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January 2013 Issue

January 2013
Feature 1

Feeling
the Heat

Feature 2

Catching
the Wave

Editorial

EDITORIAL
"Aggregation Consternation"

Wisconsin Favorites
Wisconsin Favorites
"Take a Trip to the
Toy Train Barn"

 

 

On Hold or On Ice?

Co-ops host debate on Voter ID

      

Add this item to the list of ways Wisconsin and Minnesota are the same but different: In 2011, both states’ legislatures adopted proposals to create photo-ID requirements for voting. In 2013, neither has a photo-ID requirement in place.

The difference? Wisconsin’s ID law was overturned by two Dane County judges in separate lawsuits. Its fate will be decided by appellate courts before the 2014 elections, a fact that guarantees yet another intense battle this April over a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court. Minnesota Voter ID was presented as a constitutional amendment and rejected last November. It’s a dead issue there, unless and until the Legislature advances a new proposal.

Continuing Cooperative Network’s tradition of a “Great Debate” at its November annual meeting, members gathered in La Crosse exactly one week after the Minnesota amendment went down to defeat and heard spirited presentations by advocates on opposite sides of the Voter ID issue.

Mythical Margins?

Minnesota State Representative (now Senator) Mary Kiffmeyer (R–Big Lake) brought a unique perspective to the Great Debate. As secretary of state for eight years, she was Minnesota’s chief administrator of elections, and in the 2011–12 Legislature was the primary House author of the Voter ID bill.

Speaking first, Kiffmeyer said conditions for voter eligibility common to all 50 state constitutions are citizenship, age, and residency, making implicit the need for voter identification. “How can you know someone is of voting age, and their residency, and a U.S. citizen without knowing who they are?” she asked.

She listed activities requiring formal identification: Purchasing liquor, boarding an airplane, claiming government benefits, participation in union elections in Minnesota and—needling Attorney General Eric Holder who has intervened against state voter ID laws—entering the office of the U.S. attorney general.

Questionable integrity of ballot-counting has inflamed controversies in hotly contested elections, Kiffmeyer acknowledged, citing the 2000 Florida recount that led ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore. But while accurate counting is one necessity, she said, there are others. “If you get fraudulent ballots into the ballot box, counting them accurately is no way to have honest elections—if you’re counting ballots that never should have been there to begin with.”

Many such ballots were cast in Minnesota’s 2008 election, Kiffmeyer contends.

Wisconsin and Minnesota are among 10 states with same-day registration laws letting voters appear at the polls on Election Day, register, and cast a ballot. Later, election officials seek to confirm the validity of these registrations by mailing verification cards to the names and addresses they were given.

“If the postal verification card comes back as undeliverable, that means one of two things: That person does not live there, or there is no such address,” Kiffmeyer said.

About 28,000 same-day Minnesota registrations from 2008 came back undeliverable. After resolving various errors that flagged many of them, Kiffmeyer says, “there are still, to this day, 6,224 ballots that were cast by people who we cannot find or whose address is nonexistent.”

That election, she adds, led to a recount that determined the occupant of one of Minnesota’s two U.S. Senate seats—by a statewide margin of 312 votes.

In addition to the 6,224 unverifiable voters, 1,099 ineligible felons were found to have voted, Kiffmeyer said. A registered nurse, she says she believes in “prevention, not prosecution,” and that it’s “the duty and responsibility of each citizen” to prove they are who they say they are at the polls.

“There are trillions of dollars at stake, untold power, presidential elections,” Kiffmeyer said. “It’s amazing to me that you have liars and cheaters and stealers everywhere else in the world but somehow we’re expected to believe that only angels come to vote.”

Constitutional Concerns

Kiffmeyer’s scheduled opponent, Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson (D–Milwaukee), was forced to cancel the day before the event to attend a Madison caucus where he would be elected minority leader. David Jenkins—a former Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association statewide manager who originated the idea a decade earlier and participated in the first “Great Debate”—was recruited to help find a replacement. With the search looking futile and less than 24 hours to prepare, Jenkins graciously offered to step in.

He opened his remarks by recalling the first time he accompanied his father to the polls, in 1956. “Voting,” Jenkins said, “is as close as we have to a sacred rite in a secular sphere.”

“We were going to a place where there were a lot of people, but there was no loud talking. It was very serious, a solemn responsibility,” he said. “People were different when they were in line to vote. I think we can agree that voting is a very, very special thing. It’s not like buying liquor or getting on an airplane. It’s different. There’s nothing quite like it in our democracy.”

Jenkins says Wisconsin has long conducted honest elections without Voter ID and observes that at least four amendments to the U.S. Constitution have addressed voting rights, none of them imposing voter identification requirements. “Our whole history, at least since 1870, has been one of expanding, extending, and protecting the right to vote.”

He maintains that the push for Voter ID laws has occurred mainly since 2011 and calls it “hard to believe” that there is a sudden “tidal wave of malefactors committing fraud in our elections.”

Wisconsin’s election problems, Jenkins says, are limited mainly to felons voting before they regain eligibility. He calls for solving that problem by modernizing our “antiquated, paper-based voter registration system” so that various departments and agencies can “weed out the names of people who are ineligible to vote for whatever reason.”

Numerous Arizona counties have done so and find it saves them money, Jenkins says, adding, “We haven’t talked yet about the cost of these voter registration and other Voter ID types of laws…It’s not going to be free to do what many of these states have done.”

“Finally,” Jenkins argues, “there is a history and context to this.” He recalls the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and says the Voting Rights Act of 1965, renewed repeatedly with overwhelming bipartisan support, is under constitutional challenge to its requirement that some states and localities obtain U.S. Justice Department permission before revising their election laws.

“If the very constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act can be challenged successfully, that’s going to set our country back and open the door to all kinds of abuses of people’s right to vote,” he warns.   

Voters Decide

Nineteen states have adopted Voter ID laws in recent years. Many people call them a solution in search of a problem. Many others say it defies common sense to claim they aren’t needed. Some of those arguments will be settled entirely by voters; others will be settled by judges elected by the voters.

But in every case, it will all come down to who votes.­—Dave Hoopman, director of regulatory affairs, Electric Division, Cooperative Network

 

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Shale Shock

Natural Gas as Nation’s Primary Power Source?

 

Over the past decade, the natural gas industry in North America has experienced a dramatic renaissance thanks to a combination of horizontal drilling and a shale-fracturing technique called “hydraulic fracking.” With this technology, previously unrecoverable gas reserves located in shale formations deep underground are now flooding the market and should continue to do so for several decades.

The resulting cheap domestic supply should prompt electric utilities to increasingly replace coal with natural gas as a generating fuel, according to International Energy Agency Chief Economist Faith Birol. Studies show that the U.S. will overtake Russia as the world’s largest gas producer by 2015.

Given the fact that consumption of natural gas for electricity has increased every year since 2009, Birol’s predictions appear to be on track. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas’s share of electric power generation in the U.S. will increase from 25 percent today to 28 percent by 2035, with renewable energy’s share growing from 10 percent to 15 percent and coal falling from 48 percent to 38 percent. However, preliminary 2012 numbers indicate that pace of change may be accelerating.

Increasing Reliance

When it comes to electricity, natural gas today is most commonly used to fuel peaking plants (power stations that operate for brief periods during times of high electricity demand) and intermediate plants (those whose output changes in response to changes in electricity demand over the course of each day).

Over the past two years, the relatively low price for gas combined with increasing federal and state regulation of power-plant emissions have led to natural-gas–fired plants being run for longer periods, while many older coal-fired baseload power plants are being shut down or converted to gas operations. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last March proposed a New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) rule that aims to curb the release of carbon dioxide and six other greenhouse gases from new fossil fuel-fired power plants. (It also could be expanded at some point to cover existing generation.) To do so, it sets an emissions cap of 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour—a nearly impossible standard to achieve for coal-fired power plants, which average in excess of 1,800 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour.

NSPS, as outlined, will push power plants away from coal and toward natural gas baseload generation because most newer combined-cycle gas facilities produce emissions within range of the EPA’s proposed limit.

More Price Volatility

But natural gas prices are more volatile than coal, making the fuel a dicey option. “Historically, natural gas prices have varied widely, making reliance on gas as the sole fuel to provide affordable future baseload power risky at best,” says Rae Cronmiller, environmental counsel for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the trade organization representing more than 900 electric co-ops in the U.S. “These risks are significantly enhanced because the cost of electricity derived from natural gas is largely driven by cost of the fuel itself. This differs from coal power, which is driven by capital costs. Also, natural gas in quantities necessary to provide year-round baseload generation is unavailable in some geographic areas.”

Despite this, utility experts believe that natural gas production will continue to increase and that the “blue flame” will surpass coal as the nation’s leading source of electric energy.—Angela Perez, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

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EDITORIAL
by Perry Baird

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson accepts NRECA’s distinguished service award at the group’s 2006 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.—the gathering where Wisconsin co-op leaders were first introduced to the Missouri lawmaker. Emerson was named new CEO of the national organization, effective March 1.

Two-thirds of the Wisconsin and Minnesota cooperative leaders attending the November annual meeting of their statewide trade association identified government regulation and legislation as the greatest threats to the success of their businesses (see News Briefs story on page 7).

In the same electronic survey yielding that response, attendees were also asked to pick the most important service that Cooperative Network provides its members. Not surprisingly, the co-op delegates chose “lobbying on legislative and regulatory issues” as what they saw as the organization’s prime mission.

The answer tallies weren’t surprising. They affirmed what our members consistently have told us in the board room, in committees, at annual meetings, and in daily contacts for many years: Government action is the vehicle through which much gets accomplished on behalf of our co-op members, and its initiatives also bear close scrutiny to ensure they do no harm.

Deep Experience

The government focus is common to most trade associations; Cooperative Network isn’t really unique in that respect. Nor is it uncommon to find a wealth of government-operations expertise among trade association employees. For example, of Cooperative Network’s more than 20 staff members in its Madison and St. Paul offices, more than half have employment histories that include previous jobs with state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, or government agencies.

Emphasizing that point in his report to the Cooperative Network membership gathered for the La Crosse annual meeting, CEO Bill Oemichen described the depth of staff expertise: combined totals of 56 years in government service, 83 years serving in the Legislature or on legislative staffs, 105 years of lobbying for co-ops, and 132 years in government-affairs communications. “Please remember you have this very important tool at your service,” Oemichen told delegates.

National Resource

National trade associations can point to a similar resource among their staffs. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), for instance, in December concluded its search for someone to succeed retiring CEO Glenn English. The NRECA board’s choice was U.S. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, an eight-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri. In making the selection, Board President Mike Guidry cited “the respect she has from both sides of the aisle and her proven ability to bridge political and policy divides and find common ground” as assets that will benefit the organization and its members.

Emerson will be only the fifth person to manage the national organization in its 71-year history, and three of her predecessors were also longtime federal lawmakers: Clyde Ellis, an Arkansas congressman; Bob Bergland, who represented Minnesota in the U.S. House and also was agriculture secretary in the Carter administration; and English, a former congressman from Oklahoma. The fourth was Bob Partridge, who had extensive experience working for federal agencies.

As state legislatures and the U.S. Congress convene new sessions in 2013, cooperative business here and nationally stands ready to engage them on co-op

 

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Come to the Iola Winter Carnival for a Traditional Celebration

by Mary Erickson

If the snow has you yearning for some old-fashioned winter fun, head to Iola February 2–3 for the 52nd Iola Winter Carnival. A grand celebration of the community’s Scandinavian roots, the carnival showcases traditional winter activities brought here by the area’s Norwegian ancestors generations ago.

Although carnival activities take place throughout the community, the heart of the event is the Iola Winter Sports Club five miles northwest of Iola, home to Wisconsin’s newest 60-meter ski jump. This is where area children begin learning to ski jump and cross-country ski shortly after they begin to walk. Many of them go on to compete for club-sponsored teams in ski jumping and Nordic combined, an event for which athletes ski jump first, with their jump scores used to determine their starting positions in a cross-country race. Thanks in part to a quality ski-jumping complex that allows for year-round jumping, many Iola-area athletes have enjoyed successful competitive careers.

Of course, tradition has a lot to do with that success as well. Ski jumping is such a way of life here that just about everyone in the community is connected to the sport somehow, either as an athlete, a dedicated carnival volunteer, or simply an enthusiastic spectator. Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative is no exception; the coop’s own Lila Shower, vice president of finance, comes from impressive ski-jumping lineage, starting with her father, Sig Malvik, a member of the Ski Jumping Hall of Fame. Malvik took his first jump in Norway when he was 3, and he continued to jump competitively for various clubs after emigrating to the United States with his family when he was 16, amassing a collection of titles and honors along the way. He made the 1954 U.S. National Ski Jumping Team and competed in the World Masters Championships several times in the 1990s.

Malvik’s contributions to the sport extend beyond competition; he has served as both coach and judge, plus he twice appeared on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” as a translator and was a member of the hill crew for the ski-jumping competition at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.

Fortunately for Iola, Malvik has shared his expertise with the local community as well. He has served as president of the Iola Winter Sports Club, helping to build the facilities and club teams into what they are today. Throughout it all he kept jumping; when the 60-meter jump was completed, Malvik—at age 63—was one of the first to jump it. He took his final jump in 2000, having jumped competitively in eight different decades.

As a coach, Malvik remains very active; among the many ski jumpers he’s groomed are his children and now his three grandsons, who are continuing the family ski-jumping tradition.

At the carnival, you can watch some of Malvik’s protegees and other local youth take on jumpers from other states and Canada in the Nordic combined cross-country race and central ski-jumping competition on Sunday. The competition serves as a qualifying event for the Junior National Championships in ski jumping and Nordic combined, so it promises some quality jumping by elite young athletes.

But the carnival is not just for highly skilled athletes. The Iola Winter Sports Club’s focus is on family recreation, and winter carnival weekend provides plenty of opportunity for just that. On Saturday, you can take advantage of free cross-country and snowshoe trail passes and enjoy the club’s 20 km of groomed trails.

New this year is the Twilight Snowshoe Race held Saturday evening. With a 5K, 10K, and kids’ 800-meter run, this family-friendly race is fit for all ages and abilities.

Winter sports are not all the carnival offers, however. Kicking off the weekend is the ice-sculpting contest Saturday morning, held at a carving of Vidar the Nordic Viking in the village.

After enjoying the icy artwork, you can warm up with a dinner of, naturally, lutefisk and lefse. No Norwegian celebration would be complete without these customary foods, and the Iola Winter Carnival does not disappoint. At the lutefisk supper held at the Iola–Scandinavia High School Saturday, volunteers serve up lutefisk and fresh cod along with meatballs, potatoes, lefse, and Norwegian pastries from 1 to 6:30 p.m.; last year’s dinner drew about 1,200 people.

After the dinner, guests can wander over to a huge indoor craft sale at the high school and stop to watch the crowning of the Snow Queen. Make the Iola Winter Carnival part of your winter travel plans—it’s tradition, after all.—Mary Erickson

For more information about the Iola Winter Carnival, write to P.O. Box 1, Iola, WI 54945, call (715) 445-4005, or visit www.ischamber.org/attractions or iolawintersportsclub.org.

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©2013 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News