'Here & Now' Highlights: Don Millis, Dr. Michael Landrum, Abbey Fischer, Kevin Bahr
Here's what guests on the November 18, 2022 episode said about the future of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, RSVs filling hospital beds, culture war in Rice Lake schools and the state of the economy.
By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now
November 21, 2022
Wisconsin Elections Commission chair Don Millis said with the exception of a knife-wielding man at a West Bend polling place, the Nov. 8 election went smoothly. Green Bay-based infectious disease physician Michael Landrum described how hospitals are dealing with a trio of respiratory viruses that are landing many patients in hospitals. Former Rice Lake School Board member Abbey Fischer, who resigned her position in October, described political vitriol that overtook the community over LGBTQ policies and other issues. UW-Stevens Point business professor Kevin Bahr said Wisconsinites should look out for an economic downturn – possibly a mild recession in 2023.
- The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted in August to propose an Office of Elections Inspector General within the agency to promote greater confidence in election results by way of helping address public and legislative inquiries. Millis said that’s among the items the commission would like to take up in 2023, despite the fact that so far there have been no allegations of irregularities following the 2022 vote. Just prior to the midterms, however, a Milwaukee election commissioner was charged with election fraud for requesting and receiving military absentee ballots under assumed names to allegedly prove a vulnerability in the system.
- Millis: “We would like to maybe address the issues with illegal requests for absentee ballots, the recent request for military ballots. There are some things that could be done that I think would be in fine favor with everyone. I mean, Wisconsin [is] the only state that doesn’t have military voters registered. We think that’s something that we could change that would help solve the problem. But we also have the opportunity, I think, to allow electronic voting by military officers by engaging with the Department of Defense and using some of their systems. And so that’s not been tried anywhere else. We’d like to maybe explore that.”
- Three severe respiratory viruses are circulating at once around Wisconsin: RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza and COVID-19. This mix of infections has resulted in 75% of pediatric hospital beds being full and filling 80% of pediatric intensive care beds in hospitals, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. RSV mostly infects toddlers and babies, and started spreading earlier than usual, causing a spike in hospitalizations. Infants aren’t the only people susceptible to infection, however.
- Landrum: “If you’re eligible to get vaccinated for influenza or to get vaccinated for COVID-19, whether that’s your initial immunization or to get a booster, please do so. The vaccines don’t prevent any infection from occurring. You can still get an infection, but they definitely make it less severe this year. The preliminary information from the CDC suggests that the influenza vaccine is a good match for the strains that we’re seeing, causing a lot of cases, at least right now, early in the flu season. So please, please, please go and get vaccinated. That will help protect you. It protects others around you and it helps our health system from getting overloaded with all these respiratory diseases.”
- A college professor in the area, Fischer was a member of the Rice Lake school board, but resigned in October 2022 after culture wars in the district left her feeling dehumanized and under attack. The situation worsened in the run-up to the midterm elections because of school board debate over a new policy for transgender students, though she said public vitriol started over masks and vaccines during the pandemic. Fischer said as a lesbian and for the sake of her own mental health she could no longer serve on the board and listen to what she called untrue statements and harmful radical rhetoric.
- Fischer: “We heard things about transgender individuals are mentally ill. We heard that transgender individuals really don’t exist and we just all need to be comfortable with our gender. We heard many statements that being LGBTQ+ is against the Bible and that we need to spend more time in church.”
- Inflation remains high and interest rates are expected to increase in response, but consumer spending is steady due to a hot job market and increased wages. Still, Bahr says the economy is expected to cool, maybe even to the point of a mild recession sometime in 2023. Holiday retail sales remain a marker for consumer confidence – an indicator that will be watched closely going forward.
- Bahr: “That’s going to be something very interesting to watch in October. Retail sales increase. So there are different forecasts for retail sales. But when you start getting into forecasting the economy next year and whether or not you’re going to have a recession, this is almost like doing a long-range weather forecast where you’re pretty confident that it’s going to be cloudy and you’re pretty confident that it’s not going to storm. But it might rain. It might not rain. And in any event, the economy is going to slow. How quickly, how fast it slows — that’s still sort of subject to question.”
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