Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

Q&A with Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Judge Jill Karofsky

submitted by Ellie Schatz

Jill KarofskyOne candidate accepted the invitation and spoke to our club about her background and plans for serving as Supreme Court Justice: Jill Karofsky. Having been a judge, a local and state prosecutor, and director of the state’s Office of Crime Victim Services, she has advocated for victims’ rights across every court in Wisconsin. She convincingly tells how she has the experience, values, and toughness to lead a legal system that works.

Supreme court cases have consequences for now and the future. To name a few, consider gerrymandering, women’s access to healthcare, and gun control. Whatever the case, following the rule of law is the bottom line, and Karofsky says her record of being fair and impartial is clear.

Her values include upholding laws to protect the environment. She is concerned about climate change but will follow the rule of law. She is strong on individual rights, attacking problems of racial disparity by informing policy makers of what she sees in the courtroom day after day. She says judges need to inform the legislature, have a dialogue with them, but are not there to legislate. More than anything, our courts are about constitutional rights and through the court systems she has fought for the needs of crime victims, stood up for racial justice and civil rights, and protected the right to marriage equality, never allowing for the rights of women to be rolled back. Her goal is to be collegiate on the court, to help pull all sides together under the rule of law. Right now she sees political forces seeking to roll back advances made in civil rights. We must not go backwards, she stresses.

As the Wisconsin Chief Justice is drawing up her budget, Karofsky is pushing for her to put treatment courts at the top of the list as opposed to a business court, which is essentially two courts – one for businesses and one for the rest of us.

When asked about the perception that she is a progressive candidate, she responds: “I am clear about my values, and I have support from Republicans and Independents. I ask for support as someone who follows the rule of law.”

Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.  You can watch the video here.

HAMILTON: An American Musical

Sarah Marty 2 26 2020“Hamilton: The Musical is the biggest tour of a Broadway show to hit the road in years, maybe decades,” Sarah Marty, Producing Artistic Director of Four Seasons Theatre in Madison, told Rotarians on Wednesday, February 26. “Hamilton represents an entire industry, with ripple effects that go far beyond the lights of Broadway,” she said, adding that it had surpassed the reach of any other Broadway musical, including the phenomenal popularity of Oklahoma following its 1943 debut.

Locally, Madison’s Overture Center sold over 53,000 tickets to Hamilton, and Marty cited an estimated additional economic impact of $37.36 per person beyond the ticket price.  Both nationally and locally, Hamilton was hugely popular, inspiring people to stand in line for hours for tickets.  There are currently six productions of Hamilton touring all around the country, bringing in millions of dollars every week.

Beyond the economic impact of its huge success, though, Marty points to Hamilton’s other ripple effects, including increases in actors, producers and audiences of color.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton.  When Miranda picked up the hefty Chernow book in an airport and then read it, he immediately thought, “This is a hip-hop story,” calling an early version of the piece The Hamilton Mix Tape.  The elaborate musical production that eventually resulted is so complex that fans have put together a website at Genius.com to provide footnotes and links to all the many facts alluded to in the musical.

Marty cited the end of Hamilton as pointing to the importance of the work:  It causes us to think about “who lives, who dies, and who tells your story.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video on our club’s YouTube Channel here.

UW System President Ray Cross: The Importance of the UW System to the State of Wisconsin

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Valerie Renk

Ray Cross 1 8 2020UW System President Ray Cross gave an impassioned talk about the past and future of the UW System, and the role it has played in the development of the state and impact on the world.

With his impending retirement Cross spoke openly about the challenges the University System and state face together and the successful partnership the two have employed to create opportunities and real growth for both.  That partnership embodies the philosophy and values of the Wisconsin Idea in the truest sense.

He made the observation the people of Wisconsin often do not understand or appreciate the significant historical impact the University has on the economic and agricultural development of the state.  For context, Cross related how University faculty and research was critical to navigating difficult times from the mid-1800’s to today.  Without knowing where we have been and how we got to the present there is little appreciation for the foundation we have today.

With the rapidly growing over-65 demographic and the nearly flat growth of the working-age population, one of the most pressing challenges is to have adequate human resources to meet future employment needs.  The quality of a University of Wisconsin education attracts students from across the country and the world.  A huge opportunity for attracting a qualified and talented workforce is to create opportunity that retains UW graduates that are already here for an education.  While there are programs to attract people from Illinois and veterans, little is being done to retain UW educated talent with the result that only about 15% of the out-of-state graduates remain in the state after graduation.  He encouraged the UW and businesses to work more proactively to welcome and attract students to remain in the state.

Another challenge the University is positioned to have significant impact on is improving access to clean, fresh water.  This is important to quality of living issues as well as manufacturing, agriculture and recreation.  Almost every campus in the state has some program on water quality, management, or research.  From agricultural effluent to lead contamination to invasive aquatic species to pollution, the University has the locations, experts and laboratory resources to partner with local and state government and industry to solve problems that threaten future water resources.

His last challenge to consider was for us, as citizens of the state, to support deeper and stronger ties to the University.  At a time when the knowledge and expert resources of the University are needed most there is a skepticism, negativity and distrust toward academics, intellectuals and learning.  Problematically, the Internet allows access to great volumes of information but also has allowed citizens to cherry-pick what to believe.

With the outreach and engagement embodied in the Wisconsin Idea, the UW System remains positioned to help Wisconsin (and the world) navigate the challenges and create opportunities.  The UW and the people of Wisconsin need each other.  Continued support for the University will drive future capability to meet the challenges and create opportunity for citizens of Wisconsin and improve the human condition beyond state borders.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

“Adversity — An Opportunity for Growth”

submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Melvin Juette 12 11 19

Club President Andrea Kaminski pictured here with Melvin Juette

The presenter at our December 11 meeting is the Director of Dane Counties District Attorney’s Office of Deferred Prosecution, Melvin Juette.  He gave a very inspirational presentation starting with a brief history of his life from the time he was paralyzed by a gunshot wound at 16 on the south side of Chicago.  As he says, “My life went from earning respect by intimidating others to earning it by hard work.”

Wheelchair basketball inspired him and carried him to two gold medals in the Para-Olympics before moving to Dane County.  His story is about those who positively affected his life and helped him realize it’s ability that counts, not disability.

In 2008 he authored Wheelchair Warrior.  Melvin says, “I can control how I react to adversity.  Adversity is an opportunity for growth.”  He and his wife have been foster parents to 82 children, seven of whom they have adopted.  He uses his life experiences in his work with those who choose differed prosecution to help them realize that it’s not about blaming others but about using adversity to become a better person.

He used the story of his life to inspire us, and his life is truly inspirational.  Melvin can be proud of his life, and we can be proud to have him as a part of our community where he serves others.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Democracy Found

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mike Engelberger

HO7A3865Sara Eskrich, Executive Director of Democracy Found, spoke to us this week. She has herself been in electoral politics, as a Madison alder, and she is concerned that policy decisions are often stymied by politics. There is an inability to get anything done, even when a large percentage of the electorate favors a particular policy. Elected officeholders believe that there is no connection between acting in the public interest and getting reelected. One of the major problems lies in the two-party system today, which, in business terms is a duopoly, able to eliminate third-party and independent competition. This is done through legislation that makes it very hard to offer substantial money to independent candidates. This makes it extremely important for officeholders to ask themselves not whether a policy is good but rather whether support for that policy will lead to opposition in their partisan primary. Another practice that hinders effective governance is plurality voting, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner, even if the vote total is less than a majority.

Ms. Eskrich’s preferred solution to this situation is two-fold: a top-four primary election and non-partisan-ranked choice voting in the general election. This will allow voters to vote for candidates they really prefer, even if they are not from the major parties. Officeholders will now be beholden to larger constituencies, rather than just their partisans. Democracy Found is working on the state level to get this system adopted.  She feels it is not a silver bullet, but it will make a difference.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

 

It’s All About Peace and Forgiveness

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

IMG_1431Dr. Masood Akhtar received our club’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award at this week’s meeting. Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is presented by the Madison Rotary Foundation to an agency of the recipient’s choice. Dr. Akhtar has chosen United Against Hate to receive this grant.  After presentation of his award, he took the stage to share information about the state-wide non-partisan movement he started called “We Are Many-United Against Hate.”

This is a group where people who are urban and rural, spiritual and secular, can unite together to build an inclusive community. This movement is not about “us vs them.”  Dr. Akhtar stated that the success of this group is partnerships and cited examples of partnering with schools, especially the Baraboo High School and local media that supports this effort and shines a spotlight on it. Dr. Akhtar also thanked his wife and two children for their support and cooperation 24/7.

Dr. Akhtar is Muslim and shared that there are 10,000 Muslims in the Madison area and 40,000-50,000 Muslims in Wisconsin and that Muslims make up about 25% of the world’s population. After 9/11, the phrase “Islamic Terrorist” came to be, which implies that a religion is tied to terrorism and all in that religion are terrorists. When the phrase “go back home” is cited in America to non-white people, often by our politicians, it is very hurtful. We are all Americans as our constitution of the United States reads.

The United Against Hate movement is about education and non-partisan policies.  Part of the education is teaching others that Islam equals peace and dispelling myths about Islam all across Wisconsin. They teach us to react positively and not negatively and to dig into root causes and best practices within our communities. The movement includes a statewide advisory board representing various communities.

Dr. Akhtar would love to see Rotary start a chapter of the United Against Hate organization and take the movement to Rotary International. He cited these four things as a measure of success: be proactive; be strategic; be non-partisan; and act!

It’s all about peace and forgiveness.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

The 2019 Wisconsin Book Festival

submitted by Rich Leffler

Conor Moran   Conor Moran, the director of Wisconsin Book Festival, spoke to us today. Conor has been the director of the Festival for the last seven years, since it has been presented by the Madison Public Library and Foundation. He updated us on what has been happening with the Festival since his last appearance before us five years ago. The Festival has become a year-round event, which has made it more prominent among publishers, and they are now eager to participate. As a result, the Festival is able to attract some of the best authors of the most important books in the country, with many from the New York Times Best Sellers list. In addition, C-Span now programs the Festival.

In the last seven years, the Festival has doubled its attendance. As the Festival kicks off its new year, the first program will be Friday, September 13. The speaker will be Christopher Leonard, the author of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.” His talk will be at the Central Library. Following on that, on September 19, Bud Selig will speak at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium about his new book, ”For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball.” And then on September 24, Samantha Power will speak at the Central Library about her book “The Education of an Idealist.” Ms. Powers’ appearance is sponsored by Cheryl Weston, who was a member of the Club.

On October 17-20, there will be the annual four-day Wisconsin Book Festival Celebration, which used to be all there was. As should be apparent, Conor has transformed the Festival into a major literary event of national importance.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.