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“Wisconsin’s ‘War On Voting’ Leads To Real Consequences”: Thousands Of Wisconsin Voters Facing Disenfranchisement

Wisconsin’s April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state’s ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a “voter fraud” scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.

For supporters of voting rights, this isn’t good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin’s Republican-run state government to run “a public-service campaign ‘in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election’ to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable.”

To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it’s a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.

It’s also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported today:

A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.

The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.

No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.

Project Vote noted this week, “Local and national group … joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration.”

The GOP-led legislature wasn’t willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.

This won’t affect the state system in advance of the April 5 primary, but as Zack Roth’s report noted, the new policy “could well curtail voter registration ahead of the general election.”

In recent years, Wisconsin has been a competitive, battleground state for presidential candidates – President Obama won the state twice, even after Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan was added to the Republicans’ 2012 ticket – and will likely receive a lot of interest this fall, too. What’s more, the state is home to a key U.S. Senate race – incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is facing a rematch against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) – and the outcome will help determine which party controls the chamber in the next Congress.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter ID, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Remember At The Polls”: No One In Wisconsin Asked To Kill Unions Except Special Interests

It was the question no Republican in Wisconsin could answer.

“What beating hearts are asking you to pass right to work legislation?”

Senator Janet Bewley, a Democrat, put the simple query to the other side of the aisle Tuesday night while the chamber debated a “right to work” bill that will effectively kill private sector unions in the state by ending the requirement that workers pay dues for representation.

The answer, of course, is no one. That much was clear at the state capitol. There were no signs asking to join a union shop but not the union; no bullhorns asking to skirt paying dues.

If there was anyone at Monday’s hearing on the bill who asked lawmakers to pass right to work, their names weren’t mentioned by any of the Republicans. In fact, the only Republican to mention someone’s name was Senator Jerry Petrowski.

“I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, and like President Reagan I was a union member for many years,” he said before becoming the only member of his party to vote against the bill. Nevertheless, it passed 17-15 and sets Wisconsin up to become the 25th right-to-work state.

This death warrant for unions wasn’t drafted in Wisconsin though. The fingerprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing special-interest group, were found all over the bill. Nevertheless, Governor Scott Walker is ready to sign it after dealing unions a mortal wound in 2011 by ending the right to collective bargaining for public employees.

“Walker said that it wasn’t time for this, that it would be a distraction,” said Tom Much, a 58-year-old retiree from the Communications Workers of America. Hundreds of union supporters and Much stood outside the Capitol as snow fell Tuesday afternoon, about an hour before debate over the bill began.

What did Walker think the bill was distracting from though?

“You tell me,” Much said.

It could be the state’s $2.2 billion deficit, often cited by Democrats as they futilely filibustered the bill . More than likely, though, it is Walker’s presidential ambitions that right to work would distract from. So, while much of the talk regarding Walker in the past few days and weeks has revolved around his no-comment status when it comes to President Obama’s religious beliefs, and prior to that his punting on the question of evolution, in Wisconsin, the governor’s about face on the law has gone almost unnoticed by national political reporters.

“Now, he says that he will sign it,” Much said, noting Walker’s intent to approve the right to work bill when it reaches his desk, something the governor always insisted was unlikely to happen. “Seems to me to be a bit of a turnaround.”

Not quite. Walker has avoided talk of making Wisconsin a right to work state—until recently—and has let his Republican allies in the legislature perform most of the heavy lifting regarding the bill.

His fellow Republicans didn’t have much to say during Tuesday’s proceedings, instead letting their votes do the talking. Fitzgerald began by introducing the bill, saying it would be a boon to the state’s economy. Almost all other comments from the GOP came in the form of bickering with Democrat Sen. Chris Larson over the previous day’s hearing, which ended abruptly when Republican Sen. Stephen Nass cited a “credible threat” that the proceedings would be disrupted by protesters. Twenty-five minutes before the scheduled end of the hearing, Nass called it quits, fueling anger among some in the crowd who had waited hours for their chance to speak.

“Are we afraid of what the public is going to say?” Larson said Tuesday night in arguing for a failed attempt to push the bill back to committee. “Maybe if we go back there someone will show up who’s not from a right wing think tank to speak for (right to work). I know I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that to happen.”

Larson was likely referring to James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation, who testified in support of the bill on Monday and has been extolling the virtues of right to work for the conservative think tank in op-eds at National Review. Larson noted that, in eight hour’s worth of testimony, more than 1,700 voiced their opposition to right to work, while just 25 expressed support for the bill, including Sherk.

This was the backbone of the Democratic argument against Walker’s policies Tuesday night: they represent special interests, not the people. Walker and his allies would likely reply that groups like ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and those represented by the Kochs have just as much a right as any to have their voices heard as anyone else, but that they might lack the “beating hearts” that Bewley asked about.

“At issue here is the simple matter of individual freedom,” Fitzgerald argued in introducing the bill.

Who those individuals are—the corporate or manufacturing interests who backed Wisconsin’s right to work bill, or the men outside in hard hats and Carhart jackets who voted for union representation—is up for debate. But it’s a back-and-forth that Walker has so far stayed out of. His job is simply to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

That will likely happen soon: Republicans have a 63-36 majority in the state assembly, where the bill is headed next week. If it does and right to work becomes law as quickly as everyone anticipates, the distraction to Walker’s increasing presidential hopes will be minimal. But a few people won’t forget what happened Tuesday. Among them, Tom Much. Watching through the snowflakes as his fellow union members had what will likely be their last and loudest stand, Much held a sign, aimed at the Capitol steps.

“Remember at the polls.”

 

By: Justin Glawe, The Daily Beast, February 26, 2015

March 2, 2015 Posted by | Right To Work Laws, Scott Walker, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New GOP Meaning Of Terrorist Warnings”: What’s A ‘Credible Threat’ In Wisconsin? Unions

On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.

Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose  the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.

So who was credibly threatening whom?

The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.

Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later.  For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.

Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”

Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values.  They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Scott Walker, Terrorists, Unions, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rigging The Rules”: Scott Walker’s War On Good Government

Here’s a good government rule of thumb: foxes ought not guard the henhouse. When self-interested politicians rig the rules to protect themselves against independent scrutiny, citizens have a reason to be concerned.  Common sense tells us that any politician – especially one with White House dreams like Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker – should know that undermining an independent government agency sure makes it look like you’ve got something to hide.

Gov. Walker gained office – and won reelection last fall – by casting himself as a conservative reformer. His zeal for cutting budgets and bashing unions has made him popular on the right. Following a reportedly “strong performance” at Iowa’s Freedom Summit, sponsored by Citizens United, the same organization that brought you unlimited and unaccountable secret money in politics through its infamous Supreme Court case, Gov. Walker filed paperwork last week to set up a 527 political organization, “Our American Revival,” to explore a run for President in 2016.

This first move towards a presidential run is sure to bring Walker plenty of attention from reporters and Republican activists. Yet it seems Walker’s dreams for the Oval Office might lead him, or allies helping to position him, to interfere with an independent investigation into his campaigns. Walker’s loyalists are attempting to defund, undermine, and destroy Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB), an independent investigative agency, which enforces ethics, campaign finance, and election laws. It’s an agency that investigated alleged illegal campaign finance violations that plagued Walker’s 2012 recall election.

Top election law experts around the country call Wisconsin’s GAB, “America’s Top Model” of agencies charged with administering state elections.  Most modern democracies around the world have independent election overseers to avoid partisan hacks writing election rules to favor their party. Unfortunately, impartial election boards are not common in American democracy yet.  Wisconsin’s GAB is the gold standard, and is watched closely by reformers eager to modernize our political system so that voters set the rules for politicians, instead of politicians writing rules for themselves.

The GAB was created in 2007 with virtually unanimous, bipartisan support in the state legislature. It replaced a collection of ineffective, partisan state elections and ethics boards.  By law, six retired judges make up the board. They are selected in a deliberate, three-part process to ensure that they’re non-partisan and politically impartial. A key provision of the law blocks legislative appropriators from meddling in the agency’s investigations.

Allies of Gov. Walker are unhappy because in 2012 the GAB voted unanimously to investigate possible illegal coordination between the governor’s recall campaign and two outside special interest groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Those organizations spent millions of dollars on Walker’s behalf in the recall election.   The GAB also cooperated and pooled resources with another probe, “John Doe II,” led by Republican and Democratic District Attorneys and a Republican Special Prosecutor.

The John Doe investigators considered potential criminal charges of illegal coordination between Wisconsin Club for Growth and other groups with the Walker campaign during the 2012 recall elections. The John Doe process in Wisconsin is similar to a grand jury investigation – it’s largely secret and permits grants of immunity from prosecution to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.

Some of Gov. Walker’s political allies want to eviscerate the GAB. Others are trying to gut longstanding campaign finance protections. Wisconsin Club for Growth has filed a lawsuit against the GAB, claiming that it lacked power to investigate the possible illegal campaign coordination. Another lawsuit implies that anti-coordination rules, designed to prevent circumvention of contribution limits, impinge on free speech.

Meanwhile, the GAB also is facing legislative attacks.  The legislature has cut GAB funding in the last three state budgets and launched an audit of the agency in an attempt to embarrass and undermine it.  Most recently—and alarmingly – Wisconsin’s speaker of the assembly and the senate majority leader, both Republicans, have pledged an ill-advised effort to ram through legislation adding partisan appointments to the nonpartisan panel of retired judges, or replace it altogether with partisans.

Either move would destroy the agency’s independence and ability to hold Wisconsin’s government accountable.  To date, the ongoing John Doe investigation (now enjoined by a federal court) has not produced charges against Gov. Walker or his campaign.  But if the governor allows allies in the Legislature to eviscerate an independent state agency that voted unanimously to investigate his past campaign, he will face plenty of questions about his role in the debacle that may turn his White House dream into a nightmare.

 

By: Karen Hobert Flynn, The Daily Beast, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin Legislature, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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