State Senator Julie Lassa running for Obey's seat
Frankly, I'm just glad that 1) someone announced relatively quickly after Obey made his decision not to campaign for re-election, and 2) it's not Russ Decker.
But Julie Lassa's record speaks pretty well for itself, too. She's gotten high marks from the likes of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the ACLU, Fair Wisconsin, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, and several other groovy interest groups. She's also been pretty good about advocating for the interests of regular, working folks and for victims' rights in sexual abuse cases. Unlike Decker, she was against the original, terrible Video Competition Act that deregulated cable access in the state.
Lassa will face Republicans Sean Duffy (District Attorney, former reality TV star) and Dan Mielke (farmer, businessman, hater of the gays), who, as I've noted before, seem to be more concerned with having pissing matches with one another than actually pitching any original ideas for what they'd do if elected.
Certainly it's now shaping up to be an interesting election. Much more opinion shaping information is likely to come out about the candidates in the near future, so I'll be keeping my eye on things.
Alcohol License Density Plan controversy
In October of this year the current version of the Alcohol License Density Plan, originally passed in 2007 under the pretense of reducing violent crime downtown, will expire. Lawmakers, business owners and residents are already scrambling to make their opinions heard in terms of what should happen to the ordinance at that time.
The plan has come in for plenty of controversy and criticism during its tenure. Most recently, the business community succeeded in making one important change to it, as they convinced the City Council to pass an amendment that "temporarily lifted the 365-day limit on replacing bar licenses at establishments that had gone out of business. In the original ordinance, the property owner or license holder had one year to find another bar business for the location before it became ineligible for a bar license."
The plan has never made a world of sense to me, so I was glad to see, at the very least, that concession made. I have no desire to invite more violent crime into any part of town, nor do I want to see State Street turned into one long corridor of "vertical drinking space," but the density plan seemed like the absolute wrong way to go about preventing that. The people who enacted it may have had their hearts and minds in the right place, but it felt very much like an uncreative, stale tactic.
I am glad to see that there's some discussion of creating and implementing a "more meaningful entertainment exception" by the likes of Ald. Mike Verveer. It would be great to see more all-ages (or at least more 18+) venues down on and around State, places with live music and other entertainment options for students and beyond. That helps both to shift the perception of what downtown is -- more Beale St. than Bourbon -- and maybe puts the emphasis of a night out more on bands and games and less on getting trashed.
Segredo, the new boutique bowling club that went in where Madison Avenue used to be, is a good example of what's possible if venue owners and city officials are willing to be flexible and think outside of the bar a bit more. The Pub recently began a transition to have more live music nights. Frida's has regular dance nights. All of that and more are ways to transform State Street at night into a welcoming, diverse entertainment option for all ages. And if we really work to give the under-21 crowd viable nightlife options, it may even go a ways toward helping keep them away from unsupervised house parties and other places where the dreaded binge drinking and drug usage is more likely to go on.
I've always gotten the impression that plenty of business owners are interested in this sort of plan. The problem has lain more with city officials terrified of the idea of minors mixing with us fogies. That isn't to say that some promoters or managers haven't ever displayed poor judgment and planning.
But I think with the right mix of venue responsibility (like implementation of the "hip hop best practices" list for all styles of music and show) and city flexibility, a better solution be reached -- one that benefits the whole community.
That means either a serious overhaul of the density plan, or letting the current one meet its sunset completely and starting from scratch. I'd vote for the latter.
The legal and moral implications of squatting
Now this is interesting: Operation Welcome Home, a group that works on behalf of homeless people, has begun advocating squatting in empty, foreclosed homes. According to this article, they helped a family move into one such property just a couple of weeks ago.
Their rationale for this move is that housing should be a human right, these homes have been empty for quite some time, and the banks that now own them (like Bank of America, in this case) have already received more than their fair share in terms of bailout money from the feds.
Honestly, it's hard to argue with their reasoning or the end result. How could anyone look at a group of homeless individuals and families on the one hand, tons of empty homes on the other, and not at least entertain the notion?
Of course, there are several problems with this method, the foremost being that it is, technically, illegal. There are all sorts of liability issues involved, too.
Which is why, as the system is currently set up, this is probably a bad move. But I do believe that the idea itself has merit -- we just need to work to change the rules and regulations a bit so as to more safely accommodate this kind of thing.
If a house has gone unlived in for a certain period of time -- say a year -- then maybe there should be a system in place that would match it up with people in real need of a home. They could apply with and be vetted by responsible organizations so as to help ensure that, once in the building, they wouldn't be likely to do structural damage or create a dangerous environment in the neighborhood.
Since the bank, or whoever owns the house, isn't making any money on it anyway, allowing the family to live rent-free for a time shouldn't be a problem. At very least, rent should be set extremely low until such time as the people are able to get on their feet and find different, more permanent housing. Simply having an address can go a long way toward helping someone get a job. And that can be the other stipulation: the people "squatting" must be actively seeking employment, and local job training and hunting groups could help them achieve that goal.
It's simply unconscionable that we live in one of the most prosperous nations in the world and set still have so many homeless and at-risk citizens. In the current economic downturn, those people who were already living on the razor's edge have been dropped overboard in far too many cases. We need to get creative and a little less greedy to see the situation improved at all. Operation Welcome Home's squatting plan is certainly a bold one, and I applaud their dedication to a good cause -- but I also suspect that it will lead to yet more problems for the people they move into these places. It's high time, then, that we all started thinking about longer term solutions.