2010 in review: GOP surge, smoking ban were top stories

2010 in review: tobacco industry While state Democrats celebrated the official start of one of their cornerstone achievements in 2010, Republicans changed the political landscape nationwide in November’s midterm election.

Locally, a ballot referendum in the spring opened the door for Green Bay schools to take on costly maintenance projects and improve classroom technology.

The political pulse took center stage over the year as new legislation rolled out and election results shook up Madison and Washington, D.C. The Green Bay Press-Gazette provides a look at some of the top stories to affect the community.

Butts out

Smokers across Wisconsin were officially told to take it outside when a statewide smoking ban went into effect July 5. Signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in May 2009, the law made it illegal to smoke in any enclosed public place or place of employment, including bars and restaurants.

While reaction to the law was mixed, advocates have said the first six months of the ban went smoothly, and surveys show the change is popular.

Many organizations have amped up their efforts to encourage individuals to quit smoking in hopes that the new provisions will push people to stop.

Law enforcement agencies reported a few problems with patrons or owners not abiding by the law.

However, some local bar owners remain cool to the ban and insist that it has hurt business during an already tough economy.

The law was signed a year before it took effect, but restaurant and bar owners said they didn’t have enough time to prepare their facilities to accommodate the growing number of outdoor smokers.

With a new Republican administration, there is some hope among opponents of the ban that there could be movement in Madison to overturn it, but that appears unlikely. Gov.-elect Scott Walker, a Republican, has said he opposes the smoking ban, but a change is not on his job-focused agenda.

“Governor-elect Walker doesn’t believe government should be dictating to small businesses what types of legal activities are acceptable to engage in on private property. With that said, along the campaign trail Governor-elect Walker stated that repealing the smoking ban would not be a legislative priority,” said Cullen Werwie, spokesman for Walker’s transition team.

Smokers who balk at the law could face a fine of $100 to $250.

Bar and restaurant owners also could face a maximum daily fine of $100 if they facilitate smoking by providing ashtrays or serving someone who is smoking.

Republican sweep

With economic recovery coming slowly and joblessness still high, Democrats sustained massive losses at the polls during a midterm election just two years after President Barack Obama won 53 percent of the popular vote.

Republicans rode a wave of support from their conservative base and the emergence of the tea party to unprecedented gains in the U.S. House of Representatives and governors’ seats nationwide.

They also closed the Democrats’ lead in the U.S. Senate.

In Wisconsin, Republicans fared just as well, if not better. Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor and Democratic nominee Tom Barrett in the Nov. 2 election despite a contested GOP primary against former Congressman Mark Newman that left him with significantly fewer resources and a split party.

Three-term U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, was ousted from office by political newcomer Ron Johnson, a conservative Republican and businessman from Oshkosh, despite polls showing the veteran lawmaker had relatively high favorability ratings.

Reid Ribble of Lawrence, who left his roofing business to run as a Republican for Northeastern Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional seat, handily defeated two-term Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton. Overall, Wisconsin flipped from five Democratic representatives and three Republican, to five Republicans and three Democrats.

Republicans also captured both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature, defeating numerous party leaders and solidifying control of state government for at least the next two years.

Money for schools

Green Bay residents overwhelmingly approved a referendum in the spring that increased the tax rate to pay for $16.7 million in facilities repair and new technology for the Green Bay School District.

Instead of the district tax rate dropping by 20 cents per $1,000 of property value, it went down by 2 cents per $1,000.

The vote came in two separate ballot referendums.

One asked voters for $11 million to fund facilities and maintenance projects, including repair and replacement of roofing, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. It passed with 69 percent of the vote.

A second question sought $5.7 million for technology, including the replacement of 5,600 computers and installation of a $1 million districtwide wireless network and was approved with 65 percent voting “yes.”


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