The reign of lawlessness continues in Wisconsin.
Last week, a local court issued a stay temporarily blocking the implementation of Governor Scott Walker's radical proposal to do away with most collective bargaining rights for public workers and cripple labor's ability to collect union dues. The court put a halt to the publication of the bill (an act performed by the Secretary of State), so there could be a hearing on whether or not the Wisconsin Senate violated the state's strong open meetings law in its rush to ram the bill through.
This week, Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen charged into court in defense of secret government. He argued that when legislators break the law -- the courts can't do anything about it. Apparently legislators, like Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have "immunity" from the enforcement of their very own laws.
Welcome to "Fitzwalkerstan," where novel interpretations of long-established law are a daily occurrence and the billable hours are stacking up.
Pleadings from Fitzwalkerstan
Wisconsin's open meetings law requires 24 hours' public notice of meetings or two hours in emergencies. The amended collective bargaining bill was given less than two hours. As word spread via Facebook and Twitter that legislators were pulling a fast one, hundreds of citizen's showed up at the Capitol, but could not get in to watch proceedings. Shut out, they were forced to chant "Shame, shame, shame," under Senate windows.
Yesterday, the Wisconsin Attorney General filed a motion on behalf of the Secretary of State Doug La Follette to void the stay. Bizarrely, his client was never consulted. Indeed, the Secretary of State had delayed publication of the law because of his own concerns regarding the legality of the Senate's unprecedented action.
This is just the latest legal madness from Fitzwalkerstan. To ram the astonishingly unpopular proposal through, the Governor and his henchmen had to finagle:
- A five second roll call vote at 1:30 a.m. (The move was so abrupt, over 20 legislators never had a chance to vote in the Assembly.)
- An unprecedented warrant for the arrest of 14 missing Democratic Senators and the deputization of a posse to round them up.
- A gubernatorial budget address in a locked down Capitol, in violation of a standing court order on Capitol access.
- An unprecedented conference committee, formed by fiat, meeting in violation of the open meetings law in a tiny backroom.
- A Senate roll call vote on a substitute amendment no one had ever seen.
- A new Senate rule denying Democrats the right to vote in committee -- an insane idea quietly withdrawn.
- The ongoing violation of the court order to restore Capitol access to the way it was in January of 2011.
These astounding events have many Wisconsinites shaking their heads. "Procedures and open government are important in Wisconsin, and I can't remember another time when these procedures have been this disrespected," says University of Wisconsin law professor Bill Whitford, a life-long resident of Madison.
The courts have ruled against Walker twice so far. Thank heavens for the courts! A breath of sanity in an insane world! Or are they?
"Bitches" and "Turds," Oh My!
The reputation of Wisconsin Supreme Court took a pounding this week after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel released emails showing that bickering on the Court had reached a new low. David Prosser, a sitting justice, acknowledged calling the state's first female Supreme Court Justice "a total bitch," and threatening to "destroy" her. But he nobly defended his actions telling the paper he had been "goaded" into making such statements by the respected Chief Justice.
Prosser is seeking reelection April 5 and is up against a respected Deputy Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg. Some months ago, Prosser's campaign released a statement saying that his candidacy would "complement" the new Governor and the new GOP legislature. Now, Prosser denies having approved the statement. At the first debate between the candidates this week, citizens were expecting a lively debate, but Prosser again went deep into uncharted territory, initiating a discussion on the weighty legal matter of "turds." Prosser quoted a comment on his opponents Facebook page: "Stop the turd, vote Kloppenburg." "Now, am I the turd?" Prosser asked. "That's totally inappropriate."
What other terrible rhymes lurk in the random comments of 8,700 Kloppenburg Facebook fans?
The case filed by Wisconsin Attorney General Van Holland is in appellate court right now but may end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court next week, where the polarized Court may be forced to duke it out to the utter horror of average Wisconsinites who think the state is quickly spiraling out of control. Walker's poll numbers are tanking, showing that he would lose a "do-over" by seven points. But that do-over may not come for a year. In the meantime, Wisconsin will be awash with Senate recalls, big money ads and dirty tricks the likes of which this state -- which prides itself on good government and clean politics -- has never seen. An independent and adult judiciary will be more critical than ever.
The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy has been reporting the events from the Wisconsin Capitol, focusing on the politicians, corporations and spinmeisters behind the assault on working families. Visit us at PRWatch.org.