Just two weeks away from the commencement of the Walker recall effort in Wisconsin, it might be a good time to assess the state of the democratic process in Wisconsin and to do the same for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
In May of this year the Governor signed into law what national observers say is the most restrictive voter registration law in the entire nation.
Wisconsin residents, what might be termed citizens, who are eligible voters no longer can register on election day at their polling places. This tradition had survived until this year. It was in place to promote more active citizen participation in the electoral process that is the heart of our democracy.
The new law requires residents to have a valid state driver’s license with a photo ID, a current United States passport if that is not available, or it might accept certain state ID’s specified. Of course elderly people who often sit alone in their homes and don’t go out much, cannot drive a car, the poor and impoverished, and a slew of college students who are attending school in one part of the state and living there, while they still have family and home in another part of the state will find it more difficult to vote. Student college ID’s or papers used to register on voting day showing the students new residences are not enough any longer.
With next to no voting fraud in Wisconsin, just one legitimate prosecuted case in the last election cycle, it would seem that it is what some observers have rightly termed a solution still in search of a problem.
But the real purpose of the new law is suppression of voting in the state. Our leaders, led by Republicans and Scott Walker want fewer people to vote in our elections from here on.
That stands in sharp contrast to other nations where voting is held on Sundays, the most convenient day for working people to get out and vote. In Australia, voters are fined in they do not participate.
Consequently, percentages of the citizenry in other democracies around the world far exceed our level of voter participation much to our embarrassment.
Just why would Republicans, who are so virtuous about democracy and freedom and liberty and patriotism and American exceptionalism not want people to vote?
It turns out that a large percentage of students, even the elderly these days, concerned no doubt about plans to cut and gut Social Security and Medicare, and the impoverished people of our nation stuck in rural communities and in big urban centers often do not have access to a car to go to those places where they might obtain a Photo ID.
If they do show up out of the kindness of a friend, and they do not ask the Department of Transportation clerk for a free ID they must pay a $28 fee for it. This is nothing short of a poll tax long identified with voter suppression efforts aimed at African-Americans in Jim Crow days in the South.
The rationale of Walker and the Fitzgerald boys leading the Wisconsin legislature is that if you enact such laws that most often affect key Democratic constituencies you might suppress the vote totals for those people something like five or six percent. That might be the difference in both statewide and local races.
These laws should not be opposed only on grounds of partisanship if at all on that basis. What this law is in Wisconsin is a flagrant assault on democracy itself.
Those citizens concerned about gaining full citizen participation in our democracy in Wisconsin should be concerned. That includes many good Republicans in our State.
The League of Women Voters in Wisconsin, a non-partisan and hardly radical organization concerned with such matters has filed suit in court against this law. Though a similar Indiana law was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, Wisconsin’s equally restrictive law violates the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin.
Our state Constitution wonderfully supports democracy and human rights at some points even more strongly than the Federal Constitution does. In Wisconsin, if you are eighteen years of age and you are not a convicted felon, or someone declared incompetent by a court, you may vote. The State Constitution says nothing about requiring a photo ID, or making any other test in order to vote.
It is on this basis that the League of Women Voters is rightly challenging the law.
Walker and his allies have been busy elsewhere too. Who can forget, but a Walker supporter, the late night vote in clear violation of the State Open Meetings Law, and the rushing through of the law that ended collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin and the locking of the doors to the Capitol. All these violate the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin and raise concerns about violation of citizen rights in a democracy.
And Walker has greatly expanded his ability to appoint his cronies to key administrative posts and to ensure that all the administrative rulemaking flows through his office. Professional civil servants dedicated to working for all the people of the state here are being replaced with Walker aides committed to serving him and not necessarily the interests of our citizens.
Walker and his allies also have largely sidestepped opportunities to meet with large groups and small groups of Wisconsin citizens in open forums where anyone might wander in and meet with the Governor. If he is so popular and doing such wonders for our State he should not be afraid of walking into Wisconsin public schools and meeting with the staffs and administrations of those schools. Instead, he chooses private charter schools like Milwaukee Messmer to appear. Why?
Given the loss of collective bargaining rights, the largest cut in public education in State history, and the largest in the nation this year, public school teachers might be less than happy with Walker when he comes to meet them. Ya’ think? The style of so many Republican lawmakers at the State and Federal level these days is to restrict their contacts with citizens to only those that agree with them. But they were elected to serve and to represent all of us. How strange?
The Governor also misinformed the electorate about his intentions in his original campaign for office. He made clear he would make state and public employees all over the state contribute more to their health insurance and pensions. To their everlasting credit, the Unions in which these people are members stepped forward immediately and pledged to do so. They have. The State is saving three hundred and thirty million dollars each year via public employees.
But Walker said absolutely nothing in his campaign about ending most collective bargaining rights for Unionized public employees in Wisconsin. He’d have lost votes that might have lost him the election if he had. Instead of talking about it as a possibility as Governor and testing the waters, he announced the plan in his inaugural speech upon taking office and immediately proceeded to push legislation. This entire plan was pre-meditated and deliberate.
Wisconsin citizens do not like being lied to or deceived by their elected officials. In this case the deception was unveiled on the very day and at the very hour Scott Walker took the reigns of office.
Walker claimed that the State of Wisconsin was absolutely broke and had no money. But his first five legislative acts in the legislature in the very first week after taking power were laws granting businesses in Wisconsin and out tax breaks of $140 million dollars. Then, a tiny surplus the State yet had become a $137 million dollar deficit.
The need to make significant budget cuts was and is real in the State of Wisconsin. But Walker was and remains willing to give away State tax dollars to private interests amidst a budget that tells us we cannot afford to do that if we are interested in balancing that budget.
The whole budget crisis was a falsehood. Think about it. Public employees in Wisconsin willingly provided the State with $660 million dollars right up front last January for the coming two-year biennial budget. Then public education in Wisconsin took a hit of $1.6 billion dollars over the next two years. Anyone that says public sector employees are sponging off the public is talking through his hat. It just ain’t so Mary Lou.
And the failure to take stimulus money and build that speed rail train system from Milwaukee to Madison would have added almost five thousand jobs for the next several years. Walker did not accept the Federal dollars now spent elsewhere. The State employment situation is not what Walker promised.
Unemployment in Wisconsin grew at six tenths of one percent thus far this year. Walker promised hundreds of thousands of new jobs that would come quickly as the result of these policies. That has not occurred. And the State saw a record number of public sector job losses as school districts and municipalities layed off or let go thousands of public sector workers. Thousands of others left public service early to take their pensions and seek some sort of cobbled together life where Walker could not harm or trouble them.
The condition of democracy and the democratic process and citizen participation in it have all suffered grievous blows from Walker and his allies in less than a year with these people running our State. It is a record of infamy that deserves notice nationally. And it has gotten noticed nationally and even internationally.
The weather is getting colder, and hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens who gathered at the Capitol last January and February and even into March are ready to do so again. Their fingers are getting itchy. They want to handle recall petitions and carry pens and clipboards around their neighborhoods getting signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker post-haste. No doubt no Governor has better deserved the honor of being removed from office just after the required first year than this one has.
Whether or not it happens or is even in the scheme of things is less important than the fact that the movement to restore democracy in Wisconsin has empowered so many of our citizens to exercise their civil rights of protest and seeking redress from a government that has oppressed them rather than uplifted that democracy we all support and seek.