Two southwest Wisconsin lawmakers hope to revitalize the state’s dairy industry by spurring collegiate innovation.

State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and state Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, authored a bill that would provide nearly $8 million to the University of Wisconsin System for dairy programs.

A little more than $1.8 million would go to University of Wisconsin-Platteville, according to a press release. That would support four Dairy Science faculty positions, provide research opportunities and help the school acquire equipment to aid student education.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is re-energize, revitalize the dairy industry in Wisconsin,” Marklein said. “Trying to invest more money into research and to look at some of the nontraditional concerns about the industry.”

The bill “isn’t about producing more milk,” he said.

“It’s about looking at consumer preferences and maybe coming up with new market (interest) for our milk, looking at sustainability issues in how we farm,” Marklein said.

Dropping milk prices and uncertainty about exports have had substantial negative impacts on one of Wisconsin’s chief economic drivers.

According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there are 7,898 milk cow herds in the state, down from 8,649 one year ago this month. Back in 2003, there were more than 16,000 milk cow herds in the state.

“Our dairy farms are so integral to our rural communities,” said Marklein. “These are the farms (from which) kids go to our local schools and shop at our Main Streets in rural Wisconsin.”

In a press release, Tera Montgomery, a UW-P associate professor and Dairy Science program coordinator, said the added funding would “help in the classroom and all the hands-on experiences (the school) is already known for.”

“This program is not only going to bring in human capital, but also enhance our research out at Pioneer Farm, as well as help with the lab space we have,” she said in the release.

For the funding to come to fruition, the bill must be approved by state lawmakers as part of Wisconsin’s biannual budget process. The budget usually is finalized in late spring or early summer.

MCKEAN MAKEs WAVES with GOP defection

The defection of Iowa’s longest-serving Republican state lawmaker to the minority party didn’t just make waves in Des Moines and eastern Iowa. Rep. Andy McKean’s ideological evolution made headlines far beyond the retired attorney’s home in Anamosa.

McKean, who cruised to victory in Iowa House of Representatives District 58 in 2016 and 2018, on Tuesday announced the rift with his party. He cited several concerns, including an increasingly “regimented” Republican leadership and disagreements on several key issues.

But what really made McKean’s announcement notable to the national media — including the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, ABC Politics and many more outlets — was his belief that the party’s “standard-bearer,” President Donald Trump, was not someone he could continue to support.

“(The president) sets, in my opinion, a poor example for the nation and particularly for our children by personally insulting, often in a crude and juvenile fashion, those who disagree with him, being a bully at a time when we’re attempting to discourage bullying, his frequent disregard for the truth and his willingness to ridicule or marginalize people for their appearance, ethnicity or disability,” McKean said during a press conference Tuesday.

National media outlets have focused on the Trump comments. The headline of the Boston Globe’s account of McKean’s announcement asked, “Is Trump driving politicians out of the Republican Party?”

FEDERAL LAWMAKERS SUPPORT MEDICAID probe

Iowa’s three Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter supporting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to investigate whether Medicaid managed-care organizations have complied with federal requirements when denying patients access to certain services and medications.

Iowa leaders in 2016 privatized the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for 600,000 needy and disabled Iowans.

“Iowa families have paid a devastating price from day one of privatized Medicaid in our state,” said U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer in a statement. “I will personally never forget the stories from my own constituents who had been denied lifesaving tube feedings or the countless heartbreaking stories from across our state from individuals, families and our dedicated and caring providers.”

ERNST TALKS MUELLER REPORT

During a town hall meeting last week in Dubuque, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, fielded questions from the audience about the report compiled by special counsel Robert Mueller. The 400-page document details an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct justice.

“The report is over 400 pages,” Ernst said, in response to an audience question. “I have not had time to read the full report. My staff has been driving into that and provided the overview. ... I would guess not every senator has read the full report. Many are out doing things like I’m doing today.”

Ernst also acknowledged, after the audience urged her to respond to a follow-up question, that she is “sure” she will “come across many instances that would seem shocking, maybe.”

CALENDAR

• 1 p.m. Monday, April 29, at Dodgeville City Hall — Wisconsin Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, will host a listening session.

• 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at Grand River Center in Dubuque — Former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will speak in Dubuque. To register for the event, visit https://bit.ly/2UHJJzW.

• 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 8, at the Grant County Fairgrounds’ Youth and Ag Building in Lancaster — The Task Force on Water Quality in Wisconsin will host an informational meeting. The bipartisan, 16-member committee is chaired by Novak and also includes Tranel. The group will compile a list of recommendations for the speaker of the Assembly on ways to both assess and improve the quality of both surface water and groundwater.

• 3 p.m. Friday, May 10, at Johnson’s Restaurant in Elkader, Iowa — Iowa Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, will host a listening post with Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo.

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