By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — With recall season — almost, kind of — behind them, Wisconsinites are turning their attention toward November. Wisconsin is expected to be a key state in the presidential race and a battleground for control of the U.S. Senate.
The recall elections, of course, linger a bit.
The recount of the Senate District 21 ballots, requested by Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, began Wednesday. Unofficial returns showed former state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, winning by more than 800 votes.
As of late Thursday, Wanggaard appeared to have picked up 10 votes.
Political life elsewhere is moving on and, for the first time in what seems like ages, the recalls weren’t the main political news around the state this week, which kicked off with a visit from GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in Janesville on Monday.
Senate candidates get busy
Mark Neumann is courting Catholics, Eric Hovde is dealing with damage control, Tommy Thompson is leading in the polls, and Tammy Baldwin has decided it’s time to buy an ad.
In a nutshell, that's where the race to replace U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl stands.
Thompson, a former four-term Wisconsin governor, leads among the GOP candidates less than two months before the Aug. 14 primary, with 34 percent of likely primary voters supporting him, according to a new poll from Marquette Law School released Wednesday.
The MU poll of 707 registered and eligible voters, taken June 13-16, also gives President Barack Obama a 49 percent to 43 percent edge over Romney, narrower than his 51 percent to 43 percent edge in May.
Hovde backpedaled this week on comments he made a week ago at a campaign stop in Brookfield where, according to the Huffington Post, he said the media should stop focusing so much on sad stories about low-income people and focus more on broader issues, such as the national debt.
That prompted criticism that Hovde, a hedge fund investor, is out of touch with the average person.
Hovde told The Associated Press this week that he regretted the comments, but that they were taken out of context.
Neumann, a former 1st District U.S. representative, showed up at Catholic hospitals around the state Wednesday, blasting Obama’s health-care law and a controversial provision that has angered the religious right.
“The (national health-care law) literally requires an institution such as this — a Catholic hospital — to include abortion-inducing drugs in their health-care plans, which is in direct opposition to their ethical and moral and religious beliefs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Baldwin — the sole Democrat in the race — released her first ad of the campaign.
Speaking of Obamacare
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon, perhaps as early as Monday, on what University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant law professor Andrew Coan calls “the most significant constitutional case that certainly the court has decided in the 21st century, and I believe it’s one of the most significant cases the court has decided in the past 50 or 60 years.”
The 2,200-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which some have dubbed “Obamacare,” covers things such as requiring people to buy health insurance to expanding Medicaid to offering tax credits to help people purchase insurance.
So, Coan said, “the potential array of outcomes is dizzyingly complex.”
Late Thursday, Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison led protesters in the rosary at the state Capitol, launching a two-week vigil/protest called “Fortnight for Freedom” — part of a national effort of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“We came here to pray hard that the Lord will continue to help us to defend our own religious freedom and our freedom of conscience when those are somehow endangered,” Morlino said.
"There’s another aspect of the (U.S.) Health and Human Services' mandate that seeks to define what religious activity is. And how can someone external to a religious community explain to that community how they are supposed to be religious? That again is a terrible infringement on religious freedom."
Thursday night’s vigil for social conservative causes came on the heels of another Catholic demonstration, this time with liberal undertones. Earlier this week in Janesville, 45 minutes south of Madison, a group of Catholic “Nuns on the Bus” stopped by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s to protest the Janesville Republican’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ budget, which passed the House of Representatives in March.
Pension system’s strength in question
A Pew Center on the States analysis of state pension funds rated Wisconsin Retirement System,or WRS, 100 percent fully funded, far better than states such as Connecticut, 53 percent, or Illinois, 45 percent.
The Badger State does indeed boast a healthy-looking plan, but its strength is based on questionable accounting practices and borrowed money.
Economists say it’s a much better system than those that build their projections on expectations that fund investments will pay out like loose Vegas slots. But the state fund still assumes a 7.2 percent rate of return on its investments, known in the business as the discount rate.
If you think that’s reasonable investment planning, talk to one of Wall Street’s neighbors, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“If somebody offers you a guaranteed 7 percent on your money for the rest of your life, you take it and just make sure the guy’s name is not Madoff,” Bloomberg recently told the New York Times, referring to convicted investment scammer Bernie Madoff.
In 2003, Wisconsin also issued $950 million in auction-rate bonds to help shore up its pension plan.