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Will La Crosse area see spring floods? That depends on what the weather does next

The Mississippi River and its Wisconsin tributaries are at “above to well-above normal” risk for spring flooding, thanks to a confluence of winter conditions that have primed the pump.

The risk of moderate flooding is greater than 50 percent in areas along the river from Pierce County to La Crosse County, according to the latest spring outlook from the National Weather Service office in La Crosse.

But whether the La Crosse area floods depends on how fast the snow melts and how much rain falls in the next few weeks.

Current conditions that increase the risk of flooding include large snowpacks that hold between 2 and 5 inches of water, above-normal river flows, thick river ice, moisture-logged soil from an extremely wet fall, and frost depths of 18 to 36 inches.

A slower snowmelt and a less rainy spring would reduce the risk of flooding. Below-freezing temperatures and light snow are forecast for this week, according to the National Weather Service.

Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area
Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Alic Bitney uses deicer and a scraper to remove a thick layer of ice from his car Monday outside his home on Market Street. The car was left frozen in place after the storm that moved through the area late Saturday and early Sunday.

City officials remind residents to remove ice and snow from sidewalks

The city of La Crosse this week will be out enforcing its ordinance requiring sidewalks be cleared of snow and ice 24 hours after snow ceases to fall, though city staff acknowledge that this winter’s volatility has made it a struggle to keep the walkways clear.

“Do the best you can. We will be clearing sidewalks. We’re going to continue to clear sidewalks,” said city staffer Doug Kerns, who oversees enforcement of the ordinance.

Kerns encourages people to be neighborly and clear everything they can, keeping in mind that people in wheelchairs need extra space to get down the sidewalk and especially around the corners.

“If you do know of someone who needs a path cleared, or you see somebody struggling in a wheelchair, please stop and help,” Kerns said.

The city offers a free salt-and-sand mixture to residents at the fire stations at 906 Gillette St. and 626 Monitor St., as well as at the Erickson Field parking lot on 21st Place South and the southeast corner of Hood Street and Marco Drive.

Residents who don’t clear their sidewalks will face a $50 administrative fee, as well as a charge of $2.50 per linear foot of sidewalk cleared by the city’s contractor.

Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area
Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area

Re-build the wall? Dems see opportunity, danger in Midwest

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump smashed the blue wall in his first White House bid, chiseling a path to the presidency through Midwestern states that hadn’t backed a Republican presidential contender in three decades.

But as he gears up for his re-election bid, there are early signs that Democrats are regaining their strength in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, clinching governorships and making inroads in state legislatures.

There is no surer way for Democrats to block Trump’s re-election than to reclaim that trio of states, which may have supplanted Florida and Ohio as the nation’s premier presidential battlegrounds. But Democrats who know the region best are warning against overconfidence and suggesting the leftward lurch from some candidates could alienate the region’s working-class voters.

“I would never underestimate Donald Trump,” Wisconsin’s newly-elected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said when asked if Trump would win his state a second time in 2020.

“I don’t agree with almost anything he’s done,” Evers added. “But he’s an extraordinary politician and extraordinary human being.”

Michigan’s freshman Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged Democrats to rally behind a “pragmatic” candidate focused on achievable policies, a subtle dig at the aggressive liberal agenda that has been embraced by some candidates. Above all, she suggested that the Democrats’ blue wall would not be resurrected in 2020 without significant time and attention from the Democrats who want to take down Trump.

“At some point I may get involved in this primary and support a candidate,” Whitmer said. “But right now, I think everyone, for their sake and the sake of the people my state, needs to come to Michigan.”

The contrasting visions over how to defeat Trump were on display this weekend. As Midwestern governors were in Washington talking about everyday governing challenges at the National Governor’s Association, high-profile presidential contenders were promoting ambitious liberal priorities in early-voting primary states.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris stumped in New Hampshire and Iowa for universal health care, free college tuition and tax hikes on the rich.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is considering launching a presidential campaign, played up his local roots as he told voters in Nevada that other Democrats weren’t spending enough time talking to workers, including union members, about issues like wages, benefits and workplace safety. A handful of others — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — have promoted their working-class appeal as well as they fight to stand out in the crowded Democratic field.

For now, Trump says he isn’t worried.

In conversations with friends and confidants, the president has expressed confidence he can maintain his grip on the blue wall in 2020. He has told people at his private club in Florida that he expects to win Pennsylvania and Michigan. He also cited former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s 1-point loss in November as a sign that he could still win the state, which hadn’t backed a Republican presidential contender since 1984 before Trump’s 2016 win.

The friends and confidants didn’t speak on the record because their conversations with Trump were private.

The president’s optimism ignores signs of trouble for him and his party across the Midwest, where Democratic governors dominated the GOP last fall. Democrats scored governorships in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.

White House aides and Trump campaign officials were more cautious than the president when assessing his re-election prospects. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, they acknowledged Trump’s path to victory relies almost exclusively on holding the states he won in 2016.

They’re exploring more unlikely routes to victory, such as carrying Minnesota, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972. Trump lost the state by less than two percentage points in 2016. The GOP is also eyeing the effects of the recent turmoil in Virginia’s Democratic Party with interest.

“We are looking not just to defend states but to expand into blue territory,” said the campaign’s political director Chris Carr. “President Trump’s accomplishments and the campaign apparatus behind him are an unstoppable combination.”

Trump and his allies are also betting that Democrats will make their task easier in 2020 by nominating a candidate aligned with the far-left wing of the party. Midwestern Democrats conceded that could be a problem.

“In the Midwest, being pragmatic is probably more important,” Wisconsin Gov. Evers said.

He noted that Klobuchar in particular “has been labeled a pragmatist.” ‘’If I was her I’d embrace that,” he said. “I think that’s a good place to go. I’m not sure if she is or isn’t. It’s too early to tell.”

Democrats are divided, however, on whether a pragmatic appeal to the working class is the key to victory in 2020.

Trump did not defeat Hillary Clinton in the Midwest because working-class voters preferred Trump, according to former Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Trump beat Clinton largely because urban voters who typically support Democrats weren’t excited about her candidacy and didn’t turn out, he said.

“She lost,” Corbett said. “That’s not going to happen this time.”

Corbett’s successor, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, pointed to signs of cracks in Trump’s base as evidenced in his own 17-point re-election last November.

“They are with him, but I got a chunk of Trump voters,” Wolf said, charging that Trump’s presidency has “not made the lives of people in Pennsylvania measurably better.”

In Michigan, Whitmer noted that Trump won in 2016 with fewer votes than former President George W. Bush earned when he lost the state in 2004.

“I was heartbroken, but we didn’t turn out the vote,” Whitmer said of Trump’s 2016 victory, offering a warning to any Democrat that believes last fall’s gains will means the blue wall is back for sure: “2020 should not be taken for granted.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse men's basketball coach Kent Dernbach directs his team during its upset of then-No. 3 UW-Oshkosh. The Eagles earned an NCAA tournament berth Monday.

Evers wants to freeze private voucher school enrollment


MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wants to cap enrollment in Wisconsin’s private voucher schools, setting up another fight with Republicans who made it a priority the past eight years to expand the program statewide.

The proposal will be a part of Evers’ two-year state budget on Thursday. Many parts of the spending plan that Evers has previewed in recent days, including allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin, have drawn Republican opposition.

“(Evers) continues to make a bipartisan budget nearly impossible,” Republican Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, tweeted in reaction to his higher education plan on Sunday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Evers’ plan to freeze voucher school enrollments would do “immense harm” to the program and create uncertainty for schools, students and families.

“Republicans in the Legislature have spent years helping build the voucher program,” Fitzgerald said. “We will not support a budget that includes this proposal.”

The fights over education policy are just a couple of the budget battles that loom for Evers and Republicans in what is expected to be a long, tough struggle to reach agreement. Evers last week vetoed a Republican-authored income tax plan as he prepares to include his own proposal in the budget.

The in-state tuition proposal is part of Evers’ plan to spend $150 million more at the UW System over the next two years, while also extending a tuition freeze for two more years. It’s been in place for the past six years.

UW System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank both praised the “investment” portion of Evers’ plan in separate tweets over the weekend, but they did not comment specifically on the in-state tuition policy change.

Democrats passed a law in 2009 that granted in-state tuition to people living in the U.S. illegally who had graduated from Wisconsin high schools. Republicans revoked it in 2011.

Evers was a member of the UW Board of Regents the past nine years in his capacity as state schools superintendent. He’s also been a longtime critic of a program that uses taxpayer money to pay for vouchers for people to send their children to private schools.

Republican backers tout the programs as giving parents in poor-performing public school districts another option. Democrats, public school advocates and teachers unions have opposed the programs, saying they take needed money away from public schools.

Evers will propose freezing the number of students who can enroll in voucher schools statewide, while also suspending the creation of new independent charter schools until 2023. He also wants to eliminate a program intended for Milwaukee that requires county officials to turn consistently poor-performing schools into charter schools without district officials’ approval.

Evers is also calling for requiring all teachers working in private schools that accept taxpayer-funded voucher students to be licensed like public school teachers. He also wants to give taxpayers more information on property tax bills about how much of their money is going to fund voucher schools. He’s also calling for a cap on enrollment in the voucher program for students with disabilities.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Evers’ plans Monday.

Evers, in a statement, said the plan was intended to make sure voucher schools are “accountable and transparent.” He has long argued that the state cannot afford to maintain a public school system while funding private voucher and charter schools without spending more. Evers plans to call for a 10 percent, or $1.4 billion, increase in K-12 education spending, a figure Republicans have said is too much.

Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, opposed Evers’ proposal to freeze enrollment for the voucher and charter programs.

“It will not result in better academic outcomes for anyone,” Bender said. “It will, however, pour gas on the fire of opposition for those who view the education of our children through a singular, political lens.”

Evers also announced Saturday that he wants to require that businesses receiving tax incentives for major economic development programs disclose major changes to their plans. That idea, first reported by, comes in the wake of Foxconn Technology Group announcing changes to what it plans to make at a $10 billion campus in Wisconsin that could result in the Taiwanese company earning more than $4 billion in state and local tax credits.

Under the Evers proposal, businesses would also be barred from using state dollars to move jobs out of state.