Just when you thought the situation in Wisconsin couldn't get any more surreal and infuriating Gov. Scott Walker and his minions go and pull an insane, brand new stunt:
Gov. Scott Walker's administration is no longer collecting dues on behalf of state unions and as of Sunday began charging employees more for health care and their pensions, even though nonpartisan legislative attorneys say the changes are not yet law.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said Monday administration attorneys have determined the law is now in effect. State workers will receive paychecks April 21 that reflect the changes, he said in a conference call with reporters.
I guess when you know full-well that the bill was passed illegally in the first place enforcing it illegally is small potatoes. Our Republicans have marched well beyond the pale, and there may be no turning back for them only forcible recall (and if you haven't set signed on, it's high time to get to it!).
Their excuse? "The Legislative Reference Bureau published the law online Friday in a surprise move, after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau." But everyone and their uncle (including the Reference Bureau) seem to have agreed that the move didn't actually make the bill law.
Despite that chorus of "nope, still not legal" coming from lawyers, city attorneys (PDF), the secretary of state, and a multitude of others, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch has decided to go ahead and enforce what parts of Walker's budget "repair" bill that he can.
And with that, any semblance of the DOA's former nonpartisan, non-ideologically based function goes right out the window.
Evidence of the DOA's fall into FitzWalkerstan has been surfacing throughout the course of the last couple of months, as it released comically low rally size estimates and wildly inflated damage estimates for the capitol building, among other things.
Bill Lueders right here at Isthmus penned a story for the print edition just last week all about the DOA's fall from grace.
None of this comes as a terribly huge surprise, given that Huebsch is a former Republican Speaker of the House and did little during his time as a legislator to disabuse anyone of the notion that he would act as anything other than a shameless partisan hack.
This is just another clear example of the deeply negative impact of appointments to what should be nonpartisan positions made based on political nepotism.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has decided to file a motion with the Court of Appeals asking that Sec. La Follette's appeal of the budget bill's passage based on violations of the open meetings laws be dismissed. They'd also like to see the restraining order lifted that currently prohibits La Follette from officially publishing the bill.
But get this: The DOJ says it's doing this because "Act 10 is now in force due to its publication by the Legislative Reference Bureau on March 25, 2011."
This could all just be your standard legal minutiae -- the DOJ has to file the motion because the DOA is, in fact, enforcing the bill as though it is law so technically the appeal and restraining order are, in fact, moot. But should the DOJ be filing motions based on actions that are illegal in the first place? I'm guessing not.
There are a lot of things going on right now, though, that shouldn't be. Walker and his GOP acolytes seem hell bent on trampling all over the law of the land, and so far, no one's bothered to throw any consequences their way.
That needs to change, and it needs to change fast. Our system of checks and balances is being torn to shreds, and that's not good regardless of the political party of those currently in charge. But if the Legislature and the Judicial branches won't hold accountable the runaway Executive, then it's high time the People rose up to see it done.
Protest. Recall. Reform.
And while you're at it, elect qualified, impartial Supreme Court Justices
Like JoAnne Kloppenburg.
A week from today (Tuesday, April 5) you should be marching down to your local polling place to cast your ballot for a number of different important offices. In Madison, we'll be electing a mayor -- either the one we've currently got, or one we used to have.
Frankly, I'm still on the fence about that one. I know, I know -- bad pundit! Make up your mind and support someone already! Thing is, I both like and dislike certain qualities of each candidate in fairly equal amounts. I really wish someone new, interesting and viable had stepped up to the plate to run against them both. But if wishes were fishes....
So, no endorsement from me for the mayoral race (apologies). For what it's worth, however, I'm dead certain when it comes to who I support for both County Executive and Supreme Court, and they should come as no surprise: Joe Parisi for the former, JoAnne Kloppenburg for the latter.
The Parisi vote is important because Dane County needs an executive who's willing to go to bat for the values and ideals of the people who live here -- especially now that the folks running the show up at the capitol have determined to ignore them. His opponent, Eileen Bruskewitz, adhere s to a far more conservative way of thinking, though I will give her credit for being a bit more on the moderate side of things.
The Kloppenburg vote is crucial. Not only does she boast over 20 years of experience as a "litigator and prosecutor at the Wisconsin Department of Justice...serving under Attorneys General from both parties: Don Hanaway, Jim Doyle, Peg Lautenschlager and JB Van Hollen," but Kloppenburg also has shown herself in campaign debates to be dedicated to the pursuit of justice and thoughtful, impartial exercise of the law.
Her opponent, incumbent David Prosser, has spent most of his time flailing and seeming annoyed at the very fact that he has to win another election to stay on the bench. He's launched a series of baseless attacks against Kloppenburg that only highlight his complete hypocrisy in terms of his support for scurrilous attack ads made by candidates for the Supreme Court (Michael Gableman, anyone?) and when he'll decide that far less libelous ads made by outside interest groups are the Worst Things Ever.
Not to mention his continued excuse making for having let a pedophile priest go unprosecuted back when he was a district attorney. And the fact that Prosser's own campaign literature boasted about how his re-election would result in "protecting the conservative judicial majority and acting as a common sense compliment [sic] to both the new [Republican] administration and legislature."
And the fact that Prosser admitted to calling Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "b*tch" and then tried to excuse it by blaming her for making him resort to the childish, sexist behavior.
The choice seems to me an easy one.
Notes on the referendum
There are two referendums on the ballot this spring for Madison residents -- both effectively about the same thing (there's only one if you live in Dane County but not Madison itself). A successful drive for signatures put the question about whether the "United States Constitution [should] be amended to establish that regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting freedom of speech, by stating that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights?"
This is in direct reply to the Citizens United decision handed down by the Supreme Court last year. The ruling declared unconstitutional a ban on corporate or union (non-profit or for-profit) spending on "electioneering communications" -- specifically, saying that it violated the First Amendment to allow the government to "criminalize speech that criticized a public official who was also a candidate for elective office, 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary."
This is the "corporations are not people!" argument that's been going on ever since. And generally I'm in agreement: corporations or any large organization should not necessarily be treated as having the exact same rights and freedoms as individual human beings. Runaway interest group spending on attack ads and the like has certainly tainted our political process. Allowing money to equal speech is dangerous to democracy.
But the Citizens United ruling is trickier than that. Even the American Civil Liberties Union supports it, having filed an amicus brief to that effect when the case was under consideration. I'm pretty much in favor of whatever the ACLU is in favor of, so I was actually pretty surprised when I first heard that. But upon further investigation, their points started to make some sense (PDF):
Section 203 bans corporations and unions from using general treasury funds to pay for "electioneering communications," which are defined by BCRA as any "broadcast, cable, or satellite communication" that refers to "a clearly identified candidate for federal office" and that is made either 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary election.
That ban applies to both for-profit and non-profit corporations, like the ACLU. For that reason, the ACLU joined the challenge to BCRA in McConnell. As we noted at the time, Congress frequently votes on important bills affecting civil liberties in the period preceding an election.
The ACLU had been blocked in the past from placing ads criticizing politicians like then Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan for things like opposition to school bus integration and violations of civil liberties, simply because it was during a time when they were campaigning.
So it's not just more easily (and often rightfully) demonized corporations that are affected by the ruling, but important advocacy organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, etc. as well.
I don't have the ultimate answer to this serious conundrum. But it has become clear to me, the more I've researched the topic, that there are many more layers of complexity to it than I think many of us are willing to admit. I would simply urge you to look deeper and ask more questions before making up your mind. Certainly, campaign finance laws in this country need substantial work before they can be called at all good. I'm just not convinced that these particular referendums are the way to do that.