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Smooth sliding

Unseasonably warm temperatures of recent days, followed by overnight freezing, create an expansive sheet of snow-free ice on Half Moon Lake. Kyle Vande Hei of Eau Claire takes a break from ice fishing Sunday afternoon to pull his son, Landon, across the frozen surface. To judge by AccuWeather's forecast, ice conditions shouldn't see dramatic changes. After a little rain expected this morning, no precipitation is foreseen. However, there could be some melting today, with a high temperature of 41 degrees expected. But highs the rest of the week should range from 32 Tuesday to 15 Wednesday and lows from 29 today to 6 Wednesday. For weather details see Page 8B. View more photos at

Staff photo by Steve Kinderman 

Unseasonably warm temperatures of recent days, followed by overnight freezing, create an expansive sheet of snow-free ice on Half Moon Lake. Kyle Vande Hei of Eau Claire takes a break from ice fishing Sunday afternoon to pull his son, Landon, across the frozen surface. To judge by AccuWeather's forecast, ice conditions shouldn't see dramatic changes. After a little rain expected this morning, no precipitation is foreseen. However, there could be some melting today, with a high temperature of 41 degrees expected. But highs the rest of the week should range from 32 Tuesday to 15 Wednesday and lows from 29 today to 6 Wednesday. For weather details see Page 8B. View more photos at

New Congress is the most diverse ever, except on religion

When the new Congress convened last week, it included several firsts with its youngest elected member, its first two Muslim women and its first two Native American women among them. Women now make up about a quarter of Congress, while the Senate and House of Representatives together include more blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans than ever before.

But even as Congress takes steps toward reflecting the gender and racial makeup of the country, it lags behind significantly when it comes to religion, according to an analysis released this week.

Using self-reported information about the religious affiliations of the 534 members of Congress, the Pew Research Center found that about 88 percent call themselves Christians. The number is a slight dip from the 115th Congress, in which 91 percent of members were Christians. The race in North Carolina’s 9th District has not been certified amid allegations of electoral fraud, which is why Pew counted one less person than the typical 535 that make up Congress.

“While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down, Christians as a whole — and especially Protestants and Catholics — are still overrepresented in proportion to their share in the general public,” Pew’s report said. “Indeed, the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population.”

Overall, the U.S. population is about 70 percent Christian. People who are atheist, agnostic or identify with no religion now make up close to 23 percent of the population, while Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other religions together constitute about 6 percent of the U.S., according to Pew.

The nonpartisan research group’s report used data from Roll Call, which asked members of Congress which religious group, if any, they identified with as part of a larger questionnaire. Pew did not attempt to measure how religious members of Congress are or how religion influences their politics.

Here’s how the religious makeup of Congress breaks down:


Data show that Congress has become slightly less Christian over the years. The new Congress has 14 fewer Christians than the previous one, and 20 fewer than the Congress that was in session in 2015 and 2016.

Still, Christians dominate Congress. About 55 percent are Protestants, while 30 percent are Catholics and 15 percent align themselves with “unspecified or other” movements of Christianity. The latter group includes those who said they were Christian, evangelical Christian, evangelical Protestant or Protestant but did not indicate a denomination.

By themselves, Protestants make up a majority in the House and Senate.

Among Protestants, Pew counted 72 Baptists and 42 Methodists. Among Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, there were 26 members from each group. Ten members said they were Mormons. Pew counted five politicians who are Orthodox Christian.

And while Christians are the majority in the Republican and Democratic memberships of Congress, they overwhelmingly make up the Republican side. Out of 253 Republicans, only two are not Christians. Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee are Jewish.

Not Christians

The growth of non-Christian members of Congress is nearly completely among Democrats or independents.

Jewish members make up the second-largest religious group at 6 percent. In the 116th Congress, there are 34 Jewish members, an increase of four. The number is far from the highest. That came in 1993, when there were 51 Jews in Congress.

Muslims and Hindus were the next biggest groups of non-Christians, with three members from each.

Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are the first Muslim women in Congress. They join Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana. The total number of Muslims is an increase of one over the previous Congress, when former Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison served.

Among Hindus, each is a returning member. They are Rep. Ro Khanna of California, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. All three are Democrats.

There are two Buddhists, one less than before. That’s because former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii did not seek re-election and instead ran unsuccessfully for governor. The Buddhists currently serving are Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Both are Democrats.

Among Unitarian Universalists, there is one more in the new Congress for a total of two. Although the faith has roots in Christianity and some Unitarian Universalists identify as Christians, Pew does not categorize the tradition under Christianity. Its members in Congress, both Democrats from California, are Reps. Ami Bera and Judy Chu. In a previous CQ Roll Call survey, Chu did not answer the religion question.

There is only one person in Congress that Pew counted as having no religious affiliation. That is Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema previously served three terms in the House. Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California said in 2017 that he was a humanist and unsure of whether God exists but Pew did not count him as an religiously unaffiliated member because he did declined to state his religious identity in the CQ Roll Call survey.

In addition to Huffman, 17 other members of Congress did not identify their religion in the questionnaire.

Tribune News Service

Photo by Jenessa Freidhof  

Paul Vine, owner of Vine’s Christmas Trees near Granton, said despite a lot of talk about a shortage of trees and growth in popularity of artificial trees, their business has grown. He said he sees more and more people looking to create family traditions and experience agritourism and he believes that has led to an increase in choose-and-cut customers on his farm.

No break in shutdown talks as Trump stands by border demands

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump stood by his demands for funding for a border wall Sunday as another round of shutdown talks failed to break an impasse, while newly empowered House Democrats planned to step up the pressure on Trump and Republican lawmakers to reopen the government.

Trump, who spent part of the day at Camp David for staff meetings, showed no signs of budging on his demand for $5.6 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A meeting with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress.

Seeking to strike an optimistic note as he returned from the presidential retreat in Maryland, Trump said he had told aides to say that they wanted a steel barrier, rather than the concrete wall he promised during the campaign. Trump said Democrats "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel."

The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.

With the partial shutdown in its third week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.

The seemingly intractable budget showdown marks the first clash for Trump and Democrats, who now control the House. It pits Trump's unpredictable negotiating stylings against a largely united Democratic front, as many Republicans watch nervously from the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay.

Although Trump tweeted that the Sunday session had been "productive," two Democrats familiar with the meeting gave a different take, saying the White House had not provided the budget details they had requested and again declined to re-open government. One of the officials — neither was authorized to speak publicly — said no additional meetings were scheduled.

Trump said earlier in the day that he was hoping for "some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday." While insisting he wanted to make a deal, he also declared he would not give an inch in his fight for funding for a border barrier, saying: "There's not going to be any bend right here."

Among the Republicans expressing concerns was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.

"Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue," Collins said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Democrats criticized McConnell for waiting on Trump's support, but Collins said she was sympathetic to McConnell's opposition to moving legislation without agreement from the president.

Several Republicans pushed the Interior Department to find money to restaff national parks amid growing concerns over upkeep and public safety. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Sunday that pressure would only mount amid the shutdown, which he said is disrupting Transportation Security Administration operations, home loans and farmers in his state.

"Democrats and now a growing number of Republicans are coming together and saying let's open up the government and debate border security separately," Schumer told reporters in New York.

Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week's paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, "then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."

Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.

Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC's "This Week" that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be "wide open" to a court challenge for a border wall. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a "nonstarter."

"Look, if Harry Truman couldn't nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn't have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border," said Schiff, D-Calif.

Trump also asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren't getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to "make adjustments" to deal with the shutdown shortfall. A day earlier, the president had tweeted that he didn't care that "most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats."

Mulvaney, sought to frame Trump's support for a steel barrier as progress in the negotiations, saying on NBC that "if he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, 'See? He's not building a wall anymore,' that should help us move in the right direction."

Trump said he planned to call the heads of American steel companies in hopes of coming up with a new design for the barrier he contends must be built along the southern border. His administration has already spent millions constructing wall prototypes near the border in San Diego.


Associated Press writers Julie Walker in New York and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Area leaders assist on advisory councils for Gov.-elect Evers

With Gov.-elect Tony Evers scheduled to be inaugurated today, several people with ties in the Chippewa Valley have been quietly serving on advisory committees ahead of the transition to the new governor.

Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King and Judge John Manydeeds are both serving on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Advisory Council, making recommendations on statewide policy and possible future legislation.

“You feel real privileged to be asked to be part of a statewide group like this,” King said. “We’ve had opportunity to provide input to the governor-elect on where things are at and where things are going.”

King said they’ve now completed six or seven hours of meetings via conference call, with issues ranging from the need for more assistant district attorneys to overcrowded jails and prisons in the state, and examining the positives of diversion programs for first-time offenders.

“These are the types of things we’ve shown and demonstrated are working and would like to see implemented statewide,” King said of the diversion programs. “We’re doing some good work here in Eau Claire County.”

King anticipates the committee will continue to meet in the future.

“This work has a very healthy, bipartisan aspect to it, so it’s very encouraging that members from both sides of the aisle are coming together to implement reform,” King said.

Manydeeds said it has been an honor to serve on the committee alongside retired court of appeals judges and some of his mentors, like a former teacher.

“There are some amazing people on it,” Manydeeds said. “It’s an opportunity to look at things and make some common-sense suggestions. It’s a situation where we’ll continue to meet and be able to talk about things.”

Manydeeds said he hears from officials ranging from probation agents to law enforcement officers who have made suggestions on input for the committee.

UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer is serving on the Next Generation Workforce and Economic Development Policy Advisory Council. Meyer noted he served on a similar advisory committee for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“I feel very honored to be asked to offer any advice,” Meyer said. “A lot of (our work) is focused on career pathways and identifying career choices. We had a couple meetings by phone, and they were very productive. We put together our own lists of recommendations.”

Meyer said his list includes supporting the university’s budget and increasing wages for educators, which he described as stagnant.

“I believe there will be some bipartisan support for that,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he believes he was asked to be on the committee because UW-Stout has been involved in Fab Labs, which promote science, math and engineering careers, for several years. Meyer said he has worked with Evers on getting Fab Labs developed in the state.

“It gets students excited about what they are learning, and Gov.-elect Evers is very excited about that, and wants to see it continue,” Meyer said.

Ron “Duff” Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and a former Eau Claire teacher on leave from the district, is serving on the Inauguration Committee.

“I also serve on a subcommittee, the ‘what’s best for kids,’” Martin said. “I was excited to be part of that and to share ideas of how to make public education a center of the life of communities.”

Martin said he’s worked alongside Evers on issues ranging from race relations to safety in schools to addressing the teacher shortage. He believes that is why he was asked to serve.

“I think (Evers) knows my commitment and the tens of thousands of public educators I represent,” Martin said. “He’s a real collaborator, and he brings people together.”

The work on the committee has been exciting, he added.

“We just brought some ideas of what Gov.-elect Evers can do, from executive orders, and what we can do for kids and communities, and some potential legislation.”

Martin said he expects his committee to also keep meeting in coming months.

“I anticipate we’ll do a few more conference calls,” Martin said. “We haven’t met in person because we’re from all corners of the state.”

Martin said the committee’s work is setting a foundation of what might happen for kids in the state.

“We have a lot of ideas on how we can improve lives of young people in Wisconsin,” Martin said. “It’s an exciting time for public education in Wisconsin.”

Kara O’Connor, government relations director for the Chippewa Falls-based Wisconsin Farmers Union, serves on the Agriculture, Energy, and Natural Resources Policy Advisory Council.

“The reason Wisconsin Farmers Union was asked to be in this role is we’re hearing from farmers every single day -- we have our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on,” O’Connor said. “I think (my selection) was our advocacy work with the Legislature.”

O’Connor praised Evers for forming the multiple advisory councils.

“I haven’t seen a governor, in my time in Wisconsin, have listening sessions even before his inauguration,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said she is telling the committee what farmers are telling her about their economic challenges, especially the struggles of dairy producers.

“We’re also hearing them say, ‘I don’t know if my water is safe to drink,’ and they also are saying they are struggling to find and afford health care,” O’Connor said. “And they are concerned about their rural schools, and possible closures. And they are concerned about their crumbling roads.”

Like others, O’Connor said it has been an honor to be part of this group.

“I was grateful for the opportunity,” she said.

Evers looks ahead to replacing Walker, seeking civility

MADISON — Democrat Tony Evers, who will be sworn into office as Wisconsin governor today, promises he will seek civility and work together with Republicans, saying voters showed their displeasure with partisan politics when they rejected Gov. Scott Walker.

Evers becomes Wisconsin's 46th governor at a ceremony that will see Democrats sworn into every statewide constitutional office. Republicans will maintain their majorities in the Senate and Assembly, setting up the potential for gridlock not seen in the state in more than a decade.

Walker and Republicans had complete control the past eight years; before that, Democrats had full control for two years.

Evers, in an interview with The Associated Press, said his inauguration message will focus on hope for the future and bridging the partisan divide. The state schools superintendent since 2009, Evers said he recognizes that he's not liberal enough for some Democrats itching for revenge after eight years with Walker as governor. But Evers said he knows that to Republicans in charge of the Legislature, he is seen as "the most liberal governor that's ever walked the face of the earth, or the face of Wisconsin."

"I am who I am," said Evers, a 67-year-old cancer survivor who revels in his plainness. "I care about kids, I care about doing the right thing for the people of Wisconsin. And so I know that frustrates people that they can't pigeonhole me. But I think that's a strength, not a weakness. I'm not going to change from that."

He promises to stand up for what he believes in, including his campaign promises to increase education funding by 10 percent, expand health care access and reach a compromise for a long-term solution to road funding.

He also wants an income tax cut for the middle class, criminal justice reform to cut the prison population in half and increases to the minimum wage.

While some forecast gridlock, Evers sees an opportunity for both sides to work together to reach compromises.

"My DNA is such and my educator background is that you try to find common ground and people know that I'm willing to do that," he said. "But if it's like, 'No, you're the governor and we're a bunch of Republicans' and stick it to me, that just doesn't work. People of Wisconsin don't want that."

Walker said he left a letter with advice for Evers at the governor's mansion.

"It's all positive," Walker said. He said the letter summarizes advice he got eight years ago from former governors along with "personal advice."

Walker said he encourages Evers to aggressively travel the state.

"It's a great way to stay in touch with what's going on in the state," Walker said. "You hear about things, you pick up things that you don't necessarily hear in the Capitol."

Evers narrowly defeated Walker by just over 1 point. The white-haired former teacher who worked all across Wisconsin before being elected state schools chief in 2009 embraces a personality often described as non-charismatic.

Evers met his future wife, Kathy, when they were both in kindergarten, something he jokes about remembering better than she does. Their first date was for the high school junior prom and they've been together since. Now, after 46 years of marriage, they're moving just a couple miles down the road from their downtown Madison condominium to the governor's mansion on the shores of Lake Mendota.

Evers overcame esophageal cancer 10 years ago, resulting in the removal of his esophagus and part of his stomach. He can't eat full meals because of it and sleeps at a 45-degree angle.

He likes to play the card game euchre, and even joked with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that he would wager passage of the state budget over a game. He loves Egg McMuffins and likes to say things like "holy mackerel" and "jeepers," while longing for a time when politicians worked together rather than trading invective for partisan gain.

In summing up his inaugural message, Evers said he will focus on "civility, finding common ground, giving people hope for the future. The idea that we have to we have to work together, put people before politics.

"Old fashioned stuff," he said, "but that's me."