By Jerry Bader and Sam Morateck of Media Trackers
A bill that would make sexual abuse of animals a felony easily passed through the State Assembly, earning a rare unanimous vote, but was brought to a halt in the State Senate this week when it wasn’t brought to the floor for a vote. In most cases, such offenses are currently misdemeanors.
The bill was in direct response to serial horse molester Sterling Rachwal. Rachwal has been convicted many times of sexually abusing horses in Northeast Wisconsin, dating back to the 1980’s. Because the offense is a misdemeanor, Rachwal remains free to offend again and again. Horse owners were stunned and outraged when the Senate failed to take up the bill this week. Former Senate President Mike Ellis, appearing on WHBY radio Thursday with host Josh Dukelow, alleged that the reason is entirely political:
Now, I don’t know why they couldn’t have passed it, unless politics played a role here. The principal author of this bill is André Jacque from up in the Green Bay area. He is currently running for the state Senate vacant seat that had been held by Frank Lasee. I’m not sure that the Republican powers to be – and I’m not including Roger Roth in this. He is not involved in the demise of this bill. I want to make that very clear. But the fact of the matter is there are other forces at work that are trying to find an opponent against André Jacque in a primary this fall for the vacant Senate seat (Jacque is being challenged in the primary by Alex Renard of Green Bay) and I think the fact that he is disliked by that group of people resulted in them not giving him a chance to claim that he did a good thing.
So, let me just make sure I understand what you are saying here: There are people who would rather see André not getting credit for a bill that everyone seems to support, but they just don’t offer it for a vote. That way it can’t pass, and that means André doesn’t get good press, and the reason they would want to avoid that is because they don’t like the fact he is running for the state Senate?
It’s just that simple?
It’s that simple because when you go through this bill, there isn’t anyone in their right mind that wouldn’t vote for it, as exemplified by the state Assembly. There are people that have had, they are up to their neck with this jerk, and this has been going on for two decades, and this law needs to be changed. Now, it didn’t get changed because of what I just said. They will deny that, but my friends in the Senate, every one of them privately told me the same thing – that’s why it didn’t go on (the calendar).
I even put in a call to the majority leader’s office, talked to the staff, because Fitzgerald and I haven’t talked since I left. We are not mad at each other, he’s just too busy to talk to me, and I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either.
The reality of it is, though, I told them how important this was, and I laid it out for them and it still didn’t get scheduled. Now, the argument is, “well, it’s the last day, we’ve got a lot of other bills that we had to not take up.” Well, this bill is going to cause a firestorm and it isn’t going to go away. People are really upset. There’s over 100,000 people in Wisconsin just in the horse faction alone that are worried about this guy or a copycat to this guy.
Media Trackers reached out to Jacque for his reaction to Ellis’ allegation:
“It has been extremely disappointing and beyond frustrating that the State Senate did not take up several of my bills at the end of this session that had passed with unanimous support on the Assembly floor and in Senate Committee, including my animal abuse proposal. It is appalling to think that an ulterior motive like this might have been the cause. Each bill I introduce has stories and ideas of my neighbors in Northeast Wisconsin behind it. My constituents have had it with backroom politics getting in the way of good government. I am running for the State Senate to put an end to the political games do everything I can to be a voice for the people of the 1st District on these issues and many others even if it steps on toes or makes leadership uncomfortable.”
We then followed up with Jacque and asked him if he agreed with Ellis’ assertion:
“I haven’t spoken with Sen. Ellis about this issue. I know he talks with a lot of people. I would sure hope not, but I really don’t know why the Senate didn’t or wouldn’t want to take up this important reform. It is the end of session and there are a lot of issues to consider, but I don’t know why anyone would object to getting a bill like this done and I think we made a very thorough case for its necessity. Whatever the reason it didn’t get done this session, I am committed to bringing it back and to the finish line next session.”
Media Trackers reached out to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office for comment but did not get a response. Media Trackers did speak with Senate President Roger Roth who said he does not agree with Ellis’ characterization of why AB 666 didn’t make it to the Senate floor. Roth says four of Jacque’s bills were, in fact, brought to the floor for a vote so far this year. Roth points out that one of them was an abortion-related bill that would be an accomplishment Jacque could tout to voters. As Ellis predicted, Roth also pointed to a busy calendar down the stretch as one factor.
Roth also says Fitzgerald attempted to work this week with Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling to get a batch of bills to the floor, including AB 666, but says that effort failed.
When Alex Renard announced earlier this month he was challenging Jacque for the Republican nomination in the senate race, Jacque suggested to Media Trackers that Renard had been encouraged by those in Madison who did not want to see Jacque in the State Senate.