Top 10 State News Stories of 2017
Another historic year in Wisconsin politics created some big headlines.
Which where the state’s biggest stories of 2017. The envelopes, please:
1: The Foxconn incentives. No state has ever placed a bigger — $4 billion, if you total state and local governments’ antes — bet on a foreign-owned company. One way to measure it: The Foxconn deal equals more than 1 percent of Wisconsin’s entire GDP, estimated by the Federal Reserve at $309 billion in 2015. The Foxconn deal, and how much the company invests before November, will dominate elections for governor and the Legislature.
2: The state finally passes a budget. After much wrangling, a $76 billion spending plan through mid-2019 passed in September, two months late, that boosted K-12 school aids but failed to include a long-term solution to paying for state highways. That funding squeeze will become even more controversial as more aid is poured into Racine County for Foxconn, at the expense of highways statewide.
3: John Doe won’t die. Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a December report torching the now-shuttered Government Accountability Board (GAB) for what he called a “John Doe III” investigation that, he said, grossly invaded the privacy of dozens of Republican state officials, their family members, conservatives and contributors and backers of Gov. Scott Walker. Top GOP legislators then demanded the resignations of the administrators of the state Ethics and Elections commissions and asked Schimel for a criminal investigation of the GAB. Schimel also recommended unusual contempt-of-court actions against nine officials.
4: Lincoln Hills problems continue. While a federal probe into misconduct at the state’s Lincoln Hills prison for boys threatens to drag into a third year, violence forced overtime for staffers and other problems continued. Democrats hope to make this a major campaign issue against Walker.
6: Walker announces a third-term bid. He first won the job in 2010, held off a historical recall in 2012 and won again in 2014. The Republican touts a record number of Wisconsinites working, the lowest unemployment rate in a generation and controls on home property taxes. A conga line of 16 Democrats lined up to run against him.
7: Speaker Paul Ryan’s year. The First District congressman started 2017 having to react to outbursts of a tweeting President and was then blamed for congressional Republicans’ failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. But he ended the year claiming victory with the passage of tax-code changes and insisting that, no, he has no plans to retire.
8: Assembly Democrats dump Barca, denounce Zepnick. The 35 Assembly Democrats finally grew weary of the leadership of veteran Rep. Peter Barca, the Kenosha Democrat who cast one of four Dem votes for the Foxconn deal. They replaced him with Oshkosh Rep. Gordon Hintz, who ended the year by calling for Rep. Josh Zepnick to resign after two women accused the Milwaukee Democrat of forcefully kissing them. Banned from closed party caucuses, Zepnick said he has been sober for two years.
9: State Supreme Court changes. Controversial Justice Michael Gableman, one of five conservatives on the court, announced he will not run again and Justice Annette Ziegler was easily re-elected. If Gableman gets a Washington job, Walker could appoint former aide and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, who would have a head start in this April’s election for Gableman’s seat.
10: Sheriff David Clarke’s saga ends. After two years as a national spokesman for Trump and conservative causes — throwing out insults like “Black Lies Matter” — Clarke packed his cowboy hat and ended a 15-year run as Milwaukee County sheriff.
*After winning a third term, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers announces he will run as a Democrat for governor against Walker.
*Former state and national Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus is named, and then ousted, as White House chief of staff.
*Over the objections of Democrats and environmentalists, owners of high-capacity wells in central Wisconsin are allowed to repair and sell them without state review.