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Battleground Wisconsin: Swing state locked in clash over Somali refugee resettlement



Battleground Wisconsin: Swing state locked in clash over Somali refugee resettlement

Wisconsin – a major battleground in the 2024 presidential election – is currently a battleground over a refugee resettlement controversy. 

Wisconsin officials have sought to meet with officials from the Department of Homeland Security about the first group of Somali refugees to settle in the Eau Claire County area of the state. The issue has even garnered interest from members of Congress. 

State legislators are set this week to advance a bill requiring greater transparency on resettlement decisions. Federal law already requires federal officials to “consult regularly (not less often than quarterly) with state and local governments” before settling the refugees to an area. The state legislation would specifically require consulting with “elected officials” accountable to the public – rather than just appointed officials – as well as a requirement for public comment. 

State Rep. Karen Hurd, a Republican, introduced the bill, and noted the area is already stressed after the closure of two hospitals and strained school districts.



Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison (Education Images)

“Wisconsin citizens are the most generous, giving, kind, and practical people. This is not about that. This is because we didn’t even know,” Hurd told Fox News Digital. “We are practical. We need to evaluate whether we can do this or not. We don’t care about the color of someone’s skin. This is about infrastructure.”

Hurd said she expects the Republican-controlled legislature will pass the bill but is uncertain about what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will do when it lands on his desk. 

The DHS is working with World Relief, a Christian nonprofit associated with the National Association of Evangelicals, to bring 75 Somalian refugees to the Eau Claire area in the Chippewa Valley by Sept. 30. Some residents, lawmakers and advocacy groups are concerned the federal family reunification policy could lead to a much larger influx of refugees.

Wisconsin’s neighboring Minnesota Somali refugee settlements ballooned into millions within two decades, noted Restoration of America, which first reported the Wisconsin issue. Minneapolis, located about 100 miles from Eau Claire, has the nation’s largest Somali population. The FBI reported in 2019 that dozens of military-aged men in the city joined terrorist organizations.



“The refugee resettlement plan won’t end with 75 Somalis, but potentially thousands, as each refugee will later be permitted to import close and extended family members – think cousins and grandparents – to Wisconsin under federal family reunification policy,” Hayden Ludwig, director of policy research for Restoration of America, told Fox News Digital.

“In just a few years, locals could find their communities, schools, and emergency services swamped with refugees from failed countries, likely including Syria – though even World Relief officials won’t tell us from which,” Ludwig said. 


State legislators are set this week to advance a bill requiring greater transparency on resettlement decisions. (Daniel Acker/Reuters)

Hurd said Eau Claire City Manager Stephanie Hirsch, an appointed official, made the deal with World Relief for the resettlement without consulting the elected Eau Claire County Board. Eau Claire County and the City of Eau Claire have separate governments. Hurd said the county, school districts and emergency services will shoulder the costs.

Hirsch told Wisconsin Public Radio she notified members of the Eau Claire City Council, and that “it wasn’t the kind of thing that required a formal process at all.”


World Relief Wisconsin did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story. But it posted a “frequently asked questions” about the planned refugee resettlement on its website that says the 75 refugees includes 15-20 family units. The FAQ says DHS thoroughly vets all refugees, and further contends they are a long-term net economic benefit for communities. 


Under the question, “What countries will the refugees resettled to the Chippewa Valley be from?” the organization answers: “We do not know with certainty which countries the refugees resettled to the Chippewa Valley will be from, but the top two countries of origin for refugees resettled to Wisconsin last year were Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 80% of refugees resettled to Wisconsin in Fiscal Year 2023 came from one of these two countries, and we anticipate receiving individuals and families from these two countries in the coming year.”

Two GOP members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, Reps. Tom Tiffany and Derrick Van Orden, also weighed in. 

Derrick Van Orden

Republican Wisconsin Rep. Derrick Van Orden (Tom Williams/Getty Images)

In an October letter to Eau Claire City Council President Emily Berge, Tiffany complained the community was “kept in the dark” about the matter. 


Tiffany’s letter said Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley taxpayers should have the chance to submit public comment about a “large number of refugees – potentially from Somalia, Syria and other unstable countries.” 

“Even more frustrating, representatives of this NGO reportedly met with the city manager well in advance of this announcement – but the city manager did not share this information with local officials or the public,” Tiffany wrote. He later added, “Given the dangerous conditions in these countries, and the Biden administration’s alarming track record when it comes to vetting newcomers, it is inconceivable that the local community would be kept in the dark in this way. I hope you will investigate these troubling allegations and take appropriate action.” 

Replying to Tiffany’s letter, Berge wrote “immigrants are a part of the Eau Claire story,” and accused Tiffany of not understanding the federal refugee law. 

“World Relief has held a number of public meetings,” Berge’s letter says. “The Refugee Act requires U.S. agencies to consult and coordinate with state and local authorities and to financially support resettlement. This has happened and is ongoing in a transparent manner,” Berge said refugee resettlement is a federal, not local, responsibility. 

Wisconsin Rep Tom Tiffany

Rep. Tom Tiffany (Michael P. King/AP Photo)

“It is the responsibility of the U.S. government to safely and properly locate, integrate, and support immigrants in communities such as Eau Claire,” Berge wrote. 


“As a member of Congress, Congressman Tiffany is a part of the U.S. government. We expect and rely on him to do that work. Communicating to the public in a way that demonstrates knowledge, embraces one’s own responsibilities, and links those actions to our shared values, furthers trust.” In November, Van Orden said he had conversations with Berge, World Relief, and the State Department about the vetting of the refugees.  


“To ensure the safety of the citizens of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the nation, I have urged the Department of State to provide me with a detailed report of the vetting procedures they have conducted, including who these individuals are, documentation that the proper inquiries and investigations for refugee resettlement were thoroughly conducted, as well as the information that was available, collected, and considered on each individual,” Van Orden said in a statement.

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Nevada's secretary of state says lawyers who fill poll worker gap should earn continuing education credits



Nevada's secretary of state says lawyers who fill poll worker gap should earn continuing education credits
  • Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar in Nevada seeks to address the shortage of poll workers by offering continuing education credits for lawyers who volunteer to fill the gap.
  • Several states have adopted policies allowing poll working duties to count toward maintaining law licenses, with hopes for further expansion.
  • Aguilar said he seeks to strengthen the pipeline of election workers with legal expertise.

With Nevada counties struggling to find poll workers in a pivotal election year, the top election official in the Western swing state is taking a page from his counterparts elsewhere and is asking the legal community to help fill the gap.

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar wants lawyers who volunteer at the polls to be able to earn continuing education credits to fulfill annual requirements set by the State Bar of Nevada.

It’s a signal of how lawyers are increasingly seen as ideal candidates for stepping in as poll workers, as the positions have grown harder to fill as once-obscure county election departments have been thrust into the spotlight.


Aguilar likens it to how doctors and nurses stepped up during the pandemic.

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar speaks at the old Assembly Chambers on May 30, 2023, in Carson City, Nev. With Nevada counties struggling to find poll workers in a pivotal election year, Aguilar is taking a page from his counterparts elsewhere and is asking the legal community to help fill the gap. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes, File)


“Everybody needed medical care during the time of COVID. … And this is a time when we need poll workers,” Aguilar told The Associated Press. “That legal community can stand up and protect the Constitution.”

From swing states like Michigan to conservative strongholds like Tennessee and Iowa, election officials have been tapping lawyers and law students as they struggle to fill poll worker spots — a challenge that has become more difficult amid changing procedures and hostility stemming from former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020.


Other recruiting campaigns have focused on veterans and librarians. In 2020, LeBron James helped spearhead an initiative to help turnout in critical swing states and combat Black voter suppression, in no small part by recruiting poll workers.

Poll workers are on the front lines of increasingly contentious environments — ushering people in, answering technical questions and using a handful of training hours to essentially act as guides for a process where disagreements and misinformation can stir up strong emotions.


Since 2020, eight states have adopted policies to allow poll working duties to count toward credits needed to maintain a law license, and national advocates hope more are on the way.

After pitching the idea at a conference earlier this month, a group of bar association presidents now is tailoring the initiative to individual county election offices, rather than blanket approval from the bar associations for entire states.

“Lawyers are careful, and I respect that. I’m one of them, and it takes a while to process,” said Jason Kaune, chair of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on election law, of getting the initiative approved by state bar associations. “This is just a quicker way to get some real results on the ground.”

For Aguilar, his proposal in Nevada — where turnover has ravaged local election departments since 2020 — is part of a wider plan to protect election workers, whom he refers to as “heroes of democracy.”

Since defeating a Republican election denier in the 2022 midterms, Aguilar has sought to create a better environment for election employees. Last year, he pushed a bill signed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo that made it a felony to harass, intimidate or use force on election workers performing their duties in Nevada.


Aguilar also hopes that this latest initiative will strengthen the pipeline of full-time election workers with those already well-versed in the law.

Aguilar had hoped the State Bar of Nevada would have implemented his proposal before Nevada’s Feb. 6 presidential preference primary, but the secretary of state’s office has yet to make a formal request for the association to consider, per the State Bar.

During Nevada’s first-in-the-West presidential preference primaries, many election departments scrambled to find poll workers up until the last minute — particularly in rural areas.

In the state’s two most populous counties — Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and Washoe County, which includes Reno — all poll worker slots were fully staffed by the start of early voting, according to county and state election offices. But they’ll need more before the June primary and November general elections.

In rural Douglas County, officials recruited 46 poll workers — far short of the 120 needed, clerk-treasurer Amy Burgans said. Lyon County also came up short with 32 of 45 poll workers needed, clerk-treasurer Staci Lindberg said.


Nevada’s concentrated educational landscape could make it difficult for lawyers and law students to spread across many of the state’s far-flung counties, which are some of the largest yet least populated in the country. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is home to the state’s only law school.

And of the 12,000 attorneys licensed to practice law in Nevada, half are in Clark County, about 14% are in Washoe County and just under 3% are located in the state’s rural counties outside the state capital, according to data from the State Bar of Nevada.

Burgans said she doesn’t know if any lawyers in Douglas County — which borders a large chunk of Lake Tahoe — would take up the offer to earn credit by working at the polls. “But I will tell you that anything that Secretary Aguilar can do to assist us is appreciated by me and the clerks across the state,” she said.

Poll workers have been particularly difficult to find in Douglas County, partly because it has an abundance of part-time residents and there was widespread confusion recently over a state-run primary happening two days before a Nevada GOP-run caucus.

Burgans also noted there’s some fear around becoming an election worker.


For the first time, she had to set up training after letters containing fentanyl were mailed to election officials in several states including Nevada. With a background in law enforcement, Burgans also set up active shooter training. Like election officials across the state, she received emails and calls from voters frustrated about dueling Republican nominating processes earlier this month but said there had been no direct threats.


Humboldt County Clerk Tami Rae Spero said the impact of legal education credits for working the polls could be “minimal.” Still, she appreciates the effort and said it could be a steppingstone for similar programs that could better reach her county with its population of just over 17,000. One option might be offering community college or high school credits, she said.

Aguilar is more optimistic that the program can reach all corners of the state.

“I think there are some people who are pretty driven by the mission and understand the importance of poll workers and understand the process of democracy,” he said. “So they’ll make extraordinary efforts to make sure that happens.”


Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks assailed as outsider in bid for North Coast Assembly seat



Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks assailed as outsider in bid for North Coast Assembly seat

At first glance, the Sonoma County Democratic Party’s 36th annual Crab Feed seemed the political schmoozefest it has been for nearly four decades.

For $70, Sonoma County residents could “bump elbows with elected officials” over a North Coast meal of Dungeness crab, salad and pasta served with locally produced red and white wines. But Democratic discord simmered beneath the pleasantries at the Feb. 23 decapod dinner.

The intraparty squabble involves who will replace Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), who is retiring from his North Coast seat two years before most people expected. The shocking November announcement that Wood wouldn’t seek reelection for his final term after 10 years in the statehouse sent candidates scrambling to prop up campaigns with only a few months to raise money and support before Tuesday’s primary.

In his bid for State Assembly, Santa Rosa Councilmember Chris Rogers has emphasized his leadership in helping guide the region through drought, wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.


(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Three top candidates quickly emerged: California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, Healdsburg City Councilmember and nonprofit executive Ariel Kelley as well as former Santa Rosa mayor and current Councilmember Chris Rogers.

Disagreement among local Democratic leaders over who should represent Assembly District 2 — a left-leaning, geographically diverse region stretching from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border — has transformed the race into one of the most expensive and divisive in local history.

The Democratic trio are competing for a top-two placement in the March 5 primary, likely alongside the only Republican in the race who conceivably has enough GOP votes in the district to send him to the November general election. A majority of the district’s voters are registered Democrats, so the Democratic candidate who makes it through the primary has a good chance of winning in November.


The district spans five counties — part of Sonoma plus all of Mendocino, Trinity, Humboldt and Del Norte — a roughly seven-hour drive from top to bottom. It takes in 307,000 voters, many of them working-class, across its rural geography. Many residents contend with a shortage of affordable housing, well-paying jobs and limited healthcare access. The region faces growing environmental threats, including deadly wildfires exacerbated by climate change.

The intensive jockeying among candidates to gain traction with voters was evident at the crab event.

“Vote Chris Rogers” buttons competed with “ARIEL” stickers, while Hicks sponsored a table prominently positioned at the front of the hall, where he sat across from Wood and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister).

A campaign pin has "Vote Chris Rogers for State Assembly" written on it.

A supporter wears a pin advocating Chris Rogers for State Assembly at a crab-eating event in Santa Rosa.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)


Much of the political brouhaha revolves around Hicks, 44, who moved to the region from Los Angeles only a few years ago — a blip in time by some local standards — but who brings with him considerable funding and clout. He is endorsed by outgoing Assemblymember Wood, Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler, veterans groups and a long list of powerful statewide labor organizations, among others.

Hicks is proving a formidable candidate. He’s a Texas native and Afghanistan War veteran who was president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor before being elected Democratic Party chair in 2019. His reputation as a skilled strategist and even-keeled leader in the labor movement helped him dominate that race as the party looked to correct course in the aftermath of an internal sexual misconduct scandal.

His campaign messaging centers on safeguarding district jobs, creating more affordable housing options and expanding access to healthcare in a region with few medical clinics. He has also emphasized environmental preservation, an issue that resonates in a region home to towering redwoods and vast state and national parkland.

“I’m running because I’ve got a long track record of delivering real results for real people,” Hicks said.

A man smiles while talking with other people.

Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party and a longtime Los Angeles labor leader, says he and his wife moved to Humboldt County in 2021, after falling in love with the area. Opponents to his Assembly bid question his North Coast credentials.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)


His opponents describe him in a different light.

Skeptics accuse Hicks of carpetbagging his way from Los Angeles to Humboldt County with ambitions to run for office, and have blasted his long list of donations from Southern California and Sacramento as evidence that he lacks connections to the people he wants to represent.

He’s also faced criticism for maintaining his influential position as party chair while campaigning for Assembly. Hicks said he has suspended his pay and benefits during the race and pledged to step down if elected.

Hicks said he and his wife bought their home in Arcata in Humboldt County in 2021 after falling in love with the North Coast while he was running for party chair. His campaign, he said, is “funded by individuals and workers and the unions that represent them,” a coalition that many backing his candidacy say no Democrat should be criticized for.


Hicks faces a strong opponent in Kelley, 41, a former mayor of Healdsburg, whose endorsements include local government officials and statewide groups dedicated to electing more women to office and expanding access to safe abortion services.

A political action committee supporting Kelley — largely funded by her sister, who poured at least $200,000 into the PAC — has sponsored ads accusing Hicks of covering up sexual harassment in the Democratic Party, an allegation he and his proponents angrily deny. His campaign sent local TV stations cease-and-desist letters warning them against continuing to run ads that Hicks maintains are “patently false.”

Hicks has clapped back with criticism of Kelley’s investments in the oil industry and questioned her connections to a local developer who recently donated $50,000 to the political action committee.

“It’s unfortunate when some candidates and their supporters conclude that they can no longer talk about their own record or run on their own record and decide to lie about mine,” Hicks said.

Kelley said she doesn’t communicate with the PAC or her sister about its strategy, and agrees the negative campaigning is unhelpful. She said her father died last year and left her a trust that held investments “in a number of industries,” and that she plans to divest from those in oil and gas.

A woman holds a hand over her heart at a crab-eating event.

Ariel Kelley, a former mayor of Healdsburg, is one of the Democratic candidates for a North Coast Assembly seat. She is endorsed by local government officials and statewide groups dedicated to electing more women to office.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

She’s called the attacks “completely baseless” and a distraction from real issues facing district voters, such as the need for paid family leave for rural families, ensuring access to reproductive healthcare, improving housing affordability and reducing homelessness.

“I’m really focused on just talking about my record of delivering. Because it’s a very strong record of delivering for this community, on homelessness, on wildfire prevention, on housing, healthcare access,” she said.

Rogers, 36, who has also mounted a fierce campaign, has called for his opponents to end the “mud-slinging,” even as he’s expressed many of the same concerns about Hicks’ fundraising strategies.


Raised in Sonoma County, Rogers worked for a decade as an aide to congressional and state legislators in the district before launching his career in local politics. He contends he is most qualified to represent the district after steering the region through emergency after emergency as Santa Rosa’s mayor and during his time on the City Council, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a drought, flooding and devastating wildfires.

Rogers is endorsed by Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), whom he worked for as a legislative staffer, and a long list of city and county officials, a local firefighters group and environmental organizations. He said he’s focused on mitigating climate change, protecting local healthcare facilities from closing and addressing a critical narrowing of access to homeowners insurance in Northern California communities.

“I have that experience. Not just understanding the perspective, but how to translate needs in the district into legislative action,” Rogers said.

Yurok Tribe Vice Chair Frankie Myers, 43, is also running as a Democrat, hoping to become the second Native American elected to the California statehouse. Myers has received support from tribal communities throughout the state.

He’s tried, with limited success, to break through the bickering with his message about elevating tribal issues and the importance of environmental stewardship and universal healthcare.


“I’m learning it is a privilege running for state Legislature. It has a lot of barriers for low-income people, people from historically disadvantaged communities,” he said. “We’ve only had one single elected Native American in the state Legislature in the history of this state. And now having campaigned, there’s some realizations I’m coming to about why that is.”

A man smiles while speaking to a woman at an event.

Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe, is hoping to be the second Native American elected to the California Legislature.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

A fifth Democrat, Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams, hasn’t raised money and is in effect using his campaign to encourage candidates to focus on rural issues. A sixth Democratic candidate, Cynthia Click, has withdrawn from the race, though her name will appear on the ballot.

Michael Greer, the one Republican running for the seat, has focused his campaign on bread-and-butter issues familiar to many California families, including public safety, the rising numbers of people living homeless and spiraling housing costs, along with North Coast-specific concerns similar to those raised by the other candidates.


“As one vote, as one Republican, can I change the votes on all these things?” Greer said of his potential effect in the Democratic-led Assembly. “No. But I can be loud enough to make sure that the rural areas are heard.”

People mingle at an event.

Santa Rosa’s 36th annual Crab Feed gave voters a chance to meet leading candidates in the bid to represent residents in the geographically diverse Assembly District 2, which spans California’s North Coast.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Wood said many of the candidates are using overly broad rhetoric to describe the district’s challenges and seem unfamiliar with the progress he’s made in addressing specific policy areas during his decade in Sacramento. The real challenge, he said, will be building on his successes to fine-tune those policies.

“It’s a hugely challenging district,” Wood said. “So you have to really commit to spending the time to learn it and to respect it to be able to help solve some of the problems that we face.”


Wood was quick to endorse Hicks’ bid for Assembly, saying he was confident the party chair would be a “workhorse” for the district.

“I respect anybody who wants to run here, but I think the depth and breadth of his experience and the things he’s done and his life experience make him the best candidate,” Wood said.

Wood noted, however, that he’s been surprised and disappointed by the negative campaigning.

“This is not what we’re used to on the North Coast,” he said. “I don’t like it, and I don’t think voters really like it either.”

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Clinton-era treasurer honored in Ohio hometown for 30th anniversary of inauguration



Clinton-era treasurer honored in Ohio hometown for 30th anniversary of inauguration

A history-making, record-setting former U.S. treasurer is being celebrated in her Ohio city this week as she marks the 30th anniversary of her swearing-in ceremony.

Democrat Mary Ellen Withrow, 93, plans six appearances Thursday and Friday around Marion, about 50 miles north of Columbus, to mark the occasion. The city is also home to a museum collection of her memorabilia.


Withrow was nominated by former President Bill Clinton and sworn in March 1, 1994.

Then-Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow personally signs a redesigned $50 bill in San Diego, on Oct. 31, 1997. (AP Photo/Michael Poche, File)


The first person to serve as a local, state and federal treasurer, Withrow served in her Washington role until 2001. She has her signature on more U.S. currency than any other person, setting a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records.

The anniversary festivities include an appearance on WGH Talk radio Thursday to discuss her life and career, as well as appearances Thursday and Friday at four area middle and high schools, including Elgin, on whose school board she got her start in politics in 1969.

Withrow plans to deliver her original acceptance speech at a celebratory reception Friday at the Kingston Residence that is open to the public.

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