Earlier this year, the Republican dominated Wisconsin legislature did Gov. Scott Walker’s bidding and elided The Wisconsin Idea from the University of Wisconsin system’s mission statement. The Wisconsin Idea had been part of the statutes for well over a century and promised this:
Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.
You can see why this scared the Walker Administration: education, search for truth, public service. Not welcome in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin! The Walker Way overrides the Wisconsin Way and the Wisconsin Idea.
The outcry was fierce and Walker had to back down … the change was withdrawn (and blamed on a staffer, which is also the Walker Way).
Lesson learned, right? No. It. Was. Not.
On Thursday night, right before the long holiday weekend, Walker’s GOP legislature snuck a provision into the omnibus Budget Bill they were “crafting”, a provision that would essentially repeal the state’s Open Record Law. When this change was exposed by the Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee and questioned by the press, the Republican leaders refused to identify who had asked for the change. But you don’t have to dig deep to realize that the Open Records laws were behind the surprising interest of the normally docile press in Wisconsin, in investigating irregularities in WEDC, an agency set up by Walker to pick winners and losers in the economy with a special focus in including Walker campaign donors in the winners circle.
The outcry was even more fierce this time and came from some surprising places: the teaparty Attorney General and the right-wing talk show radio hosts in Milwaukee who created Scott Walker as an empty vessel to fill with their ideology. There had been signs that the right-wing talkers were realizing they had used Abby Normal’s brain when they built their Frankenstein and this time they Tweeted their dismay and spoke out in editorials, one on the front page of the normally pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This is what intimidation looks like:
In a sudden reversal amid a stinging backlash, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislative leaders said they agreed Saturday to completely remove a part of the proposed state budget that would severely roll back open records laws.
Walker announced the decision in a joint statement Saturday with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and the co-chairs of the joint budget committee. They said that they’re committed to open and accountable government.
“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 had previously] told reporters before an Independence Day parade in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa on Saturday morning that he planned to discuss the matter with legislative leaders after the weekend, the 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.
The joint statement, issued at mid-afternoon on Saturday, made it clear that they didn’t wait.
Here is a snippet from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial that may have alerted Walker to the seriousness of his overreach:
Secrecy may be good for powerful legislators such as Nygren or for his co-chair, state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). And secrecy may be just fine for legislators who don’t want the public to know what they are doing or with whom they are working.
But secrecy is a plague on citizens. These proposals would set back by decades the cause of open government in Wisconsin. Any representative who votes to approve a budget containing such broad limits on the public’s right to know is not fit to hold office. […]
Public servants do the public’s business. This is not some private company run by private managers. This is your government.
These records belong to the public. They belong to you.
And these are your public servants. You can act to restrain them.
Please, call and write the legislative leaders who want to decrease your power by increasing their own. Tell them to stop trying to hide their secret deals and special favors from you.
An editorial by the conservative Lakeland Times also cut them no slack: Our View: The Wisconsin Republican Party: Corruption, cronyism, and sleaze
It is nothing less than the attempted murder of honest government, and the perpetrators of it deserve the political equivalent of the death sentence: recall. To that end, the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), need to come clean and tell the world who authored this attack on democratic principles.
If they won’t, they need to be recalled.
As our readers are aware, we are not in favor of recall elections except in the most extreme and egregious instances, where potentially criminal or unethical behavior is involved. And that’s what we have in this instance, an extreme and egregious attempt to provide cover for those who would work against the public interest, either illegally or unethically.[…]
At the end of the day, the Republican Party of Wisconsin looks corrupt. That’s the perception and maybe it’s the reality. Coupled with crony sleaze over at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, well, there’s something smelling awfully rotten down in Madison.
We remind readers that there are Republicans who are conservatives, and Republicans who are not, and it’s the latter group that tends to run the Legislature as a private club.
What’s going on inside the club they don’t want us to know, but it doesn’t pass the smell test. After all, why try to hide the workings of government from its taxpayer owners unless the workers are up to no good?
Imagine trying to own and run a business in which you could fire no workers nor participate in the development of business strategies. Imagine not being able to hold your employees accountable or even have the right to be informed about how they were running your business.
In such a scenario, could you really be called the owner? Or would you be nothing more than a gullible investor who is being taken for a ride? Such is the situation taxpayers find themselves in. We don’t even know who wrote the budget language, and JFC leadership isn’t telling us. […]
… we have a message for the Republicans: You’ve lost serious trust and credibility. It will be a long road back, and it will have to be earned.
Here in Wisconsin, you can gut all the laws you want, but the people will still be watching … and voting.
Telling your legislators to stop hiding the truth … and voting. Now that’s the Wisconsin Way.
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