Marijuana (copy) (copy)

A 23-year-old Madison, Wis., resident smokes a joint in a downtown apartment on March 31, 2019.

From marijuana legalization (or the lack thereof) to opposition to F-35 fighter jets, these were the nine most-read opinion columns written by Cap Times guest writers in 2019:

Here’s an important question for our times: What’s the difference between a Tommy Gun, the submachine gun wielded by gangsters like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson roaming Wisconsin in the 1930s, and a military-style assault weapon, today’s weapon of choice routinely used to commit mass murders all over America?

The answer, of course, is there’s virtually no difference, except for this: President Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress succeeded in removing Thompson submachine guns, firing 600 rounds of bullets in a minute, from city streets with the National Firearms Act of 1934, the first serious federal gun safety legislation ever passed to protect American lives.

2. Let's ditch Foxconn and pursue real economic growth (By Tom Nelson | Aug. 25, 2019)

It’s been two years since Republican legislators (and a few Dems) bestowed their blessing on former Gov. Scott Walker’s Foxconn deal. Since then, nothing has gone right, and no one should be surprised.

The deal was hastily crafted, the goals unattainable and the environmental safeguards weak or non-existent. To close the deal, the state resorted to a questionable exercise of its powers of eminent domain and saddled taxpayers with a bill of up to $3.5 billion. Without a doubt, Foxconn was the worst public deal since Teapot Dome.

One especially troubling aspect of the Foxconn project is its place in Wisconsin’s economic development strategy. For one thing, it’s incongruous with our core industries, like dairy or agriculture, machining, ship-building, aviation or paper-making.

I moved to Madison during the winter of 2007. Within a few weeks of the move, racism showed its horrible self, and my rose-colored glasses were promptly removed.

From being told to “go back to Chicago” (we’re from Milwaukee) by two drunk white men in a shared ride cab to racial slurs thrown at my son as he walked down State Street, I realized quickly that being Black in Madison, in essence, would be an unsettling experience for us.

In the time since I’ve lived in the greater Madison area, I have centered my work on helping to restore Black families, with a laser focus on improving the livelihood of Black women, as we are often the single income earners in our families. This work has led me to create a leadership conference and a Black business expo and, most recently, to open the Progress Center for Black Women.

4. Real classy, Madison (By Conner Wild | Jan. 22, 2019)

Listen, Madison, I’m going to say something that is going to ruffle your progressive feathers.

You’re being classholes.

We seem to like the idea of social justice more than the reality of what it takes. Brag all you want about our 28 protected classes. That doesn’t mean much when you call the police when they move in next to you. Articles published about Tree Lane highlight our community’s entrenched classism. And also racism, but that’s a lot of "isms" to confront in just one op-ed.

After 40 years of dairy farming, I sold my herd of cows this summer. The herd had been in my family since 1904; I know all 45 cows by name. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over our farm — who would? Dairy farming is little more than hard work and possible economic suicide.

A grass-based organic dairy farm bought my cows. I couldn’t watch them go. In June, I milked them for the last time, left the barn and let the truckers load them. A cop-out on my part? Perhaps, but being able to remember them as I last saw them, in my barn, chewing their cuds and waiting for pasture, is all I have left.

My retirement was mostly voluntary. Premature, but there is some solace in having a choice. Unlike many dairy farmers, I didn’t retire bankrupt. But for my wife and me, having to sell our herd was a sign — of the economic death not just of rural America but also of a way of life. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to walk through our barn and know that those stalls will remain empty. Knowing that our losses reflect the greater damage inflicted on entire regions is worse.

Enough is enough. It’s time for Democrats in Congress to join their Republican colleagues and demand that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stop stifling our economies in the Midwest and finally approve President Trump’s new trade deal with our North American neighbors.

The trilateral United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes much-needed updates and revisions to NAFTA, correcting the imbalances that have kept American workers at a competitive disadvantage for decades and opening up much needed new markets for our farmers.

President Trump managed to get Mexico and Canada to sign the deal in remarkably short order, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to let the deal come up for a vote, leaving Wisconsin farmers and workers high and dry.

7. A note to Madison from a former police chief (David C. Couper | Oct, 8, 2019)

My, how the years fly by. It’s been 25 years since I led your city’s police department for two tumultuous decades (1972-93). Since my retirement, I have gone into the ministry, but never did I cease watching, noting, writing, and commenting on policing and its importance in our democracy.

Since my tenure, Richard Williams, Noble Wray and Michael Koval have served as your chiefs of police. The latter two, I had the privilege of hiring and promoting.

Now you are again about to engage in a most important and vital process — selecting a chief of police. It will be a lengthy, and most likely contentious, process before the task is completed.

I have seen you struggle (as you did in my day) with diversity and inclusion, the perplexing problem of black high school graduation rates, growing violence and distrust of public agencies. Many of you are still questioning the four recent deaths of citizens by your police.

8. It's time for Wisconsin to fully legalize marijuana (Melissa Sargent | April 24, 2019)

When I first ran for office, I would have never imagined myself introducing legislation to legalize marijuana. However, after listening to heart-wrenching stories and experiences about the negative implications that the prohibition of marijuana has had on our state, I knew that action was needed. Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out-of-date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages. The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal.

It’s looking like Wisconsin residents will be following the old “Oleomargarine Trail” again soon.

Illinois reopened the trail by making recreational pot legal, taking effect as soon as Jan. 1. That means Wisconsin will be an island. Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan have legalized marijuana use, with the latter two allowing residents to buy and consume it for any reason. For those counting, 33 states have now legalized pot for medical or recreational use.

Some of us remember the days when Wisconsin had a law banning margarine in a failed effort to protect its dairy farms. Our parents would drive to Illinois for the contraband, and our first introduction to illegal smuggling was seeing those boxes of margarine in the trunks of our parents’ Chevy Impalas.

Jessie Opoien is opinion editor of The Capital Times. and @jessieopie. 

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Sign up for Cap Times newsletters:


Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.