Baldwin campaign gets boost from women’s groups, gay rights advocates

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Photo: Tammy Baldwin addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.. Baldwin would be the first openly gay senator if elected. / J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Female candidates often get support from women and related advocacy groups for their campaigns.

And when a candidate is female and gay? An entirely new demographic offers its support, said Dave Wegge, a political science professor at St. Norbert College in De Pere.

People like “contributing to candidates that share (their) views on issues, and want that person in decision-making circles,” Wegge said.

If elected to the United States Senate, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison, would be the nation’s first openly gay senator. As a result, lobbying groups with interests in line with hers are contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to support her campaign.

Women Vote!, an affiliate of EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, has spent $791,590 running ads against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Baldwin’s Republican opponent, according to Open Secrets, a website that tracks political contributions.Women Vote! also spent $164,067 on ads that support Baldwin.

That is more than the group has spent on any other race in the country.

Two of the most significant donors to Women Vote! are the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which has donated $325,000 to the group, and LPAC, a group that works to help advance lesbian interests, which gave $112,000, according to its website.

The most recent ad from Women Vote! was a $350,000 buy which attacks Thompson for his ties to lobbyists and accuses him of fattening his wallet with his corporate connections.

Wegge said women are more likely to be Democrats and see social issues differently than men. They are generally more supportive of social welfare, homosexuality, stringent environmental sanctions, are in favor of abortion rights and support more funding for education, he said.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund donated to Baldwin’s primary and general election campaigns as well.

“All contributors are naturally rational decision makers, they also put money where they think a candidate has an opportunity to win,” Wegge said. “The race was dead even and turned toward Baldwin in the last weeks, that’s playing a role as well. EMILY’s List, they are targeting certain races, they have a finite amount of money. They are going to put up money where they think a candidate can win. They’re sending a signal they think she’s got a real opportunity of winning.”

The most recent Marquette Law School poll showed Baldwin leading Thompson, 50-41. The poll was conducted Sept. 13-16, and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, and is a complete reversal of the same poll’s results last month.

Neither Baldwin’s nor Thompson’s campaign responded to a message seeking comment.

The majority of Thompson’s financial support has come from business interests and he received a handful of assistance during his tough primary race. The Club for Growth Action has spent more than $1.6 million on the Wisconsin senate race, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more than $1.5 million in ads against Baldwin.

According to Open Secrets, more than $4.5 million has been spent against the Thompson campaign, and $2.6 million against the Baldwin campaign.

—Originally published Green Bay Press-Gazette, October 2013

Gestational carriers help make families for those who can’t conceive

Diane Harrill helps make families.

The 49-year-old has given birth to nine children. But they’re not all genetically hers. She has five biological children, aged 13 to 30, and she has been a gestational carrier for four others. She calls the four her “surro-babies,” but doesn’t consider them her children.

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“I love those babies, but not the way a mother loves a child,” Harrill said. “You love them, you think of them, but not every day. I think about what they’ll be when they grow up, just like my own kids. I remember their birthdays. But I don’t worry about them, because I know the parents. They were never mine.”

Gestational carriers bring embryos to term that are not genetically their own. The term “surrogate“ is commonly used in place of gestational carrier, but surrogates have genetic connections to the embryo.

The use of gestational carriers is up in recent years. Their numbers increased 13 percent in 2011 from the previous year, according to the most recently available data from the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. The society says totals are up 99 percent since 2004.

Harill was first pregnant as a gestational carrier in 2004 when she was 41. Harrill’s sister-in-law introduced her to a couple unable to conceive, and Harrill says she had no reservations about carrying the child.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “I didn’t know what was all entailed — 12 weeks of shots, and if it doesn’t take the first time, you do it all again.”

Despite the increased use in gestational carriers across the country, the concept remains new in the Green Bay area. In 2004, Harrill couldn’t find an attorney to help draft a contract.

Typically before implantation, the gestational carrier and intended parents agree to a contract to address all contingencies before, during and after the pregnancy. Those issues include what to do if the pregnancy needs to be terminated, the level of contact, if any, a carrier will have with the family after the birth and what compensation the carrier will receive.

After working out the details, Harrill became pregnant on the first cycle of fertilization. Nine months later, she delivered a healthy baby via caesarean section.

“I’d been blase whole pregnancy,” she said. The intended mother “said all the time, ‘This is so wonderful, what you‘re doing.’ I just completely blew that off … (after the birth) she looked at me, she said, ‘You know, you just made a family.’

“And boing! A lightbulb went off. I got it,” Harrill said. “I went back to my room, tearing up, and my mom said, ‘See, I knew you’d have a hard time letting go of that baby.’ And I said, ‘No, I just got what I did! I just got it.’ They walked in two, walked out three, it’s a family. It’s pretty cool and that really hit home.”

A carrier is typically the last result for most couples looking to conceive, said Carmen Tust, a registered nurse and infertility coordinator for 16 years at Women’s Specialty Care, a Bellin Health affiliate.

“Our couples who have chosen to use gestational carriers have tried in one way or another, had in vitro fertilization and it never worked, it didn’t take or they miscarried,” she said. “They may have had a hysterectomy for whatever reason, or a physical ailment so they’re medically recommended not to carry a pregnancy.”

Physicians traditionally recommend intended parents use a surrogacy agency to connect with gestational carriers, Tust said. With no agency in Green Bay, they often head to Milwaukee or Madison or an out-of-state agency to connect with a surrogate and legal counsel.

Adoption is a similar concept, but it’s much more regulated, said Lynn Bodi, a founding partner at The Law Center for Children and Families and owner of The Surrogacy Center, both in Madison. Harrill connected with the family for her second surrogate pregnancy at Bodi’s agency, which has handled about 150 surrogacy cases in about 20 years.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s guidelines suggest a carrier should not have more than five previous deliveries or three deliveries by cesarean section, and at least one successful pregnancy. Both intended parents and carriers need to undego psychological testing. The society recommends carriers are between 21 and 45, and says carriers older than 45 are acceptable, but note pregnancy risks increase with advancing maternal age.

“Getting pregnant is easy for me, I’m a baby machine,” Harrill said. “I’m very blessed that way. I have super easy pregnancies … for me, it’s a piece of cake. I want to do one more … since I’ve had them all along, that’s what makes it so easy for me to carry again. I love being pregnant.”

Amber Boersma has delivered three children as a gestational carrier, including a set of twins. The 35-year-old who lives in Wausau has two children of her own. She is pregnant again as a gestational carrier.

“I can have my own children if I wanted to, I’m complete that way,” she said. “Now I just want to help other people grow their families.”

Most family, friends and even strangers are supportive of her pregnancies, Boersma said.

She said risks are involved with being a gestational carrier — just like any other pregnancy.

“If you understand why you’re doing it, it’s gonna be something that makes you whole, that will be meaningful for you,” she said. “It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s such a touching moment to see the faces and reactions of parents who get their children. It’s worth everything, all the shots and doctor’s appointments and appointments with my kids I can’t make. It’s incredible, amazing and no way to put into words how special that moment is.”

The cost
Using a gestational carrier can cost as much as $100,000 in Wisconsin. Carriers often receive between $18,000 and $35,000, paid throughout the course of a pregnancy.
• Surrogacy fee (between $18,000 and $35,000, do not normally exceed $25,000)
• Surrogate’s expenses: maternity clothes, missed time from work, mileage to doctor’s appointments, child care
• In vitro fertilization (between $12,000 and $17,000)
• Attorney’s fees (on behalf of intended parents and carrier)
• Agency fees
• Egg donor and sperm donor fees and costs, if necessary
• Approximate cost: $100,000
Source: Lynn J. Bodi, Carmen Tust and Diane Harrill’

—Originally published Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 2013

VIDEO: Mom sends care packages to son, soldiers

Mary Kay Bishop isn’t the average blue star mother.

Since her son, 1st Lt. Will Bishop, 24, enlisted, she’s made it her mission to ensure he and the men he serves with are given some reminders of home.

He started Army Ranger training after his University Wisconsin-Madison graduation, and Bishop has been sending packages filled with hundreds of cards, food, toiletries and other items since then. He is now second-in-command of a company with 150 people.

She spends several hours each week preparing the packages, and is prepared for months ahead.

“I don’t worry about me, because I know you’ll take care of me. I’m worried about my men.” she said her son told her before deployment.

“So I’m taking care of his men.”

—initially published March, 2013 at greenbaypressgazette.com

Local runners witness chaos in streets after Boston blasts

Jim Dietsche finished the Boston Mar­athon just 40 minutes before the chaos be­gan.

Dietsche, his wife and their three chil­dren were less than a half-mile from the site of the explosions when they saw peo­ple rushing down Boylston Street, where the bombings took place, in hysterics.

“There was a lot of panic,” said Di­etsche, a De Pere resident who had run Boston eight times before Monday’s race. “There were sirens all over, ambulance, fire, police — all with a goal of trying to push all the people away from area. It was very, very scary. We’re still frazzled.”

The Dietsche family sought shelter with others in the back room of a nearby store for 20 minutes, unsure of what was happening. After another half-hour, they heard the news: two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line.

“I was just at a loss for words,” said Di­etsche, who is the chief financial officer at Bellin Hospital. “I’ve seen video sever­al times (now), including a runner going down … I ran very close to that, that liter­ally was where I ran. I don’t even want to think about that. I thank the Lord for our safety, that I was able to get a hold of ev­eryone else out here that I knew. I’m just awestruck by the tremendous tragedy that happened.”

Dietsche noted that the race is typical­ly a celebration, but after the bombing, those happy times were tarnished.

“It was supposed to be … our kids seeing something historic,” he said. “This leaves a very poor mark on something that’s supposed to be such an exciting event. I don’t want them to face realities of real world yet.

“I love the event and the pageantry, but I don’t know if I’ll run it again,” Dietsche said Monday evening. 

Randy Van Straten, executive director of the Bellin Run in Green Bay, said organizers have “extensive” disaster and mass casualty plans. Local public safety officials, ambulances and hospitals are involved with disaster planning from the start of planning for the 10K, he said.

“We may adjust some operations as a result,” Van Straten said. “I’m sure we’re gonna sit down and look at experiences out there, and there will be lessons learned as a result, but I don’t know how at this point will it affect our plans.” 

—Originally published Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 2013

(NoteOriginal version had  multiple authors, edited to reflect personal contribution) 

Walker blames jobs report on politics

ASHWAUBENON — Gov. Scott Walker, on his third stop in two weeks in the Green Bay area, said Thursday that recall-election politics are responsible for the state’s drop in private-sector job creation.

A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Thursday shows the state is ranked 44th in the nation for creating private-sector jobs. The data, which covers a year-long period that ended in September, shows a recent steady decline. Wisconsin ranked 42nd for the year that ended the previous quarter, and 37th in the quarter before that.

Wisconsin ranked 42nd in the previous quarter, and 37th in the quarter before that.

While some critics blame Walker for the negative report, he said last year’s recall election created uncertainty for private employers, and that the six-month delay for the figures does not reflect the current state of Wisconsin’s economy.

“The first two years, until June of last year, we had recalls, protests and recalls on top of that, so a lot of uncertainty,” he said, “Employers are trying to to catch up from all that uncertainty that happened out there because of some of the protests and recalls.”

Walker was in Green Bay to push manufacturing initiatives in his proposed budget. He spoke at M&M Tool and Mold, 3300 Commodity Lane, a plastic injection mold product manufacturer.

It was Walker’s third stop in the area in two weeks; during visits last week, he discussed expansion of the school voucher program and gave a similar push for manufacturing at a De Pere manufacturer.

The governor’s budget proposal includes $630 billion in tax relief for individuals and employers, and $132 million in workforcedevelopment.

“Now we’ve shown we have resources set aside for tax relief … property taxes have gone down in the last two years,” Walker said. “There’s more resources to help manufacturers when it comes to production and … workforce development. It will help accelerate the rate of growth, particularly in the next year.”

The jobs report is based on a census of 96 percent of all American non-farm employers, public and private.

“We need to focus out on jobs,” Walker said. “We need to step it up even more … we still need to grow at a faster pace. (We have) gained jobs, the rankings are there on a volume basis, but Illinois and Wisconsin — Illinois’ unemployment is two points higher. We’re still better off than our neighbors.”

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 7 percent; in Illinois, it’s 9 percent. The labor report shows other Midwestern states are outperforming Wisconsin in job creation. Indiana ranked 11th in the quarterly report, Michigan 13th, Ohio 24th and Illinois 27th.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, blasted the governor in a statement, saying he was responsible for the state’s declining ranking.

The governor’s political ambition and adherence to a rigid, right-wing ideology puts Wisconsin in a “race to the bottom,” Hansen said.

“While the governor is flying around the country, campaigning for president and writing his book, thousands of Wisconsin families are suffering through no fault of their own, struggling to get by in an economy he created and which is among the very worst in the entire nation,” Hansen said. “It is time for him to stay home and do the work he was elected to do: create jobs.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.
—published in Green Bay Press-Gazette, March 2013