Thursday, November 10, 2011

Political Reform Draws Big Crowd in Oshkosh / Protecting the GAB

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - November 11, 2011

  1. Standing Room Only in Oshkosh
  2. Keeping the Government Accountability Board Independent and Effective
  3. Should We Continue to Elect or Should We Consider Appointing State Supreme Court Justices?

1. This past Monday evening more than 200 citizens in Oshkosh attended another Common Cause in Wisconsin forum entitled "What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin -- and How Can We Fix it?"

Just two weeks before the Oshkosh forum a capacity crowd of 160 attended a similar forum in Wausau.

Clearly there is great hunger throughout the state for reforming Wisconsin's current political system that has been denigrated and assaulted in the last year in particular.

 In 2011, Governor Scott Walker and his legislative allies totally wiped out Wisconsin's once effective public financing system -- including the less-than-two-year-old Impartial Justice Law which had set spending limits and eliminated troubling and conflicting private campaign contributions to candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They blocked a rule that would have required outside special interest groups to disclose the donors supplying the tens of millions of dollars of special interest group spending that dominated the Supreme Court election last spring and the State Senate Recall elections last summer -- and which will flow again in the upcoming Recall election of Walker later this fall, winter and spring. They imposed on Wisconsin the most extreme and restrictive Voter Photo ID law in the entire United States -- more restrictive than Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina! And they have done more damage to Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law, installed political appointments in the top rungs of the Executive Branch, tried to eviscerate the power of the independent Government Accountability Board (more on that below) and more.

The citizens of Oshkosh on November 7th (and in Wausau on October 24th) were clearly concerned. The three legislators who participated in the panel in Oshkosh were visibly surprised by the huge turnout and interest in these issues. The panelists included CC/WI Director Jay Heck, Democratic State Senator Jessica King, Democratic State Representative Gordon Hintz and Republican State Representative Richard Spanbauer. Also on the panel were former Republican Assembly candidate Jonathan Krause and UW-Oshkosh Professors Tony Palmeri (communications) and Jim Simmons (political science). Jim Fitizhenry, the managing editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern moderated the discussion. There were many questions and comments from the audience which consisted of citizens of all ages from UW-Oshkosh and from Oshkosh and many surrounding communities.

For coverage of the forum go here and here and here. To watch the Oshkosh forum in its entirety, see Wisconsin Eye's coverage of the event here.

2. Since the beginning of the year, Governor Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers have attempted to weaken state agency rule-making authority and legislative oversight of those agencies. They have passed a law giving the Governor veto authority over administrative rules promulgated by state agencies - a function that formerly had been the exclusive province of the Legislature and -- in particular -- the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR).

In 2010, JCRAR did not object to a rule promulgated by the independent Government Accountability Board (GAB) that required outside special interest groups to disclose their donors for widely-disseminated communications intended to influence the outcome of an election and made 60 days or less before an election. This common sense rule was blocked by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August of 2010 and then totally eliminated earlier this year by a JCRAR under new leadership -- State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) in collusion with the Walker Administration.

The GAB was established in 2007 and was devised to be independent and non-partisan by its architect -- State Senator Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) together with CC/WI, which led the effort to get it considered and passed in the Legislature. But that independence is under assault.

Read this excellent editorial from Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal which calls for the passage and enactment into law legislation that would provide the GAB with a greater measure of independence - Assembly Bill 355, introduced by State Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) and State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). Call your legislators and urge them to support this important legislation.

Yesterday, the GAB acted very courageously and voted unanimously to reverse a previous position they had taken. The GAB now says that Wisconsin Techincal College identification cards should be an accepted form of photo ID that can be shown at the polls. They also now say that stickers can be put on existing student ID cards at Wisconsin's colleges and universities to satisfy a ridiculous new expiration date requirement included in the new and horrific Voter Photo ID Law. For more on this development go here.

3. In the wake of last spring's $6 million vicious election for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court -- and with the repeal by Governor Walker and state legislative Republicans of the Impartial Justice Law which provided public financing and spending limits for State Supreme Court elections -- are elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court still viable and tenable? Or should Wisconsin look at a merit selection process for Supreme Court Justices like many other states, including Iowa and Missouri have? Or should there be a hybrid of the two very different systems?

CC/WI Director Jay Heck was a panelist at a Milwaukee forum recently that considered this question. Former State Supreme Court candidate (1997) Walt Kelly was also on the panel that appeared on Wisconsin Public Television. You can view the forum here. Let us know what you think!

Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

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