Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward of Pontiac, Michigan – a member of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – stood up against Michigan’s new anti-labor law in a statement yesterday. PFAW is proud of the work of young elected officials to protect workers’ rights and stand up for the middle class by speaking out against this damaging bill.
Woodward’s statement reads:
Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, states that the so-called “right to work” law would harm workers, unions, and everyday citizens across the state. “You can't grow the middle class by weakening their very ability to earn a fair wage,” said Woodward.
“With their proposed ‘Right to Work for Less’ Law, Governor Snyder and his anti-worker Republicans have signaled their new Jobs Plan---workers need to earn less,” Woodward continued. “This law will make it harder for workers to bargain for decent pay and benefits, making it harder, in turn, for them to support their families.”
The new, new Mitt Romney has been doing everything he can to fit in. But on Tuesday, he faced a big setback: he found out that he had been trying too hard to fit in with the wrong crowd.
Mitt was having a hard time figuring out which side to pick in two statewide referendums that pit the most extreme interests of the Republican party against the common sense interests of American voters. In Ohio, he endorsed a bill that took a sledgehammer to workers' rights, then couldn't decide if he would oppose its repeal, then finally decided he was for the anti-worker bill all along. On Tuesday, Ohio voters killed the bill by a whopping 61-39 percent margin.
The former governor performed an almost unbelievable flip-flop on a proposed referendum in Mississippi, which would have defined "personhood" as beginning at the moment of fertilization - thereby banning not only all abortions regardless of circumstances, but also hormonal birth control, in vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Asked about such "personhood" bills by Mike Huckabee, Romney said he "absolutely" supported them. Asked by a participant at a town hall meeting whether he really supported banning hormonal birth control, Romney hedged the question. Finally, the day after Mississippi resoundingly rejected the restrictive amendment, surprise! Romney's campaign came out to clarify that he was on the side of the majority after all, that he had never supported personhood, and thought these decisions should be left up to the states anyway.
Got that? Pick the one of those three positions that work best for you.
The GOP's radical shift to the right in recent years has caused Mitt Romney to do whatever it takes to get with the right Right crowd. In his endless quest for electability, Romney has followed Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and the rest of the Radical GOP off a cliff - and appears not to have noticed that the rest of America has stayed behind.
What Romney might not have counted on is that American voters, unlike him, know when a line has been crossed. While the GOP establishment steadfastly supported Ohio's anti-worker law, voters rejected the policy across party lines. Protecting the fundamental right to collective bargaining wasn't a partisan issue - it was an issue of core values.
Similarly, Mississippi voters rejected the "personhood" amendment by a decisive 16-point margin. Banning birth control and life-saving procedures for pregnant women was a line that Romney easily crossed, but it is one which voters in one of the most conservative states in the nation would not.
Romney must have felt a similar unpleasant jolt when voters in Arizona unseated state senate president Russell Pearce, the author of the state's devastating anti-immigrant reforms. Whoops-- Mitt Romney had already moved his position on immigration to the right of Rick Perry.
We can only expect that Romney will keep radically reversing all of his earlier positions on every important issue. That is until it is time to start changing them back again for the general election. Is anyone, no matter what their politics, going to buy that?
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!
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.
Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate announced that they will penalize the fourteen boycotting Senators by imposing a $100-a-day fine and taking away their parking spaces, but the chamber’s Democrats are determined to block the GOP’s radical anti-labor legislation. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson described the group’s resolve not to budge in the face of Republican threats. Sen. Larson is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, and is working closely with PFAW to build momentum to stop Governor Scott Walker’s plan to quash workers’ rights. He makes clear that the public is increasingly turning against Walker’s plans, and that the Republicans’ latest move only shows their desperation to quickly pass their extreme legislation:
"They've become increasingly desperate with these petty things that they're throwing out there," Larson said. "The next thing they're gonna throw out is we're gonna have to say 'Mother, may I' before anybody can talk."
TPM asked Larson, who said he was at a rest stop in Illinois, whether he was prepared to pay the fines. "You know, it's not about us, it's not about the finances," said Larson. "It's about the cuts that they're doing to workers rights, it's about the cuts that they're doing to educators, and throwing out Medicare, Medicaid and Seniorcare, and trying to change these provisions."
Larson also was not entirely sure whether the fines were legally permissible. "First of all, it's in the Constitution that you cannot diminish a person's wages," said Larson. "But it's beside the point. The fact that they're trying to hold our paychecks and have these fines, it's petty and it's not impacting anybody. We had a meeting and nobody flinched at it. It was just like, wow, he's [Fitzgerald] looking really desperate."
Later in the interview, TPM noted to Larson that the fines appeared to be based on a provision in the state Constitution that the legislature "may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."
"Well, we'll have to see when we go back," said Larson. "We'll go over it with some lawyers. The fact is, it's giving - it's not making us think about it twice. We're focused on preserving workers' rights, preserving the way of life in Wisconsin without these huge cuts to rights. That's what we're focused on.
"If they want to throw out fines, if they want to call us names and if they want to take over our staff, they're doing everything they can to ignore what the real issue is, and that's that they're going too far with their power grab. The public is crying foul and calling them out on their power grab, and they're just ignoring it."
He also added: "What they do to us is of little consequence, compared to what they're doing to themselves right now."
By Dave Kreisman
Over the last 13 days, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor cold has been able to stop the tens of thousands of public employees, their families and allies in Wisconsin’s fight to protect the rights of the middle class and working families.
Democracy, while flourishing in the halls of the Capitol and outside in the streets, was crushed in the Assembly chambers Friday morning at 1am, when after over 60 hours of debate, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) opened the roll and closed it within 15 seconds, allowing only 13 of the 38 Democratic Assembly Representatives the opportunity to cast their vote. The floor immediately erupted with Democratic members rushing the line of Republicans filing out of the chamber chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
As Republicans filed out of the building, Democratic members greeted the hundreds of supporters in the rotunda who have been camping out in solidarity for over a week.
On Saturday over 75,000 people filled the lawn of the Capitol here in Madison, listening as Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bradley Whitford along with fellow actors Gabrielle Carteris and Robert Newman and U.S. Airways Pilot Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot who helped safely “land” a passenger plane on the Hudson River in 2009 spoke about their own unions and encouraged the masses to carry on “one more day” with Peter Yarrow assuring the crowd that “the eyes of the world are upon you.”
As has been the case at the end of each day of protests, nothing (not even snow and 14 degree weather) can stop the will of those standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.
Dave Kreisman is coordinating People For the American Way's support for workers' rights in Wisconsin.
An editorial in today's Washington Post calls on the Senate to act quickly on President Bush's nominees to the Fourth Circuit. But as PFAW Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer pointed out in a Letter to the Editor, the Post has ignored serious concerns that make these nominees very controversial, and the Senate should not rush to confirm them. You can read that letter below:
To the Editor: