Despite Marathon County’s poor record on child care, resolution proposes weakening oversight of in-home providers

Damakant Jayshi Over objections from licensed child care providers, a Marathon County committee on Thursday passed a resolution that aims to cut child care support and also weaken oversight of small in-home child care providers by reducing regulations. The resolution, approved by the Extension, Education, and Economic Development Committee, not only seeks to prohibit using […]

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Oilfield companies helped to craft Texas’ new waste rules for 2 years before the public got to see them

The effort to update the state’s oilfield waste disposal rules was initiated by Railroad Commissioner Jim Wright, one of the state’s top oil and gas regulators who has investments in the industry.

This Hawaii Super PAC Says It’s Raising Money For Wildfire Victims — And Political Candidates Too

Money raised for direct relief could end up being used for political candidates and activities.

Lawmakers gave WV firefighters a one-time cash infusion. Volunteer departments need a long-term solution.

EAST LYNN — Jim Asbury sits in the meeting hall of the East Lynn Volunteer Fire Department scarfing down a plate of biscuits and gravy.

It’s late in the morning on a Friday, and the cicadas shriek outside as the sun sits high in the sky. In this corner of Wayne County, there’s not much — the fire department, an elementary school, a Baptist Church, a post office and a country store with a gravel lot. Asbury is tired: he spent the prior evening up all night, working his paying job as an EMT for the Town of Wayne Fire Department a little more than 10 miles away.

“There’s no typical call,” Asbury said. His volunteer fire department has about a dozen active members responding to anything from house fires to car wrecks to rock slides.

But brush fires — caused by dried leaves catching in the winter — can pose a serious danger to the entire community, due to the unpredictability of how they spread. The winds can shift, putting firefighters clearing away debris directly in the flames’ path.

Out in the country, there are no fire hydrants. A tanker truck would help, but East Lynn doesn’t have one.

A member of the East Lynn Volunteer Fire Department battles a blaze. Courtesy photo Credit: East Lynn Volunteer Fire Department

The situation isn’t unique in West Virginia, where about 420 volunteer fire departments try to cover most of the state, except for cities like Charleston and Huntington. During August’s special session, lawmakers passed a bill putting aside $12 million in additional funding for the fire service. But whether the money is permanent depends on who one asks — lawmakers say it carves a place out in the budget, leaving open the possibility they’ll put more money in there next year; Gov. Jim Justice has called the money a “one-time fund” and said he’d find a way to make it permanent without raising taxes — a plan he would not elaborate on.

But in East Lynn, the situation remains the same: they still don’t have a tanker to tackle the remote hollers and hills where folks have lived for generations.

They have a surplus truck from the National Guard that holds a little water, a rescue truck that can spray off the road after an accident and a beat up pickup with a little tank in the bed.

“We have to really think ahead,” Asbury said. “We know which roads don’t have water access, so what’ll do if we get a call we’ll call for mutual aid.”

So that means a tanker will come from one of the other nearby departments — either in the county or from nearby Lincoln or Mingo counties.

Boot drives, hot dogs and spaghetti dinners — how West Virginia’s volunteer fire departments get funding

West Virginia’s volunteer fire departments don’t rely strictly on the state for money. They can charge insurance companies for their services, and 23 counties in the state — including Wayne — have special taxes in place to fund theirs. And then there are the classic boot drives, hot dog sales and spaghetti dinners.

But when it comes to state funds, since 2005 that’s been through a 0.55% tax on property insurance premiums.

For the past 15 years, lawmakers have pushed to raise it to an even 1%. Republican or Democrat majorities didn’t matter — the tax raise died every single time.

The East Lynn Volunteer Fire Department. Courtesy photo.

Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, said every time raising the tax came up “the insurance companies would get nervous” and lobby hard against it.

The bill actually gained a little bit of traction in the 2023 regular session, with a slight modification. Instead of fully funding volunteer fire with the tax, the difference in the increase would be split between fire and EMS.

In the House of Delegates, lawmakers ripped out the tax increase in favor of funding it with lottery money.  When it got sent back to the Senate, lawmakers in that chamber cut the lottery proposal and put the tax back in before volleying it back to the house.

Deeds, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services, said the latest effort “died on the vine” during the last days of the session.

“[Firefighters] were understandably mad and upset,” he said. “We let them down.”

Randy James, president of the state fire chief’s association, told lawmakers in April he was “burned up” and “very disappointed” with how that turned out.

“I don’t even know why I keep coming up here to Charleston,” he said. “I have people ask me why all the time, because y’all aren’t listening.”

When Justice called lawmakers into a special session in August, one of the bills on the list shifted money in the state coffers to give volunteer fire departments $12 million out of the general revenue fund. When they did that, they created a permanent line item in the budget — a specific place to park the money.

But since it’s general revenue money, that means the amount has to be voted on every year, along with the rest of the budget. The actual money isn’t guaranteed to be there year after year.

If the premium tax was raised — in April, a legislative lawyer ballparked that it could cost about $20 extra dollars a year for the average West Virginia household — lawmakers wouldn’t need to dedicate money each year. It would come automatically.

Deeds said he is confident — barring lean times like the mid-2010s — that $12 million will be budgeted every year during regular sessions.

“I don’t think anyone would want to cut the fire department funding,” he said.

In town and in the hollers, volunteer fire department coverage is “iffy”

Deeds, a former West Virginia State Trooper with family in EMS and the fire service, said rural departments like East Lynn would be the first to shut their doors, due to budget constraints and recruitment. He said in his hometown of Renick, the department there got so lean when a lighting strike caught fire to a church, Lewisburg had to respond from 30 minutes away.

But even in town, more often than not the fire service is volunteer. They might have an ambulance — the EMTs working those are paid — but the firefighters are all volunteers.

Back in Wayne County, the Huntington suburbs of Ceredo and Kenova sit along the Ohio River. Crammed in right next to each other — a rail bridge divides the two towns — the two have separate fire departments.

With Interstate 64, the Ohio River with bass boats and coal barges and the Huntington Regional Airport nearby, the two towns are a far cry from sparsely populated East Lynn 30 miles south.

Here, the calls are always coming, generally for the ambulance, which comes out for overdoses, cardiac arrests and “lift assists” — scanner jargon for someone on the floor that can’t get up.

This engine from the Ceredo Volunteer Fire Department was built in 1991. Courtesy photo Credit: Ceredo Volunteer Fire Department

Chief Rob Robson of the Ceredo Fire Department said he joined in 1998 when he was 16 years old. Sitting on the bumper of a fire truck that predates his time at the department, Robson said he’s seen the changes in the fire service.

“Back in the day, it used to be if you weren’t at the station and there was a call, you might as well not even show up,” he said. “There would be four or five pickup trucks lined up with the tailgates down and people talking and when the call came in, they were out immediately.”

Times have changed. Robson said he thinks the high cost of living — with folks working two or three jobs to raise a family — means less time to volunteer at the department.

The lack of manpower means Ceredo and Kenova constantly back one another up; When one is called out, the other responds unless told not to. The chief said staffing isn’t at crisis levels, but getting coverage during the day is “iffy.”

But the calls don’t stop. The night prior, Robson said his department put out an apartment fire, a car fire, responded to a false alarm and worked a fatal crash.

Unlike East Lynn, which can’t afford an ambulance and has to rely on the town of Wayne’s, Ceredo had two rigs. The keyword is “had” — one burnt up a few months ago so now they’re just down to one.

“I get concerned sometimes because I’ll hear a medical call come in, then wonder if we can respond to another one that comes in,” Robson said.

He says funding isn’t everything — the people are the most important part of the equation. But the two are connected in fundamental ways. When the money starts rolling from the state, he would like to use some of it to give his EMTs raises. But it’s a risky move, considering he doesn’t know if the money will actually be there the following year.

“I can’t give someone a raise one year then tell them they have to take a pay cut the next,” he said.

Lawmakers gave WV firefighters a one-time cash infusion. Volunteer departments need a long-term solution. appeared first on Mountain State Spotlight, West Virginia’s civic newsroom.

Pillen’s Rise: After building pork empire, Nebraska’s governor stands at intersection of state and ag power

Moms for Liberty is growing in Wisconsin as critics call them extremists

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Here are highlights from the story:
  • Moms for Liberty chapters have spread to 11 counties in Wisconsin and members say their ranks have grown since the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled them an anti-government extremist group.
  • Much of the growth comes from previous local organizations that formed to oppose COVID-19 school closures and mask requirements re-organizing as part of the well-funded national group.
  • Members plan to be active in upcoming school board and state superintendent elections, to remove books they find objectionable from school libraries and to support anti-LGBTQ legislation. Eight of the 27 school board candidates the group endorsed won elections in April, mostly in Ozaukee County.

At July’s Wood County chapter meeting of Moms for Liberty — a growing, national conservative organization that has drawn scrutiny for its extreme rhetoric on hot-button issues — the discussion turned to a topic that had been decided 30 years ago: whether the local high school should have a valedictorian.

The Marshfield School District discontinued the practice in 1993 on a 4-3 vote partly due to concerns that it put too much pressure on students. Since 2010 the district has recognized the top 5% of graduating seniors, but has stopped publicly ranking students by GPA.

For some parents, it was a reminder that school policies didn’t reflect their values.

“The pushback on it is that whole ‘Well, we don’t want to exclude someone,’ ” said Mary Schueller, the Wood County Moms for Liberty chair who graduated from Marshfield High School in 1995. “Well, not everybody gets a participation ribbon for valedictorian and salutatorian. They worked really hard for that.”

“That’s the sort of stuff we’re fighting,” she added.

Moms for Liberty has attracted condemnation for their promotion of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, opposition to race-focused history lessons and calls to ban books they deem inappropriate for children.

But in Wisconsin and elsewhere their ranks are growing, bolstered by the concerns of parents like Schueller who got a look under the hood of their local schools during COVID and now want a more direct role in their children’s education. That includes removing books from school libraries members deem offensive or inappropriate for children.

The group in June was categorized as an anti-government extremist group in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2022 Year in Hate & Extremism report, which stated that the group’s “primary goals are to fuel right-wing hysteria and to make the world a less comfortable or safe place for certain students — primarily those who are Black, LGBTQ or who come from LGBTQ families.”

At the Wood County chapter meeting, Marie Rogerson, national executive director of program development, said the group experienced a large membership spike shortly after the SPLC report.

Since it started in January 2021 Moms for Liberty says it has expanded to 285 chapters in 46 states with over 125,000 members. In Wisconsin, chapters in Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Polk, Rock, St. Croix, Vilas, Washington, Winnebago and Wood County have popped up over the past two years.

It’s hard to pinpoint how many members are active in Wisconsin — the Wood County and Ozaukee County chapters estimated that there are 400 and 6,000 members in their groups, respectively. A national spokesperson said they do not have updated state membership numbers.

The national group has remained unapologetic in the face of criticism. At the group’s second summit in Philadelphia co-founder Tiffany Justice defended an Indiana chapter that quoted Adolf Hitler in its newsletter and later apologized.

“One of our moms in a newsletter quotes Hitler. I stand with that mom,” she said to applause.

“If @Moms4Liberty is a ‘hate group,’ add me to the list,” GOP presidential candidate and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted a few days later.

The group planned to visit Milwaukee ahead of the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 23. Moms for Liberty is hosting a discussion titled “Giving Parents a Voice” with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. They initially planned to host a candidate town hall event but pivoted after they said the venue, the Italian Community Center, canceled the event.

Membership is spreading from Southeast Wisconsin throughout the state

Moms for Liberty first made headlines in Wisconsin two years ago amid mask mandates and social distancing measures, when members in Kenosha shut down a school board meeting holding signs that said “We do not Co-Parent with the Government.”

One of the Kenosha members, State Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, went on to run for county board and state Assembly. Nedweski helped lead an unsuccessful September 2021 recall petition against Kenosha School Board President Yolanda Santos Adams, which boosted her profile ahead of her county board election.

“Is this losing steam? Is this going to stop? No, it’s only going to gain momentum as we move forward,” Nedweski told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in December 2021 following the failed recall, adding that one of her goals is “to have a Moms for Liberty T-shirt in every school board meeting across the country.”

Scarlett Johnson, chair of Ozaukee Moms for Liberty, left, is seen with vice chair Amber Schroeder in Mequon, Wis., on Aug. 13, 2023. Johnson has five children, two who graduated from the public Homestead High School, one who currently attends Homestead High School, one who attends Kettle Moraine High School and one who attends Trinity Lutheran School. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

In Ozaukee County, a recall effort led by Scarlett Johnson and Amber Schroeder against four Mequon-Thiensville School Board members in November 2021 raised nearly $50,000, with Republican donor Richard Uihlein donating to the campaign and Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch helping organize outreach.

The effort didn’t unseat any incumbents but the group morphed into Moms for Liberty when Johnson and Schroeder formed an Ozaukee chapter in July 2022. Johnson serves as the Republican Party of Ozaukee County’s second vice chair and Schroeder is a member at large.

Johnson this past spring lost a bid for the Mequon-Thiensville School Board, receiving 21% of the vote.

Sitting at a bench behind the Frank L. Weyenberg Library in Mequon, where Johnson and Schroeder spent summer 2021 collecting recall signatures, they reflected on the chapter’s growth.

“A lot of families do go to church around here and a lot of families do have very freedom-loving, patriotic, constitution-loving values, and if you’re going to come and start taking those away from people, you’re going to tick off a lot of people,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder and Johnson were both previously stay-at-home moms, and Schroeder pulled her younger kids out of public school during the pandemic. Most Moms for Liberty members “weren’t paying attention 10 years ago or five years ago,” Schroeder said. “COVID-19 really helped open everybody’s eyes because our students started struggling.”

Wisconsin strategy mirrors national movement

Moms for Liberty was founded in Florida by former school board members Justice and Tina Descovich, as well as Bridget Ziegler, a current Sarasota County school board member. The group started as a way to fight against COVID-19 safety protocols in schools and gained wider attention with their appearance on the Rush Limbaugh Show in January 2021.

Similarly in Wisconsin, a surge of conservative groups that initially organized amid pandemic mask mandates and distancing restrictions formed the basis for Moms for Liberty. The Kenosha chapter of Moms for Liberty was one of 73 groups that signed onto an August 2021 Wisconsin United For Freedom open letter against mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. Members across those groups, as well as members of MTSD Parents for Moving School Forward in Mequon and Concerned Citizens of Marshfield, have funneled into Moms for Liberty, according to Johnson, Schroeder and Scheuller.

Johnson added that conservative media, such as Wisconsin Right Now, the Vicki McKenna Show on 1310 WIBA and 1130 WISN and the Meg Ellefson Show on the WSAU Wisconsin Morning News, helped give the group a platform to grow.

In Marshfield, the valedictorian issue was first brought to Tara Tremelling, a Moms for Liberty-endorsed board member who graduated in 2003, by Dillon Scheuer, a Northwestern University freshman who graduated in May from Marshfield High School.

“He was feeling like he had nowhere to really take the topic,” Tremelling said.

In an interview, Scheuer pointed to Moms for Liberty’s national Constitution challenge and to the Marshfield group’s partnering with The 917 Society to provide pocketbook constitutions for students as an example of what he believes is positive work. Constitution day on Sept. 17 has been a public school observance day in Wisconsin since 1987.

“If someone thinks Moms for Liberty, what they jump to right away is ‘Oh, book burnings, and they hate the LGBTQ community,’ ” Scheuer said. “I think that’s something that gets a lot of press attention because it gets people fired up. … It’s less sexy to say ‘Hey, these people want school board accountability and these people want everyone to understand the Constitution.’ ”

Marshfield High School in Wood County, Wis., discontinued the practice of recognizing a valedictorian in 1993. Members of the Wood County Moms for Liberty group want to reinstate the recognition. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

Community members have voiced their concerns about the chapter’s growing presence in Marshfield. At their June school board meeting, one parent speaking about Moms for Liberty said she was worried that community members didn’t know the group’s background and cited the SPLC report.

“I want us all to be aware of the possible motivation that could be behind some of the things right here in Marshfield schools,” said Nicole Johnson, who is a member of LGBTQ+ advocacy group PFLAG Marshfield. “Just because they may say they are doing these things because of parents’ rights, and they find buzzwords that can make the public think things are happening in the schools that are not does not mean they’re speaking for all parents.”

“Just because you are loud and angry doesn’t make you correct,” she added.

Looking ahead to elections and shaping public policy

In 2022 more than half of the 500 candidates the group endorsed in school board elections were elected to seats across the country, according to the Associated Press. This past April cycle in Wisconsin, eight of the 27 candidates it endorsed were elected, seven of whom were to Ozaukee County school boards.

At the group’s second summit held June 29 through July 2, the fight against “woke” rhetoric took center stage and served as a platform for 2024 GOP hopefuls to champion their values. Speakers included Haley, former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

“I think parents are going to help decide this next election more than ever. And I think that’s why at the Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, we had every single (Republican) candidate speak,” Johnson said. “They know that they need to come talk to the mama bears.”

The summit provided training on how to win school board elections and included sessions on topics like “Comprehensive Sex Education: Sex Ed or Sexualization” and “Protecting Kids from Gender Ideology,” according to SPLC.

During the conference, Justice told the AP that Moms for Liberty will use its political action committee to endorse candidates for state education boards, state superintendents and local school board races across the country.

The group in Wisconsin is in the candidate recruitment process for the spring 2024 school board elections and spring 2025 Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction election. They have worked with the conservative Leadership Institute on candidate and recruitment training, Johnson said.

Asked what solutions Moms for Liberty supports for closing Wisconsin’s huge racial disparities in education outcomes, Johnson, who is Hispanic and grew up in a poor area of Milwaukee, said the state needs less diversity coordinators and more reading and math specialists.

“Since we’ve started to focus on equity and not excellence, we have seen that gap grow because we’re not giving kids what they need,” Johnson said. “We are focused too much on virtue signaling and not actually doing the virtuous thing, which is educating children.”

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress showed Wisconsin had the largest gap among the states between white and Black student test scores, though those disparities have existed for decades.

Amber Schroeder, vice chair of Ozaukee Moms for Liberty, is seen in Mequon, Wis., on Aug. 13, 2023. Schroeder’s oldest child attends the public Homestead High School while her younger two children attend the private Trinity Lutheran School. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

Johnson and Schroeder said one of Moms for Liberty’s primary goals in Wisconsin is shaping public policy. They recently formed a Moms for Liberty state legislative committee, which Johnson chairs, that will help them prepare to support legislation this fall.

They plan to testify in support of legislation that would prohibit puberty blockers for minors and ban transgender athletes from participating in athletic teams designated for females and require schools to designate teams as falling into male, female, or co-ed categories. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has vowed to veto it.

Johnson, Schroeder and Nedweski were among those who testified in support of a Republican-supported Parent Bill of Rights that Evers vetoed last year. Provisions requiring students to have parental authorization to use different names and pronouns in school have since been added to school board district policies in Kettle Moraine, Arrowhead, Waukesha, Germantown and Muskego-Norway.

On July 12, the Waukesha School District fired first grade teacher Melissa Tempel in the months after she publicly criticized the district’s request that she remove from a school concert the song “Rainbowland,” The song celebrates diversity and encourages everyone to “dig down deep inside (and) brush the judgment and fear aside.” The district said it “could be perceived as controversial.”

John Norcross is a parent and community organizer in the Arrowhead School District who has worked to track the connections between school board policies and political organizations since the pandemic. He expressed concern that Moms for Liberty’s growth will harm vulnerable groups in the state. (Courtesy of John Norcross)

That morning, Johnson and Schroeder lined up outside of the district’s offices to oppose a silent protest of the firing organized by the Alliance for Education Waukesha.

“There are only two genders,” read a sign that Johnson posted a photo of on Twitter alongside a selfie of her and Schroeder with the caption: “supporting the Waukesha School District as they work to keep ideology and politics out of first-grade classrooms.”

John Norcross, a parent and community organizer in the Arrowhead School District​​, was there to support Tempel. He has tracked connections between school board policies and political organizations since the pandemic and said Moms for Liberty has more national strategy and resources behind it than most organizations.

“There’s no equivalent from a party perspective,” Norcross said.“Democrats aren’t doing it, whether because they don’t want to or can’t. … But what’s countering it is what I call a communitarian response.”

Book removals in the works

Earlier this year, a 111-page Moms for Liberty document identified several books, many dealing with gender identity and race, that they deemed inappropriate in schools. Among others, the list included Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The nonprofit freedom of expression organization PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans found 1,477 instances of individual books banned in fall of 2022 and connected Moms for Liberty to 58% of all advocacy-led book bans around the country. Despite their growing efforts, a 2022 poll found that nearly three-quarters of parents oppose book banning. Critics have raised concerns that banning books that explore gender and sexuality sends a harmful message to kids struggling with their identity.

Moms for Liberty members say they are “curating” books in school libraries, not banning them. But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association and PEN describe the removal of those books as a ban.

So far in Wisconsin removing books from schools hasn’t been at the forefront of Moms for Liberty’s goals, but chapters are looking to remove books they deem inappropriate for schools in the future.

In Marshfield, Schueller in May 2022 sent a request to remove four books — “Lucky,” “Push,” “Sold” and “Tricks” — from Marshfield High School’s library but did not respond to the school’s response that outlined the process for moving forward with the complaint. She said she plans to wait until more group members can actively review the district’s books.

Tremelling hopes to eventually remove from Marshfield’s school libraries several titles dealing with violence, sexual nudity, child rape and profanity, including “Push,” “Sold,” “Tricks,” “Damsel,” “A Court of Mist and Fury,” “A Court of Frost and Starlight,” “A Court of Wings and Ruin,” “Crank” and  “Infandous.”

Half a dozen scholarly historian groups criticized the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for renting space to the group ahead of the national summit. The American Historical Association wrote in a letter that Moms for Liberty “has vigorously advocated censorship and harassment of history teachers, banning history books from libraries and classrooms, and legislation that renders it impossible for historians to teach with professional integrity without risking job loss and other penalties.”

Johnson, who attended the national summit, said protesters there told her that she deserved to be raped and murdered and that they wanted to kill her children. She called it the “most vile, horrific thing” she had ever witnessed.

“Basically, if you’re not on the left, you’re a hate group,” Johnson said of the criticism the group receives. “You’re akin to a very extreme, something horrific like the KKK, just because you’re a Republican. And that’s wrong. And that is demoralizing, and it’s also dehumanizing. And that’s where we have to be careful. We should not dehumanize people that we don’t agree with.”

‘Proxies for a national culture war’ 

Liberal groups, including Stop Moms for Liberty, Defense of Democracy and Red Wine & Blue, have formed to counter Moms for Liberty, mobilizing suburban, Democratic voters at the school board level and starting campaigns related to racial equity and stopping book bans.

Elisabeth Lambert, founder and principal of the Wisconsin Education Law and Policy Hub, has represented students in discrimination cases against school districts across the state. She cautioned that the politicization of school boards is creating a hostile environment for marginalized students. (Lily Shea / Courtesy of Elisabeth Lambert)

Critics say the politicization of school boards is creating a hostile environment for marginalized students. Elisabeth Lambert, founder and principal of the Wisconsin Education Law and Policy Hub, has represented students in discrimination cases against school districts across the state, including in Chippewa Falls, Cedarburg and Burlington. She said her clients often receive “astounding harassment” that reduces what they’re experiencing to a “culture war narrative,” with those who speak out labeled as “anti-American” or a “corrupting influence.”

“They’re sort of viewing these local peoples as proxies for a national culture war and so it’s really not about problem-solving at all,” Lambert said. “It’s just about feeling like part of whatever team you happen to identify with, and using these other folks in your community and the fact that you share a public school system as an opportunity to perform your allegiance to that national agenda.”

Melissa Deckman, a political scientist who studies gender, religion and the role of women in conservative politics, said that Moms for Liberty’s growth is a response to the country’s growing diversity in terms of race, ethnicity and gender, specifically citing that one in five Gen Z adults identify as LGBT.

“Those sorts of things are challenging to the worldview of conservative Christian women who don’t like these changes in society,” Deckman said, noting how they’ve utilized the unique historical position of the pandemic to their advantage. “It really has allowed them to organize and pretty effectively tap into a lot of parents who were unhappy about COVID and those restrictions, but now, of course, it has spread to concerns about critical race theory or transgender policies or LGBT policies.”

Melissa Deckman is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and studies gender, religion and the role of women in conservative politics. She said that “battles about defining culture and history” are “nothing new in American politics when it comes to public schools.” (Courtesy of Melissa Deckman)

Ahead of the 2024 election cycle, Norcross said he’s concerned about the group gaining more funding and getting more active throughout Wisconsin and is worried their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric will negatively impact vulnerable groups. With the suburban Milwaukee counties growing increasingly Democratic, he sees conservatives “driven by a fear that their local area is changing.”

“They’re losing Republican suburbs because of the demographic changes,” Norcross said. “They don’t want to lose that and they’ve seen this as a play to get it.”

Looking ahead, Johnson said the group is focused on growing its membership in northern Wisconsin and believes there will be a burst of membership over the next year.

“With all of the national attention that’s going to be on Wisconsin because we are having the Republican convention here, by the summer, I would think that we’re going to see huge growth in Moms for Liberty,” Johnson said.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch ( collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Moms for Liberty is growing in Wisconsin as critics call them extremists is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

What is Nevada’s climate strategy? There isn’t one.

An image of Lake Mead in July showing significant drops in water levels

An image of Lake Mead in July showing significant drops in water levels
A “bathtub ring” shows the historical high water level in Lake Mead, in this photo from July 2014. Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

July was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. It just happens to be the same month Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo pulled the state out of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a state-led initiative to reduce impacts of climate change. In that decision, Lombardo said the U.S. Climate Alliance is not aligned with Nevada’s energy goals of reliability and affordability.

The move follows a March executive order, in which Lombardo ordered the state climate strategy be reviewed and revised based on his energy policies.

So, what exactly is the governor’s plan to address climate change? He doesn’t have one.

Over the last five weeks, the Sierra Nevada Ally has reached out to the governor’s office eight separate times for clarity on this topic, and have yet to receive a single response from the governor or his press secretary, Elizabeth Ray.

So, we took our request to the Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE). If the climate strategy is to align with energy policy, it would make sense GOE would have the info we wanted.

“While energy is a piece of climate strategy and the climate conversation, and our office has a part to play in this realm, we aren’t the ‘keepers’ of the state’s climate work,” Stephanie Klapstein, public information officer for GOE, wrote in an email to the Sierra Nevada Ally.

“The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection [NDEP] is the lead agency in this area, and they are probably better positioned to answer questions related to the larger picture of climate,” she added.

So, we took our questions to NDEP.

“I wanted to make sure the Governor’s Office had reached out to you. We were advised that the Governor’s Office of Energy might be the best contact for this story,” NDEP public information officer Matthew McDaniel responded.

With no answer from Lombardo, and confusion from GOE and NDEP, we’re left wondering who exactly is in charge of the state’s climate strategy. Who are the “keepers?”

“DCNR [Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] and DOE are working with the Governor’s Office to align our State climate policies with the governor’s energy goals. Any updated climate policy will reflect that,” McDaniel said in a follow-up email.

To be clear, there is no requirement for Nevada to have a climate strategy in place (in fact, just 24 states and the District of Columbia do), and we’re unsure at this time if there will be a new strategy or when that would be released.

So, what do we know?

A screenshot of Executive Order 2023-007 which establishes Governor Joe Lombardo's energy policies.

On March 21, Gov. Lombardo issued an executive order establishing his energy policy goals, and in that, ordered the Nevada State Climate Strategy to be reviewed and revised to reflect these new energy priorities.

“The state’s energy policy will be focused on developing and maintaining a robust, diverse energy supply portfolio and a balanced approach to electric and natural gas energy supply and transportation fuels that emphasizes affordability and reliability for consumers,” the order begins.

The order then further emphasizes the governor’s goal of diversifying Nevada’s energy sources, as a way to help mitigate rising energy costs that have been hurting Nevadans this summer. It’s clear the governor wants his energy policies to create economic benefits in some way.

“The energy policies pursued by this administration will focus on job creation, economic development and investment in our state by directing our energy providers to deliver affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to Nevada residents and businesses.”

The order also suggests streamlining the permitting process for energy projects, developing more in-state energy production and investing in more transmission and storage.

You can read the full order here.

This seemingly balanced approach seems a bit less balanced when you look at Lombardo’s action in July, removing Nevada from the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of state governments that, according to its website, are “advancing state-led, high-impact climate action.”

“While the goals of the U.S. Climate Alliance are ambitious and well-intentioned, these goals conflict with Nevada’s energy policy objectives,” Lombardo’s letter stated, referencing his March executive order.

NDEP spokesperson Matthew McDaniel said his agency has received $3 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop three climate action plans through 2027, adding that after completing the first report, billions in federal dollars could be made available to Nevada. But, this a different initiative from the state’s climate strategy, of which there is currently is none.

Again, we reached out to the governor’s office eight separate times and never received a response.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Source: Climate Central

The problem with not having an official climate strategy is that the planet is warming whether plans are made or not.

“There is no one on the planet that is not feeling the effects of climate change,” said Dr. Andrew Pershing of Climate Central, a nonprofit organization of scientists and communicators who research and report on climate change.

“It’s really more about which of the effects that you think you might have a better shot at adapting for, preparing for, being somewhat resilient to,” Pershing added.

According to the organization’s research, this July was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, with 2023 having a 99% chance of finishing as one of the top five hottest years on record. The other four years are 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

Reno and Las Vegas are the two fastest-warming cities in the country. Since 1970, the average temperature in Reno has risen 7.8 degrees Fahrenheit, while Las Vegas has seen an increase of 5.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

“In the 70s in Reno, there was a very different type of climate. It was a lot cooler. When I was at UNR [University of Nevada, Reno], people were talking about how a lot of the buildings that were built in Reno, they didn’t have air conditioning, there wasn’t really a need for it. And then you see now it is absolutely necessary, which is something that people are struggling with,” said Kaitlyn Trudeau, scientist with Climate Central, who got her master’s degree at UNR.

Climate Central found that Nevada has also seen the largest increase in what’s called cooling demand days, meaning as temperatures continue to rise, the need for effective cooling will also rise.

“We’re seeing almost every single day above the normal temperatures and the toll that takes on really every part of our community,” Trudeau said. “Schools, can close. Schools, our economy, businesses, the environment, animals.. this is [an] across the board thing. We’re all being impacted by this.”

A graph of the fastest-warming cities and states, showing Reno and Las Vegas as the two fastest-warming cities.
Source: Climate Central

Residents are then left either footing the bill for expensive cooling systems, or paying for it in other ways, as Dr. Kristi Ebi from the University of Washington explained.

“When you look at the official numbers, it’s about 700 Americans [who] die every year from the heat… At the end of the century, without adaptation or mitigation, there could be an additional 100,000 or so deaths from heat,” Ebi said.

The U.S. government has set goals of reducing emissions 50% compared to 2005 levels, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But, as Climate Central has reported, that will require help from states.

“Although the U.S. has reduced emissions by about 1% per year since 2005, this pace is not fast enough to meet national targets by 2030,” the report stated.

“Reaching these targets requires action at the state and local levels.”

What say you, Governor?

How Lander lost a librarian

Nate Shoutis produced a rap last August ahead of freshman library orientation. 

The Lander Valley High School librarian wrote verses showcasing the technology available to students. He sang about the inclusive spirit of the library he’d worked in for nearly a decade.

The song ended with a medley of genres and books. 

Performing live during the first weeks of language arts classes, Shoutis and his assistant broadcast a message that all students were welcome in the Lander Valley High School Library.

Shoutis wanted students to find the books that interested them the most, whether that be a C.J. Box crime novel or riveting war tale, a colorful graphic novel or a book with LGBTQ+ characters.

Whatever a student’s interests, the library had one main rule, rapped by Shoutis: 

“No put downs.”

Shoutis stressed the rule in response to what he saw as growing animosity toward the school’s LGBTQ+ community. He detailed this climate in a May letter sent to the teaching community of Fremont County School District No. 1, which operates Lander schools. 

The letter argued that school board policy failed to address a rising climate of hate towards LGBTQ+ students and instead tacitly fomented a climate of harassment and discrimination against these students, as well as the censorship of librarians and educators. 

Those concerns have been raised in school districts across the nation. School libraries have become home to a polarizing debate over the books that should be available to students. Spaces once known as quiet places to study have become clouded in suspicion and rancor.

That climate cost Lander an educator that, according to his students, was deeply caring and universally accepting. At the end of the school year, Shoutis walked away from the library and what he’d once called his “dream job.”

Making of a librarian 

Nate Shoutis packrafting the Popo Agie River from the headwaters back to his hometown of Lander, Wyoming. (Evan Horn)

Libraries run in the Shoutis family. His mother Cady Shoutis served as a librarian at both South Elementary and Gannett Peak. 

He shares her curious eyes. His fit frame is evidence of his love for canyoneering, packrafting, and generally adventuring outdoors. Like many Landerites, he worked as a National Outdoor Leadership School field instructor.

But by his late 20s, he had reached a juncture, deciding whether to take his outdoor educator skills into a more conventional school setting or go back to school himself and study film. 

Both of these callings were kindled in the Lander Valley High School library, where Paula Hunker served as his librarian and videography teacher. She and his mother demonstrated how meaningful a role in the library could be, he said. 

To sort out his decision, he volunteered in Portland, Oregon, shadowing librarians and helping with collection upkeep. 

His mother wasn’t surprised when he decided to join the district as Lander Valley High School’s library media specialist in 2014. 

“I just came to understand the position as one that was really well suited for my skill set, both with technology and media, as well as literacy and reading,” he said. “And just the love of reading.” 

Heart of the job

Shoutis ran the library space and also taught technology classes, where his students learned software and production skills for film, music and audio and 3D printing.

But he viewed the essence of his job more simply: inspiring a love of reading in his students. 

That required tuning into student needs and interests by building relationships. 

“I’m always asking students, ‘Hey, what are you reading? What’s on your radar? What are you looking for?’” Shoutis said. 

Nate Shoutis as a rising Lander Valley High School junior. (Cady Shoutis)

A master’s in education, a certification in language arts and library media and the diverse student body informed his book ordering process.The most important thing, he said, is to foster a collection that facilitates free choice reading, the principle of letting students select their own materials. If someone cared enough to recommend a book, Shoutis said, he’d almost always try to order it, as long as it passed his professional research and review process. 

This professional process did not involve his personal values, he said. When cycling in new books, he would remove volumes that were falling apart, were out of date or hadn’t been checked out in years. 

“But it is never about, ‘oh, our value systems have changed, and we’re updating our value system or our moral systems at all.’ It has nothing to do with that,” he said. “What it has to do with is trying to make sure we have a balance of everything in the library.”

Book controversy 

American history is littered with examples of book bans. Volumes considered classics — “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” — have been repeatedly challenged nationally by critics who contend they aren’t suitable for young people.

But the recent wave of book challenges stands out. In 2022, the American Library Association reported a record number of demands to censor library books and materials. The increase came as right-wing groups such as Moms For Liberty spurred regional efforts to curb “woke indoctrination” within schools and public libraries.

The culture wars have raged for decades in the U.S. But in the recent past, a new battleground emerged: the school board. 

Shoutis’ professional work — which he says had not been questioned in his nearly a decade tenure — became the subject of scrutiny in December. Concerns over the books available in Lander school libraries, as well as the policy for challenging them, reached the board governing Fremont County School District No.1. 

Board member Scott Jensen said he raised the issue after being approached by community members who were concerned about the process of challenging reading materials. Under the system that existed at the time, the district superintendent settled book complaints, but that decision could be appealed to the school board.

National concerns about reading resources and the ability to challenge them raised local unease over the school district’s policy, according to Jensen. 

Jensen advocated for reconsidering the process “to address the tenor of the adversarial nature of the old policy and the complexity of it, to make it more simple,” he explained in an interview with WyoFile. 

“I wanted to implement something that was more transparent,” he said. “So that people could see that, in fact, what is happening in other parts of the country really isn’t happening here.”

On this point, Shoutis agrees. During his time as librarian, only one parent had approached him with a concern over a library book. 

“The whole issue is completely fabricated. Utterly, a non-issue,” he said. 

Shoutis believes the national issue escalated in Wyoming after interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder organized the Stop the Sexualization of Our Children press conference. The conference, held in October at Little America in Cheyenne, provided a map of Wyoming school districts that offered books of concern, as identified by conference organizers.

Shoutis’ believes that the anti-sexualization movement is aimed at eliminating LGBTQ+ voices and material — both in and out of libraries. 

“I think the whole maneuvering is to silence LGBTQ and Black perspectives in schools completely. So it’s not just about censoring books. It’s about censoring everything.” 

Board members Aileen Brew and Jensen offered two competing policy drafts. In his letter, Shoutis endorsed Brew’s policy, which would have left appeals in the hands of a committee of stakeholders rather than the board. 

However, the board adopted Jensen’s approach in a 4-3 vote at a June board meeting. 

The updated policy places the final consideration of materials in the hands of the school board, which is supposed to render a decision based on “community values.” 

Jensen says that community values are an incredibly difficult thing to define, but are ultimately up to the acting school board to determine via open debate and public discussion. The ultimate “check and balance on that is the democratically elected board,” he said. “So if the board gets out of tune with the community, and then whichever members are out of tune will get voted out, and there’ll be a new board.” 

Shoutis argues that the resulting community values will not be a measure of the entire district but rather reflective of the seven-member school board. “Make no mistake — he is very much describing classic book banning and censorship,” Shoutis wrote in his May letter. 

Rising violence and school board policy 

Shoutis did not pull any punches in his letter. 

A series of new school board policies over the last two years, he argued, have not only failed to address rising harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, but removed protections for them as well. He was in a position to know. Shoutis was advisor for the SPEAK club, the high school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance organization. 

In the letter, he describes a dangerous disconnect over what is directly harming students and the school board’s recent policies. While officials fret over library books, real harm against LGBTQ+ students gets overlooked, he argued. 

The main problem, Shoutis contends in his letter, is the rising climate of harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and the inability to counter it due to an inadequate reporting system. 

Jensen, for his part, agrees that the reporting system is ineffective, describing it as opaque. It operates as a one-way reporting loop, where students and educators report episodes of bullying, but do not receive follow-up on if or how the situation has been resolved. 

It is the administration’s, rather than the board’s, job to manage that issue, Jensen says. He said the administration has been collecting data on the problem before they change the reporting system, Jensen said. 

But Shoutis argues that student needs are being neglected. 

In spring of 2022, he and the SPEAK club members spent a month’s worth of lunchtime meetings logging student experiences with bullying and what they see as a broken reporting policy to share with the counselors, administration and later the board. The policy remains the same. 

Shoutis with SPEAK club members and Ray Kasckow of Wyoming Equality after a day of workshops hosted by the University of Wyoming. (Felanie Kelson)

Instead, Shoutis argues recent policy changes — regulating the teaching of controversial issues and dissolving explicit non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community — have made it harder to report instances of harassment and discrimination.

Further, the teaching controversial issues policy adopted by the board in spring 2021 — compounded by the push to ease book-challenge policy — prompted teachers like him to censor themselves, which Shoutis said limited his ability to be an effective educator and librarian. 

But that’s a feature, not a bug, Jensen countered.

“That is, in fact, the purpose of that policy, is to have teachers to self censor themselves so that they do not use their platform to proselytize to kids,” Jensen said.

In April, Shoutis was reprimanded via the policy over a student-designed banned book display that featured queer-themed books. But by then, he’d already made the decision to leave. 

As an educator trying to mend what he saw as a disconnect between students who felt harmed and the higher ups, and as a librarian trying to uphold the American Library Association’s standard — “freedom to read” — he was depleted. 

He gave notice to resign in February. It was time to step down for his own health and to give the school time to find a strong replacement. 

His last day was May 26.

A few weeks later, at his home framed by the brick-red canyon rocks of the Wind River uplift, Shoutis had to look away when remembering his time at Lander Valley High. 

He was crying. 

“I guess the only thing I would say is that the heroes in the story are just the students themselves, these queer students because they are so resilient, ” he said.

A loss for students 

With Shoutis’ departure, former students feel they’ve not only lost a deeply welcoming librarian, but a generous tech wizard and fierce advocate. 

“I don’t want to think about whether the new librarian will do a good job,” said Finn Gebhart, a rising Lander Valley High junior. 

“I think it’s a loss that our school and our school district will never get back.” 

Gebhart was in Shoutis’ emerging technology class, where students had the chance to learn animation, music production and video editing software. 

“It feels like very rarely do teachers genuinely care about what is going on in their students’ lives, and to some extent, even the education that their students are receiving,” Gebhart said. 

SPEAK club member Felanie Kelson recalled when Shoutis worked to find a coach for the speech and debate club so that forum remained available for students. 

They also remembered when Shoutis chaperoned the annual SPEAK club field trip to the University of Wyoming’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. The students had the chance to thrift for outfits for a queer dance party hosted on the last day. 

The Lander Valley High motto is “every student every day.”

“[It is] definitely not met, but [Shoutis] made sure that every student he interacted with, like that the goal was every student every day,” Kelson said. 

Shari Haskins, who manages Riverton’s public library, said Shoutis is “kind and generous to his profession and to his students.”  

Nate Shoutis ice climbing Smooth Emerald Milkshake in Cody, Wyoming in 2016. (Evan Horn)

“He so embraced the profession and what he could do with it for the students. It was a break from mediocrity. [Mediocrity] has its place because it’s easy. But when you want to excel, you’ll get a lot of criticism, and he was excelling.”

To students like Gebhart and Kelson, it felt like the school board pushed out Shoutis. 

“I just think it’s important to remember him as who he was, and as what he did for our school system,” Kelson said. “But I also think it’s important to note that he would still be here, if it weren’t for our school system, if they hadn’t pushed him out and pushed him to his limit. He’s not the only one that they’re pushing.” 

Board chair Jared Kail said the district cannot comment on Shoutis’ resignation as it is a personnel issue. Brew also said she could not comment as a board member. But speaking as a parent, she said Shoutis had a major impact on her daughter, who met him as a freshman.

“She gained a much greater awareness of social justice issues and the importance of standing up for your beliefs and for the rights of yourself and others,” Brew wrote in an email to WyoFile. 

“Mr. Shoutis encouraged student creativity, intellectual curiosity and involvement, whether students were interested in gaming, or videography or photography, or books,” she added. “He was a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ students in our high school and worked to create a learning and social environment that supported all students.”

Shoutis, for his part, is taking a break from not only teaching, but Lander. During a recent phone conversation, he paused when asked what was next. His response was interrupted by the public address system at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska.

He was headed out for a long trip.

“Lander’s home,” Shoutis said. “I need a break from it, though.” 

“It’s been hard to take that the small town that I grew up in has shown such overt hatred toward a group of people,” he said. “But I haven’t given up on it, even though I’m really, really, really disappointed in a lot of people there right now.” 

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