The once proud State of Wisconsin, with its bi-partisan progressive roots, and with a reputation for doing the right thing and leading on legislation that benefitted all no longer exists. On 5 January 2011 that all changed. It is a dangerous thing to concentrate political power in one faction. That is true whether it is Republicans or Democrats who control all branches of State Government. With such power comes a great deal of responsibility for employing that power wisely and with justice for all.
The sight of Wisconsin Senate President Mike Ellis pounding and breaking his gavel at a Democrat trying to continue debate, and a woman who had merely duct taped her mouth in the gallery of the Wisconsin Assembly to indicate how women were being silenced as three anti-abortion bills breezed through both houses of the Wisconsin legislature with almost no debate, then that woman being cuffed, arrested and removed from the people’s house bear witness to the end of proper government in the State of Wisconsin.
Since Governor Scott Walker announced the immediate introduction of a bill that would all but eliminate collective bargaining for State, Municipal, and education employees when that was not even on the incoming Governor’s agenda, and to see the doors of the State legislature closed and locked after the Republican leadership gave less than the 24 hour proper notice of the debate and vote on the bill it was clear that this group of lawmakers had no respect for the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, nor a decent respect for fully representative democratic government either.
The title’s use of “Rule” instead of govern is deliberate. For what Wisconsin Republicans are doing yet again this summer is to eliminate the voice of those people in the State who happened to have voted for a representative of the other party.
The Wisconsin State budget received almost no public debate this spring as that was being done behind closed doors—doors closed to Democrats who might want to get their input into what was being done in the name of the people they represent; people who voted that they would be represented by these people. One Democrat thew up his hands and admitted “we’re not even in the loop.” The other party was busy legislating behind closed doors without them.
A massive Voter ID bill that would also change election rules more dramatically than any other yet introduced in the State’s history received the minimum 24 hour notice and with barely an hour or two of committee work. Part of that was de-railed but that is to be re-introduced soon.
When there is no countervailing power to stop a political party from doing any damn thing they want, the temptation to do just that is great. The Republican Party of Wisconsin has succumbed to that temptation. And it is not as if there are no Democrats in the State. Statewide in November of 2012 Democrats polled 200,000 more total votes than the total votes for Republican candidates. But the Gerrymandering of Senate and Assembly districts have ghettoized State Democrats and their supporters, and trapped others in seas of Republicans. That too is an affront to democracy.
This is not proper legislating. As is their national parent the U.S. Congress, both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature are to be deliberative bodies. That is they examine proposed legislation in committee and give ample opportunity for those concerned with it among the public to comment. Then when approved by committee the legislation moves to the floor of each house for debate. But when Mike Ellis allowed only a few minutes for debate how were those who were opposed to the legislation or who even merely wished to speak to an amendment to give voice to those things?
Naturally, when a roll call vote was called for by the President of the Wisconsin Senate anyone who wished to continue debate long enough to even question legislation that would vitally affect women’s health and dignity, to say nothing of reproductive choice in commanding their own bodies were shut out.
Even if you favor all the legislation proposed and acted on by Republicans this year, you can’t give high marks for the manner in which the legislating is being done. The most wise and well-drawn bills deserve full examination in committee after notification that is not the State minimum 24 hours but a week or ten days to allow everyone to look over the bill and for citizens to know about and to think about a given bill that may affect them.
The oddest thing about Ellis’ behavior in the Senate the other day is that they had the votes. There would be no harm in letting debate continue for a few hours to at least permit last minute appeals by the minority party. Perhaps once in a while a majority party representative might be persuaded to change that vote or offer an amendment that makes it a better bill. But that too is done behind closed doors among Republicans only.
This sounds like policy wonk stuff to most people but they’d be mistaken. What has happened in Wisconsin is that the minority party has little more than notification of bills pending in the legislature and then quick votes where their voices are silenced and where it takes shouting down the opposition’s honest wish to talk about a law for a bit, breaking a gavel, and arresting and removing anyone who does not agree with proposed legislation from witnessing in the open what their government is doing.
Struggles for Justice suggests that if this is how it is to be from now on the Democrats should meet in some Madison Hotel and issue press statements rather than waste their time trying to do their jobs in the Statehouse. They will be more effecitve as advocates fullly free to speak. The majority Republican Party will no longer let them do so on the floor of either legislative house.
This editorial should disturb anyone who reads it providing they support democracy in a republican (small r) form of government. We would be writing word for word the very same thing if it were Democrats who were doing this.
The State of Wisconsin is being transformed radically from what it was only a couple of years ago. This is undoubtedly welcome news to Republican conservatives but what if the legislative shoes were on the other foot? How would they feel if the Governor’s Budget was based openly on Socialist principles and State businesses were being taxed to death and taken over one after the other by the State?
What if half of us in this State who happen to be liberal Democrats want full representation and proper consideration of legislation in committee and debate where representatives of both parties must interact and the public has a proper amount of time to consider what those they elected are doing or being prevented from doing in their name. The Senior member of the entire Wisconsin legislature, Democrat Fred Risser told a reporter he has seen and been a part of both majority and minority status in his half century serving the people of Wisconsin and has not until now experienced anything like this.
This is not democracy. This is tyranny. It is the worst sort of despotic rule. Worst of all the entire people of the State of Wisconsin are not getting what they voted for. How can we say that? It is simple. All those who serve our State must respect our Constitution and at least one party is not doing so. And the way laws are being made is worse than that of like sausage as German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck once remarked.
The Wisconsin legislature is NOT giving proper deliberation to the massive changes it is making to the political and economic and human rights landscape of our State. They are NOT interacting with members of the opposing party as they should. They are NOT giving due time and opportunity for members of the public—the citizen to weigh in on the legislation they are bringing up and passing.
It ends up being bad government no matter what party is to blame or who is right. We are all diminished and shortchanged no matter what our political views may be. No, this is not democracy. It truly is the despotism of faction.
Struggles for Justice asks how long the people of Wisconsin are going to put up with this style and manner of governing. It so disrespects citizens that it ought to make you sick. It ought to make you mad. It ought to make you ready for civil disobedience until this ends. For in a democracy we are governed and not ruled by power mad people who disregard the interests of such a large share of the public.