By Doug Hissom Special to Published Mar 20, 2009 at 5:24 AM

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The latest findings of the American Religious Identification Survey find that 34 million adult Americans -- that's almost one in five of us -- are now non-religious.

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation was quick to leap on the fact that they are now in the majority. The findings may not rival the "Great Awakening," but the United States is clearly in the midst of a "Gradual Awakening," and catching up with Europe's embrace of secularism, the group notes in a press release.

Some 29 percent of the new "Nones" are ages 18-29, and 41 percent are 30-49, the survey found. Nonreligious are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, according to a 2001 survey, which showed the nonreligious climbing from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.1 percent. The religiously-affiliated have declined overall, but since 2001, more than 4.7 million Americans have joined the ranks of the Nones.

"The United States of America started as a proudly rebellious nation. We are now turning our prized disrespect for authority to religion," states the group. "It's ‘Downward, Christian Soldiers' and ‘Forward, Godless America!'"

Throwing Stones: Randy Koschnick saw his glass house dented a bit last week.

The Jefferson County judge, who is running against state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in April, previously criticized Abrahamson for taking money from those dreaded trial lawyers and still hearing cases.

Koschnick's own campaign seems to be doing the same thing, a little opposition research found.

Koschnick has heard 1,830 cases involving 19 lawyers who made contributions to his prior judicial campaign, including 35 cases which are currently open, Abrahamson backers in the group One Wisconsin Now claim.

Koschnick has said he would recuse himself -- as should Abrahamson -- from cases brought to the court by campaign contributors. The group says he has 35 open cases in front of him with similar circumstances.

According to campaign finance reports, Koschnick received $10,345 in donations from non-family members to his campaign for Jefferson County circuit judge in 1999 and $1,345, or 13 percent, came from 19 attorneys who subsequently have had 1,830 cases before him since.

"Randy Koschnick heard over 1,800 cases from 19 attorneys who previously donated to his campaign," said Scot Ross, executive director for One Wisconsin Now.

"He even has 35 open cases, right now, before him from campaign donors. However you slice it, he has zero credibility on judicial ethics."

The contributions include one from David Wambach, former District Attorney of Jefferson County. Koschnick received a $50 campaign contribution from Wambach on Jan. 22, 1999. Koschnick went on to hear 1,186 cases in which Wambach was listed as the prosecuting attorney. Ten of these cases remain open.

One Wisconsin Now remains one of the few outside special interest groups showing interest in the Supreme Court race, in which Abrahamson is a heavy favorite.

Going to War Protests: It's the sixth anniversary of the War on Iraq -- really. The invasion date was March 19, 2003. And there are at least two dozen rallies, marches, vigils and other actions planned to continue the protest. Events across the country marked the anniversary itself on Thursday.

Friday is the Iraq Moratorium observance held on the Third Friday of every month, and Saturday is the day for marches in Washington, California -- and Milwaukee.

The biggest locally will be in Milwaukee at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, located at the intersection 10th and Wells Street, with a rally featuring Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Area Labor Council chief operating officer Sheila Cochran and other speakers, followed by a march. The Milwaukee Coalition for a Just Peace, which includes more than 25 organizations, is sponsoring.

The demonstration that takes place the third Friday of every month at the corner of Wisconsin and Water Streets Downtown also should have a good turnout.

Some 24 events are planned throughout the state ranging from Ashland, Chippewa Falls and Elm Grove to Dodgeville. In LaCrosse, anti-war groups are calling for a three-day boycott of work, school and local stores. Madison has at least five events planned.

Selling County Grounds: Expect a good turnout for a public hearing scheduled next week on the sale of a good portion of the so-called County Grounds to UW-Milwaukee. The university wants to by 89 acres of the space, including some forest land environmentalists want to protect.

The sale -- hashed out by UWM and County Exec Scott Walker's office -- would be for $11.8 million, but some County Board members think they can get more for the land. Others will argue UWM should be closer to its East Side campus on land in the abandoned Park East Freeway corridor. One board member wants UWM to pay $13.55 million. Environmentalists are concerned about the effect of the sale on newly-built water retention ponds, which are meant to reduce flooding downstream.

The hearing is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 at Zoofari Conference Center, 1001 W. Bluemound Rd. The County Board's Economic and Development Committee will hold the hearing, but will not vote on the sale.

Hearing on RTA: One of the recent fast moves by state government includes a provision to allow cities to determine whether they want to be part of the Regional Transportation Authority and pay taxes towards commuter trains running between Kenosha and Milwaukee -- also known as the KRM Commuter rail. Part of that process includes public hearings to weigh the pros and cons.

The Third District Neighborhood Association is coming to the plate, holding the first public meeting on the issue.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. March 24 at St Mark's Episcopal Church on the corner of Belleview Place and Hackett Ave. Panelists include: the esteemed Ken Yunker of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission; Sharon Robinson, a city representative to the RTA; Kerry Thomas, with TransitNow; and Donna Brown with the state Department of Transportation.

The conservative talk crowd is aghast that cities can opt to get in with the RTA-even if the county opposes it (which it does here in the form of Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker and Waukesha County Exec Dan Vrakas) -- mainly because it deals the hated concept of easy access to rail transportation and the fear of dreaded tax increases to subsidize the trains.

Port to be Blighted: We can probably all agree the Port of Milwaukee is no scenic backyard and now it's going to be called blighted by the Milwaukee Common Council.

A blighted designation makes it easier for the city to redevelop some of the rotting fuel dumps and unused gravel lots that dot the port's operating area. It could be used in some cases to seize large chunks of land so the city could sell it cheap to developers. It would be called the Port of Milwaukee Redevelopment Project Area and a resolution considered this week would direct city planners to come up with reasonable development ideas for the site.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.