Foxconn, explosion, budget, misconduct top stories of 2017
MADISON — Foxconn’s arrival. A fatal explosion. A late state budget. Sexual misconduct in the Legislature.
Wisconsin saw another tumultuous year in 2017. Here’s a look at the biggest stories in the state over the last 12 months:
WELCOME TO WISCONSIN, FOXCONN
Gov. Scott Walker announced in July that Foxconn Technology Group was considering building a massive, $10 billion flat-screen plant in southeastern Wisconsin that could employ as many as 13,000 people. Republican lawmakers in September approved spending up to $3 billion to lure the Taiwanese electronics giant to the state. The legislation was the biggest incentive package ever from any state to a foreign company and was 10 times bigger than anything Wisconsin has extended to a business.
Late in the evening of May 31, Didion Milling Company’s corn processing plant in Cambria exploded, killing five workers and injuring 12 more. Federal labor officials announced in November that an accumulation of highly combustible grain dust probably caused the explosion and slapped the company with 19 safety citations.
THE WISCONSIN BUDGET — BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Republican infighting over how to pay for road work delayed the 2017-19 state budget for more than two months. The spending plan was supposed to be finished by July 1 but Walker didn’t sign it until Sept. 21. The budget pays for roads by authorizing $400 million in additional borrowing and delaying ongoing projects. It increased public school aid by nearly 6 percent, froze University of Wisconsin tuition and eliminated the state property tax.
#MeToo IN WISCONSIN
Two anonymous women accused Democratic state Rep. Josh Zepnick in December of kissing them without permission in 2011 and 2015. Lawmakers called for Zepnick to resign. He refused; Democrats rescinded his committee assignments and barred him from caucus meetings. Also in December, word broke that the state paid a former legislative aide $75,000 in 2015 to settle her claims that then-state Sen. Spencer Coggs sexually harassed her eight years ago. Coggs, who is now Milwaukee treasurer, has denied the allegations.
A federal judge ruled in July that Wisconsin’s juvenile prison guards had to reduce their use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and restraints. There were a series of violent episodes at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake prisons following the order. In October, an inmate punched teacher Pandora Lobacz and knocked her out. Later that month the prison was locked down after five prison workers ended up in the hospital following clashes with inmates.
Joseph Jakubowski put southern Wisconsin on edge in April after he stole handguns and rifles from a Janesville gun shop and sent an anti-government manifesto to President Donald Trump. Police spent 10 days searching before capturing Jakubowski at his campsite in a field near Readstown. He was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison in December.
SILVER AND GOLD
Walker signed a bill in December lifting the state’s nearly 20-year moratorium on gold and silver mining. Conservationists warned lifting the prohibition would lead to devastating pollution. Republican legislators said mining could help northern Wisconsin’s economy.
WALKER GOES FOR 3, AND FOES CROWD IN
Touting Foxconn’s jobs promises and the elimination of the state property tax, Walker launched his bid for a third term. More than a dozen Democrats are running or considering a run against him, setting up a crowded partisan primary next summer.
SLENDER MAN RESOLVED
Two teenage girls who attacked their classmate in a Waukesha County park in 2014 to please online horror character Slender Man pleaded guilty to attempted homicide charges. Anissa Weier entered her plea in August and was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital in December. Morgan Geyser entered her plea in October and will be sentenced in February. Prosecutors have asked that she spend at least 40 years in a mental hospital.
JOHN DOE RETURNS
Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel released a report in December summarizing his investigation into the leak of documents from a secret John Doe investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The state Supreme Court ended the investigation in 2015 without any charges being filed.
Schimel couldn’t determine who leaked the documents but blamed the now-defunct Government Accountability Board for not securing them. He recommended nine people be held in contempt for violating judicial secrecy orders. The state Senate’s Republican leaders then authorized Schimel to investigate former GAB employees.