Walker has gotten better with his appointments.

Kashoua (Kristy) Yang decided instead to run for Branch 47 once Judge John Siefert decided to take retirement.  There she faces veteran criminal lawyer (29 years)  and longtime Whitefish Bay municipal judge (8 years) Scott Wales.  Wales knew his branch choice from the start and has used a better established name and a more extensive war chest to rack up endorsements from lawyers,  judges, labor unions and public officials. 

Scott Wales my choice for circuit court.
I’ve been privileged to talk to both several times as they’ve made the rounds to general gatherings, since both believe in hands-on campaigning – and both have pretty similar judicial views.  It’s a race that has openly put political junkies in something of a bind.

Yang, a 2009 UW Law graduate,  is a model representative for  the Hmong community. That  appeals to those who want more minorities on the bench who bring a valued perspective.  She is a busy young lawyer working mainly in the field of family law, divorces and estates and such, with a personal story of rising through will and talent.

Wales also has a striking personal story of rising above great physical difficulty to become a leading figure in Milwaukee criminal law (nearly 1,000 circuit court cases from minor to felonies).  He openly discusses being born with Moebius Syndrome, an affliction that in his case paralyzes half of his face and for years made it hard to talk. But learn to talk fluently he did, just as he survived those childhood taunts.  This self-described “scrappy Jewish kid” believes his affliction has taught him a lot about the judicial role and its values. 

There will be other races
for Kristy Yang.
Advocates for both candidates have pressed me to decide, as I’m sure they have other voters. I’m for Wales.  I wish Yang had picked another race, but I’m confident that these sort of races come around every few years and we’ll see more of her.  Circuit court judges are hard to displace in elections, but they retire, they are promoted and the brave ones run for other offices, so there are always openings.

Wales has earned his time in the pit and emerged as one of the top criminal lawyers  as well as a successful municipal judge. His years in the shadows should be over.


Larry Miller in photo by Joe Brusky.
There are pretty clear decisions in three of the four city of Milwaukee public schools races. One district is where I live and I have long admired Larry Miller, who has fought for children and for public education, taken some difficult votes and helped champion explorative curriculums and resolutions on early childhood education,  Black Lives Matter and safe haven for immigrant children.

Miller has seldom been seriously challenged since 2009 because the community – District 5 on the East Side -- is quite satisfied with his work.  This time he is facing serious money and a serious candidate, Kahri Phelps Okoro, who has close ties to a construction company that has business interest in school properties. She  has a served as an MPS reading specialist and also apparently has a child in a voucher school.  Yet in public debates she insists she is a strong advocate for MPS and wants to focus on graduates doing well.

She hasn’t shaken my faith in Miller one little bit.

Annie Woodward
Nor will I abandon another school board veteran, two-termer Annie Woodward in nearby  inner city District 4. I’m picking up the vibes around the community of an age campaign against her  since Woodward is 77 and has been a community advocate since her retirement from the county department of health and human services.  She remains a vibrant outspoken defender of public schools and opponent to the voucher school groups connected  by money to the new US secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. One of those groups is backing her opponent.

I don’t blame her young opponent, Aisha Carr, for the age whispers. That can’t be traced. But Carr is coming off a four-day  MPS suspension as an ethnic studies teacher, which she claimed was politically motivated. I traced that  and  find no evidence. As an MTEA (union) member she was defended by her union in the case. What I did find evidence of was MPS going beyond the call of duty to introduce the Black Lives Matter material she teaches and basically issue a slap on the wrist for a serious violation, mishandling a field trip.

What I can find is that Carr is being supported by the same dark money opposing Evers, and is funded in amounts far larger than typical in such races by organizations that are either flying under a misleading banner of “school choice” or are good at pretending to be for public schools while their campaigns violate basic standards of transparency.

A Messmer High grad and Teach for America survivor, Carr has complained to critics on Facebook that she is being attacked as a voucher school supporter when she has never spoken directly to the issue. But it would be naïve to think that taking money from such groups doesn’t stick to her.

Leaders for a Better Community, as one mysterious group is known as it litters doorways with its flyers,  didn’t reveal its roots in the August election. The only known person is radio host Sherwin Hughes, whose talk show has had Carr as a guest. 
Tony Baez, highly respected public school advocate
now facing suspicious money.

We can explain more about that funding stream after discussing another race, the one in District 6 between a veteran public schools and bilingual education advocate Tony Baez – who has been praised by Evers --  and a virtually unknown but now heavily funded young opponent, Jonatan Zuniga, 23.

He also denies being a voucher school candidate, saying he believes in all schools and, like Carr, supports the idea of MPS being the only charter  school authorizer.  (Right now the city and UWM are among such authorizers.)

But  there is a lot  of word salad in such school board races. Better to look at results and well earned reputations.

Baez has the superior reputation in a career devoted to children and public education. Zuniga is receiving the same voucher friendly but hard to trace  funding as Carr -- from the MMAC and Leaders for a Better Community.

MMAC used a special $20,000 financial gift  from Augustin Ramirez  that went against Evers in the statewide race but now also helps both Zuniga and Carr, who talk a lot about getting businesses more involved in public education.

The Augustin Ramirez connection to Zuniga is easy to explain.  The open District 6 seat was occupied by Tatiana Joseph, a champion of public schools who hand-picked Baez to run in her place. This community had a lot of opposition to Ramirez’s plan to use his largesse to take soccer field space for his mammoth Christian school concept.

Ramirez, the wealthy retired founder  of Waukesha’s Husco International, is now anxious for the success of St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, opening this summer and hoping to expand to 2,000 principally Latino students. Latino parents are a key voting group in the district Baez and Zuniga are vying for, where Ramirez’s academy is located.  Imagine how helpful it would be for his religious voucher school to have a sympathetic MPS board member.

Zuniga’s campaign received a rare direct rebuke from MPS in this race between two newcomers to the board. MPS Supt. Darienne Driver was clearly miffed that Zuniga’s flyer used her photo plus her ideas without her permission, suggesting she was a supporter.  MPS didn’t know at the time about Carr’s similar flyer, which doesn’t use the photo but names Driver twice and also advertises support for her reforms -- as if Driver were endorsing.  (MPS does not endorse candidates.)

A Facebook ad uses Carr's face and classroom to
solicit funds supposedly for public schools.
Carr is also the poster child on Facebook for a money-seeking effort by Leaders in Education Fund, whose come-ons sound eerily similar to Leaders for a Better Community. 

Clearly Baez is the better choice in his district as Woodward is in hers. Both are certainly more honest about their intentions.

There’s yet another school board race on the south side between two newcomers and it has  split progressive groups.  Paula Phillips is a personable advocate for women’s leadership, an experienced community voice and product of AmeriCorps.  Her opponent, Joey Balistreri, is also young and public education attuned and has openly talked about how being gay  has influenced his determination to help student career achievement.

They represent a case of dual endorsements by many groups, though the word on the street is that M. Paula Phillips (as she is more formally known) has the edge.

Also given the edge in the contentious Milwaukee municipal judge race is veteran Valarie Hill, who drew a crowd of primary opponents in February because of concerns about how sensitive the municipal court has been  to the largely poor clientele bollixed by its fines and treatment of driver’s licenses. 

Hill has defended as brusque efficiency a manner that some had characterized as offensive, but she has satisfied a lot of critics that she is energized and knowledgeable on how to improve the system. She is again being supported by labor groups and established black groups.

She is faced by William Crowley, an ACLU attorney and disability rights advocate highly respected in the very community that has been upset by court procedures.

There is also an advisory referendum on the county ballot that I oppose – for a $60 wheel tax that Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele argues is essential to maintain services.
The state already has a $75 vehicle registration fee, and the City of Milwaukee has a $20 add-on.

Abele has received support from county board supervisors for a $30 wheel tax but intends to continue fighting for $60 regardless of the vote.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

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