What This Is…
Issue #64- May 27, 2012
In this issue: Recall Updates, Attacking the Environment, Corruption and Worker's Rights
Happy Memorial Day!!
Remember to honor those who have served our country.
Recall Updates and Volunteer Opportunities…
The recall races continue to heat up in all areas. With the ever increasing amount of advertising, propaganda and rhetoric flowing from so many sources, finding accurate information becomes more and more challenging. What is interesting is the fact that all of the time, energy and money being poured into the media blitz may turn out to be less effective than the one-on-one conversations being held across our state. So many voters are entrenched in their opinions and it is becoming clear that this will be an election won on turnout, not on convincing voters to favor any candidate.
So, barring any huge breaking story that emerges in the next week, this 16 month marathon comes down to a sprint to the finish with volunteers across the state going door to door or calling citizens to encourage them to get out and vote. Considering the stakes in this election there is no reason that anyone should sit this one out and not cast a ballot. We can't let a small minority of voters decide what happens to all of us.
Find some time in the next week to get out and volunteer in some capacity. Talk to people around you and get them to commit to voting on June 5th. Drive someone to the polls on June 5th, help them vote early and find other ways to encourage participation in our most fundamental civic duty.
We are still hearing that these recalls are a waste of money and an unnecessary, unfair act by a small group of disgruntled public workers. This is one way that the GOP is trying to discourage voting. If the recalls are simply "sour grapes" then it is logical, to conservatives, that citizens should either vote Walker, or not vote at all. Yet, if one reads the arguments against the recall carefully, there are usually contradictions in the material presented.
Take this editorial for example. The author uses several examples of recent recalls across the nation to support the assertion that the Wisconsin recalls are bad for our democracy. In the piece he quotes Diane Feinstein and uses her experience to support his claims.
Here, Feinstein invoked the original spirit of the American recall movement, which was born during the Progressive era a century ago. Fearful that corporate interests were bribing state and local legislators, Progressives demanded a tool that would allow voters to remove elected officials who were on the take." (my emphasis added)
I guess it all depends on what your definition of "on the take" is. Republicans in Wisconsin have shown a significant amount of favoritism towards wealthy donors. While, because of current campaign finance rules and other financial regulations, some of their actions may be technically legal, there is clearly a system where political influence can be purchased in Wisconsin.
Why Recall- A Recap…
Here's a recap of issues covered previously along with any new information that has come to light recently.
Political Extremism (Issue #61)
As we lose our ability to compromise and find common ground with each other we lose our ability to choose the best possible solutions to our problems. Our decision makers and other leaders find themselves taking positions based on the political implications of a situation and not on the real merit of the position.
Even an unfortunate situation involving a public worker becomes fodder for comments about Walker and unions.
Attacking the "Other" (Issue #62)
The GOP has worked to marginalize different groups in our society. By dividing the electorate based on specific characteristics, needs and issues our society breaks apart. Conservatives seek to create a state where everyone knows their "place".
Cuts to Safety Nets (Issue #62)
Conservatives have painted a picture of government assistance programs as a root cause of the problems in our state. They forget that everyone benefits from some form of government assistance and that no individual is isolated from the rest of society.
The Economy (Issue #62)
Privatization and deregulation are not the only solutions to our economic challenges.
Public Education (Issue #63)
The value of public education to Wisconsin can't be measured in the amount of money it costs to educate a student. When did public educators become "Public Enemy #1"?
Madison West High activists form Students for Wisconsin political action committee to take on Walker
More Reasons To Recall…
Wisconsin has a long tradition of strong environmental activism, highlighted by things like Gaylord Nelson's advocacy and founding of Earth Day. Unfortunately, the value that our citizens place on our state's natural beauty and resources is being trumped by the GOP's advocacy of profit over protection. Just like conservative leaders value corporate income more than the quality of the lives of common citizens, they also promote policies that put business ahead of our environment.
Deregulation- Conservatives say they operate under the assumption that less is more when it comes to governmental regulation of industry. They try to justify their policies by claiming to know what our founding leaders would want. However, they fail to recognize the differences between the 1700's and modern times. They also refuse to look at the history of our nation in an unbiased context that would call current GOP policies into question.
The reality is that the efforts of conservatives to "shrink" government and reduce the red-tape that businesses and citizens face is a cover for their labors to empower large corporations and the wealthy. Small businesses and common citizens suffer and see their power usurped under conservative rule. State agencies that are controlled by conservative leadership side with the rich and powerful and everyone else sees their rights trampled and their environment degraded.
The very idea that conservatives reduce the influence of government on its citizens is untrue. Conservatives use government power to implement and enforce their objectives just like any other political group does. We've seen the GOP call for more invasive policies in people's personal lives and any reduction in individual rights is harmful to our freedom as individuals. The illusion that the GOP is for small government gets votes, but they are based on misleading propaganda.
Here in Wisconsin we are beginning to see the negative effects of deregulation in many ways. The environment is one area where we will see a significant amount of serious problems created by the reduction in protections and regulation as Walker's agenda is implemented. We can't forget that government regulation is one of our strongest defenses against those who want to make immediate profits at the long term expense of our natural resources and environment.
Alleged contaminated waste on Concord fields angers town - Daily Jefferson County Union - Fort Atkin
Mining- The debate over mining in northern Wisconsin provides an excellent example of the problems that the conservative agenda poses for our state. Limited government is not necessarily a bad thing, I fully accept the argument that there are things that government does well and things that are better done by the private sector.
What I can't agree with is the idea that jobs are more important than our environment. That's where government comes in. Businesses operate to provide goods or services that will make a profit. In order to make a profit they must find a way to make their product at a cost that allows them to make money on the sale. This means that their motivation isn't to look at the long term effects of their actions on the people they employ or the environment they operate in. While it may benefit a business to protect workers or natural resources in order to maintain the long term viability of their industry, there is no guarantee that they will do so in the short term. A non-biased public sector provides a different perspective that looks out for those outside of management and shareholder groups.
The mining bill in Wisconsin was designed to cut through the process and weaken the protections that governmental regulations provide. While it may have created jobs, the potential havoc it could release threatened our state's long term environmental and economic health. The debate over this issue was partisan and fierce and I won't revisit all the arguments for and against here. What I do want to mention is the example that the bill provides us of just how divided our state is.
In their zeal to pass the mining bill the GOP legislature was willing to overlook environmental concerns, residents concerns, violate treaty agreements and generally run roughshod over the legislative process. Because of their majority in all branches of government their prospects for success were strong, that is until one GOP senator stood in the way and cast his vote based on his opinion and not just on party lines.
It is important to remember that an unsuccessful recall will likely mean a return of the mining bill and other similar legislation that will harm our environment, weaken worker's rights and empower the wealthy and corporate leadership in Wisconsin.
Undemocratic Policies and Corruption
There are always two (or more) sides to an issue. One of the major benefits of our system of government is that we get to hear many opinions and debate over issues that affect all of us. Our political process also is designed to insure that people with different viewpoints are allowed to have an influence on the outcomes of policy and legislative debates. This makes our "progress" towards "solving" any problem challenging and sometimes painfully slow. However, it also protects the rights of our citizens and allows for compromises to be reached.
Our government in Wisconsin is failing because of the extreme views of a small number of people occupying important offices in our state's government. Conservative majorities in all branches of government have allowed for these individuals to squelch debate and impose their agenda on our state unilaterally. Discussion and debate has become a formality, or even been eliminated as the GOP steamrolls its way towards inflicting their policies on the rest of us. Images of Rep. Barca being ignored while the roll is called, assembly members meeting with constituents outside the windows of their offices and countless other events will leave a lasting mark on our state's history.
Of all the reasons that a recall is valid, this blatant disregard for our democratic traditions and the undermining of our system of government is one that cuts through existing political, social and economic beliefs. Wisconsinites have a tremendous amount of pride in the reputation that our state has for honest and open government. The events of the past months have undermined many citizen's confidence in their government and has degraded Walker's "reforms" in the eyes of many people. Wisconsin residents may have many differing views of the policies and legislation enacted under Walker's administration, but few can support the methods used in putting them in place.
Republicans have frequently used the issue of a candidate's character to attack Democratic candidates, but now face the prospect of defending one of their own against a number of legitimate ethical questions. Diehard conservatives will try and ignore, discredit or justify the actions of their leaders, but the rest of Wisconsin needs to pay attention to how Walker and GOP lawmakers "do business".
John Doe- The "Walkergate" scandal has drawn comparisons to Nixon's Watergate in more ways than name only. Essentially the allegations center around campaign violations and embezzlement of funds from several sources. Several Walker associates have already been convicted on charges stemming from the investigation and more are currently either facing charges or have received immunity for their testimony.
As of this moment Walker has not been officially charged with anything and claims that he is not the target of the investigation. However, he does have a legal defense fund established and the rest of the story has yet to unfold. To paraphrase Howard Baker's comments about Nixon during Watergate, we all wonder what Walker knew and when he knew it. It is difficult to believe that the individuals who have been charged already acted completely on their own. At the very least the governor used poor judgment in who he employed in his campaign, judgment that continues to be called into question in his administration.
Campaign Financing- There is little doubt that our current campaign financing rules and the way money influences elections are of concern to many citizens. The amount of money that is spent essentially trying to buy elections is troubling at the very least. Citizens United opened the door and big money donations and Super Pacs have taken advantage of the rules. I recognize that neither party is innocent in this, but Walker has taken political fundraising into uncharted territory here in Wisconsin.
The influence of big money in our electoral process reduces the influence that large numbers of people have in our government and puts power in the hands of a few wealthy individuals or groups. These political donors use their financial resources to sway politicians and to create conditions that favor their interests. Conservatives have proven very adept at playing this game, while other special interest groups that represent larger groups of people (unions) have invested money with less favorable results. For any conservative readers who don't recognize this and continue to claim that public sector unions are "running the show" in Wisconsin just look at the wage controls and cuts to education that have been imposed here. If educator unions wielded such significant power would we have a QEO that limits increases in wages and benefits here?
Equally troubling are the issues raised by where the money is coming from. Walker wants us to believe that out of state money is flooding in to support Democrats, but wants us to ignore the sources of his own donations. If Walker's policies are so great for our state, why does a majority of his money come from outside Wisconsin?
The result of all the money in political campaigning is a tidal wave of negative ads with questionable validity to their messages. The big money has turned our elections into mudslinging feeding frenzies played out in 30 second snippets. Complicated issues are reduced to sound bites and slogans while the electorate is left dazed, confused and frustrated. By flooding the airwaves with advertising, Walker hopes to drown out the real messages of this recall effort.
Misinformation- $7.5 million in damages to the capitol, jobs created or jobs lost, Walker's "reforms" to education are working, out of state protestors… I could continue all day with the different "facts" thrown out by the GOP here in Wisconsin. What all the propaganda spread by the Walker administration has done is confused and mislead the people of this state.
Once again this is an area that no single party has sole ownership of. The joke that you can tell a politician is lying because his/her lips are moving is an old one. However, Walker again has raised (or lowered) the bar to new heights (lows). We are dealing with issues that have multiple solutions and citizen deserve the truth as they try to make decisions about which policies they should support with their votes.
Undermining Democratic Traditions and Institutions- As I've mentioned many times before, democracy is a slow and often boring process. Watching committee hearings, legislative debate or reading legislation isn't something that most people find exciting. However, the past months have shown us the impact that these "boring" things can have on our lives.
Scott Walker and his fellow elected GOP officials have demonstrated what a group of people with a single-minded purpose and virtually unlimited power can do to our democracy. The apparently subtle changes that have been made have changed the way our state government works and created an executive branch with significantly increased power.
The other branches of government have also been affected and we will be suffering the effects of these conservative actions for the foreseeable future. That these changes have been implemented so quickly adds even more importance to the recall elections as we work to stem the conservative tide.
I've saved the discussion of the attacks on worker's rights to the end because, while it is likely that none of the push-back to Walker's agenda would have occurred without them, they provide a great example of how divided our state is. Anti-union sentiment is a powerful tool in the GOP's arsenal as they use union wages and benefits to create a sense of envy among workers who are facing difficult economic times. The struggles of workers and their families are used to divide the electorate and to focus attention on unions and not on policies that favor management.
In our modern world, the argument goes, unions are no longer necessary. The conditions that lead to the creation of the large labor unions no longer exist here and unions only stay around to benefit a few workers. Conservatives also argue that unions are anti-democratic and anti-capitalistic. The GOP would have us believe that if unions weren't in the way or economy would be stronger and we wouldn't be losing jobs to workers in other countries. They talk about how union dues are taken from workers as though it is a form of robbery.
The reality is quite different from what conservatives want workers to believe. In an ideal world management would look out for employees and put the interests of all people in a company or organization ahead of anything else. We all know that this isn't the case. Management's job in every setting is to get as much out of workers while reducing labor costs as much as possible. This is true in public and private sectors.
Unions provide a balance to management's power. Each individual worker has little, if any, bargaining power. Collectively workers are able to influence their wages, benefits and working conditions beyond anything they could hope to accomplish alone. It is through the struggles of workers and their unions that we have been able to achieve many improvements in working conditions. People have fought and died to try and gain power in their workplace.
We spend much of our time on the job so it only makes sense that working conditions have a huge impact on each individual's quality of life. Gains for workers driven by union actions have been responsible for moving our nation forward and improving the conditions of all workers. Unfortunately, these things that benefit workers cut into the profit margins and salaries of upper management. Thus, unions have become a favorite target of conservative politicians supported by wealthy donors.
Conservatives can say what they will about their desire to protect a worker's right to choose whether to belong to a union or not, but the real motivation behind destroying unions are the political and economic challenges that organized labor poses to the power of management. A world without organized labor is a scary one for employees. It is a world where workers are at the complete mercy of their employer and work menial jobs for subsistence wages with little hope for advancement.
Eliminating public sector unions is one of the main goals of the Walker administration. Public sector unions are one of the last obstacles in the way of conservative's efforts to change the labor landscape here and across the nation. These unions provide organization and financial backing to the resistance against Walker's agenda.
Public sector unions are more than political and economic animals. My union, Madison Teachers Inc., has represented its members in so many different ways. The benefits of belonging to a union go beyond the financial (wages and benefits) that conservatives rail against. MTI provides support and protection for educators as they work to improve the quality of education that students receive. Educators in Madison know that they can turn to their union for advice, protection and support and this allows us to be strong advocates for public education. MTI provides the organization that educators use to improve their efforts to become better at what we do.
The fact that conservatives see unions in such simple terms, limited to financial issues and basic legal protections, speaks to the conservative view of the world. Educators see things differently. We want good working conditions for ourselves, but also recognize the ways that our needs must be balanced with the needs of the students and families that we serve.
The attacks on elementary educator planning time that happened last year in Madison provide an excellent example of how educators and their unions try to maintain that balance. Essentially, the district wanted to use the newly bargained contract to take the large chunks of planning time that educators had on Mondays for district mandated professional development. The planning time taken would be moved to half hour blocks in the morning before school and educator hours would be changed so that we would be officially "off duty" 15 minutes after students leave school. Madison elementary educators rose up and said that this wasn't reasonable for us, or for our families. The changes would reduce family access to educators and would even impact student safety. Because our union helped us organize we were able to stop these changes from going ahead (but still lost significant Monday afternoon planning time to PD and mandated meetings).
As union membership has declined, so have conditions for workers here in the United States. Wages have gone down, benefits have decreased, hours have increased and working conditions have worsened. With the economic struggles we are experiencing, workers are told that any job is a good job and they shouldn't complain because so many are unemployed. If we follow the current trends we could see our labor conditions begin to resemble the 19th century and not the 21st. There is no doubt, that the GOP in Wisconsin is ready to unveil even more "reforms" to help make Wisconsin more attractive for business. Unfortunately, what makes our state attractive to business makes it incredibly ugly for workers.
Rep. Kapenga at Delafield Town Hall: Right-to-work legislation “ready to go” in Wisconsin - Blogging
Democurmudgeon: Poor Conservative Cedarburg, WI, victims of their corporate “freedom.” Enjoy the sme