Madison, Dane County

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Common Cause in Wisconsin Opposes Measure Designed to Take Down Chief Justice Abrahamson



Statement of Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin

In Opposition to

Senate Joint Resolution 2
Directing the Wisconsin Supreme Court to
Elect its Chief Justice Every Two Years

Before the Wisconsin State Senate Committee
on Judiciary and Public Safety

January 15, 2015


I am Jay Heck, the director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, one of the state’s largest non-partisan, non-profit political reform advocacy organizations with approximately 2,300 members. We oppose Senate Joint Resolution 2 because it is so transparently ideologically partisan and is obviously designed to remove from the position of Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court one specific individual: the current Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson.

Common Cause in Wisconsin strongly believes that there are already far too many partisan political considerations surrounding and infusing the current deliberations and elections of our state’s highest court and that this measure will only exacerbate, rather than decrease and diffuse ideological differences. We are concerned that citizen confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has already fallen considerably in recent years according to public opinion polls, will plummet still further if this proposal is passed in the Wisconsin Legislature and then sent to statewide referendum in what will almost certainly be a very politically ideological and divisive statewide campaign, as early as this April. All of us can readily predict the outside special interest groups that will spend hundreds of thousands, and likely millions of dollars primarily in the form of nasty, negative attack communications on the airwaves and in the mail on top of the millions likely to be spent on the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election this Spring.

It is also a certainty that this proposal, which passed in the 2013-2014 legislative session, and which is again before you today, would never have been devised or proposed if the current Chief Justice was named David Prosser, or Patience Roggensack, or Annette Ziegler, or Michael Gableman. But because the Chief Justice is named Shirley Abrahamson, and many members of the State Legislature simply cannot abide her views or philosophy, she has become the specific target of this ill-advised and ill-timed measure. If that were not the case and if the proposal was being made for non-ideological or non-personal reasons, it would contain a provision that would make this measure effective after the next election of Justice Abrahamson in 2019. But this proposal contains no such provision. It is targeted specifically at the current Chief Justice.

This measure also constitutes an obnoxious and intrusive assault by the Legislature on the separation of powers of the three branches of state government in Wisconsin. Dictating how the Wisconsin Supreme Court ought to select its Chief Justice is not something the Legislature ought to be deciding any more than the Wisconsin Supreme Court ought to be determining how the legislative leadership is selected.

This joint resolution, if it passes and if it is sent to referendum, ought to be seen by the citizens of Wisconsin as a partisan, petty measure that will further politicize an already far-too politicized State Supreme Court. It is not worthy of their consideration, much less their support. Senate Joint Resolution 2 ought not be advanced by this committee or by the Wisconsin Legislature, either.

Thank you.





CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org




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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not Such "A Wonderful Life" as Vos Now Agrees With Fitzgerald About How to Destroy the Non-Partisan Government Accountability Board



For Release: Wednesday - December 17, 2014

Vos Now Agrees With Fitzgerald About How to Destroy the
Non-Partisan Government Accountability Board

Legislative Leaders Emulate Henry Potter in Attempt to Take Over The G.A.B (The Bailey Building & Loan)


Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has made no secret of his misplaced disdain for the effective, non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the only non-partisan state agency in the nation that oversees state elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. Hailed as a national model by national election experts, the G.A.B. is under attack by Vos and by State Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) because it makes decisions based on the facts and merits of the issues it considers by six non-partisan retired judges. Vos and Fitzgerald want the G.A.B. making partisan decisions that favor the Republicans. They control everything else in state government and it irks them to no end that they do not yet control the G.A.B.

This is very much like how Henry Potter felt about George Bailey and the Building and Loan in the seasonal classic It's a Wonderful Life.

On Monday, Vos said he no longer favored only keeping the six non-partisan retired judges that constitute the G.A.B., but would be very open to doing what Fitzgerald has advocated – making the G.A.B. a partisan entity stacked with political appointments, including those by Fitzgerald and Vos. So now, the two Republican legislative leaders are in agreement about how to eviscerate the G.A.B., which was established less than eight years ago as a significant political reform devised by retiring State Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) with CC/WI and which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, including the support of both Vos and Fitzgerald.

Vos is using the pretext of a recent Legislative Audit Bureau of the G.A.B. which uncovered some issues that need to be addressed and corrected, but which in no way suggested that the G.A.B. needs to be destroyed and brought under legislative control as Vos and Fitzgerald and others seek to do.

This is an offensive and terrible initiative on the part of Vos and Fitzgerald. This past Sunday, the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized about why. Let's hope that those who seek to destroy the G.A.B., read this editorial, pause and rethink their current position before they act rashly and recklessly.

You need to add your voice to this coming debate by contacting both your State Senator and your State Representative and telling them to support the integrity and independence of the G.A.B. in its basic current form and that you oppose the effort by Vos and Fitzgerald to make it a partisan puppet agency. If you are not sure who your state legislators are, go here.

* * *

Common Cause in Wisconsin does an online "ask" for your financial support only at this time of year in order not to irritate you with constant, year-round pleas of support.

If you value our work and are able to help support us so that we can continue to be pro-active and effective, please consider making a year-end contribution to CC/WI. We would be very grateful to have your support! Here is how you can do so.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at
Common Cause in Wisconsin!







CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Impending Destruction of Wisconsin's Non-partisan, Independent Wisconsin G.A.B./More



Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update
Tuesday November 25, 2014




1.   Why Does Speaker Robin Vos hate the independent, non-partisan Government
      Accountability Board?

2.   Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform Push to Continue
3.   Flood of Last Minute Outside Secret Money Tips Assembly Election
4.   Thanksgiving Greetings


1. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) seems to display astonishing selective amnesia about why the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board was created as a non-partisan and independent state agency in 2007 to oversea the state's election, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.

Vos was elected to the Assembly in 2004, two years after the Legislative Caucus Scandal had erupted and brought down the top Democratic State Senate and Republican Assembly leaders (including Assistant Majority Leader Bonnie Ladwig who preceded Vos and had been his boss). That scandal was the impetus behind the creation of the G.A.B. because the State Elections Board and the State Ethics Board had utterly failed to investigate and uncover the unfolding corruption that was occurring under the Capitol dome for years before five top Democratic and Republican legislative leaders were criminally charged with felony and misdemeanor misconduct in public office in 2002.

Retiring State Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) devised the idea of establishing a non-partisan and independent agency to oversee elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics in the wake of the Caucus Scandal and CC/WI worked closely with him and other legislators to construct the legislation which passed with the votes of every Republican legislator in a Special Session in early 2007, including the vote of Vos and of State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) who has also said he wants to dismantle the G.A.B.

Why the change of heart by Vos and Fitzgerald? It turns out that legislative leaders want absolute power and don't like non-partisan, independent entities making decisions the leaders haven't approved of first. Vos, in particular, seems to really have a problem with an independent G.A.B. and its able and respected executive director, Kevin Kennedy, who has led the G.A.B. since its inception and who, for nearly 30 years prior to establishment of the G.A.B., had directed the partisan State Elections Board in a professional, non-partisan manner.

CC/WI weighed in against the Vos assault on G.A.B in this article that has appeared in many daily newspapers across the state. CC/WI Director Jay Heck also discussed this matter at length in this recent radio broadcast. CC/WI and others who value a non-partisan, independent G.A.B will be making a lot more noise about this in the weeks ahead before Vos and Fitzgerald move to destroy it next year.


2. Another reform that the citizens of Wisconsin sorely need and that Vos and Fitzgerald have thus far resisted and ignored is non-partisan redistricting reform based on what Iowa enacted into law in 1980.

Throughout the 2013-2014 legislative session, CC/WI led the statewide effort in support of Senate Bill 163 and Assembly Bill 185, identical legislative measures which garnered the editorial support of an unprecedented 19 daily Wisconsin newspaper editorial boards and a significant number of legislators. We have been talking to legislators about ensuring that identical legislation will be introduced in early 2015.

During the 2014 election season, CC/WI asked candidates who supported non-partisan redistricting reform to contact us and let us know of their support and many did. Here is a listing of those supporters who were elected on November 4th and who will be serving in the 2015-2016 Wisconsin Legislature (as well as those State Senators who support this reform but who were not up for election this year).


3. In 2012, State Rep. Mandy Wright was narrowly elected in what is one of just a handful of competitive state legislative districts left in Wisconsin after the hyper-partisan, secretive and expensive (to taxpayers) 2011 redistricting gerrymander.

In 2014, the election was expected to be close again and it was – Wright lost to Republican Dave Heaton by 86 votes. But the vote tally doesn't tell the whole story. A deluge of outside special interest money, most of it secret, poured into Wausau during the final weeks of the campaign attacking Wright. By some estimates, the figure could be as high as $250,000. Less than $100 was spent in Wright's behalf by outside groups. Heaton also received a surge of late money for his own campaign. Total spending in this single Assembly election approached $500,000 with Wright being outspent by more than a 3 to 1 margin. An Assembly district in Wisconsin contains less than 60,000 citizens.

Last week, we invited Mandy Wright to come before the CC/WI State Governing Board meeting in the Capitol to tell us what happened and what, if any lessons, could be learned from this onslaught of outside special interest money in this Assembly election. Wisconsin Eye filmed her appearance and you can view and/or listen to it here.


4. Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays because it gives CC/WI an opportunity to thank all of the many good citizens, members of the media and elected officials who support honest, accountable and transparent state government and politics, and who have honored CC/WI with their support and encouragement.

So to all of you – as well as to all those who may disagree with us but who still want what is best for Wisconsin – the State Governing Board and staff of Common Cause in Wisconsin wish you a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!




CONTACT:

Jay Heck

608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)


Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org

Read More...