By Jessica Mason and Matthew Rothschild
Thursday afternoon, a group of 75 Wisconsin...
In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, scandals and recalls are rocking all three branches of government.
Last week, more than one million signatures to recall Scott Walker were turned in to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
And more impending arrests in the John Doe investigation centered around Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive do not bode well for his future in politics.
As the noose tightens around his neck, Scott Walker can’t even show up to his own campaign rally. He left supporters attending the “Stand with Walker” rally over the weekend standing with a stand-in – his wife, Tonette.
Over at the state supreme court, Justice Michael Gableman is the subject of yet another ethics complaint for accepting free legal services from the attorneys at Michael Best & Friedrich, the go-to firm of the Walker administration, who were paid nearly $300,000 to draw up new legislative and congressional redistricting maps. With fifteen recall campaigns under their collective belt in the past year, Wisconsinites are now emboldened to consider launching a recall against Justice Gableman, as well as against Justice David Prosser, who put his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
Meanwhile in the state senate, four other Republicans are the targets of successful recall signature gathering campaigns, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. He was the subject of an intense and energetic grassroots campaign that generated 123% of the signatures required to trigger an election. Currently, Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the senate. The downfall of just one of them would flip the balance of power.
But the Republican stranglehold on the state assembly remains firmly in the grips of Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. All seats are up for grabs in November, but that doesn’t seem to concern Fitzgerald, the Younger. He is more focused on his bid for U.S. Senate in the race for the seat being vacated by Herb Kohl.
In press statements and interviews, Fitzgerald habitually makes reference to Washington, D.C. Last week he commented on the U.S. State Department’s nixing of permitting the Keystone XL pipeline, saying, “Once again there is a clear difference between the lack of leadership in Washington and our commitment to job creation in Wisconsin.”
More and more statements of this nature coming out of his office make it appear as if Fitzgerald is using his great power in the Assembly and the legislative process as a campaign tool in his ambition for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In an interview with WisPolitics.com last week he said, “I will run my entire campaign on, guess what, what we did in Wisconsin is what we need to do in Washington, D.C. You have to have the courage to not worry about your next election.”
Not worrying about the next election and making “tough choices” about cutting education budgets and social services has been a recurring theme in Fitzgerald’s tenure as assembly speaker. He speaks as if the people of Wisconsin don’t know what’s good for them, so their political parents have to go to the legislature and “cut up their credit cards” knowing that, having done so, they will invoke the ire of the people to such an extent that they could not win re-election.
Fitzgerald doesn’t understand the contempt for constituents and their interests implied by this kind of statement, or if he does understand it, he doesn’t care. This line of reasoning comes straight out of the corporate Tea Party playbook that redefines government as a business, society as a marketplace, and people as more or less factors of production.
During a floor session on June 15, Jeff Fitzgerald raised this image of the sacrificial legislator saying, “We went to the voters last year and said, ‘Put us in the majority and we’re going to do things different. I have twenty-seven freshmen here who have made that commitment to me. Instead of worrying about the next election, we’re going to worry about the next generation.”
This was a stunning admission of the strategy behind the quickening of the corporate takeover of Wisconsin state government after the 2010 elections. Just as Scott Walker did not run his campaign for governor on the abolition of collective bargaining, the slashing of public education and health, the gutting of environmental regulation and the disenfranchisement of vast portions of the electorate, the twenty-seven freshmen Republicans who won assembly seats in 2010 did not win those votes by vowing to do the bidding of Jeff Fitzgerald.
This admission make clear what many Wisconsinites have strongly suspected: that the legislation introduced and passed over the past year is all part of a larger, nationwide plan that has very little to do with the well-being of the people of this state. Fitzgerald’s bid for U.S. Senate emphasizes this point even more. This ALEC-inspired plan is about fundamentally altering the political, legal and economic landscape in the states to make it easier for those who already control the lion’s share of political and economic power to consolidate even more.
Though Jeff Fitzgerald may be setting his sights on Washington, D.C., the means by which he intends to get there, namely the substance of “what we did in Wisconsin,” has real consequences for the people he hopes to leave behind. In his statement about Keystone XL Fitzgerald said, “The President has decided to cave to extreme environmental special interests, turning his back on an affordable energy source and a chance at creating 20,000 American jobs. At the same time, we will be passing a mining bill next week in the Assembly that will create thousands of high paying jobs for generations to come.”
What is wrong with this statement? I can count six things on the face of it, but I will focus on just one. Fitzgerald made this remark days before the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business even had amendments drafted, let alone voted on. As I write, the committee has not met to make a decision on whether or not to pass the mining bill out of committee and onto the Assembly floor, yet Fitzgerald is confident this will happen and it will pass the full Assembly two days later.
AB 426 is a 183-page bill that shreds environmental regulation and requirements for public input on mining permitting processes for the benefit of one company, Gogebic Taconite, and its proposal to strip mine vast areas of wilderness at the headwaters of an extremely delicate watershed that is part of the ceded territories of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
Why so confident about the passage of such an extremely controversial, illegal bill? It goes back to the oath sworn to him by the twenty-seven, who form a majority on this and many other committees. Out of fifteen people on the committee, nine are Republican, eight are dues-paying members to ALEC, and seven of those are freshmen, the people who vowed to not listen to the public but to do what had to be done for Jeff Fitzgerald.
The conduct and attitude of Committee Chair Mary Williams at the two public hearings on the bill betrayed this political reality of “what Speaker Fitzgerald wants, Speaker Fitzgerald gets.” The hearings each lasted between ten and twelve hours, with two to one registering against the bill, and a greater proportion than that speaking against it. Despite this impassioned testimony, which included information from tribal attorneys that the bill violates federal treaty rights and is therefore illegal, the Republican members of the committee plowed forward, seemingly oblivious to the mounting pile of facts.
Last week the Oshkosh Northwestern ran a story reporting that legislative leaders have identified the four bills that are going to pass this session: the mining bill, two wetlands deregulation bills and a venture capital bill. All of these are written for the benefit of energy and construction companies in the name of streamlining permitting and financing processes and delivering “regulatory certainty” to “job creators.”
If Jeff Fitzgerald is using the legislature as a campaign tool to let potential backers know he can control a legislative body so thoroughly that he can get even the most objectionable and controversial bills passed, it wouldn’t really matter if the ensuing laws got tied up in court for years and communities were divided and chaotic as the result. His primary election is only a few months away.
But not listening to the people who will be most affected by these laws may very well come back to bite him. It doesn’t seem that the committee actually heard tribal leaders say that if they were not included in consultation about the bill and the proposed mine, they would be effectively backed into a corner and would have to resort to other means to protect the water that is the basis of their livelihood, culture and spiritual well-being.
Jeff Fitzgerald will soon find out that ramming legislation through the Wisconsin State Assembly for political gamesmanship is one thing, but dealing with sovereign nations that have recourse to federal courts, who have a history of direct action and civil disobedience in the protection of their resources, and who can count on the solidarity of a large proportion of Wisconsinites is quite another matter.
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.