Wisconsin Gazette - - Flash Forward: A Look Ahead To 2016 - JAY HECK

The cor­rupt sta­tus quo in Wis­con­sin not only pre­vailed this au­tumn, it tri­umphed com­pletely. The ma­jor­ity party in the As­sem­bly and Se­nate moved Wis­con­sin far back into the past, van­quish­ing more than 100 years of trans­parency and sen­si­ble lim­its on spe­cial in­ter­est po­lit­i­cal money — re­forms which, in part, date back to Gov. Robert M. La Fol­lette Sr.

This as­sault on democ­racy, while sup­ported and en­cour­aged by Gov. Scott Walker, was largely the hand­i­work of As­sem­bly Speaker Robin Vos, State Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Scott Fitzger­ald and a cadre of hy­per-par­ti­san Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors whose lust for to­tal and ab­so­lute po­lit­i­cal power trumps any lin­ger­ing re­spect they may have for bi­par­ti­san­ship and for open, ac­count­able and hon­est state gov­ern­ment.

The de­struc­tion of the 8-year-old, non­par­ti­san Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Board was based on dis­cred­ited charges, false premises, char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion and out­right false­hoods. The en­act­ment into law of both the GAB de­struc­tion (AB 388) and cam­paign fi­nance de­form (AB 387) mea­sures, in com­bi­na­tion with the re­cently en­acted law to ex­empt po­lit­i­cal crimes from be­ing in­ves­ti­gated un­der the state’s John Doe process, will com­bine to al­low po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion to take root and flour­ish in Wis­con­sin.

In­ter­est­ingly, the 12 GOP state sen­a­tors who voted to es­tab­lish the GAB in 2007 voted to dis­man­tle it in 2015. Noth­ing changed in the in­ter­ven­ing eight years ex­cept the politics. Those 12 state sen­a­tors were all for the GAB be­fore they were against it.

The ex­pir­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion will be re­mem­bered as one of the dark­est chap­ters in our state’s 167-year his­tory. It will go down in the books as the year that ac­count­able and trans­par­ent state gov­ern­ment was sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­man­tled in fa­vor of hy­per­par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage and re­venge.

The en­tire process un­der which AB 387 and AB 388 were passed was de­fi­antly un­demo­cratic. They were first un­veiled in Oc­to­ber, fast-tracked through a sin­gle pub­lic hear­ing, then rammed through com­mit­tees and rushed to the floor of the Wis­con­sin As­sem­bly. The process was among the most abu­sive, dis­re­spect­ful and se­cre­tive in the his­tory of the Leg­is­la­ture.

Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive pro­po­nents of AB 387/SB 292 have con­tin­u­ally made the com­pletely false and er­ro­neous claim that they “had to” craft this leg­is­la­tion in or­der to bring Wis­con­sin into “com­pli­ance” with the Cit­i­zens United v. FEC de­ci­sion of 2010 and be­cause of other court de­ci­sions since. While some re­vi­sions to Wis­con­sin’s decades-old cam­paign fi­nance law are nec­es­sary, the re­vi­sions in this leg­is­la­tion most cer­tainly are not re­quired. Co­or­di­na­tion can still be lim­ited and dis­clo­sure can cer­tainly be re­quired.

The hyped-up charges and ac­cu­sa­tions made against long­time State Elec­tions Board and GAB di­rec­tor Kevin Kennedy and against the re­tired judges on the board were vi­cious, scur­rilous, hy­per­bolic, ex­ag­ger­ated and largely just un­true. But the right-wing echo cham­ber faith­fully re­peated the mis­in­for­ma­tion, the real facts be damned.

And there were other, more prac­ti­cal, hy­per-par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal rea­sons to de­stroy the GAB. Re­venge and the un­quench­able thirst for ab­so­lute con­trol over a state agency that had the in­de­pen­dent power to in­ves­ti­gate po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion trumped the truth. The GAB de­struc­tion leg­is­la­tion:

• Gets rid of the six non­par­ti­san judges and re­places them with two six-mem­ber com­mis­sions, one for elec­tions and one for ethics, com­posed of par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees — three Repub­li­cans and three Democrats. That all but guar­an­tees tied votes and, there­fore, grid­lock and in­ac­tion.

• Gets rid of Kevin Kennedy, who has over­seen elec­tions and cam­paign fi­nance law in Wis­con­sin for more than 30 years, ca­pa­bly and in a scrupu­lously non­par­ti­san man­ner. He’ll be re­placed by two ad­min­is­tra­tors se­lected by par­ti­san lead­ers.

• Most sig­nif­i­cantly, it elim­i­nates the in­de­pen­dent fund­ing for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion. This was the most crit­i­cal and cen­tral pro­vi­sion of the cre­ation of the GAB in 2007. With­out it, the GAB is un­der the com­plete con­trol of the leg­isla­tive lead­er­ship.

An in­de­pen­dent stream of fund­ing for in­ves­ti­ga­tions acted as a huge pre­ven­ta­tive tool for cor­rup­tion in the Capi­tol. With­out it, the GAB will be feared by no one and ig­nored by most. It will be trans­formed into an­other Wis­con­sin Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion — a tooth­less, in­ef­fec­tive state agency with no abil­ity to ef­fec­tively en­force elec­tion, cam­paign fi­nance, ethics and lob­by­ing laws. And it will likely be uti­lized as a tool to aid in the achieve­ment of the par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal goals of the lead­ers of the Leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor.

These pro­foundly anti-demo­cratic mea­sures are not the sum to­tal of the ma­jor­ity party’s as­sault on good gov­ern­ment. Re­newed at­tempts to weaken and even evis­cer­ate our state’s open records laws, as well as to de­stroy the long ef­fec­tive and re­spected non­par­ti­san Leg­isla­tive Au­dit Bureau with par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees in all state agen­cies, is in the works for early 2016. There may be more. Thomas Jef­fer­son said the price of lib­erty is eter­nal vig­i­lance.

And so it is that Wis­con­sinites must not only be more vig­i­lant to stave off fur­ther ero­sion of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, we must also or­ga­nize, reg­is­ter to vote, turn out and work as never be­fore to take back Wis­con­sin from those who seek to de­stroy it.

Jay Heck has been the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­mon Cause in Wis­con­sin since 1996. CC/ WI is the state’s largest non­par­ti­san cit­i­zens re­form po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion with more than 6,000 mem­bers and ac­tivists in its net­work. Call 608-256-2682 or visit com­mon­causewis­con­sin.org.

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