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“Slow-Motion Mass Murders”: Raising The Political Heat On Opposition To Gun Control

Public officials are very selective about when violence and death matter.

Massacres and terrorist incidents cannot be ignored, but the day-to-day toll from gun violence is often swept aside. Politicians who tout themselves as advocates of law and order don’t want to be unmasked as caring even more about their ratings from gun lobbyists.

And opponents of the most moderate gun reforms engage in a shameless game of bait-and-switch. Because measures such as background checks would not stop every murder, they’re declared useless even though they’d still save lives. Then the gun lobby turns around and opposes other measures, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines, which could prevent some of the killings that background checks might not.

The lack of coherence doesn’t bother those who are willing to tolerate all manner of violence to keep the gun business free of inconvenient restraints. Their goal is to exhaust supporters of sane gun laws and get them to give up until the next big tragedy strikes.

Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee has never given up and never given in. One of the earliest members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group spearheaded by New York City’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Tom Menino, he has made curbing urban bloodshed a personal cause.

Every year between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, he organizes a “Cease-Fire Sabbath” that enlists clergy around the city to preach against violence. “The ministers and other clergy can reach people that I can’t,” Barrett said in an interview in his office last week. Here’s a faith-based initiative that everyone can believe in.

Barrett has paid a price for his steadfastness on guns. In his rematch last year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s recall election (he lost to Walker in 2010), gun groups spent more than $800,000 to defeat him. Such sums are designed to have a chilling effect on other politicians who might take on the gun lobby. “It hasn’t chilled me,” Barrett says with a smile, “but obviously I’m not the governor.”

Since late last year, Barrett has made the case for extending background checks to online and private purchases as well as gun show sales by pulling out a large cardboard blow-up of a request sent through an online gun market on Oct. 20, 2011.

It reads in part: “Looking for a handgun that is $300 obo [or best offer]. … Looking to buy asap. … Prefer full size. Prefer .45, .40. … I constantly check my emails. … Also I’m hoping it has a high mag capacity. … I’m a serious buyer so please email me asap. Have cash now and looking to buy now. I am mobile.”

As The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, the ad was posted by Radcliffe Haughton days after his wife Zina Haughton “was granted a four-year restraining order against her husband because she said she feared for her life.”

“The couple had a volatile relationship,” the paper explained. “Police had been to their Brown Deer [WI.] home on 20 different occasions. These red flags should not have been ignored, but they were.”

The day after the ad went up, Radcliffe Haughton gunned down Zina and two other women at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, WI.

The Journal-Sentinel noted (and Barrett also makes this point) that Radcliffe Haughton “may well have found another way to get a gun. But that doesn’t mean that such legislation would not keep guns out of the hands of others who buy them every year without undergoing a background check.”

The slaughter in Newtown decisively shifted the nation’s discussion on guns, and Barrett says he’s still hopeful that a background check bill will eventually pass. The law is needed, he said, not just because of gruesomely spectacular killings but also to stop “what my police chief calls slow-motion mass murders in the cities around our country.”

But can the politics be overcome? At a recent talk at Georgetown University, former president Bill Clinton spoke of how politicians draw warnings from past political fights even when those lessons have become obsolete. He used the analogy of the cat that gets burned on a hot stove, and will never jump on the stove again, even after the stove has cooled.

As of May 8, according to Slate magazine, there had been at least 3,947 gun deaths since Newtown. The political heat is now coming from those who have lost patience with slow-motion mass murders. Will Congress notice the temperature change?


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Money Doesn’t Talk, It Screams”: Walker Wins Recall, Democrats Win Control Of The Senate

After a 16-month long fight, an astonishing $63.5 million spent, and a people’s uprising that attracted international attention and laid the groundwork for a movement that will last for years to come, Governor Scott Walker will keep his seat after Tuesday’s recall election, winning 53-46 over challenger Tom Barrett. Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch also survived her recall challenge.

In the early hours of the morning, word came from Southeastern Wisconsin that former state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, beat incumbent Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, with 36,255 votes to Wanggaard’s 35,476 votes, according to unofficial results with all precincts reporting. Combined with two other successful Senate recalls in August of 2011, this win means Democrats flipped the Senate from Republican control and put a halt to the Walker agenda.

A Historic Struggle Over Tremendous Odds

Walker was voted into office in 2010 with a promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term — which was appealing to residents of a state suffering from the economic downturn. During the campaign, Walker indicated that he would ask public sector employees to pay more into their health care and pensions, but never suggested that he would attack their right to collectively bargain, which public workers in Wisconsin have had for fifty years.

Walker first announced his plans to roll back collective bargaining rights on February 11, 2011 and anticipated the fight would be over in less than a week. Walker announced his “Budget Repair Bill” (Act 10) on a Friday and planned a vote the following Wednesday, leaving almost no time for public debate or deliberation. He even scheduled a bill signing at the end of the week.

Things did not go according to plan. Students, firefighters, and many others occupied the capitol for 18 days. Hundreds of thousands of people marched on the Capitol after 14 Senate Democrats delayed the vote by exiting the state. When the vote was eventually lost in March of 2011, many protesters vowed to recall Walker.

The task was not a small one. Wisconsin’s recall law, which had never been used in a statewide election since it was added to the state constitution in 1926, first required that protesters wait a year before initiating a recall. Next, it required that advocates gather signatures equivalent to 25 percent of ballots cast in the last election — which would require 540,000 signatures to trigger a Walker recall — one of the highest recall thresholds in the nation (and much greater than the 12 percent required in California). But starting in November 2011, 30,000 volunteers braved a cold Wisconsin winter and collected over 930,000 signatures in 60 days, greatly exceeding expectations.This is the largest percentage of voters to petition for the recall of an elected official in U.S. history.

At that point, another problem with the process quickly emerged. A campaign finance loophole allows a politician facing recall to accept unlimited campaign donations. This meant Walker could receive checks for $100,000, $250,000, and $500,000 — for a total of $30.5 million — while his opponents engaged in a Democratic primary had to abide by a $10,000 contribution cap. No opponent could overcome this astonishing financial advantage. Finally, after the Democratic primary on May 8, there were only four weeks for the winner to raise money, cut ads and campaign around the state.

Democrats Unable to Match Avalanche of Outside Money

Around $63.5 million was spent in the election, according to most recent reports. $45 million of that $63.5 million — more than 70 percent — came from Walker’s campaign and supporters. Because of the loophole in Wisconsin campaign finance law, Walker out-raised Barrett 7.5 to 1 ($30.5 million to $4 million at last count). Two-thirds of Walker’s money came from out-of-state, versus only one-fourth of Barrett’s money coming from outside Wisconsin.

According to Mike McCabe of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks money in politics, “Money doesn’t talk, it screams. And that is what we saw in this election.”

Wisconsin’s recall election was widely viewed as a preview of November’s presidential election and as a referendum on the strength and power of unions.

But for many observers, the key question was whether grassroots gumption was enough to win in a post-Citizens United world. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it even easier for outside special interests to flood a state with money. While Walker had a significant financial advantage with his own campaign funds, he received additional help from secretive special interests.

Because of the money spent to support Walker, for months Wisconsin residents have heard a consistent drumbeat of ads claiming that Walker’s reforms have created new jobs and benefitted the state. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, for example, spent more than $10 million on ads and bus tours since November to push the message that “It’s Working!” This was more than twice the amount of money Barrett even raised. Walker received additional support from groups like the Republican Governors Association, which spent $10 million beating up Walker’s opponents.

Because of the disparity in spending between Republicans and Democrats, Wisconsinites have not heard a consistent counter-message about how Wisconsin was dead last in job growth among the 50 states, or about how Walker’s cuts to schools might affect education quality, or more about the ongoing “John Doe” criminal investigation into the actions of Walker’s former staff and associates during his time as Milwaukee County Executive. While labor spent big for Barrett, the estimated $20 million spent by unions was easily matched by RGA and AFP alone. Barrett received very little support from the Democratic National Committee or President Obama. Obama stayed out of the race, although he tweeted his support for Barrett the day before the election — an act that some found offensive in its insignificance.

Still, although Walker originally expected the entire fight to be done in less than a week, Wisconsin residents rose up, like citizens in countries around the world, and inspired a much broader discussion about austerity politics in the land of plenty, the lack of shared sacrifice, and how to create a fairer economy that works for all. In the process, they raised awareness of the role of right-wing institutions like the American Legislative Exchange Council that facilitated Walker’s attacks on working people, and laid the groundwork for the victory over anti-union measures in Ohio, and for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

All players in the Wisconsin recall fight know that this battle will continue long after June 5.


By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, June 6, 2012

June 7, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where In The World Is Blago?”: Scott Walker Transfers $160,000 In Campaign Contributions To Mysterious Legal Defense Fund

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is diverting campaign donations to bankroll his legal defense fund. For what charges does he need a legal defense? He won’t say.

Walker’s latest campaign finance report reveals that he recently made two transfers totaling $100,000 toward a fund meant to protect him from a “John Doe” corruption investigation.

The three-year long investigation is targeting Walker employees who may have committed a host of corrupt activities — accusations include embezzlement, coercion, and use of taxpayer funds for campaign work. According to the Huffington Post, “Mike Tate, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, says state law permits Walker to set up such a fund only if he is charged or under investigation for election or campaign violations.”

No one knows exactly if any allegations have been leveled against Walker, or what those might be. However, at the beginning of this year, a Walker appointee and staffer were both arrested and charged with felony embezzlement. Another Walker supporter — one of his funders — was convicted with exceeding campaign spending limits. Whatever Walker’s legal exposure, he is concerned enough to divert substantial campaign funds to his legal defense just days before the election.

Walker previously made another huge transfer of cash into the fund to pay his legal defense. The AP reports:

Walker’s latest campaign finance report filed with the state on Tuesday shows transfers of $70,000 and $30,000 out of his campaign account to the Scott Walker Trust. He previously transferred $60,000 into the account.

His Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s recall election Tom Barrett has repeatedly called on Walker to disclose who is paying for his legal defense fund. Walker has refused to say.

The Governor is required by law to have donors sign off on a transfer of funds, but the Walker campaign will not reveal who those people are. It has been a contentious issue in the lead up to the June 5 recall election, in which Walker has recently found himself in a dead heat, according to some polling. Other pools show Walker with a narrow lead.


By: Annie-Rose Strasser, Think Progress, May 30, 2012

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Justified And Necessary”: Wisconsin Reaches For The Last Resort

Recalls and impeachments are a remedy of last resort. Most of the time, voters who don’t like an incumbent choose to live with the offending politician until the next election, on the sensible theory that fixed terms of office and regular elections are adequate checks on abuses of power and extreme policies.

The question facing Wisconsin’s citizens is whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker engaged in such extraordinary behavior that setting aside his election is both justified and necessary.

Voters don’t have to get to this large question. Walker’s opponents forced next Tuesday’s recall vote by using the state’s laws in an entirely legitimate way. They gathered far more petition signatures than they needed, signaling that discontent in the state was widespread.

The result has been a fairly conventional campaign in which Walker once again confronts his 2010 opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D). At this point, preferring Barrett, an affable, moderate liberal, to the conservative firebrand Walker is reason enough to vote the incumbent out, but the broader case for recall is important.

Walker is being challenged not because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.

The most obvious way of gaming the system is to keep your opponents from voting in the next election. Rigging the electorate is a surefire way of holding on to office. That is exactly what has happened in state after state — Wisconsin is one of them — where GOP legislatures passed new laws on voter identification and registration. They are plainly aimed at making it much more difficult for poorer, younger and minority voters to get or stay on the voter rolls and to cast ballots when Election Day comes.

Rationalized by claims of extensive voter fraud that are invented out of whole cloth, these measures are discriminatory in their effect and partisan in their purpose. On their own, they are sufficient cause for the electorate to rise up and cry, “Stop!”

But Walker and his allies did more than this in Wisconsin. They also sought to undermine one of the Democratic Party’s main sources of organization. They sharply curtailed collective bargaining by most public employee unions and made it harder for these organizations to maintain themselves over time, notably by requiring an almost endless series of union elections.

The attack on unions was carried out in the name of saving state and local government money. But there is a big difference between, on the one hand, bargaining hard with the unions and demanding more reasonable pension agreements, and, on the other, trying to undercut the labor movement altogether. In the wake of the recession, mayors and governors of both parties have had to demand a lot from their unions. For Democrats, this often involved unions that helped elect them to office.

That is one of the reasons the party is well-represented in the recall by Barrett: He has been a tough negotiator in Milwaukee, to the consternation of some of its public employees. In the Democratic primary, unions spent heavily on behalf of Barrett’s main opponent, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk. Although labor is now fully behind Barrett, Walker simply cannot cast his opponent as a captive of the movement. No wonder the Republican is closing his campaign with a demagogic ad on crime in Milwaukee. Walker knows he can’t win the last swing votes he needs on the basis of his record and his stand on collective bargaining.

The paradox of Wisconsin is that, although recalling a governor would be unusual, Barrett is the candidate of regular order, of consensual politics, Wisconsin-style. Wisconsin has had successful conservative governors before, Republican Tommy Thompson prominent among them. They enacted conservative policies without turning the state upside down. They sought to win over their opponents rather than to inhibit their capacity to oppose.

Walker seems to enjoy a slight advantage in the polls, having vastly outspent his foes up to now. Barrett, however, should have enough money to level the competition in the final days. This recall should not have had to happen. But its root cause was not the orneriness of Walker’s opponents but a polarizing brand of conservative politics that most Americans, including many conservatives, have good reason to reject.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 30, 2012



May 31, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Expensive And Unnecessary Political Gambit”: Scott Walker’s Recall Hypocrisy

Last Friday night’s Wisconsin recall election debatebegan a series of bizarre exchanges between Republican Governor Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, over Walker’s attitudes regarding direct democracy.

During this campaign, Walker and his supporters have been harshly critical of those who have sought to recall and remove the governor and his political allies. Though the Wisconsin Constitution is absolutely clear that the reasons for recall elections are to be defined by those who seek them—as opposed to the politicians who would like to restrict the scheduling of accountability votes—the Walker camp has claimed that the recall is an expensive and unnecessary political gambit.

Barrett challenged this spin with a suggestion that Walker is a recall hypocrite.

Referring to Walker during the debate, Barrett said: “He has signed recall petitions, it’s my understanding, against Senator Feingold, against Senator Kohl, not for criminal misbehavior, but because he disagreed with political decisions that were made.”

Walker did not respond immediately. But the next day the governor said, “I have no memory” of signing on for the recall of the Democratic senators when they were targeted in 1997 by anti-abortion groups.

Since organizers of the Feingold-Kohl recall effort say they’re unaware of whether Walker signed, and since the old petitions have been destroyed, this particular debate may remain unresolved.

But there is no question that Scott Walker has spoken enthusiastically about the use of the recall power. Indeed, he attained his previous position as Milwaukee County executive in large part because of a recall initiative. And that initiative clearly delighted him.

Back when he was a state legislator, Walker was an enthusiastic proponent of recall elections—especially in Milwaukee County.

Walker got even more enthusiastic about recalls in 2002, when he became the favored candidate of the group seeking to remove Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament. After Ament resigned, Walker was elected to replace him.

When he ran for governor in 2010, Walker talked up the 2002 recall drive as an exercise in democracy.

Speaking of the Milwaukee County fight, Walker said: “You know the folks that were angry about this started a recall and they were told they needed to collect 73,000 signatures in sixty days. Well, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing. They stood up and took their government back. In less than thirty days they collected more than 150,000 signatures. It was at that moment I realized the real emotion on display in my county wasn’t just about anger. You see, if it had been about anger, it would have been about people checking out and moving out or giving up. But instead what happened was really amazing. You saw people standing up shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor and saying ‘we want our government back’ And in doing so the real emotion on display was about hope.”

Well, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing last winter. They have gathered more than 900,000 signatures seeking the recall of Scott Walker, more than 800,000 seeking the recall of Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and close to 100,000 more to recall four Republican state senators. Wisconsinites are again standing up, shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor, and they are saying “we want our government back.”

And, as the United Wisconsin activists who organized and advanced the recall drive will tell you, the real emotion on display across Wisconsin as the recall petitions were gathered last year, and as the recall fight has played out this year, has been about hope for Wisconsin’s future.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 29, 2012

May 30, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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