For Auld Lang Syne
As the turning of the calendar year approaches, lots of people find themselves in a reflective mood, taking stock of what 2010 brought and took away. The first big thing that springs to my mind is high speed rail in Wisconsin, which I was giddy with excitement over getting back in February, then in mourning over losing once Scott Walker won the governorship.
But a lot more has happened in our fair state over the past 12 months, too: Debate over the redevelopment of the Edgewater Hotel took up a lot of digital ink and questions continue to linger over how the thing got done, the city struggled with a hurting Overture Center, issues of racial disparity cropped up in regards to our bars/clubs, a prominent District Attorney turned out to be a huge scumbag, I learned a lot about electronic cigarettes, oh and there was this huge election where Wisconsin turned red overnight and lost one of the best senators in the nation. The Badgers are going to the Rose Bowl, the Wisconsin Film Festival continued to increase attendance numbers, and Madison's unemployment rate remained lower than the national average.
So 2010 was a mixed bag, and 2011 is definitely shaping up to be a year where Wisconsin's progressive residents will have to fight like hell against a state government monopolized by people less interested in moving forward than they are in lining friendly pockets.
Dump the boss off your back
Walker hasn't even been sworn in as governor yet and already there's a movement underway to see him recalled from office. Now that's initiative!
Happily, should the effort actually gain traction, Wisconsin is one state that holds the recall vote simultaneously with an election for the successor -- which would mean we'd avoid having to suffer any time with Lt. Gov. Rebecca "Minivan to Milwaukee" Kleefisch as our leader.
The recall can't official start until Walker officially becomes governor, and then they'll need to collect somewhere around 540,000 signatures to make it happen. No small feat, but it's worth a shot, especially considering the amount of damage Walker has done before even taking office. I don't relish seeing how much more mayhem he can cause given a full term.
Regardless, what I can only imagine will be a sizable contingent of miffed citizens, union members and state employees are planning to show up and protest at the inauguration on Monday, Jan. 3. You can join them, for whatever reason, by gathering on the steps of the Capitol at 10 a.m. that day.
Public sector workers and private citizens alike have all kinds of reasons to be angry with the incoming Walker administration. The former Milwaukee County Executive has a long and storied history as someone hell bent on slimming government down to the point that it borders on anorexia.
Now, with the whole state under thumb, he's set his sights on state employees at places like the Department of Commerce, which Walker would like to transform into a private-public corporation. He claims the new agency, called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., would be "'more nimble' and better able to react to a changing business environment through a streamlined process that focuses solely on job growth."
Currently, the DoC is responsible for promoting the various business interests in the state, but also everything from "community development and preventing homelessness to petroleum product testing and building safety." While it would appear that the department could stand some serious reorganization and streamlining, turning it into a more corporate affair strikes me as dangerous.
Other states have tried similar moves and met with incredibly mixed results, the biggest problems coming from a lack of transparency and oversight. The new agency would be dealing primarily with big, moneyed business interests and the possibility of corruption is very real. Walker has tried to assuage fears about these problems by promising that "the new agency would still adhere to state open records, lobbying and financial disclosure laws and be subject to state audits," but he's also planning to appoint himself to run the place as the head of the 12-member board composed of people he handpicks.
With a Republican controlled legislature, will there be any real checks on the executive branch, or will Walker simply be given a rubber stamp to do as he pleases for those friends and allies who scratch his back with the most vigor?
This is just one of the serious questions that need to be answered before the change should even come up for real consideration. Taken along with Walker's recent declaration that rules written by state agencies should require his approval, this smacks of a power grab and an effort to significantly ease and/or kill the regulations that help keep businesses honest.
Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) was so put off by Walker's attempt to significantly weaken legislative oversight that he released a document "myth-busting" the claims made by the incoming administration that's well worth a read (PDF). Hebl sums it up by saying that "The claims that the Walker transition team make in their information paper are so outlandish that the paper should have been labeled a misinformation paper... Walker is inventing all sorts of trumped-up controversies surrounding rule making in order to justify his boldfaced attempt to grab power."
Even some Republicans are less than enthusiastic about Walker's plans (though probably not enough of them to pose any real threat). Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), the incoming co-chairman of the legislature's budget committee, has stated concerns that this would amount to the legislature turning over power to the executive branch and essentially hoping for the best.
You'll forgive me if the idea of just trusting Walker to do the right thing isn't terribly appealing.
That's my advice for the New Year. It's going to take some clenched teeth, hard work, and deep breaths but I believe firmly in the ultimate good-heartedness of the people of Wisconsin. Whatever's thrown our way, we'll make it work.