November 5, 2015

The system is rigged

By Sen. Lena Taylor

On Election Day in Milwaukee in 1865, a normal man did a pretty extraordinary thing; he went to vote. Except, in 1865, black Wisconsinites were not allowed to vote. Ezekiel Gillespie didn’t stop there. After being denied the right to vote, he took his case all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and won.

That was then. We drive cars now. We have air conditioning and indoor plumbing now. But prejudice and racism still exists, it’s just disguised a little bit better.

Fast forward to Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. The challenges we face are no longer fighting for the right to vote, it’s fighting to preserve our right to vote and Democracy in the process.

Conservatives learned from Ezekiel Gillespie that if you can’t stop people who disagree with you, then rig the system to diminish their influence. Just look at the policies Republicans have passed since Governor Walker was elected just four short years ago.

First, they busted the public employee unions and then followed that up with “right to work” to do the same to private sector unions. Don’t believe a word of their rhetoric. They weren’t fighting for “choice” in the workplace. They weren’t trying to solve a budget deficit. They wanted to bust the unions because unions donate more of their money to Democratic campaigns than Republican campaigns.

Then they passed the photo ID for voting law. Photo ID for voting will make it harder for people to vote. But who? Black voters are most likely to be effected according to a UW-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute report. That report showed only 53 percent of black adults in Wisconsin hold a valid driver’s license, as compared to 85 percent of white adults.

It gets worse. When Republicans redrew the legislative district lines, they essentially ensured their party would stay in power for several years. If you are reading this and thinking this is just another conspiracy theory, look to the 2012 elections where Assembly Democratic candidates received over 174,000 more votes collectively than Republican candidates. Yet Republicans managed to win 60 of the 99 Assembly seats that election cycle. There is only one reason Republicans got beaten so badly, and yet still won almost two-thirds of our State Assembly; they rigged the district boundaries to benefit their candidates in swing districts.

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that Republicans aren’t done yet. Friday, Republicans have called an extraordinary session in the Senate to pass two bills that will rig the system even more in favor of Republican candidates. I’ll get to the good news in a minute.

The first bill is a comprehensive campaign finance bill that doubles campaign finance donation limits, makes it easier for special interest groups to coordinate with candidates and makes it harder to figure out who is donating to campaigns. In many instances, candidates are already running for office and Republicans want to change the campaign finance rules in the middle of the election.

The second bill demolishes the Government Accountability Board. The board, run by a nonpartisan group of retired judges, has become a national model. Yet, Republicans are destroying the board as retribution for the board’s investigations into Governor Scott Walker’s shady ethics practices.

Even in their attempt to rig the system in their favor, they are using parliamentary tricks to write the rules in their favor by calling us in under “extraordinary” session rules. Those rules limit our ability to slow down these dangerous bills. In fact, the only thing extraordinary about his process the great lengths Republicans are going to in order to further rig the rules in their favor.

A few paragraphs ago, I promised you good news. Well, the good news is that there is an important lesson to learn from Ezekiel Gillespie’s courageous persistence. I’m not backing down from fighting for fairness and equality and I hope you don’t either. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Together, we can fight to restore fairness and equality in our elections.