In The News
From courts to recalls, political trickery abounds
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted June 15, 2011
My current lowest of the low should include the conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but you don’t beat up on ducks because they quack.
All they did June 14 -- transparently if you read the hasty arguments within the decision -- was the long expected bidding of their Republican masters. They rushed through the legislature’s right to emasculate collective bargaining for pubic workers. Common sense suggests the GOP majority should have consulted more widely, thought more deeply and sought greater input, behaviors expected in a decent society, but not required under state law according to the court. So the 4-3 majority rode one simple concept over the cliff – the public be damned because the legislature has unfettered power to make law until someone can prove constitutional injury (which is always down the road), and as long as the door for public comment was kept open a wee crack.
Of course, don’t expect the court to take the same attitude in the inevitability of Democrats taking control of the legislature. Then these justices are likely to pontificate about a stronger role for the judiciary.
The dissenters protested the careless reasoning quite devastatingly and suggested diplomatically that if you’re going to trample the public’s rights and the open meeting law barrier the legislature itself set up, then at the very least you should go through a fuller appeals and proof process rather than proclaiming evidence that doesn’t exist.
But still, did this really surprise anyone? Consider the party background and funding of the conservative majority, the week of pointed threats from the GOP that they had better act by that Tuesday if they knew what was good for their coffers. The vaunted democratic system of checks and balances clearly evaporates when you’re worried about getting more checks.
Despite the crowing of the Republicans who in effect gave their servants on the court an ultimatum to act, this was neither unanticipated nor even deeply offensive to many Democrats or unions. It was long expected they would face this do or die motivation to focus on the recall elections.
And they are hardly unhappy to go to the polls in the next few weeks against Republicans who just voted to raise taxes on the working poor, turn teachers into second-class citizens, balloon the waiting lists for effective FamilyCare, give tax breaks to the rich while forcing children to make do with hundreds of dollars less in their over-crowded classrooms, and insist that environmental protection and cleaner water are too costly for oil and mining companies. It’s like God’s gift to the Democratic campaigners.
In the final budget votes, the GOP is backpedaling like crazy around the edges of Walker’s ideology, reversing field to accept federal money for rural broadband access, refusing to eliminate recycling, tweaking and twisting like mad as more and more voters recognize the consequence of ever putting them in charge. No wonder they couldn't get together on details in today's secret Assembly meetings.
That’s why disappointment over the court ruling is balanced by the ability to hold Republicans to account for foolish votes. Anger turns into recall fuel and more energy for the pending actions in federal and state courts. Several lawsuits are reportedly ready to go on pretty sizable constitutional grounds.
At least the Supremes in their obeisance to majority control deflected my personal sorrow at another group that was on my target list of shame – political operatives. And dare I, as an acknowledged liberal, make it clear that I was disappointed in some Democrat operative as well, though I understand how they were driven to interference in the electoral process by the brazen antics of the Republicans.
The first eradication of political decency came from the state GOP and the Fitzegerald twins when they sought fake Dems to delay judgment day for Republicans at the ballot box – and then celebrated this treating voters like sheep and demeaning of the electoral process. They tried to justify their behavior by blaming the Democrats for starting it – and sad to say a few caustic journalists and talk radio devotees joined them. But how silly to equate the thousands protesting in Madison -- or 14 Democrats who removed themselves from a forced quorum – with coercing elderly Republicans and Tea Party activists to lie about their party affiliation and pose as Democrats to steal away votes.
It was public fury that brought about recall elections, and it was GOP snickers that will add probably half a million dollars in taxpayer costs to turn all six July elections into Democratic primaries, merely to protect Republicans not ready to face the piper, giving them until at least Aug. 9 to raise more money and hope the anger at what they had just passed would dissipate.
Truly smart Democrats rose above shenanigans and scorned them, notably Rep. Sandy Pasch, who was eager to face incumbent Sen. Alberta Darling in July but now seems delayed a month by the presence of a longtime Darling supporter posing as a Democrat. Pasch figured, quite rightly in my view, that the more citizens saw the extent of fear and over-reach in the GOP ranks, the greater the disgust they would exhibit at the polls – even into vacation time August.
But there were operatives in the state Democratic Party less sure. They did agree to leave fakery to the Republicans but they worried that if all the July elections were not primaries, the Republicans could pile money into the few that were real final contests. They didn’t trust the Republicans not to game all the races with fake Dems and crossover votes. So without consulting candidates like Pasch, they conceived a philosophy of placeholder Democrats -- real Dems who would not campaign but would create uniform primaries July 12 no matter what fake Dems did or didn’t emerge.
But by doing that, they have let the media report that there is an equivalence between Republican tricks and Democrat invention. It may not be the same but the best advice was ignored – stay way from any tomfoolery and expose the Republicans as the scoundrels and spendthrifts mocking the electorate.
Political operatives get wound up in defeating the opposition in every press release, discussion and decision. Maybe they ought to sympathize with the pressure on other people, like judges, deal honestly with all the temptations for second-guessing in the political arena that tends to subdue moral balance and principled values.
While the Republicans were clearly the craven, no one should have been co-opted into joining the game, and the voters now may not make the clean distinction between the two sides they once could.
But I shouldn't preach. After all, I’m a journalist, and more and more it’s my profession that looks like the lower than the low. Start weighing how many so-called journalists actually seem to have their thumb on the scale of fact gathering, succumb to editors’ bias in their reporting, think more about ratings or readership than the real story. All that is going on while the public desperately needs them to clarify all these complex pieces of legislation, all these political games, all these conflicting motivations that make the atmosphere in Wisconsin anything but simple soundbites.
So I expected no more from the conservative court than we got; I am dismayed by the ways of political operatives. But I’m saving my disgust for my own kind.