'Here & Now' Highlights: George Christenson, Mayor Katie Rosenberg, Dr. Ryan Westergaard

Here's what guests on the October 6, 2023 episode said about the dangerous duty of being an election worker, the new infusion of state aid for local governments and the status of COVID-19 as an updated vaccine becomes available.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

October 9, 2023

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Frederica Freyberg sits at a desk on the Here & Now set and faces a video monitor showing an image of George Christenson.

Frederica Freyberg and George Christenson (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

A bipartisan bill would increase criminal penalties in Wisconsin for verbal threats or assaults against election workers — Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson explained why he testified in favor of the proposal. Local governments are fashioning their 2024 budgets and have additional state aid to work with, which Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg called it a “big deal.” As a new COVID-19 vaccine is increasingly distributed Dr. Ryan Westergaard described how it provides good protection.

George Christenson
Milwaukee County Clerk

  • A state bill sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans is designed to protect election workers and would make it a Class I felony in Wisconsin to attack them. The legislation would also prohibit disclosure of an election worker’s address or personally identifiable information. Christenson described his own personal experience receiving death threats himself following the 2020 election as to why such a law is needed.
  • Christenson: “During the 2020 recount, which we ran here in Milwaukee County downtown, I received death threats and had pictures of guns and comments such as, how are you going to feel with a bullet in the back of your head? Of course, we refer those to the officials, to law enforcement, but they’re very difficult to track down because it’s just some coward probably in another state or somewhere doing something digitally. However, that causes all sorts of issues as far as security and as far as prevention. So, for example, during that recount, I had to have a sheriff’s deputy stationed on my home during that week. And that costs money and it also takes law enforcement off the street. So there’s ramifications of these types of behaviors.”


Katie Rosenberg
Mayor of Wausau

  • Local governments across Wisconsin are preparing their 2024 budgets. This year additional state aid is available because of the shared revenue law passed in June. Wausau, for example, has seen a nearly 30% increase in this aid from the state government, or an additional approximately $1.1 million. The city’s mayor knows where it’s aimed.
  • Rosenberg: “It’s a big deal, and we are so grateful that all parties can come together and make an agreement on this. But for us, it’s about a million more dollars, more than a million more dollars for our budget this year and next. So we’re really looking forward to being able to pay for things like health insurance premiums. That’s one thing that earlier this year we were looking at a 25% increase — really scary. We were able to negotiate that down a little bit and with our partners. So it’s not quite as much now, but where we need to pay for it still. We hired nine new firefighters with a federal FEMA SAFER grant, and for now we get to pay for them with that grant. But we know that these dollars will help us pay for those firefighters moving forward as well.”


Dr. Ryan Westergaard
Chief Medical Officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

  • An updated COVID-19 vaccine for 2023 and 2024 is increasingly available across Wisconsin at pharmacies and clinics. Westergaard said Wisconsin is seeing a steady increase in COVID activity, but it’s still low by historical standards. The vaccine now rolling out appears to be a good match for the circulating subvariant.
  • Westergaard: “We’re very hopeful that the data that the CDC advisory committee used to recommend the new formulation showed that at least in the laboratory, the antibodies that your body generates in response to this new vaccine are about twice as good, twice as effective as neutralizing the virus particles than the previous bivalent COVID booster. So we have reason to believe that it’s a pretty good match. No virus is perfect. And as we’ve learned, as time has gone on, the COVID vaccines are extremely helpful for preventing the most dangerous and severe complications of COVID-19, including hospitalization, ICU admission and death. It doesn’t, in fact, it doesn’t prevent all infections. But if someone gets and comes in contact with the virus, it’s a very effective way of reducing the risk of severe disease.”


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