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After cool spring, heat and humidity arrives with warnings

Heavy rain in some parts of the Chippewa Valley on Thursday set the stage for the first heat wave of the year.

Area health officials are reminding Chippewa Valley residents to stay hydrated and take steps to avoid overheating.

“I don’t think people are prepared for it, with it being our first heat wave of the season,” said Paulette Magur, communicable disease division manager with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “It’s not that they can’t do the activities they want to do, but they need to be mindful, not over-exert, and stay hydrated.”

Temperatures are expected to reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit today, 88 on Saturday, and 91 on Sunday.

Magur stressed that pets and children should not be left in a car, even for a minute or two.

“Ten minutes will put a car well over 100 degrees,” Magur said.

Magur sent out a press release Thursday, reminding people to avoid being outside on the hottest part of the day, stay in air conditioning when possible, and be aware of heat-related illnesses.

“If you start feeling overheated, weak, dizzy, nauseated or have muscle cramps, you could be experiencing heat illness,” the press release states.

“Move to air conditioning, drink water, get under a fan, and put on cool washcloths. If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve, go to the emergency room.”

According to the U.S. Natural Hazard Statistics, there were 108 heat-related fatalities in 2018 nationwide. The 10-year average is 101 deaths.

Eau Claire County Emergency Management director Tyler Esh said people need to be aware of the humidity as well, adding that it is causing some of the volatile weather, like sudden, hard thunderstorms.

“Check on elderly family members and friends, to make sure they are ok,” Esh said. “It will be very easy to get some heat-related illnesses, if people aren’t watching for it.”

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said there are spray stations set up at Country Fest, and people are being reminded to drink water.

“We cover the whole grounds, not just the stage area, but also the campgrounds,” Kowalczyk said. “We are always on the lookout for people who are dehydrated or need assistance.”

High court ruling likely ends Wisconsin redistricting case

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that federal courts have no place in policing political district boundaries means a challenge to Republican-drawn legislative boundaries in Wisconsin is likely over, leaving Democrats with little hope of gaining ground heading into the 2020 elections.

Democratic voters filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in 2015 alleging boundaries Republicans drew in 2011 unfairly diluted Democrats’ voting power. They argued Republicans spread Democrats across conservative districts and packed them into left-leaning districts.

A trial was set for July. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that partisan gerrymandering claims don’t belong in federal court. The decision came as the court rejected challenges to Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a Democratic district in Maryland.

“It’s very disappointing,” Eau Claire plaintiff Wendy Sue Johnson said Thursday. “We of course were hopeful that the Supreme Court was still kind of the last institution that could protect us from the worst of partisanship.”

Johnson said the ruling “completes the power grab” that began in 2016 when the U.S. Senate refused to take up former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the High Court, with 10 months left in Obama’s second term. GOP President Donald Trump since has appointed two conservative justices to the court, shifting its balance to the right.

Doug Poland, an attorney for the Democratic voters in the Wisconsin case, said lawyers for Republican legislators asked him after the ruling if he would be willing to drop the lawsuit. He didn’t say what he planned to recommend his clients do, but noted the Wisconsin case is very similar to North Carolina’s.

“The (U.S. Supreme Court) opinion really does not leave a path forward for our lawsuit to be adjudicated in federal court,” Poland said. “It was a very disappointing ruling for us.”

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized the Wisconsin lawsuit, says it’s likely that Wisconsin’s maps will now have to be addressed via the Legislature.

“People now know that partisan gerrymandering exists, and they hate it,” Chheda said. “So our work continues.”

Johnson, an Eau Claire attorney and one of the original dozen Democratic voters who joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, said the case at least had raised awareness about partisan gerrymandering. Forty-seven out of 72 county boards in Wisconsin have passed resolutions urging state legislators to ban gerrymandering, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The Legislature’s Republican leaders, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a joint statement saying they hope the decision ends the Wisconsin lawsuit. They say they plan to seek recovery of costs and fees associated with the case, calling it a distraction and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“The Supreme Court has now confirmed what we have said all along — that it was not a matter for the federal courts to second guess the Legislature on these issues,” they said.

Wisconsin legislators redraw district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes per the U.S. Census. Republicans control both legislative houses in Wisconsin and they favor the current system, which they’ll control if they maintain their majorities in 2020.

Democratic legislators introduced a bill last week that would create a commission within the Legislative Reference Bureau to draw the boundaries. Districts could not be drawn to favor a political party or incumbent and the commission couldn’t use voters’ political affiliations, previous election results or demographic information to make the maps.

“Because we can no longer trust either court to do what is best for the people with respect to ending political gerrymandering by either party, it is important now more than ever to continue the fight to pass non-partisan redistricting in Wisconsin,” the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Dave Hansen, said in a statement Thursday.

The measure has almost no chance of passage since Republicans control both houses of the Legislature.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers included provisions in the state budget calling for creating a nonpartisan redistricting process but Republicans who control the Legislature’s finance committee stripped the proposal out of the spending plan this spring.

Democrats could turn to state courts, but any challenges would almost certainly end up at the state Supreme Court, likely another dead end since conservatives control the court. Poland said he hasn’t studied the Wisconsin Constitution to determine whether it provides any basis for challenging politically gerrymandered districts, and such a lawsuit would be unprecedented at the state level and an uphill fight.

Democrats’ best option for changing the boundaries may be to somehow recapture the majority in both the Senate and Assembly in the 2020 elections, a herculean task given the GOP boundaries will still be in play then and Republicans will go into the elections with an overwhelming 27-member majority in the Assembly.

If Republicans maintain complete control of the Legislature, Evers would be able to block any new boundaries the GOP draws in 2021. If the two sides don’t agree on the new boundaries they could ask a judge to draw the maps for them. Republicans will try to get that fight before the state Supreme Court. Democrats will likely try to get the case heard in federal court.

“The great thing is the people of Wisconsin were able to elect a Democratic governor and the Republicans won’t be able to partisan gerrymander the districts again,” Johnson said. “We should have better maps in 2021 for the 2022 elections.”

Evers issued a statement Thursday calling the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling “devastating for our democracy” and promising to veto any gerrymandered maps that land on his desk.

“The people should get to choose their representatives, not the other way around,” the governor said.

Sanders, centrist Dems dispute party’s future; all hit Trump

MIAMI (AP) — Fiery liberal Bernie Sanders slapped back at his party’s centrist candidates Thursday night in a raucous presidential debate that underscored deep ideological divisions that are starting to shape the party’s winding search for a nominee to take on President Donald Trump.

The Vermont senator, a self-described democratic socialist, admitted that his plans for universal health care and free college would require a tax increase on America’s middle class. But he insisted that fundamental change is needed to address growing inequality across America. His critics warned that such an approach would leave the party open to attacks from Republicans who call them socialists.

“We think it is time for change, real change,” Sanders declared.

While the tone was mostly civil, just beneath the surface a fierce debate was simmering about the party’s future — and what kind of candidate should lead it. A generation divide was displayed early on as younger candidates called on 76-year-old Joe Biden, their party’s early front-runner, to pass the torch.

Some candidates want to fight fire with fire in the age of Trump. They’re embracing Sanders’ call for a revolution that would transform the private health care system into a government-financed one and mandate a redistribution of wealth — even as Republicans attack them as socialists. A smaller group, led by Biden, favors a far more pragmatic approach to address the nation’s problems within the current framework. They emphasize bipartisanship and moderation, hardly an exciting concept for liberal activists crying for dramatic change after years of Trump.

A day after the first wave of 10 Democrats debated, the second 10 faced each other and the nation for the first time in a prime-time confrontation that gave many voters their first peek inside the Democratic Party’s unruly 2020 presidential campaign.

At the start, Biden downplayed his establishment leanings.

The former vice president, along with the other candidates on stage, raised his hand to say his health care plan would provide coverage for immigrants in the country illegally.

Thursday’s showdown featured four of the five strongest candidates — according to early polls, at least.

Sanders’ appeal relies on emotion, often anger. He stood alongside Biden, who preaches pragmatism and relative moderation.

Biden, like Sanders, who is 77, also represents a different generation from several candidates on stage. The age difference was noted by California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who said, “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago.”

Others on the stage Thursday night included South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who have shown support in opinion polls. Also on stage: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, New York businessman Andrew Yang, California Rep. Swalwell and author and social activist Marianne Williamson.

The showdown played out in Florida, a general election battleground that could well determine whether Trump wins a second term next year.

Biden sought to sidestep the ideological debate altogether, training his venom on Trump.

“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America. Ordinary middle-class Americans built America,” said the former vice president. He added: “Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation. We do have enormous income inequality.”

For much of the early campaign season, Biden has ignored his Democratic rivals, training his attention instead on the man he hopes to defeat in the general election next fall: Trump.

Biden’s strategy is designed to highlight his status as the front-runner, and as such, the Democrat best positioned to take down the president at the ballot box. Above any policy disagreement, Democratic voters report that nothing matters more than finding a candidate who can beat Trump.

If nothing else, Thursday’s slate highlights the diversity of the Democratic Party’s 2020 class.

Buttigieg, a 37-year-old gay former military officer, is four decades younger than Sanders, and has been framing his candidacy as a call for generational change in his party. Harris is the only African American woman to qualify for the presidential debate stage. Any of the three women featured Thursday night would be the first ever elected president.

Yet Biden and Sanders have received far more attention and shown higher standing than their less-experienced rivals.

The party will have to decide whether it wants a candidate based on resume over aspiration.