Two Wisconsin Democrats, Sens. Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin, are defending their seats tonight against Republican challengers. Holding these seats would put the Democrats just one vote away from a majority in the Senate – and provide an excellent position to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire and push back against their extreme pro-corporate, anti-middle class agenda.
These elections are more than a referendum on specific legislators: it’s clear that Wisconsin voters, and Americans across the nation, are taking a stand against the priorities of Gov. Scott Walker and his ilk: slashing the right to pursue fair wages and benefits through collective bargaining, stacking the cards in our elections to disenfranchise minorities, students and the elderly, or cutting regulations to help big corporations reap even more profits while our environment, health and safety suffers.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: the pro-corporate agenda won’t continue to get a free pass at the expense of working families any longer.
Last night, voters sent a message to Scott Walker and his corporate, right-wing allies. They told him that Wisconsinites won’t sit back and let him attack working families to score political points. They told him they’re not going to swallow his misleading claims about wanting to balance the budget when he gives tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest individuals- while cutting funds for those that need them most. And most of all, they told him that his actions will have consequences. Four incumbent Republicans may have survived this election, but there’s no way they or Scott Walker slept soundly last night, knowing that when they betray the needs of their constituents, the people notice--even in the Republican-leaning districts we won last night.
To round up the results, four districts saw the Republican incumbent fend off their challengers: Luther Olsen in SD-14 (by only 2000 votes), Robert Cowles in SD-02, Sheila Harsdorf in SD-10 and Alberta Darling in SD-08. Two districts will see new Democratic State Senators: Jessica King in SD-18 and Jennifer Shilling in SD-32. That narrows the Republican majority to 17-16 in the State Senate, in the biggest win in Wisconsin recall history. We Are Wisconsin built an amazing field operation which will be crucial in future elections: with the capability to knock on over 90,000 doors on Election Day alone, the groundwork laid by their campaign is impressive enough even beside our two gains.
Today, I didn’t wake up feeling disappointed or hopeless because we didn’t take back the State Senate. I woke up thinking of the threat to collective bargaining rights in Ohio and extreme anti-choice legislation in Kansas; I woke up thinking of the corporate ALEC agenda being pushed across the country; and I woke up thinking of struggling Americans with no health insurance, couples without equal rights and millions of unemployed workers who need jobs.
Last night, we won two new seats for the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate and showed that the people have a voice. Next Tuesday, we’re working in SD 12 and 22 to defend Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch. I don’t know about you, but we’re not done fighting yet.
The political balance of power in Wisconsin was decided last night by just a few thousand votes. We were just two thousand votes from a political earthquake, but the fact remains that we gained ground, they lost it. Republicans held on to their majority -- barely -- by cashing in on their massive corporate support and the unlimited dollars which flowed from that support in the post-Citizens United era. But we changed the game and seized momentum heading into the next battles.
This David vs. Goliath fight, in which underdog progressives successfully took down two Goliaths and came incredibly close to defeating a third and taking back the State Senate, has inspired progressives across the country ... helped expose the corporate interests so intent on keeping right-wing officials in power ... and shown that if we can compete this closely in heavily Republican districts, we can definitely win statewide.
Thank you so much for your incredible energy, support and activism, all of which fueled our campaign and will be indispensible in the next part of the effort.
People For the American Way's Recall the Right the campaign, due to the overwhelming support and generosity of members like you:
The two progressive wins last night -- the successful recalls of Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper -- were in two districts where PFAW was very active, with our final-week ad-buys in the Hopper race arguably making the difference that put Democratic Senator Elect Jessica King over the top. PFAW enthusiastically endorsed both Jessica King and Senator Elect Jennifer Schilling -- two strong progressive women who will be strong advocates for working families in the Wisconsin Senate.
I won't sugar coat it. It was extremely painful to come SO close to the "Grand Prize" of three wins, which would have flipped control of the Senate, and to fall slightly short.
But being demoralized and focusing on where we fell short gets us nowhere, while remaining energized and focusing on what we achieved will propel us into the next round of -- even more impressive -- victories.
Two members of the heroic "Wisconsin 14" have been targeted by the Republicans and their corporate backers for recall, this Tuesday. These are the Democratic senators who pulled out all the stops, courageously left their state and made tremendous sacrifices trying to stop Gov. Walker's infamous union-busting plan. They fought hard for Wisconsin's working families and we have to fight hard for them. If right-wing Republicans are able to unseat even one of the two Democratic incumbents on Tuesday, they will have gone a long way in taking last night's victories away from us.
Protecting those Democratic incumbents is so important that PFAW will be sending staff to Wisconsin to help with the field campaign.
Right-wing pols, pundits and Fox News hosts are already trying to spin and distort the results as a victory for the Tea Party, Gov. Walker and the GOP on the whole, but that is utter nonsense. Progressives gained two senate seats and Republicans lost two, significantly weakening Walker's majority. Gov. Walker caught a glimpse of how vulnerable he will be to recall next year. And we must stay mindful that the "victory" the Right Wing is gloating about in the first place is one against working people -- teachers, firefighters, cops, nurses, snowplow drivers and the rest of the middle-class Wisconsinites who went head to head with America's greediest corporate interests in these recall elections.
Last night we won two historic victories by removing from office two right-wing Republican state senators who had been considered entrenched, safe in their seats, before they joined Gov. Scott Walker's assault on workers' rights and the middle class. That's what democracy looks like. And that's what accountability looks like.
Thanks again for everything you've done and continue to do in the Recall the Right campaign. It's not over until the polls close next Tuesday. We hope you'll help us seal up these important wins!
Today is Election Day in six districts across Wisconsin, and we’re hoping for a strong turnout. There are great liveblogs and chats with on-the-ground reports at Patch, Blue Cheddar and dane101. If you live in Wisconsin, make sure you vote before polls close at 8pm tonight, and if you have any problems voting or concerns about voter suppression, you can call 1-866-OUR VOTE and report them. Remember, a photo ID is not required to vote today, even though voters will be asked for it. You can thank Scott Walker for that one.
We’re all hoping for some wins tonight, but the real victory will be when Wisconsinites can send their children to well-funded public schools, and when their elected representatives don’t cut funds to the programs that ordinary people need in order to “balance the budget”, all while giving deficit-exploding tax breaks to the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals. Whatever the result, the message to Walker and his corporate friends has been sent: the people of Wisconsin aren’t going to stand by and let the Republicans’ war on working families continue. Walker and extreme Republicans like him across the country are hoping that we’ll see tonight as the end of our efforts. It’s our job to make sure he doesn’t get his wish.
Tomorrow is the big day in the effort to Recall the Right in Wisconsin. Six right-wing Republican state senators who have supported Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-middle class agenda will be up for recall. If three are defeated and the two Democrats up for recall next week hold on to their seats, the balance of the Wisconsin Senate will switch…and the Tea Party will face a major wake-up call.
And it’s looking like it will be a nail-biter. A PPP poll for Daily Kos released today shows the three closest races too close to call.
PFAW is working with activists on the ground in Wisconsin to contact voters and get them to the polls. We’re also on the air in three districts:
PFAW’s Michael Keegan explained in the Huffington Post this weekend why the recall battle in Wisconsin matters for the whole country.
News from Wisconsin:
More news from Wisconsin:
This one is particularly shameless:
Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.
The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk "before Aug. 11."
A Democrat on the ground in Wisconsin said the fliers were discovered to be hitting doors in District 2 and District 10 over the weekend.
"These are people who are our 1's in the voterfile who we already knew. They ain't AFP members, that's for damn sure," the source said.
If this is true, AFP will be only the latest right-wing organization to try to influence the outcome of Wisconsin’s recall elections by tricking the other side into not voting. But AFP is no unknown fringe group – backed by the influential and well-connected Koch brothers, the group spent millions of dollars last year running often-misleading ads in contentious congressional districts
AFP’s alleged absentee-ballot trick comes as the Wisconsin GOP is attempting to use statutory means to keep low-income people, youth and seniors from accessing the ballot. The state’s Republican legislature and governor have passed a Voter ID bill that will require voters to present government ID at the polls, setting up a hurdle for the 175,000 seniors and many students and low-income people who don’t have the proper documents. Gov. Scott Walker then moved to close DMV offices – where those without IDs could obtain them for a fee -- in several heavily-Democratic areas.
The Right likes to harp on the dangers of “voter fraud” – individuals going to great lengths to vote in the wrong districts, an exceptionally rare occurance. But the bigger problem has always been voter suppression, or systematically keeping large groups of people from accessing the ballot box. Rather than passing unnecessary Voter ID laws that keep traditionally disenfranchised people from voting, states would be better off making sure there are stringent laws against the kind of unethical and undemocratic behavior AFP is allegedly engaging in. Those who conspire to prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote should be held fully accountable.
As the second round of recall elections in Wisconsin approaches, PFAW has gone on the air with a new TV ad in three Senate districts currently held by right-wing senators. The three senators targeted by the ads – Dan Kapanke, Luther Olsen and Randy Hopper – all supported plans by Gov. Scott Walker to make working people pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts to out-of-state corporations and the rich. Watch the ad airing in Olsen’s district:
The recall elections in Wisconsin are key to getting the state back on track – if just three right-wingers are defeated, the Senate will switch parties and provide a road block for Gov. Walker’s destructive initiatives. But these elections aren’t just about Wisconsin. In states across the country and in Washington, the Tea Party Right is pushing policies that help the wealthy and corporate campaign donors at the expense of working people. Victories in Wisconsin would send a powerful signal that the American people won’t stand for politicians who put corporate profits above the American Dream.
To learn more about PFAW’s efforts to recall the Right in Wisconsin, visit www.RecallTheRight.org.
UPDATE (7/29): Thanks to the generous support of PFAW members, we've been able to significantly expand our ad buy! We're producing a fourth ad to run against Republican Senator Alberta Darling, who was Gov. Walker 's chief lieutenant in moving his anti-worker plan through the Senate and helped him craft the bill. AND we're more than doubling our airtime in the two most competitive districts (against Olsen and Hopper).
THANK YOU to the PFAW supporters who made this possible and continue to support our efforts to Recall the Right. You can support the campaign with a contribution here.
Yesterday, members of a number of Wisconsin progressive groups gathered in front of the Wisconsin capitol to demand that state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser step down until an investigation into his alleged choking of another justice is complete.
Prosser – who once called the state’s female Supreme Court Justice a “total bitch” and then bragged about it – is accused of placing another female colleague in a chokehold during an argument about the state’s controversial budget bill. The justices who witnessed the incident have provided differing accounts of what happened, while Prosser’s allies and the right-wing media have teamed up to blame the alleged victim.
Speakers at the rally laid out the reasons for Prosser to step down until the investigation is completed:
Anthony Prince, a labor lawyer likewise representing the lawyers' group, told the crowd that asking Prosser to step aside is "not a radical proposal," adding that most employers would place an employee accused of similar behavior on administrative leave while the accusations were investigated.
"An employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of hazard," Prince said. "We are the employer of Justice David Prosser."
Subeck agreed: "Every woman is entitled to a safe workplace, free of violence." She told the crowd that one out of every 250 women will be a victim of workplace violence, and also cited a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study (PDF) finding that, in 2009, workplace violence accounted for 24 percent of all nonfatal violence against employed people age 16 or older.
There is a reason the rest of the country has its eye on Wisconsin, said Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Ross said Prosser has brought "dishonor" to the state's highest court because of his violent behavior.
"This is classic workplace bullying, and it's got to stop," Ross said.
Prosser survived a close bid for reelectionearlier this year, despite his alliance with Gov. Scott Walker and his unpopular anti-worker policies.
In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.
The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?
Politics, of course.
While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:
Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.
This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.
Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.
In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.
Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.
In July, Wisconsin voters will start heading to the polls for a series of elections to recall several of the GOP state senators who voted to bust the state’s public employee unions. But the Wisconsin GOP, true to form, has a sneaky plan: they’re trying to change the voting rules to prevent many college students, senior citizens and others without official state IDs from casting votes in the recall election.
Wisconsin’s bill requires voters to use a driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID at the polls. Though student IDs are technically permitted, none of the colleges or universities in the state currently use IDs that meet the requirements listed in the bill. And as state Sen. Bob Jauch (D) notes, 175,000 seniors (70 percent of whom are women) do not have driver’s licenses and may have to “get a ride at least 50 miles round trip to obtain an identification card to enable them to continue their constitutional right to vote.” What’s more, the bill will cost the state more than $5.7 million to implement — at a time when Gov. Scott Walker (R) is claiming the state is broke and needs to restrict public employees’ collective bargaining rights to survive.
I can’t imagine that attempting to disenfranchise thousands of voters will do much to endear these lawmakers to Wisconsin’s citizens…but that won’t really matter if they can prevent enough people from casting votes.
Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suddenly turned an about-face on the issue of public workers. Although he previously believed that the only way to combat the job-killing scourge that is Wisconsin’s public sector was to end their right to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits, he now believes that Wisconsin’s civil servants make such valuable contributions to the state that they deserve a pat on the back.
As noted in Wonkette, Walker is now accepting nominations within each agency for acknowledgment on an “Employee Recognition Day.”
Don’t worry, Governor. All is forgiven.
If Gov. Scott Walker wonders why there is such a negative reaction to his union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, he needn’t look very far: a poll by the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found that nearly six in ten Wisconsinites disapprove of his plan to dismantle the collective bargaining rights of public employees. If so many people in Wisconsin oppose a central tenet of Scott Walker’s social and economic policy and still elected him, the Governor surely made a very persuasive case on the campaign trail. Or did he?
Today, before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Gov. Walker admitted, for the first time, that he never campaigned on ending collective bargaining rights for public workers. Walker tried to claim that union-busting was part of the “range” of solutions he campaigned on (a Politifact-certified lie), until Rep. Gerry Connely (D-VA) pressed the issue and asked him if he ever “explicitly” campaigned on this particular proposal--to which Walker answered, “No.” Gary Sargent at the Washington Post has the video.
Note to future pols: if you plan to do something really extreme once in office, you may want to mention it once or twice beforehand.
For more info on the corporate interests driving the actions of the Committee and Governor Walker, check out our fact sheet, Anatomy of a Koch-a-Thon: Sham Budget Hearings Brought to You by the Koch Brothers
A lot of people are feeling pretty good in Wisconsin right now, but Governor Scott Walker probably isn’t one of them.
Last night, his hand-picked successor to become Milwaukee County Executive (the office Walker left when he became governor) was crushed by a 22 point margin. And this morning Joanne Kloppenburg declared victory over State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative activist who tied himself to Walker’s agenda.
While Wisconsin judicial elections are officially nonpartisan, Prosser is well known as a Republican who was quickly associated with Scott Walker. People in the state then began to realize that electing Joanne Kloppenburg to the bench to replace Justice Prosser would shift the 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal leaning court, thereby affecting how the highest court in the state might rule when Walker’s law inevitably arrives at their doorstep for review.
In no time flat, the election took on huge significance as the contest turned into a referendum wherein voters could express their favor or displeasure with Walker’s anti-collective bargaining legislation while affecting the ideological bend of the court that will likely be the final word on the legality of Walker’s law.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kloppenburg scored a 204 vote victory. Close? You bet, but that’s cold comfort for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP who might be feeling a twinge of regret for pushing their extreme anti-worker agenda.
One would think that other Republicans would learn some lessons from this defeat and tap down their extremism a bit. In Washington, at least, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was supposed to win reelection in a walk, after winning a February primary with 55% of the vote. Prosser, a former Republican state assemblyman, faced JoAnne Kloppenburg, who previously served as the state’s assistant attorney general and came in second in the primary. But Governor Scott Walker’s brazen push to bust unions and implement an ultraconservative political agenda spurred the progressive community into action, and Walker’s popularity plummeted.
Many of the Wisconsinites who are outraged over the right-wing policies pursued by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, rallied to Kloppenburg’s side. Walker allies feared the potential defeat of Prosser, who called himself “a common sense complement to both the new [Walker] administration and Legislature.”
While there are just a few hundred votes separating the two candidates, guaranteeing a recount, last-minute spending by right-wing organizations helped salvage Prosser’s flagging campaign.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, which monitors spending in judicial elections, pro-corporate groups have greatly outspent progressive organizations. The Brennan Center found that spending in the race passed the $3.5 million mark, with most of the spending benefiting Prosser.
While the Greater Wisconsin Committee ran ads against Prosser’s reelection, pro-corporate organizations such as the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (an amalgamate of the Wisconsin State Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association), the Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Tea Party Express have flooded the state with ads supporting Prosser and berating Kloppenburg.
As of Monday, the four groups which backed Prosser spent a combined $2,177,220, but the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $1,363,040. The final spending figures have not yet been tallied.
Citizens for a Strong America, a front group for the Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity, ran an ad so erroneous that the nonpartisan group PolitiFact gave it a “pants on fire” rating. Even the far-right Family Research Council added to the smear campaign, attacking Kloppenburg, who worked as assistant attorney general since 1989, as inexperienced in advertisements on thirty-four Wisconsin radio stations.
With a recount pending, Kloppenburg’s come-from-behind campaign shows the ability of progressives in states like Wisconsin to overcome the corporate juggernaut that is able to spend almost limitless amounts of money to support its favored candidates.
Today, PFAW joined the We Are One Campaign and hundreds of workers outside of Koch Industries in Washington, DC to protest the political activities of the Koch brothers, the notorious multibillionaires who are working to destroy unions across the country. American workers are tired of being scapegoats and are taking to the streets all across the country to say so. It was great to see so many people turn out today to put the Koch brothers on notice. The Kochs have spent millions on advancing their anti-environment and anti-worker agenda. They founded Americans for Prosperity, and contributed $43,000 to help elect Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who recently signed a bill to end collective bargaining for state workers.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.
Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.
Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.
Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.
It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.
This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.
Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.
People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.
Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.
That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.
So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.
The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."
That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:
The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.
We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.
That is the American Way.
After the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature rushed-through Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation, the District Attorney of Dane County, which covers the state capital, sued to block the law’s implementation. According to the District Attorney, the legislature violated the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public 24 hours notice before meeting about the bill, resulting with a judge issuing a temporary restraining order on the bill’s implementation. But the GOP leaders of the legislature decided to publish the bill despite the judge’s ruling, creating immense confusion about whether the anti-union legislation is the law or not. While the judge did not explicitly bar the Legislative Reference Bureau from publishing the law, the clear intent of the judge’s order was to prevent the law from being implemented.
CNN reports on the ensuing legal crisis and the reactions of labor organizers and State Senator Chris Larson, a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, who are leading the charge against the GOP’s latest power grab:
The litigious and contentious battle in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights has a new twist -- the publishing of the law despite a judge's order against such a move.
That left lawmakers and observers wondering Saturday whether the law had taken effect.
This latest drama started Friday afternoon when the state's Legislative Reference Bureau published the controversial act that curbs the collective bargaining rights of most employees.
The Wisconsin State Employees Union Council 24 blasted the publishing of the law.
"By attempting to unilaterally publish their bill eliminating the rights of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, (Gov.) Walker and his cronies have unquestionably violated the laws of this state to further their extreme overreach for absolute power over our state's people."
Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson said, "The courts are going to step in again and say, 'No, you have to follow the letter of the law' and again they broke it. ... I think it's pretty shameless of Walker and the Republicans."
Update: Gov. Walker has announced that he will begin implementing the anti-union law despite the legal uncertainties. In response, state Democratic chair Mike Tate said:
"Are there any laws that yet bind Scott Walker and the Republicans? With the arrogance of the zealot, they act as if they were laws unto themselves. Ultimately, our Constitution and our courts will protect us from their warped ideologies, but in the meantime, our democracy in Wisconsin is being flayed."
Update 2: (AP) MADISON, Wis. (3/30):
A Wisconsin judge has ruled that there should be no further implementation of a law taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said Tuesday that her earlier restraining order saying the law shouldn't be enacted had either been ignored or misinterpreted.
Sumi stopped short of saying the law was not already in effect. She says she will take more testimony on that issue.
The Legislative Reference Bureau posted the law on a legislative website Friday, leading Gov. Scott Walker's administration to declare the law was in effect.
Sumi revised her original March temporary restraining order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the law, which is typically the last step before it becomes effective.