The Legislature is above the law and afraid of the people
On Tuesday the Assembly met for its one and only September session, apparently still too hung over from August vacations and various recall activities to get it together for anything more. Naturally, then, Tuesday also saw an uptick in protest actions at the Capitol.
Several individuals decided to quietly videotape the proceedings from the gallery, based on Wisconsin state statute that explicitly spells out their right to do so (19.90):
Use of equipment in open session. Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.
It wasn't long before State Troopers, under orders from Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, began dragging those citizens out of the room and down to the basement for processing. Several cited the above statute as they were being taken, rightly horrified at how they were being treated for simply wishing to shed some light on the work of their government.
Unfortunately, they were wrong to rely on the law -- which is not, in fact, on their side in this one. Though it can be difficult to parse through the various caveats and subchapters, the Open Meetings Law (19.87) actually stipulates: "No provision of this subchapter which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule."
And, because apparently our represented officials fear those who elected them in the first place, the Assembly has a rule explicitly forbidden the use of cameras in the gallery (or anywhere, in fact, unless a credentialed member of the press).
These rules were actually only just implemented in March, at the height of and in direct response to the protests at the Capitol over the governor's union-busting bills.
So the problem isn't that State Troopers were violating the law in removing these folks from the gallery on Tuesday -- the problem is that we allow our Legislature to ban the public from peacefully assembling and recording their business, as should be our right.
Interestingly enough, when the Supreme Court essentially rendered the Open Meetings Law useless by declaring that the Legislature's power trumped state law in their ruling on Huebsch v. Dane County Circuit Court back in June, they failed to even mention statute 19/87, which might have made their decision slightly more palatable (though still a gross injustice, in my opinion). Instead the court's majority manufactured some original jurisdiction and voided Judge Sumi's order that stopped the collective bargaining bill.
But back to the matter at hand: Should the public be able to quietly photographer and/or videotape the proceedings of their Legislature? I think so -- and so does Rep. Mark Radcliffe (D-River Falls), who on Tuesday attempted to have those rules suspended, noting:
If they want to sit there silently and videotape us, maybe we would all behave a little bit better. I represent a municipal village in Jackson County, Wisconsin and I preach as a village attorney the importance of open government and getting people to participate in the process. And by having those people removed from this body, it precludes them from participating in this process. We may be their elected representatives, but they should have the right to sit in this body and tape what we do.
Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, when the vote was called Radcliffe's motion was roundly rejected.
My question to those representatives who don't want the public recording them is simple, then: Why not? What are you so afraid of? And how do you call yourself an elected representative when you're so clearly afraid of your own constituents?
This, my friends, is not what democracy looks like.
In this brave new world of crippled unions, it's good to see some school districts still recognize the importance of involving said unions in the process: The Sheboygan Area School District had the wherewithal to quickly extend its contracts until next summer, giving them more time to suss out how proceed with the creation of handbooks, etc. They've been talking directly with the various employee unions to see that the process includes everyone. I'd still rather see unions allowed their full place at the bargaining table, but this seems like a better-than-nothing solution (certainly a better-than-New-Berlin solution).
The big news yesterday was an FBI raid on the home of Cynthia Archer, former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker. Archer had been in the news recently for abruptly resigning her $124,000 a year position as deputy secretary of the DOA -- and then immediately getting a new state job:
At the time, state officials said only that Archer had taken a personal leave of absence, giving no details on reasons for the leave, how soon she'd come back or what her duties would be.
Archer, in her resignation letter emailed to Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, said simply that she was done with her job that same day.
But documents provided by the state show she actually was already hired a day earlier on Aug. 18 to the $99,449-a-year job in the Department of Children and Families, as the department's legislative liaison, according to a letter released Friday from Eloise Anderson, who heads the department. Her appointment to the new job was effective Aug. 20. Anderson's letter says Archer would be "performing duties as prescribed by this office."
Anderson said Monday that Archer has a higher salary than her predecessor because of Archer's extensive background in state and local government and higher educational attainment.
The raid on Archer's home was conducted by Milwaukee County FBI agents and is likely connected to an ongoing John Doe investigation into possible corruption involving several former and current Walker officials during the governor's time as Milwaukee County Supervisor.
One of [Walker's] office staff, Darlene Wink, who just so happened to be also a ranking officer in the Milwaukee County Republican Party, was caught leaving comments at JSOnline during work hours. Tim Russell, an old friend of Walker's, who worked many of his campaigns when he wasn't receiving political appointments to various jobs in Milwaukee County, was accused of using county time and county equipment for politicking for Walker. There were rumors of other members of Walker's staff doing similar behaviors and manipulating and/or coercing people to hush up any negatives.
This is likely to get much bigger in the coming months.