Tag Archives: secrecy

Message to Scott Walker: Get over yourself

His critics often complain that Scott Walker is indifferent to the needs of Wisconsin’s middle class and working poor. Instead, they say — and we agree — he’s the tool of a few billionaire families who use their think tanks to create cookie-cutter policies stacking the economic deck in their own favor.

Numerous examples support that view. For instance: Walker’s elimination of environmental protections, allowing polluting industries to ignore public safety in their pursuit of riches; tax policies that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy; the attempted gutting of open records laws and the watering down of accountability boards, both of which would allow public officials to negotiate back-room deals shielded from public scrutiny.

Last year, Walker believed he’d done enough for the nation’s right-wing billionaire activists to earn their support for a presidential bid. He was right, but their backing was predicated on Walker’s strength as a candidate. He rode high in the polls at first, buoyed by his national profile as a union buster.

Walker quickly proved, however, that he didn’t have the experience, the record or the charisma to make a credible run. His backers fled, leaving his badly planned campaign dead and in debt.

But hope springs eternal in the minds of narcissists like Walker, who claims to consult directly with the Almighty. He and his apologists claim it was the media’s fascination with Donald Trump that sunk his campaign, not Walker’s shortcomings. The White House still stands in his delusional crosshairs. He smells opportunity for himself in the chaos and confusion that now dominate the Republican Party.

Walker seems to be telling himself that if there’s a fractured Republican National Convention in July, which is a likely scenario, he’ll find a crack to slither through and triumphantly emerge again on top.

“I think if it’s an open convention, it’s very likely it (a candidate would emerge) who’s not currently running,” Walker recently told Madison.com. “I mean, who knows. The one thing I qualify — it’s like the qualifications you see on those ads you see for car dealerships. I think any of us who comment on this election have to qualify that almost every prediction’s been off, so it’s hard to predict anything.”

Anyone who follows Walker knows exactly whom he means when he refers to a candidate “who’s not currently running.” Such statements are his versions of trial balloons. Last year when he said that a governor would be — and should be — the next GOP standard-bearer, it was clear that he meant him.

Walker’s learned nothing from his presidential failure. As Trump and Bernie Sanders have proven, the nation is tired of a governing class that sells out citizens in favor of rich leeches. The people want to be back in charge.

But Walker doesn’t get that. Ever since he dropped out of the presidential campaign, he’s remained focused on the same corporate-right agenda, even as Wisconsin continues to lag economically in its grip.

After his approval rating plummeted in the wake of his embarrassing missteps on the presidential campaign trail, it’s begun to rise again in Wisconsin. Walker doesn’t realize that’s only because he’s out of the national media’s glare and remains the sacred cow of local right-wing media.

Should Walker come under real scrutiny again, he’d wind up back where he began, once more running home with his tail tucked between his legs.

Give it up, Scott. It’s only thanks to your puppeteers and their media mouthpieces that you haven’t been tarred, feathered and run out of town on a train that’s dilapidated because you turned down $810 million in federal funds to improve rail in the state. When you announced you were considering a third term as governor, we knew for certain that your higher ambitions are in place — they have aways been the only reason you run.. But luckily for everyone concerned, the governor’s office is the best you’re going to do.

As the drag queens of the 1970s used to say: “Get over yourself.” Make the next three years about the citizens of Wisconsin.

Open records law showcased in “Sunshine Week” tour

Monday begins Sunshine Week, which emphasizes the critical importance of the state’s open records law.

The law, which is in peril in Wisconsin, gives the media and the public access to public records. Democracy depends on government transparency, because without it taxpayers and voters can’t know how elected officials are conducting the people’s business.

Advocates of open government in Wisconsin are planning an eight-city tour to highlight the importance of the state’s open records law in the wake of unprecedented attacks from state lawmakers. Last summer, Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s Republican leadership tried to sneak a measure into the budget that would have blocked public access to everything created by state and local government officials, including drafts of legislation and communications with staff.

The Sunshine Week tour will include representatives of the Center for Media and Democracy, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The traveling show will take place in the following locations:

La Crosse: March 15, 2 p.m. La Crosse Public Library. Local sponsor: La Crosse Tribune.

Eau Claire: March 15, 7 p.m. Centennial Hall, Room 1614, UW-Eau Claire. Local sponsor: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, UW-Eau Claire chapter, Society of Professional Journalists

Wausau: March 16, 10 a.m. Marathon County Public Library. Local sponsor: Wausau Daily Herald-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Green Bay: March 16, 2 p.m. Green Bay Public Library. Local Sponsor: Green Bay Press-Gazette-USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN

Appleton: March 16, 7:30 p.m. Appleton Public Library. Local sponsor: Appleton Post-Crescent-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Sheboygan: March 17, 10 a.m. Sheboygan Public Library. Local sponsor: Sheboygan Press-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Waukesha: March 17, 2 p.m, Waukesha Public Library. Local sponsor: Schott, Bublitz and Engel S.C.

Janesville: March 17, 7 p.m. Blackhawk Technical College. Local sponsor: Janesville Gazette

Analysis: Despite job losses, Republicans focus on right-wing and anti-environmental agenda ahead of elections

Despite the recent revelation that Wisconsin lost 10,000 jobs in 2015 — the biggest loss since the recession — Republican lawmakers returned to Madison after their holiday recess with everything but jobs on their minds.

They continued last week focusing their efforts on the agenda they followed last year, when they: rolled back the political reforms of the last century to shroud government operations in secrecy; barred prosecutors from using secretive John Doe investigative tactics against politicians; and reworked campaign finance laws to allow yet more dark money into the political process. With that partisan main agenda accomplished, the next few months will be about passing bills that appease the state’s far right. They want to shore up their conservative credentials and ward off potential challengers in the August primary.

They’ll have to move fast. The last floor debate days are scheduled for late April, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants his chamber to wrap up by the end of February. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hopes to finish in March.

One of the first orders of business for the Senate will be passing a bill that overhauls the state’s 110-year-old civil service system on Jan. 20. The bill eliminates exams for applicants and would end bumping rights that have protected more experienced workers from losing their jobs. The system was adopted to safeguard against cronyism and corruption in state hiring practices, and Democrats maintain that the measure would usher in a new era of turning state jobs into rewards for political supporters.

Also awaiting action is a proposal that would ban research using tissue from fetuses aborted after Jan. 1, 2015, and prohibit the commercial sale of fetal tissue. Researchers have complained the measure could chill work on potentially life-saving cures and treatments. The law would also damage the burgeoning biomedical research economy in Madison, which is one of the state’s only economic success stories.

Republicans have already shored up their support among anti-choice voters by passing bills banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and stripping Planned Parenthood of $3.5 million in federal funding. The fetal tissue ban, although it would destroy jobs, would energize religious right voters even more.

Also on the agenda is an Assembly bill limiting the ability of transgender citizens to use public restrooms. It would force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender at birth rather than their chosen gender expression. Opponents insist the bill violates federal civil rights law, but it’s a red-meat issue for Christian fundamentalists.

Despite the fact that the United States recorded more than one mass shooting for every day in 2015, the GOP also wants to allow guns in more public places. Rep. Jesse Kremer and Sen. Devin LeMahieu have introduced a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into college buildings. They say the measure would make campuses safer.

University of Wisconsin leaders oppose the bill. Vos said the measure probably isn’t going anywhere in his house. Fitzgerald hinted the bill was all but dead in the Senate as well, saying it would be tough to take it up without Assembly support.

Republicans also are working on a measure that would allow lawmakers to impose special requirements such as withdrawal limits in areas where high-capacity wells are depleting groundwater. Farmers say the bill would make the well permitting process more uncertain.

The GOP also has drawn up bills that would make it easier for big polluters and environmentally destructive developers to operate in the state. The law would ease the regulatory path for development on water bodies. It would also take away power from local governments by barring counties from enacting county-wide development bans. Vos has said he likes the property rights bill.

Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate said they’re bracing for a frustrating four months. Republicans need to focus on real issues and help the middle class by boosting wages and creating more jobs, they said.

“(The Republicans are) just so brazen in terms of their willingness to feather their own nest without doing anything significant for the people of this state,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said.

Vos countered that he has created three task forces addressing how to bolster resources for dementia, urban education and preparing young people for the workforce. He also pointed out the state budget gives schools $69 million more in 2016-17.

After blistering criticism, Wisconsin’s GOP lawmakers backtrack on effort to gut open records law

Reacting to an avalanche of outrage from conservatives and progressives alike, Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP legislative leaders have had a sudden change of heart and agreed to remove from the proposed state budget a measure that would have all but eliminated the state’s open records laws.

The law would have made secret from the public everything created by state and local government officials, including drafts of legislation and communications with staff.

“Gov. Walker and his office are trying to muzzle all the watchdogs in this state,” said Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, in response to the proposal, which was tucked into the budget by Republican leaders without prior notice, much less debate. Republicans have refused to identify who’s behind the effort.

Even Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel blasted his colleagues over the attack on open records. Schimel said “transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the budget bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction.”

Schimel has gone in the opposite direction, helping to shore up government transparency by launching the Office of Open Government in June, which is designed to makde government records more easily accessible to the public.

All states have some form of open records laws, although they vary in strength and enforcement mechanisms.

Wisconsin’s open records law has become a thorn in the side of Walker, who’s announcing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination on July 13. Some of his critics have speculated that he wants to shield his record from the eyes of reporters and opposition researchers as his presidential campaign gets underway.

For instance, among the issues that have dogged Walker recently is the failure of a job creation agency he created and chaired. Using the state’s open records law, the Wisconsin State Journal discovered that the agency — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — made a loan to one of Walker’s top donors.

That report led other media organizations, including The Associated Press, to look into the matter, and the agency also came under scrutiny from the Legislature.

Republicans’ attempt to cripple the open records law comes fast on the heels of their attempt last month to get rid of the Legislative Audit Bureau, a bipartisan agency that has provided citizens and lawmakers alike with honest, reliable investigations of waste, fraud, abuse, inefficiencies and cronyism in state government since 1966.

After bipartisan outrage, Republicans also dropped that proposal from the budget.

Walker told reporters before an Independence Day parade in of Wauwatosa yesterday morning that he planned to discuss the open records issue with legislative leaders after the weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“My hope is, that after talking with them on Monday, we get to the point where it’s either out completely or there’s significant changes to it,” he said.

But they didn’t wait until Monday. Later that same day, Walker suddenly shifted course and announced the decision to drop the open records proposal in a joint statement with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and the co-chairs of the joint budget committee.

“After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state’s open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety,” the statement said. “… The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.”

Walker didn’t specifically say in Wauwatosa whether he and his office were involved in crafting the proposed changes, whether he objected to them in advance, or specifically say who proposed the overhaul. The joint statement didn’t address those points either.

Growing backlash over Republicans’ attempt to make Wisconsin government records secret

[UPDATED link at bottom of story]

Opposition mounted Friday to a surprise Republican budget measure that would exempt from Wisconsin open records laws nearly everything created by state and local government officials, including drafts of legislation and communications with staff.

The 24-page measure passed late Thursday night in the state’s budget committee on a 12-4 vote with only Republicans voting for it. Democrats on the committee decried the sudden insertion of changes that hadn’t been publicly discussed. The full Legislature, and GOP Gov. Scott Walker, still must sign off before they become law.

A day later, a backlash began with civil liberties advocates and lawmakers from both parties expressing opposition to the provisions. In a rare front-page July 4 editorial, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, slammed the proposal as “a declaration of secrecy.”

“Gov. Walker and his office are trying to muzzle all the watchdogs in this state,” said Brendan Fischer, General Counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy said.

Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement Friday that the governor would meet with legislative leaders to make changes to the provisions before they reach the full Legislature. She didn’t immediately specify what the changes would be.

The open records flap emerged just 10 days before Walker is expected to formally announce on July 13 his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Walker had hoped to wrap up dealings with the Wisconsin Legislature by now to turn his attention to the 2016 race but the session has dragged on without a budget approved for the new fiscal year.

Among the issues that have dogged Walker recently is the performance of a job creation agency he championed. The Wisconsin State Journal used the open records law that Republicans are now trying to tighten to report in May that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation made a loan to one of Walker’s top donors. The report led other media organizations, including The Associated Press, to look into the matter and the agency has faced scrutiny from the Legislature.

See update: Lawmakers backtrack on effort to gut open records law