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Country Boom headliners announced; ticket sales launched for new La Crosse County summer festival

The Country Boom fuse was lit late last summer for what promises to be the La Crosse area’s biggest music event — by a country mile. This week, fans finally learn the long-awaited details for Country Boom, a two-day music festival to be held July 13-14 on the former Maple Grove Country Club grounds near West Salem.


Contributed photo 

Randy Houser is on the Friday night roster for Country Boom.

Contributed photo 

Josh Phillips is set to perform on Saturday night of Country Boom.

Headliners for the festival’s first year include Randy Houser, Aaron Lewis, Tyler Farr, Riley Green and Ben Johnson on Friday, and Josh Phillips, Phil Vassar, Michael Tyler, Faren Rachels and Chase Rice on Saturday. The talent lineup also will include local acts that will play on the main stage and in the VIP area, which will be in the space formerly occupied by the country club’s pool.

Festival organizer Jon Holthaus acknowledged that its taken much longer than he expected to get to announcing artists, starting ticket sales and rolling out the website — “We appreciate the support in the community and the patience,” he said.

While the entertainers might not all be household names like Blake Shelton, the ticket prices for the event reflect that, coming in much lower than those of County Jam and other more established country music festivals. And prices will be lowest for those who buy early, going up after an introductory period of unspecified length.

Early-bird ticket prices are $25 for a one-day general admission pass or $40 for both days. Reserved seats go for $125 for the weekend, and there will be two sections of reserved VIP seating, with the closer seats going for $250 and the others going for $200. In addition to premium seating, the VIP passes also include beverages and access to the VIP building.

“They’re going to get a heck of an experience with that,” Holthaus said of the VIP passes.

The festival also will feature a standing-room-only “pit” directly in front of the stage, where people can pay $5 to $30 for a pass during any given artist’s set to get a more up-close experience. The view for people in the VIP seats won’t be impeded by people in the pit.

A camping site for the weekend will go for $85, with a campground access pass costing $20. Thirteen hundred camp sites will be available this year.

Holthaus emphasized that people who buy VIP passes this year will have first crack at the VIP passes for future festivals, when he expects to have bigger names hitting the stage. “If you get in this year, you’re never going to get booted,” he said.

Randy Erickson / Contributed photo 

Aaron Lewis performs Friday night at Country Boom.

After EPA flip, a push to block ‘harmful’ pesticide

WASHINGTON (TNS) — A month after Scott Pruitt began leading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the former Oklahoma attorney general rejected an Obama-era recommendation from agency scientists to ban a widely used pesticide from use on food crops.

That means farmers can continue to spray chlorpyrifos on crops ranging from corn to cranberries. The change was welcomed by farm groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which said farmers need access to the chemical to stop infestations.

But environmentalists, who had been working for years to get the Obama administration to crack down on the pesticide, were outraged. And officials in several states — all led by Democrats — now say that if the federal government won’t force the pesticide off their lands, they will. Seven states have sued the EPA over Pruitt’s decision. In at least four states, legislators have filed bills to ban the product.

“If it’s not going to be done federally, we should do it at state level,” said Maryland Del. Dana Stein, a Democrat who introduced a chlorpyrifos ban. “This is the tactic. It’s the only available option.”

The chlorpyrifos quarrel is yet another skirmish in what is likely to be a yearslong battle between blue states and the Trump administration’s EPA. Already, Democratic-run states say they will sue over rollbacks of Obama-era regulations and crack down on fossil fuel polluters.

Caught in the middle of the chlorpyrifos debate are farmers such as Stephen V. Lee IV of New Jersey, a sixth-generation cranberry farmer who says the pesticide can save crops from serious infestations when no other chemical is working.

Lee testified against a chlorpyrifos ban bill in his state last year, telling legislators he had used the substance only three times in the past decade.

“It’s like the fire extinguisher or the red button,” Lee said in an interview. He said he only uses chlorpyrifos when his existing pest management practices don’t stand up against a bug. The bill has been reintroduced this year.

Chlorpyrifos is used on a wide range of agricultural products, designed to kill nearly any bug that comes into contact with it. When Lee went to use it against mirid bugs, which pierce plants and suck out their juices, leading to death and decay, he had to wait until bees left his field before he could spray.

The Obama administration had targeted chlorpyrifos, known on the market as Lorsban, to be phased out after EPA scientists recommended a ban on the pesticide in 2016, citing health effects on farmworkers and children.

Scientists worry that it affects the human nervous system much like it attacks those of insects. The substance was banned for household use in 2000, and studies found children who had been exposed to it had lower IQs than those who were not. The pesticide has also been linked to learning and memory issues and prolonged nerve and muscle stimulation.

In his ruling, Pruitt said the science is inconclusive and that the agency plans to continue studying the effects of chlorpyrifos.

Lynn Goldman, the head of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and former administrator of the EPA’s pesticide office under President Bill Clinton, said scientists would have reviewed outside studies as well as data from Dow, the company that makes chlorpyrifos, in order to be confident in their findings.

“It is unprecedented for an EPA administrator to overrule the scientific judgment of EPA’s pesticide office,” Goldman said in her testimony to the Maryland Legislature. “The only possible basis for such a decision is political.”

The EPA did not respond to questions about the state-level bans, but at the time of the decision, the EPA released a statement from the Office of Pest Management Policy in another agency, the USDA, saying the decision was “grounded in evidence and science.”

Dow did not respond to a request for comment.

This year, lawmakers in Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii and Vermont are considering bills that would ban the use of chlorpyrifos, and a bill in Minnesota urges the EPA to reconsider its decision. The legislation pits environmental scientists against chemical purveyors and conventional farmers against organic ones.

Even if conventional farmers don’t use chlorpyrifos regularly — its use has declined fairly steadily since the early 1990s due in part to a turn to pest-resistant genetically modified corn — many say they still need access to it in worst-case scenarios.

People who spray such pesticides have to have a license from the state and wear a specially fitted mask. Workers must stay out of the fields where chlorpyrifos has been sprayed for at least 24 hours and up to five days for some crops.

The 17-page label that comes with the product spells out strict guidelines for its use that were developed by the EPA, including how soon before harvest the product can be used. For Lee’s cranberry fields in New Jersey, chlorpyrifos can’t be used within 60 days of harvest.

Lee is not an EPA basher. He wants the agency to keep studying chemicals to make sure they’re safe. But he’s not nervous when he uses chlorpyrifos.

“It’s kind of like asking a police officer if they get nervous when they go to work every day,” Lee said. “When I apply material it’s a serious business. I’ve been properly trained and certified; I go to continuing education, and I’ve got guidelines from the EPA that I follow. So no, I’m not nervous.”

But it’s not just farmworker health that opponents are worried about. They cite health risks to the general population and the environment as the chemical continues through the food chain and makes its way into water.

Cornell University lists the pesticide as moderately to highly toxic to birds and very highly toxic to freshwater and marine organisms.

“For terrestrial organisms — birds, owls, things like that — it’s generally not considered very toxic. However, once it gets in the water, it’s a neurotoxin for all crustaceans or arthropods, things with joined legs, insects, crabs, that sort of thing,” said Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “You start messing with Maryland crabs, and that’s poking a fight.”

Cleo Braver was one of many organic farmers who came to a recent hearing on Stein’s bill in Maryland to talk about alternatives to chlorpyrifos — organic pesticides for some bugs, nematode parasites for others.

“There are plenty of alternatives,” said Braver, who grows vegetables on her farm in Easton. “There are fantastic databases that you can even pull up on your phone in the field. Farmers who want an alternative to chlorpyrifos can search by either the crop you use it on or the pest they want to use it against.”

Conventional farmers in Maryland, however, argue the pesticide might be the last weapon against pests such as the spotted lantern fly, which they worry could be a major threat to the state’s vineyards.

“It will wipe out 90 percent of a vineyard,” said Colby Ferguson, the director of government relations of the Maryland Farm Bureau Inc. “The spotted lantern fly is a bad, bad dude, and if Maryland eliminates chlorpyrifos, that would be eliminated as a last line of defense.”

It’s the testimony from conventional farmers who talk about the risks of losing an entire crop to bugs that makes legislators wary of a ban.

New Jersey state Rep. Shirley Turner, a Democrat who has sponsored a bill to ban the pesticide the last two years, said testimony like Lee’s makes legislators cautious. She expects better luck this year with more Democratic legislators and a new Democratic governor.

“Legislators didn’t feel competent about it to make a decision, particularly after a farmer said it saved their crop,” she said.

Scientists worry that chlorpyrifos affects the human nervous system much like it attacks those of insects. The substance was banned for household use in 2000

“If it’s not going to be done federally, we should do it at state level. This is the tactic. It’s the only available option.” Dana Stein, a Maryland Democrat who introduced a chlorpyrifos ban.


GOP crusader Walker reaches to center in volatile Wisconsin

JANESVILLE, Wis. — Not long ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the voice of a conservative revolution in the heartland, a Republican at the vanguard and a possible future president. Today, he’s the voice of concern, warning his party — at home and nationally — that change is coming again.

In private meetings, public forums and his own policy moves, Walker has made clear he sees worrisome signs for the GOP and the hard-line conservatism that’s marked his eight years in office. Wisconsin, which helped hand the White House to Republicans, is looking for something different, Walker has said, and Democrats are motivated.

A recent local election should be a “wake-up call” to the changes afoot in the rural and exurban pockets that 17 months ago voted enthusiastically for President Donald Trump, he recently told a group of GOP donors and activists.

Walker is acting on his own advice. As he seeks a third term in office, he’s embraced a bipartisan tone and a strikingly moderate set of policy proposals. The man who eight years ago set out to dismantle public employee unions is now backing efforts that mirror aspects of former President Barack Obama’s health care law and describing his policy differences with Democrats as modest.

“We heard from people across the state. These aren’t Republican or Democrat issues. These are things people care about in Wisconsin,” Walker told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “As a Republican, I might have a slightly different angle about how to address it. But these are (about) just me listening to people across the state.”

Walker’s concerns about the mood of working-class voters resonate beyond Wisconsin and could easily translate to Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania — Rust Belt states that Trump won and that could go a long way toward determining who controls Congress next year.

As a battle-tested Republican from such a state, and who shares the ballot this fall with Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Walker is worth heeding, said Matt Brooks, executive director of the national Republican Jewish Coalition.

“There are a lot of winds aloft that could have impacts on the broader electoral outlook,” Brooks said.

Walker knows something about misjudging the resilience of a political moment.

Riding the tea-party wave and anti-union fervor, Walker got national attention for his push to strip public employee unions of bargaining power, in a state that first encoded such rights 50 years earlier.

Tens of thousands of teachers, prison guards and other public employees demonstrated in the Capitol, and Walker beat back a recall effort, receiving 200,000 more votes than he did in his election win less than two years earlier. Walker tried to use the platform to launch a presidential bid, but his campaign quickly fizzled. By early November 2016, he was at Trump’s side at a campaign stop in northwest Wisconsin.

Walker sounded different at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas last month. Behind closed doors, he pointed to a special election upset in Wisconsin this year in the typically Republican, small-town lake lands of northwest Wisconsin, members attending later described. Trump had carried the state Senate district by 17 percentage points.

Walker attributed the stunning reversal in a district of middle- and lower-income white voters to Democratic anger with Trump, and wider frustration with the largely stalled agenda in the GOP-controlled Congress.

While a crowded field of Democrats is seeking to oust Walker, it’s not yet clear whether he faces a difficult re-election path. But his concerns echo far beyond Wisconsin, said Michael Epstein of Maryland, who was on Walker’s presidential finance team and heard Walker’s presentation in Las Vegas.

“We’re all looking to the midterms with concern,” Epstein said.

Months before the January special election in Wisconsin, Walker began preparing for a different political mood in 2018.

Walker, who fought implementation of Obama’s 2010 health care law, is now proposing shoring up the private health insurance market. He also wants to ban policy denials for people with pre-existing conditions, a popular provision of Obama’s signature law.

Other Democrat-friendly policies he’s promoting include protecting Wisconsin’s popular SeniorCare discount prescription drug program, bolstering funding for schools and sending families $100 for each child younger than 18. The money would arrive in late summer, just before the fall election.

In the wake of last month’s high school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, Walker came out against arming teachers, something he previously was open to.

Walker’s tack to the middle shows how some swing state Republicans are positioning themselves differently given Trump’s low approval and a president’s party historically losing seats in the first midterm election.

Democrats say Walker is stealing their best ideas, can’t be trusted to follow through on them if he is re-elected and hoping moderate voters forget his conservative record.

“In trying to win a third term, Scott Walker is campaigning as if his first two terms did not exist,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

While Walker hasn’t abandoned priorities such as cutting taxes and offering big tax breaks to industry, his focus on swing voters stands in glaring contrast to his first presidential campaign video in 2015, in which he said his GOP rivals “haven’t consistently taken on the big fights” and boasted, “I know how to fight and win.”

Today he doesn’t declare victory.

“In the end, we’re a blue state and, at best, we made it purple,” Walker told the AP.