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While dramatic and unprecedented, the protests against Gov. Scott Walker six years ago failed to deliver significant victories for Democrats. Now, as Democrats line up to challenge Walker in his bid for a third term, the candidates are largely avoiding talk of outright repealing the law that dealt a blow to their party's coffers.

Democratic challengers to Scott Walker divided on what to do about Act 10

The nine leading Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Gov. Scott Walker say public workers should regain their voice in the workplace after Walker throttled it six years ago — but they disagree on how to make it happen.

Some candidates promise to immediately repeal the controversial collective bargaining law known as Act 10 as soon as possible.

Others argue that an attempted rollback would be difficult with a Republican-controlled Legislature and the state should instead look at other ways to improve workers’ rights.

However, it’s unclear what kind of role Act 10 will play in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

“Act 10 is clearly still a very important issue for the Democratic base, so it makes sense for the challengers to Gov. Walker to bring it up,” said David Canon, a political science professor at UW-Madison. “However, I would imagine that many independent voters and some Democrats have moved past the issue now and are more interested in other issues.”

Act 10 all but eliminated most public employees’ abilities to collectively bargain over their wages, benefits and work environment. It prompted massive membership losses for labor unions, striking a colossal blow to Democrats’ campaign coffers and volunteer base.

If anything, Canon and other experts say, the top Democrats could use Act 10 as a way to rally voters in the crowded Democratic primary. If all candidates remain on the Aug. 14 ballot, only a small percentage of votes is needed to win the right to challenge Walker in November.

Less likely is that the Democratic nominee will campaign on Act 10 in the general election, they say.

Walker successfully survived a recall election in 2012 — a year after Walker signed Act 10 into law — and won a second term in 2014 with public sector workers still feeling the financial and emotional sting of the law. But polling has shown the majority of the state doesn’t want lawmakers to lift the restrictions on collective bargaining.

“I doubt that Act 10, which is a major issue and has clearly affected schools, will be a prominent issue in the campaign,” said Ed Miller, a political science professor at UW-Stevens Point. “For one, there have been elections since and Walker was re-elected.”

Miller said candidates are likely to focus on issues that are simply more appealing to voters, such as improving roads or the multi-billion taxpayer incentive package Walker helped design for Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn to build a $10 billion LCD panel factory in Racine County.

Some candidates who say they would repeal the law say they would pay for it, in part, by stopping the Foxconn deal, which would provide more than $3 billion in state taxpayer-funded incentives to the company.

Varying positions

Former state Rep. Kelda Roys of Madison, former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn, Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said they would actively seek to repeal the collective-bargaining related provisions of the law.

State schools Superintendent Tony Evers and Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell, who earned statewide recognition after leading protests against the law, said they would sign legislation repealing the law, but acknowledged the task would be impossible with a Republican-controlled Legislature and would instead find ways to enhance employees’ say in their workplace.

A spokeswoman for Paul Soglin said Soglin supports restoration of collective bargaining but Soglin said previously he would not base his campaign around the law’s repeal. And Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik emphasized Gronik wanted to look forward and find the best way to put workers’ voices back in the workplace but did not take a firm stance on whether he would seek the law’s repeal.

As of late January, just three candidates made any mention of Act 10 on their websites and only one did it directly (though some websites have no information about candidates’ stances on issues whatsoever).

Evers said he would use his skills to “end the divisiveness that has consumed our state since Scott Walker became governor.” Vinehout posted a column she wrote in 2011 that explains why Senate Democrats left the state during the Act 10 debate and Roys says she “helped lead the opposition during the historic protests of Gov. Scott Walker’s destruction of Wisconsin’s long-standing worker protections.”

Polling provided by the Marquette Law School Poll director Charles Franklin, conducted in 2012 and 2014, showed voters split but leaning toward not wanting to see the Act 10 restrictions on collective bargaining lifted.

Forty-nine percent of those polled favored the limits while 44 percent wanted the restrictions lifted, according to an average of four polls conducted in both years. Franklin said he conducted four polls asking the question and the results changed very little each time.

“There may be some sense that Act 10 was litigated in the recall election and by a modest margin Walker prevailed there. And I at least don’t recall it being much of an issue in 2014 which suggested to me at least the (Mary) Burke camp had decided to move on,” Franklin said. “I’m more struck now it’s being talked about as much as it is this time compared to what I remember in 2014.”

Franklin said it was “striking” how stable opinions on the law were between his 2012 and 2014 polls. Though he hasn’t asked about the law since, Franklin said he hasn’t seen a massive objective change since the law was passed that would change public opinion.

“As far as I can see, the evidence shows people’s opinions of it are really locked in,” he said.

Franklin said there are large partisan splits on the issue: Republicans strongly support the restrictions while Democrats oppose them. He said independents favor the restrictions by a margin of 52 to 39 percent.

The polling also showed 60 percent of public sector employees favor returning to collective bargaining, compared with only 39 percent in the private sector. Nearly 70 percent of union members favor bargaining, while only 38 percent of non-union members support it. Those polled in the city of Milwaukee and Madison media markets favor collective bargaining while the rest of the state, to different degrees, do not, Franklin said.

“(Focusing on Act 10) would be a good primary tactic but for the general election, I don’t think so,” said Joe Heim, a longtime political science professor at UW-La Crosse. “By the general election, the union people and anybody who opposes Act 10 would know exactly where they are going. If you are trying to get some crossover supporters who generally think Act 10 was not a bad idea, but don’t necessarily like Walker, reminding them of that time is not a good idea.”

Republicans have touted how the law saved state and local governments billions of dollars, though that’s based mostly on provisions of the law separate from bargaining that required public employees to contribute to pension and health insurance premiums. Democrats say it has contributed to a statewide teacher shortage, though school districts are facing shortages across the country.

“You don’t need to remind anyone of it,” Heim said. “Time to move on and I would hope the Democrats are smart enough to look forward.”

Walker credits law

A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin did not respond to a request for comment on whether the issue will be prominent in the 2018 campaign.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Walker’s campaign cited Act 10 as the catalyst for a “Wisconsin comeback” that resulted in $5 billion in savings to local governments.

“The extreme Democrat candidates running in the wide-open field for governor have a choice: raise taxes to pay for undoing the governor’s reforms, or accept that he fixed the financial crisis their party created,” spokesman Brian Reisinger said.

Sleep cycle troubles may be early sign of Alzheimer's disease

A fitful night’s sleep and a habit of daytime catnapping may be a warning sign of Alzheimer’s dementia, according to new research conducted in humans and mice.

Restless nights and sleepy days are a common pattern in patients with full-blown Alzheimer’s. Those disrupted circadian rhythms are a symptom that can upend the lives of caregivers and cause confusion and anxiety in patients.

Less dramatic levels of sleep disruption, including trouble falling asleep and more frequent nighttime wakening, are also typical as people age.

A new study finds that, in older people who show no signs of cognitive impairment, those with a sleep-wake cycle that is subtly off-kilter are more likely to have amyloid protein deposits in their brains. Those amyloid “plaques” are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, and they can develop years before symptoms of memory loss or thinking problems are evident.

Study participants whose sleep patterns followed a clearer pattern of sleeping through the night and staying awake during the day were less likely to have significant clumps of amyloid protein in their brains, suggesting they were less likely to go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The new research, published this week by the journal JAMA Neurology, doesn’t answer the question of whether a messy sleep pattern actually contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s or is just a sign of the disorder.

If it’s merely a sign of impending Alzheimer’s, it could still be a useful tell. Currently, the earliest clear signs of Alzheimer’s disease — those plaque deposits — can only be detected with sophisticated brain imaging. If physicians and researchers had a behavioral signpost that could be readily detected with a wearable activity monitor, they’d likely identify more people who could enroll in research studies, or who might benefit from early efforts to head off dementia.

On the other hand, if a sleep-wake cycle with frequent nighttime awakening and more daytime sleeping actually helps Alzheimer’s gain a foothold, that finding could be even more valuable: Patients with broken sleep patterns could be counseled to take steps to improve their nighttime sleep quality, perhaps delaying or preventing their progression toward dementia.

“I don’t want to scare people into thinking that if they wake up often at night they’ll have Alzheimer’s,” said study co-author Dr. Erik S. Musiek, a Washington University neurologist who studies the role of the circadian clock on aging.

Some changes in sleep are typical as people age. But while disrupted sleep patterns generally manifest themselves as nighttime awakenings and short bursts of compensating daytime sleep, participants didn’t always notice or report these occurrences, Musiek said.

“These are subtle things, and we can detect them in a large group of people,” he said.

The role that sleep disruption plays in early Alzheimer’s — whether it contributes to the disease or merely signals its presence — should become clearer as his research team tracks study participants into old age.

In the meantime, research conducted on mice offers a tantalizing peek at an answer, Musiek said. When scientists from Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania bred mice whose normal circadian rhythms were completely knocked out by a combination of drugs and genetic engineering, amyloid plaques accumulated quickly in the hippocampus, a key structure in memory and learning.

Only later would the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.

That study, slated for publication in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, suggests that irregularities of circadian rhythm accelerate amyloid plaque accumulation in the brain and speed the appearance of Alzheimer’s more obvious symptoms — memory and thinking problems.

Whether that dynamic is repeated in humans remains to be shown.

Musiek said he recommends a range of practices to patients concerned about the prospect of dementia. They aren’t that different from the usual “sleep hygiene” practices that sleep-medicine specialists recommend for all patients.

“You want to consolidate your sleep as much as possible at night,” he said. “I always tell my patients not to use electronic devices at night, to sleep in a dark room — and to go to sleep, not watch TV in bed.”

Musiek also urges his patients to “get up in morning, get active, go out and get into the morning light.” Eating a good breakfast “helps synchronize your clock,” he added.

Finally, he said, our early-bird and night-owl inclinations often have their roots in our genes. We would do well to try to accommodate, not fight, those differences.

“People get into trouble trying to force themselves into a different mode,” Musiek said. “We should listen to our bodies, and try to understand our own rhythms, and keep day and night within that range.”



AMBER ARNOLD -- State Journal 

Paul Soglin



Restless nights and a habit of daytime catnaps may be an early sign of Alzheimer's, according to a recent study.

Associated Bank buys Bank Mutual; 3 Chippewa County locations will have new owner

Associated Bank, the largest bank based in Wisconsin, grew even larger Feb. 1 as the Green Bay bank’s holding company, Associated Banc-Corp, finalized the purchase of Bank Mutual Corp., the holding company of Bank Mutual, of Brown Deer.

That means customers at three Bank Mutual branches in Chippewa County — the three locations are located in Chippewa Falls, Stanley and Bloomer — will see their accounts converted into the Associated Bank system in late June or early July.

Associated Bank has a location at 212 Bay St., Chippewa Falls, and three branches in Eau Claire.

It is unclear whether the three Chippewa County Mutual Bank branches will close, or how many employees may lose their jobs; an Associated Bank spokesperson could not be reached for comment Sunday. The Associated Bank location at 212 Bay St. would merge into Bank Mutual at 35 W. Columbia St., both in Chippewa Falls, and the closures and consolidations were announced via public notices in Milwaukee and Green Bay Newspapers, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported in September.

The all-stock transaction, valued at $482 million, raises Associated’s total assets to about $32 billion.

A total of 28 Bank Mutual and eight Associated branches will close when Bank Mutual’s computer system is converted into Associated’s, in late June or early July.

Until then, Bank Mutual will remain a separate bank subsidiary of Associated Banc-Corp, Associated president and CEO Philip Flynn said.

“For Bank Mutual customers — it won’t impact them right away. Before we convert anything, we will have a lot of communication with them,” Flynn said, in an interview.

Associated has more than 200 bank branches in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota and commercial financial services offices in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Texas. Last October, Associated acquired Whitnell & Co., a wealth management firm in suburban Chicago.

Flynn said he expects Associated to acquire more insurance brokerage and wealth management companies this year. He said it also is “a very good time to think about expanding through bank acquisitions” — probably in the Upper Midwest. He said about 10 percent of all the bank charters in the U.S. are in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Last week, Associated reported a fourth-quarter profit of $48 million and a profit of $220 million for the full 2017 year. Associated stock closed Thursday at $25.70 a share, up 95 cents, or 3.8 percent from the day before.



Wisconsin Legislature