October 15, 2015

Rigging the balance of power

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Governor Walker is back in Wisconsin from his failed Republican Presidential bid. That can either be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it.

On one hand, our Governor is finally able to dedicate himself fully to fixing Wisconsin’s problems.

On the other hand, Governor Walker has a lot more time to create a lot more problems here at home.

That’s exactly what is happening at the Capitol this week. We’ve begun to see legislative movement on a few key Republican bills that will dramatically change how we elect lawmakers, judges and local office holders.

The first bill would deconstruct the Government Accountability Board. The bill would split the agency from one entity that oversees government ethics and elections into two separate commissions. Each commission would be run by partisan political appointees instead of the nonpartisan retired judges who currently run the Government Accountability Board.

Does it sound familiar to you that Republicans want to put partisan political appointees in charge of our elections and ethics commissions? That is the structure we had until just a few legislative sessions ago, when a group of bipartisan policymakers created the Government Accountability Board. At least many Republicans are being honest that this bill is political payback for the John Doe investigation against Governor Walker. I believe Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said it best when he said, “Republicans want to turn our nationally respected system of nonpartisan watchdogs into partisan lapdogs.”

Another key bill would double campaign donation limits, open the floodgates to corporate contributions and expand the money people can give to political parties. Essentially, the bill will create the best democracy money can buy.

But these two bills are just the icing on the cake in the Republican plan to stay in power. Remember, one of Walker’s first moves as our Governor was to bust public employee unions. Then, he was caught on camera saying he would “divide and conquer” when it came to public sector unions. Now that he has made Wisconsin a “right to work” state, it looks like he has succeeded in his efforts. But why did he do it?

As with most instances, it’s not what Gov. Walker says, it’s what he means. He said he busted the public employee unions to save money and he said he did the same to the private unions to give workers a choice. I don’t believe either to be true. I think he went after unions because he knows unions tend to be more supportive of Democrats. If you take away your opponent’s political donors, it’s easier to stay in power. 

I also believe staying in power was the very reason for our photo ID for voting law too. Just look at who doesn’t have a valid ID in Wisconsin. They tend to be college students, low income individuals, seniors and people of color. It is no secret these groups tend to vote more for Democrats than Republicans. They said the law was intended to clamp down on voter fraud. Yet, absent any real pattern of fraud, I’m left to conclude Republicans were really trying to disenfranchise voters so they could continue to win elections.

The pattern goes on and on. Take the partisan redistricting process we went through in 2012. Under the lines drawn by Republicans, Assembly Democrats collectively won about 174,000 more votes than Assembly Republicans. Yet, Assembly Republicans magically won 60 seats to the Democrats’ 39. In redistricting, Republicans clearly created the best district lines possible for their political party, not for our democracy.

These laws all seem geared towards rigging our election system so Republicans can stay in office. It is sad to see we have reached a time when your elected officials are no longer policymakers and statesmen and stateswomen, but instead just another bunch of politicians.

No matter what the issue most important to you is, I assure you this type of corruption will change the face of all our laws. No policy area is safe under this style of legalized election rigging. I know the prospects of turning the tide may seem dim. But if there is anything you should know about me, it’s that I will keep fighting on the side of justice.

As the Mahatma Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” These may be difficult times, but it’s up to you and I to keep fighting. Together, we will win.