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How to Hijack the Government in Six Easy Steps

Walker's radical extremists stole your state

Dec. 21, 2011
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Lord Acton once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So when Gov. Scott Walker was elected last fall and Republicans took over in both houses of the state Legislature, they took full advantage of their hold on power in Madison and hijacked the government.

Here's how they did it:

Step 1: Declare an Emergency

“We're broke,” newly elected Gov. Scott Walker declared when he released his budget-repair bill in February, which stripped public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights and cut their pay.

But Walker's dirty little secret was that the state wasn't broke.

Wisconsin didn't even need a budget repair bill.

Walker insisted on declaring an economic emergency and assaulting workers' rights as a way to implement his radical political agenda, living proof of what journalist Naomi Klein calls “the shock doctrine.”

The state is required to balance its budget each cycle, and when it has a shortfall at the end of the two-year cycle, the administration must create a budget repair bill to fill the gap until the next budget is enacted.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that Walker's budget repair bill was unnecessary because the state did not have a deficit at the end of the fiscal year. But Walker's budget repair bill wasn't about the budget. It was about kneecapping his political rivals—public employee unions—and imposing his will on the state early and often, as Wisconsinites would come to realize during 2011.

Step 2: Concentrate Power in a Few Hands

One of the first things Walker requested during his initial “jobs session” in January was that all state agency-written administrative rules, which fill in the details of newly passed legislation, be sent to him for approval before being sent to the Legislature for final approval. Walker sold the change as being good for business. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and state Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon)—who co-chair the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR), the committee that signs off on proposed rules—argued that Walker-approved rules would be good for transparency, even though the change would take away power from the Legislature and deny the public its right to hear policy debated in the open.

The old administrative rule system worked very well, was a national model and was effective in providing checks and balances between the Legislature and the governor-appointed agency heads and independently elected state officials.

But thanks to Walker's changes, he and the Republican-dominated JCRAR have amassed enough power to thwart the work of the professionals in the various state agencies and opened the door to totally politicizing the rule-making process. It's also provided an opportunity for corruption, since lobbyists can help to rewrite rules and target their energies and donations on Walker and a handful of legislators so they can alter the meaning of legislation they opposed.

Let's start with Walker's role in rule making. There's no requirement that the governor must approve or reject any proposed rule sent to him. Therefore he can sit on any rule, stifling a law from being implemented. That could be a problem in implementing the Republican-backed voter ID law in time for next spring's primary and potential recall elections, according to Government Accountability Board (GAB) head Kevin Kennedy. The agency is attempting to provide guidance to schools on the use of student IDs for voting. But JCRAR is forcing the GAB to submit its guidance as rules, so Walker can thwart them merely by ignoring them. As a result, university and technical college students could be denied their right to vote in 2012 because they lack acceptable voter ID.

Then there's the JCRAR itself, which is headed by Vukmir and Ott, two darlings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing, corporate-sponsored legislation-writing outfit that's had undue influence on state policies around the country, especially in Wisconsin, and the über-conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

Vukmir and Ott have taken this little-noticed committee and turned it into a second, shadow Legislature. It's had a hand in blocking rules implementing the undemocratic voter ID law. It's also stripped a sane four-hour training requirement from the concealed carry permitting system. As a result, the Republican majority of the JCRAR overrode the advice of their own conservative Republican state attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, a statewide constitutional officer, and placed state residents in danger.

In addition to concentrating power in the governor's office and the JCRAR, Walker has succeeded in giving unprecedented authority to the secretary of the Department of Health Services, who now can redesign Medicaid programs without a public hearing or a vote of the state Legislature. Why legislators weakened their branch of government and signed off on Walker's rule-making provisions is still a mystery to most observers of state government.

Step 3: Use Mischief-Makers to Smear Opponents

Walker said many appalling things during his phone chat with a prankster posing as billionaire David Koch. But the one comment that revealed the depth of Walker's immorality was his admission that he and his staff had “thought about” planting troublemakers among the peaceful protesters at the Capitol this winter. That this sort of Nixonian dirty trick, which easily could have resulted in some level of violence, was even considered by the governor, an Eagle Scout who was raised by a minister, shocks the conscience.

While Walker only considered using violence-provoking mischief-makers, the rest of his party actually used different kinds of mischief-makers. First, the Republicans ran fellow Republicans as Democrats in last summer's recall elections to force a partisan primary and extend their hold on power for an extra four weeks. They're expected to try the same tactic next year, when Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and up to four Republican state senators will likely face recall elections.

Now Republicans are using all sorts of falsehoods about recall petition signers that are generated by Media Trackers, the Bradley Foundation-supported political operation, and the MacIver Institute, funded by the Koch brothers. Those false allegations are then repeated and amplified by WTMJ-AM's Charlie Sykes and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Step 4: Co-opt an Independent Branch of Government

We all knew that the state Supreme Court was divided ideologically. But who knew that the divide was so severe that one justice would attempt to choke another justice?

That's the disappointing state of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where four conservatives are trying every which way to destroy common decency and impose their will on the three members in the minority.

The incident in question involves Justice David Prosser, who admitted that he put his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and then “went limp.” (Despite Prosser's own admission, his closest ally on the court, ethically challenged Justice Michael Gableman, insisted that Prosser had merely put his hands on Bradley's shoulders, not her neck.)

Why was Prosser so upset? Because Bradley, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Patrick Crooks weren't writing an opinion fast enough for the Republicans in the state Legislature. The rushed decision in question, of course, was the open meetings case that could strike down or uphold Walker's controversial collective bargaining bill. Republican legislators needed a favorable decision in time for its vote on the state budget. Without the “right” decision at precisely the right time, Republicans would have had a completely unworkable budget. So they stalled the vote until the conservatives on the state Supreme Court could convince the others that it had to release its decision by the Legislature-imposed deadline, a complete break with precedence and a total violation of the separation of powers.

As we all know, the conservatives came through, but only after Prosser assaulted Bradley and damaged the independence and integrity of the state's highest court.

Step 5: Change Rules Midstream to Favor Yourself

Back in August, Republicans passed a legislative redistricting plan that would favor that party until the next U.S. Census, in 2020.

When Republicans passed the bill, it was very specific about when the new legislative map would go into effect. The last two lines of Act 43 read: “(1) This act first applies, with respect to regular elections, to offices filled at the 2012 general election. (2) This act first applies, with respect to special or recall elections, to offices filled or contested concurrently with the 2012 general election.”

It couldn't be any plainer: Recall elections conducted before the November 2012 election use the old map. Beginning next November, the new map goes into effect for all elections.

But since drafting—with the aid of $400,000 worth of legal advice from Michael Best & Friedrich and others—and passing the bill, Republicans have had a change of heart. Now they're trying to argue that the new map should go into effect immediately and be used for any recall elections called before November 2012. They've even filed a frivolous lawsuit to overturn their own bill.

Although Republicans have been arguing that this is about “fairness,” isn't the lawsuit an outright admission that the new legislative map is gerrymandered in favor of Republicans?

Step 6: Stifle Dissent

The historic protests at the Capitol earlier this year have provided an example for other progressive grassroots movements, including Occupy Wall Street and the successful repeal of a Walker-style collective bargaining bill in Ohio.

So it's no wonder that Walker has decided to crack down on peaceful protests by signing off on an unconstitutional policy that restricts peaceful protests and charges protesters for the cost of providing security at their protests. The policy is so un-American that Walker hired Jocelyn Webster, a Karl Rove protégée, to try to sell it to the public.

Walker has resorted to making invitation-only appearances around the state because protesters drown him out when he does make his few appearances in public. Even when he is making a private appearance, the unpopular governor is often greeted and sent off by a crowd of his many vocal critics.

When the Legislature is required to hold public hearings, Republicans make it difficult if not impossible for the public to attend. Meetings are called on short notice, now that the open meetings law has been shredded, and they're conducted in hard-to-reach places to deter the public from attending. That's why the proposed mining bill, which would affect northern Wisconsin residents, was conducted in West Allis, a seven-hour drive from the mine. Republicans argued that the mining equipment would be manufactured in the Milwaukee area, so it wanted “job creators” to be able to attend and testify in support of the mine. Fortunately, large numbers of committed opponents who live near the proposed mine made the long trek to West Allis and made their voices heard.

Not that the Republicans are listening, of course.


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