Weekly Democratic Address: "Year of secrecy and power grabs puts Wisconsin democracy at risk"
The following was originally posted on WisPolitics.com from Rep. Peter Barca, who gave this week's Democratic address.
Year of secrecy and power grabs puts Wisconsin democracy at risk
By Rep. Peter Barca
My feelings on key issues where I have strongly disagreed with Gov. Walker and the Republicans this past year are well-known.
I do not support massive cuts to public education and job training. I strongly object to terminating 50 years of workers' rights. And I will continue to criticize the failure of state leaders to focus on job creation.
But there is one value that should transcend all the partisanship and division that plagues Wisconsin: clean, open, honest government that welcomes citizen participation.
The secrecy and appearance of corruption that has marred Wisconsin government this past year leaves our state's reputation in tatters. And the abuses of power that took place during this secretive, dishonest approach to governing, impact every other issue we face.
This year began with the governor "dropping the bomb" of effectively killing collective bargaining for public workers. He expected a rushed vote without debate or scrutiny in less than a week. And he refused to sit down, look his employees in the eye and talk about it.
And that approach of ramming policy through before people have had time to object was followed with abuses of power such as putting the Capitol on lock down, holding illegal meetings and ending public hearings while citizens waited to speak. That was merely the beginning. Consolidating rule-making power at the top, replacing public employees with political cronies, proposing no-bid contracts and pressuring the nonpartisan elections board were just a few of the acts that followed.
And this past month alone has brought us this news:
- Top advisers to the governor have been granted immunity in an ongoing criminal probe involving state and federal authorities.
- Citizens prohibited from exercising their First Amendment rights to gather at state buildings, including the Capitol.
- Gov. Walker hosting a press conference to take credit for lifting a cap on Family Care without ever mentioning the federal government mandated he do so.
- The governor hiding his business schedule from citizens who pay his salary, even saying they do not have a right to know when he travels around the country to raise campaign cash.
- Revelations that a Supreme Court justice accepted the gift of free counsel from attorneys that regularly appear in his court and hiding that fact from the public.
- A scathing court ruling on redistricting forces Republicans to share information they sought to cover up and sanctions them for the appearance of "flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide from both the Court and the public the true nature of exactly what transpired in the redistricting process."
What a month. And there were similar examples every month last year.
I have always taken pride in Wisconsin values of honest debate and clean, open and accessible government. Now, in the face of ethics questions, rules violations, dishonesty, allegations of corruption and blatant abuses of power, I truly believe that Wisconsin democracy is at risk.
No wonder people around the state are upset and fighting back. And it's not caused by extreme policies alone. It is about the disrespectful way their perspectives have been ignored and their participation cast aside. It is a backlash against these abuses of power.
Whatever new and extreme policies Gov. Walker and the Republicans want to push in 2012, all the citizens of our state, regardless of party, must be given the time, information and access to openly debate them. They deserve to know that their government is working for and with them, not powerful special interests.
That is how democracy works. And if the basic core tenets of democracy had been respected -- we might not be starting 2012 as a divided, polarized Wisconsin.