Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another Needed Reform and A "Deform" Proposal Wisconsinites Need to Address

Reform Update
January 22, 2013

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - January 22, 2013

1. Former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is Now Contract Lobbyist Jeff Fitzgerald
2. Yet Another Scheme to Try to Rig Elections

After the November election last year, the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board met and hammered out a list of reform priorities that we are pursuing in 2013 -- with redistricting reform at the top of the list. We will have much more to say about those initiatives in the weeks ahead.

But a couple of other critical issues have come across our radar screen and need to be on yours as well, as a result of breaking news developments in the new year.

Please add these concerns to the long list of issues that those of us who care about honest, responsive and accountable government and public policy need to be acting upon:

1. Republican Jeff Fitzgerald was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 2000 and rose to become the Assembly Speaker in 2011 -- orchestrating one of the most tumultuous and divisive legislative sessions in Wisconsin's history. Then, last year, he made a seemingly halfhearted run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, finishing a distant fourth in the field of four major candidates (behind Tommy Thompson, Eric Hovde and Mark Neumann). Some observers suggested that Fitzgerald ran, not to win, but rather to increase his statewide visibility to help him when he changed careers to do what he was really intending to do all along -- become a well-compensated Capitol lobbyist.

In early January, newly-former Speaker Fitzgerald registered to lobby for School Choice Wisconsin which has also hired another former Republican Speaker-turned lobbyist, John Gard of Peshtigo. This organization also have ties to yet another former GOP Assembly Speaker -- the disgraced Scott Jensen, who was criminally charged in the infamous Legislative Caucus Scandal that engulfed state government in 2001-2002.

Fitzgerald Consulting, LLC of Horicon, Wisconsin may attract other well-heeled clients besides the lavishly funded School Choice organization because of the perception that a recent Assembly Speaker still has a lot of influence and clout with his former colleagues in the majority party in the Legislature. Clearly, Fitzgerald would have an advantage in advancing the interests of those clients better than other, less well-connected, lobbyists.

Which is exactly the problem.

Jeff Fitzgerald is hardly the first legislator to cash in immediately after leaving the Wisconsin Legislature. But he ought to be the last.

Since 1997, CC/WI has advocated for at least a one-year "cooling off" period for an ex-legislator before he or she begins influencing his or her former legislative colleagues. For a number of years our champion on this legislation was former Republican State Representative Stephen Freese of Dodgeville. We are currently searching for a new champion. Of either political party. Legislators of both parties ought to support this.

Minnesota has a one-year "cooling off" period for legislators; in Iowa, it is two years. Michigan has a limited cooling off period which needs to be extended according to observers there, but in Wisconsin there is nothing. We do have a one-year cooling off period for state public officials, but not legislators.

Most of the 50 other states have something stronger than Wisconsin. Even states like Alabama and Louisiana -- not usually known as pillars of "good government" -- have two-year cooling off periods for legislators. Mississippi, usually the worst state in the nation for almost anything, has a one-year cooling off period. Why not Wisconsin? Take a look at what other states do and see for yourself how far behind Wisconsin lags in this area -- as we do in so many others. There is even a one-year cooling off period for Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. But again, nothing in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Journal issued a powerful editorial recently calling for a one-year cooling off period for legislators before they can begin strong-arming their former legislative colleagues (and the editorial cited CC/WI's efforts in this struggle). That editorial was re-run in newspapers all over the state in recent days including the La Crosse Tribune, the Appleton Post Crescent, the Stevens Point Journal, the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and others.

2. In November, 2012, President Barack Obama won re-election with 332 electoral votes over challenger Mitt Romney, who won 206 electoral votes. Obama also easily out-polled Romney in the popular vote count by more than 4.5 million votes nationwide. So Obama won a significant majority on both counts, unlike in 2000, when Texas Governor George W. Bush lost the nationwide popular vote by 543,895 to Vice President Al Gore but was awarded Florida, and a 271 to 266 electoral college vote victory and thereby, the U.S. Presidency in a 5 to 4 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

A number of very high level Republicans are not only very unhappy with the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election -- which was described by many neutral observers as an Obama landslide -- but they are working on a scheme to ensure that a Democratic Presidential candidate will not win the Presidency any time soon -- even if they win a plurality of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral college votes under the current system.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, new Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and, most significantly, failed Wisconsin State Senate candidate in 2002 and the current Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Preibus, have all spoken favorably of this partisan scheme to change 224 years of American law -- dating back to George Washington -- with regard to how we elect the President of the United States.

The scheme? To award the electoral votes to a candidate on the basis of who wins the most votes in each congressional district instead of the 224-year old provision in law that awards a state's electoral votes to the candidate for the Presidency who wins the most votes in that state. And of course the reason these Republicans want to do this is because Republicans currently hold a majority of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and are likely to maintain that majority for years to come because of the partisan gerrymandering (redistricting) of congressional and state legislative districts that occurred in 2010 by majority Republican Legislatures all around the nation, including in Wisconsin.

Had this been in place in Wisconsin in 2012, Obama, despite winning the popular vote in the state by more than 205,000, would not have taken all of our 10 electoral votes. Romney won a majority in five of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts so he would have been awarded five electoral votes and Obama five -- one for each of the three congressional districts in which he had more votes than Romney and the two electoral votes alloted to every state for their two U.S. Senate seats -- which are awarded to the candidate who tallies the most popular votes in the state.

How is that fair?

If you have not done so already, you must read this excellent exposé by Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy on this critical matter.

*   *   *

What can you do about this and about the disgraceful revolving door situation we currently have in Wisconsin with regard to legislators being able to immediately cash in and lobby their former colleagues?

Contact both your State Senator and your State Representative; their addresses, emails and phone numbers can be found in the State Senate and Assembly directories. If you are not sure who your state legislators are, you can look them up here.

Here is the message to legislators on the revolving door problem: "Wisconsin Legislators ought to have to wait at least a year before they can lobby their former colleagues. Support legislation to require a one-year "cooling off" period. Better yet, please take the initiative yourself and initiate legislation that would accomplish this!"

Here is another message to call, write or e-mail to both your State Senator and your State Representative: "Any scheme that would award the electoral votes for President to a candidate on the basis of who wins a congressional district rather than who wins the entire state and the most votes is fraudulent and undemocratic. If such a measure is introduced in Wisconsin, I demand that you oppose and speak out against it."

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

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