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“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

Timing Is Everything: Wisconsin Democrats Fret Over Strategy For Walker Recall

Timing is everything.

With the legislative recall campaigns designed to dispose of enough GOP senators to return the upper body of the Wisconsin legislature to Democratic control well underway, attention is now turning toward the future of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Certainly, should the senate recall efforts turn out well for the Democrats, the excitement will be there to continue the process and take a shot at sending Scott Walker back home to Milwaukee.

The question is when to begin that effort.

Wisconsin law requires that once a petition drive to recall an elected official begins, those engaged in the effort have just 60 days to collect enough signatures to equal 25% of the total number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election.

That is a tall order- which is why many Wisconsin Democrats believe that they should get the Walker recall petitioning campaign going just as soon as the senate elections are wrapped up and while passions remain high.

In a normal situation, I think these folks would be right.

The problem is that any electoral strategy of this nature must rely on the election laws of the state when contemplating moves that work to the favor of one political party or the other. Unfortunately, the application of the law in Wisconsin – thanks to one of the most bizarre State Supreme Courts one can imagine – is anything but reliable.

Because of this unusual state of legal affairs, as we will see in a moment, getting the petition drive going sooner rather than later could result in a very unfortunate ending for those who would like to see Governor Walker go away.

First, an explanation of how things are supposed to work in the state.

Under Wisconsin election rules, once the recall petitions are turned in, election officials have 31 days to issue a “certificate of sufficiency” or “certificate of insufficiency”. Assuming the petitions are deemed sufficient, the Wisconsin Constitution requires that an election be scheduled on the first Tuesday six weeks following the certification of the election.

While the law appears completely clear that the only exception to the six week period would be where the party attempting the recall requires a primary to determine who their candidate will be- in which case the primary would be held six weeks after certification with the actual recall election to take place four weeks after completion of the primary- Wisconsin, as noted, does not appear to always operate to the letter of the law.

Thus, the Democratic concern is that were their recall petitions to be delivered for certification by the end of this year, or early in 2012, the GOP would work to move the statutory date when the recall election should take place to the date of the statewide election already scheduled for just a few weeks later.

That election happens to be the Republican presidential primary which is scheduled for the first week in April.

Obviously, if you’re looking to turn out Republican voters to support Governor Walker, the day of the Republican presidential primary would be about as good as it gets.

How, you might ask, could the GOP succeed in delaying an election that should take place no later than, say, the middle of February (assuming the petitions are in by the end of this year), until April?

Assuming that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, a non- partisan organization that oversees Wisconsin elections, would set the date for a statewide recall election according to the Constitutional requirements, the Republicans would likely engage in any number of challenges for the purpose of delay, including a court action(s) based on the argument that it is not in the best interest of the state to hold an election in February when one is already scheduled for the first week of April. After all, having to pay for two statewide elections when both could be held within a few weeks of the statutory date seems an unnecessary waste of state monies that are in short supply.

Never mind that the early April election just happens to be the GOP presidential primary.

Where would such a court action eventually be decided?

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court – the astoundingly politicized body where the friends of Scott Walker maintain a narrow majority thanks, in no small part, to the now infamous Justice David Prosser.

Maybe the Court would follow the law – maybe they would not.

Thus, were the Democrats to proceed with the recall effort shortly after the conclusion of the senate recalls next month, they may well be placing the future of Scott Walker in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court – the last place they would like the matter to be decided.

The other option would be to wait until after the GOP presidential primary and try to time the recall election to take place on November 6, 2012, the day of the national elections. The strategy would be to pick that day based on the expectation that many Wisconsin Democrats will turn up to cast their vote for President Obama.

Of course, it would be impossible to pull this off given the state GOP’s willingness to get involved with dirty tricks. Were the Democrats to time things contemplating no primary election to pick the Democratic candidate, we can count on the GOP to run a ‘fake’ Democrat, as they did in numerous senatorial recall elections, to force a primary to throw off the timing. Were the Democrats to anticipate a fake primary, and time the recall election for 10 weeks following certification rather than six, the GOP would, no doubt, stay away from such a primary, resulting in the recall election happening a month before the November general elections.

Clearly, the Wisconsin Democratic Party finds itself in a very tricky position and one created by the uncertainty that comes when the state’s top judicial body cannot be counted upon to simply follow the law as written.

And therein lies the moral to the story. When we can no longer trust our judiciary to rule with fairness and according to law, democracy suffers.

While I may hold a few opinions, I really don’t know when the Wisconsin Democrats should seek to hold the recall election.

What I do know is that the Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution, drafted in 1926 and amended in 1981, is explicit and completely clear on the subject of how recall elections are to be handled and that no provision is made to alter the prescribed date of a recall election taking into consideration any factors other than those set forth in the state Constitution.

For Wisconsin Republicans -and supporters of Governor Walker- who would seek the political benefits of holding the election to recall Scott Walker on the day of the Republican primary rather than the day prescribed by their Constitution, I hope these people will bear in mind the deeply troubling hypocrisy of holding themselves out as ardent supporters of the Constitution only to turn their back on their own founding document when it is politically expedient to do so.

Personally, I hope the Wisconsin Democrats proceed immediately with the effort to recall Governor Walker.

If the state’s highest court -and those who believe that the Constitution trumps all- are prepared to throw their own Constitution overboard to save their governor, let them pay the price of such lawlessness that will surely come due for them.

If a Constitutional crisis is what it will take for Wisconsin citizens to understand what is happening to their state, I would also encourage Wisconsin Democrats to bet on their Constitution and see if your opposition is willing to pay the price for the sake of political expediency.

Let’s find out if Wisconsin Republicans love Scott Walker more than they love and respect their own Constitution. Let’s find out if they are willing to completely disregard the state’s moral and legal center all for the purpose of rigging an election to give the Governor the best possible chance of succeeding.

If Wisconsin Republicans wish to support their governor by coming out on whatever the legal election date works out to be, that is a valid exercise of their rights as Wisconsin citizens. But they should be willing to do it in accordance with the law of the State.

 

By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 20, 2011

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Break For Wisconsin Democrats In Recall Fight

At first glance, this will seem deep in the weeds, but this just in from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal constitutes a real break for Wisconsin Dems in their quest to take back the state senate in the recall wars:

State elections officials Monday took a Republican Assembly lawmaker off the ballot in a recall election against a Democratic senator.

The state Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to leave Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) off the ballot in the July 19 recall election for Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) in the 30th Senate District. The board found that Nygren fell just short of collecting the 400 valid nominating signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, finding he collected only 398 valid signatures.

The accountability board had initially found that Nygren had submitted 424 qualifying signatures from voters. But after a number of signatures were challenged by Democrats, the accountability board found that 26 of those were invalid.

In a nutshell, what happened here is that one of the Dem state senators that Dems and labor thought was genuinely vulnerable to a recall challenge — Dave Hansen — will now no longer face his toughest challenger. Once it has been established through signature gathering that a recall election will be held against a sitting official, a potential challenger only requires 400 signatures to get on the ballot in the recall elections. Hansen’s leading challenger, John Nygren, fell short and was disqualified.

Hansen is now all but certain to face a challenge from a far weaker candidate — David VanderLeest. According to Journal Sentinel columnist David Bice, this latest challenger has a court record that includes disorderly conduct.

Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin, was thrilled about the new development, claiming that VanderLeest’s “rap sheet reads like a directory of the Wisconsin state criminal code.”

Here’s why this is important. In order to take back the state senate, Dems need to net three recall wins. Six Republicans face recall battles; while only three Dems do. But now one of the three Dems may be far safer than previously thought, which means Dems may have an easier time netting three wins — and that Wisconsin GOPers may have a tougher time hanging onto the state senate.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Dems 6. Wisconsin Republicans 0.

Conservatives and some political observers are making a big deal out of the fact that the Dem candidate in the closely watched state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin finally conceded defeat today, as had long been expected.

But surely it’s also a big deal that we now know for certain that six Wisconsin Republican state senators will officially face recall elections, while a grand total of zero Democrats may face the same?

Today the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board announced that they have now approved the signatures required for recall elections against the following six GOP senators: Rob Cowles, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, and Luther Olsen. That means these six elections are definitely moving forward.

Meanwhile, the board has also announced that they are not prepared to approve the signatures gathered by Republicans for the recall of their three Democratic targets. Dems have alleged that the signature gathering by Republicans is fraudulent, and now the board has explicitly claimed that their reason for not approving the recall elections against Dems is that the signatures “have raised numerous factual and legal issues which need to be investigated and analyzed.”

Translation: The fraud allegations just may have something to them.

What this means: While Dems only need to net three recall elections to take back the state senate, it is now within the realm of possibility that even as twice that number of Republicans face recall elections, no Dems will. That’s a pretty sizable advantage for Dems.

To be clear, it is possible that the board will ultimately approve some or all three of the recall elections against Dems. But even if that happens, Dems still retain a significant advantage. Either way, it is clearly an important development that we now know for a fact that six recalls against Republicans will definitely proceed.

One other tidbit: The Government Accountability Board has also asked the Wisconsin state legislature for an additional $40,000 to help evaluate the signatures and facilitate the recall elections. But a Board spokesman, Reid Magney, confirms to me that the legislature has not responded to the request. “We have not gotten an answer from them,” Magney tells me.

Guess who controls the state legislature? Wisconsin Republicans. Indeed, the

senate side of the relevant committee that would make those funds available is stacked with GOP recall targets. Go figure!

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Gov Scott Walker, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justice Delayed: Wisconsin Recall Elections To Be Held July 12

A Dane County, WI judge has approved a request by the state Government Accountability Board (GAB), which oversees elections in the state, to delay some state Senate recall elections and consolidate them into one day on July 12. In the course of making that decision, the judge turned back Democratic objections that some of their recalls should proceed as quickly as possible in June.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

Signatures were filed against senators starting April 1, and under tight timelines in the statutes, the first election could have been scheduled in mid-June. But Dane County Judge John W. Markson agreed to give the accountability board more time to evaluate the petitions and schedule the elections.

He agreed the board needed more time because of the unprecedented demands on evaluating tens of thousands of signatures for each recall attempt. He also noted the board is bogged down by a statewide recount in the April 5 election for state Supreme Court.

The GAB had sought the extension primarily on the grounds that the extraordinary number of recalls was straining their capacity to review signatures. On the other hand, as WisPolitics reported on Thursday, Democratic Party attorney Jeremy Levinson had argued in a court filing that delaying any of the recalls would do damage to the Dems, and create political space for the Republicans to do mischief with the extra time:

Levinson argues delaying the matter would give the incumbents an “extra-statutory” fundraising advantage, and leave representation of those districts “an open and pending question.”

In addition, Levinson argues that delaying the recall elections may result in laws being enacted that would not be if the recalls are held in the time frame permitted by statute.

“The rush to put ‘Voter ID’ and the concealed carry of firearms before the legislature — to say nothing of the pending budget — confirm that this is an entirely concrete concern,” Levinson writes.

In addition, as Jessica Arp from the local CBS affiliate reported from Judge Markson’s court hearing, Levinson also argued that the earliest petitions, against state Sen. Dan Kapanke and state Sen. Randy Hopper, were filed so quickly as a deliberate decision on the Dems’ part, in order to have the recalls move forward quickly while the issues are still fresh in the public mind.

Ultimately, though, Markson declared that it had become difficult or impossible for the GAB to meet the statutory deadline, and that the public would be better served by having the recalls held on a single day.

The state Senate currently has a 19-14 Republican majority, with Democrats hoping to pick up three seats in recall elections and win a majority, in a backlash against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation. In order to initiate a recall, signatures of at least 25 percent of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election, within the targeted district, must be collected in a 60-day window.

Democrats have filed recall signatures against six Republicans: Dan Kapanke, Randy Hopper, Luther Olsen, Sheila Harsdorf, Alberta Darling and Rob Cowles. Republicans have filed recall signatures against three Democrats: Dave Hansen, Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch.

Under Wisconsin’s recall law, elected officials must have served at least one year of their term before being recalled — thus exempting the half of the Senate that was just elected in 2010. In addition, Dems have also declared their intention to recall Walker himself next year, when the one-year exemption runs out.

By: Eric Kleefeld, Talking Points Memo, April 29, 2011

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Elections, Gov Scott Walker, Politics, Public Employees, State Legislatures, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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