Tag: partisan

Wisconsin Republicans are delivering a kill shot to democracy

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post contains a link to an article that includes an error. Specifically, Wisconsin State Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D) lives in Milton, Wisconsin, not Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, although Jorgensen did live in Fort Atkinson prior to the post-2010 Census gerrymandering of Wisconsin’s state legislative districts.


Republicans that control Wisconsin state government are delivering a kill shot to democracy by enacting a series of laws designed to effectively destroy democracy in Wisconsin.

The Progressive magazine columnist and Madison Common Council member Rebecca Kemble wrote a must-read article about Republican efforts to destroy democracy in Wisconsin, which you can read here.

The Republican efforts to destroy democracy in Wisconsin consists of the following three pieces of legislation:

  • 2015 Wisconsin Act 64 – While bribery and many forms of political corruption are still illegal in Wisconsin, this law effectively decriminalizes bribery and corruption in Wisconsin by removing the only effective tool in Wisconsin state law to prosecute bribery and corruption: the John Doe investigation. Republican Governor Scott Walker, himself the target of two John Doe investigations that led to a total of six of his associates either being convicted or pleading guilty to various crimes, has already signed this bill into law.
  • Wisconsin Assembly Bill 387 – This legislation, among other things, allows coordination between non-federal candidates for public office in Wisconsin and outside groups like SuperPACs, ends the legal requirement that candidates disclose their campaign donor’s employers, and eliminates campaign contribution limits in Wisconsin. When this bill was voted on in the Wisconsin Assembly, not a single member of the Assembly voted against the legislation. That’s because, in one of the most ridiculous political stunts that I’ve ever seen, Democratic members of the Wisconsin Assembly recused themselves from voting on the legislation citing a conflict of interest, but the conflict of interest statute they cited specifically exempts state legislative votes on legislation to change state laws and regulations.
  • Wisconsin Assembly Bill 388 – This legislation would abolish the officially non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), which is composed of six retired judges and is responsible for both state-level election administration and enforcing state ethics laws in Wisconsin, with separate state elections and ethics commissions composed of political appointees of major-party state legislative leaders and the governor. If this bill were to become law, major-party state legislative leaders could legally appoint themselves or other elected officials to the state elections commission in Wisconsin and remain in elected office, which would be a brazen conflict of interest.

The Wisconsin GOP’s effort to destroy democracy in Wisconsin reminds me a lot of the right-wing Fidesz party in Hungary entrenching itself into power by gerrymandering electoral districts to benefit Fidesz and other right-wing politicians, as well as amending the Hungarian Constitution to undermine civil liberties and entrench Fidesz into power in Hungary. The kind of partisan takeovers normally seen in places like Eastern Europe is taking place right here in the United States, specifically, in Wisconsin.

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When it comes to fighting against Wisconsin Republicans’ push to dismantle good government, Dianne Hesselbein leads

Wisconsin Republicans are spending virtually all of their time trying to dismantle what little remains of Wisconsin’s once-proud tradition of good government and enact a ton of blatantly partisan legislation. One of those blatantly partisan pieces of legislation is legislation that would dismantle Wisconsin’s civil service system and allow Republicans like Governor Scott Walker to install political cronies in every kind of Wisconsin state government job that you can think of. In a recent op-ed in the Madison, Wisconsin-based newspaper The Cap Times, State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), described the Republican plan for dismantling Wisconsin’s civil service system:

The new Republican law will introduce an element of fear in the workplace. New employees will face a full year of probation instead of the current 60 days. (It was to be two years, but the bill’s authors started to feel a chill and backed off.) During probation, new hires will be in a free-fire zone and can be fired at will. If there are layoffs, seniority will not count. Raises will become individual bonuses awarded to the favored few.

Hiring and firing will be controlled by the governor’s political arm — the Department of Administration — not the home agency. Employees will no longer have the assurance that, so long as they show up and do their job well, their job will be secure. Now, for the first time since the Progressives created it in 1905, they will have to worry about political factors.

There’s plenty of other odious pieces of legislation that Republicans want to enact in Wisconsin when it comes to dismantling good government. These include replacing Wisconsin’s non-partisan government watchdog with two separate partisan state commissions, as well as rewriting Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws to allow more money to flow into the political system and allow campaign donors to not disclose who employs them.

I’m glad that someone like Dianne Hesselbein is strongly opposing the Republicans’ efforts to make Wisconsin more like Illinois, a state rife with political corruption and cronyism.

Republican proposal to gut Wisconsin GAB appears to allow for Republican majorities on seperate elections and ethics commissions

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The author of this blog post is not an attorney and does not claim to be one.


Having read the relevant part of this Republican-backed legislative proposal that, if enacted, would create two new partisan commissions to replace the non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), I can state definitively, that, based on my interpretation of the language of the proposed statute, that Republicans would be effectively guaranteed a 4-2 majority on each of the two replacement commissions with Republican Scott Walker currently in the Wisconsin governor’s office.

In Wisconsin, the GAB is the state-level body that administers elections and handles ethics complaints, among other things. Republicans that control Wisconsin’s state government are moving to replace the officially non-partisan GAB with two separate and officially-partisan state election and ethics commissions.

How the Wisconsin Elections Commission would be selected

Under the Republicans’ proposal, Wisconsin’s state-level elections commission, which would be responsible for state-level administration of Wisconsin’s elections, would consist of six members. Four of the members would be selected by Democratic and Republican state legislative leaders (Assembly Speaker, Assembly Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader, and Senate Minority Leader getting one appointment each), with no other statutory qualifications that I can find. The other two members would be former county and/or municipal clerks appointed by the governor (currently Scott Walker, a Republican) from a list of six recommendations, with Democratic legislative leaders getting three recommendations and Republican legislative leaders getting three recommendations. There is no explicit statutory requirement that Walker pick one recommendation from each party. Should a political party that does not have a majority or official minority in either house of the state legislature (i.e., a third-party) field a candidate who receives at least 10% of the vote in a Wisconsin gubernatorial election, that party’s chief officer (i.e., state party chairperson) would get to recommend three people to the governor, and the governor would appoint an additional member to the commission from that list.

Current state legislative leaders in Wisconsin that would be responsible for four of the six appointments to the elections commission are as follows:

  • State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Republican)
  • State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (Republican)
  • State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (Democratic)
  • State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (Democratic)

Here’s what is horrible about the proposed state elections commission:

  • Under this proposal, there is nothing prohibiting state legislative leaders from appointing themselves, other elected officials (up to and including Scott Walker himself), active candidates for public office, lobbyists, and/or campaign donors to the state elections board, with elected officials serving as both an elections board member and an elected official, candidate, lobbyist, and/or campaign donor simultaneously.
  • There doesn’t appear to be a statutory requirement that the  elections commission members be Wisconsinites. In fact, one could even interpret the clause requiring Walker to appoint two former county and/or municipal clerks as allowing Walker to appoint people who formerly served county and/or municipal clerks in other states.
  • The clause authorizing Walker to appoint two former county and/or municipal clerks to the election commission appears to be worded in a manner that would allow Walker to appoint two of the Republican recommendations, instead of one recommendation from each party, as the requirement that “no members of the same political party select, collectively, more than 3 individuals” appears to apply to the list of recommendations for the gubernatorial appointments, not all appointees to the elections commission.

How the Wisconsin Ethics Commission would be selected

Under the Republicans’ proposal, Wisconsin’s state-level ethics commission, which would be responsible for hearing ethics complaints filed against state elected officials (governor, other elected state executives, state legislators, etc.), would, like the elections commission, consist of six members, four selected by state legislative leaders in both major parties and two appointed by the governor from a list of recommendations from state legislative leaders in both major parties. Additionally, should a third-party field a gubernatorial candidate who receives at least 10% of the vote, that party’s Wisconsin state chairperson would get to recommend three people to the governor, and the governor would select one of those to serve as an additional member of the commission. However, there are two main differences in regards to the qualifications of ethics commission members compared to elections commission members. First, for the gubernatorial appointments, there’s no requirement that the appointees be former county and/or municipal clerks. Second, all members of the ethics commission cannot be a lobbyist, an elected official other than a federal elected official, state circuit judge, or state appellate judge, and/or an active candidate for state or local office in Wisconsin.

Here’s what’s horrible about the proposed state ethics commission:

  • Under this proposal, not only are state circuit judges or state appellate judges explicitly allowed to serve on the ethics commission and on the judicial bench simultaneously, there’s no explicit prohibition on federal elected officials, candidates for federal office, or campaign donors from being on the ethics commission, provided that they aren’t lobbyists, active candidates for state or local office in Wisconsin, and/or holders of elected offices other than a federal office, state circuit judgeship, or state appellate judgeship.
  • Like with the elections commission, there’s no statutory requirement that I could find requiring ethics commission members to be Wisconsinites.
  • Like with the elections commission, the clause authorizing Walker to appoint two individuals to the ethics commission appears to be worded in a manner that would allow Walker to appoint two of the Republican recommendations, instead of one recommendation from each party, as the requirement that “no members of the same political party select, collectively, more than 3 individuals” appears to apply to the list of recommendations for the gubernatorial appointments, not all appointees to the elections commission.

Relevant text of legislative proposal (pages 66-69 of proposal)

15.61  (title)  Elections commission; creation.
SECTION 172.  15.61 (1) (a) 1. to 6. of the statutes are created to read:
15.61 (1) (a) 1.  One member appointed by the senate majority leader.
2.  One member appointed by the senate minority leader.
3.  One member appointed by the speaker of the assembly.
4.  One member appointed by the assembly minority leader.
5.  Two members who formerly served as county or municipal clerks and who
are nominated by the governor, with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the senate confirmed. The governor shall choose the nominees from a list of 6 individuals selected by the senate majority leader, the senate minority leader, the speaker of the assembly, and the assembly minority leader and in such manner that no members of the same political party select, collectively, more than 3 individuals.
6.  For each political party qualifying for a separate ballot under s. 5.62 (1) (b) or (2) whose candidate for governor received at least 10 percent of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election, one member, nominated by the governor from a list of 3 individuals selected by the chief officer of that political party and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the senate confirmed.
SECTION 173.  15.61 (5) of the statutes is created to read:
15.61 (5) (a)  If a vacancy occurs for a member appointed under sub. (1) (a) 1.
to 4., the individual responsible for making the appointment shall appoint a new member no later than 45 days after the date of the vacancy.
(b)  If a vacancy occurs for a member appointed under sub. (1) (a) 5. or 6., a new member shall be selected, nominated, and submitted to the senate for confirmation no later than 45 days after the date of the vacancy.
SECTION 174.  15.62 of the statutes is created to read:
15.62  Ethics commission; creation.  (1) (a)  There is created an ethics
commission consisting of the following members who shall serve for 5−year terms:
1.  One member appointed by the senate majority leader.
2.  One member appointed by the senate minority leader.
3.  One member appointed by the speaker of the assembly.
4.  One member appointed by the assembly minority leader.
5.  Two members, nominated by the governor and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the senate confirmed.  The governor shall choose the nominees from a list of 6 individuals, one each selected by the senate majority leader, the senate minority leader, the speaker of the assembly, and the assembly minority leader and in such manner that no members of the same political party select, collectively, more than 3 individuals.
6.  For each political party qualifying for a separate ballot under s. 5.62 (1) (b) or (2) whose candidate for governor received at least 10 percent of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election, one member, nominated by the governor from a list of 3 individuals selected by the chief officer of that political party and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members of the senate confirmed.
(2)  No member of the commission may hold another office or position that is a state public office or a local public office, as defined in s. 19.42, except the office of circuit judge or court of appeals judge under s. 753.075.
(3)  No member, while serving on the commission, may become a candidate, as defined in s. 11.01 (1), for state office or local office, as defined in s. 5.02.
(4)  No member may be a lobbyist, as defined in s. 13.62 (11), or an employee of a principal, as defined in s. 13.62 (12), except that a member may serve as a circuit judge or court of appeals judge under s. 753.075.
(5) (a)  If a vacancy occurs for a member appointed under sub. (1) (a) 1. to 4., the individual responsible for making the appointment shall appoint a new member no later than 45 days after the date of the vacancy.
(b)  If a vacancy occurs for a member appointed under sub. (1) (a) 5. or 6., a new member shall be selected, nominated, and submitted to the senate for confirmation no later than 45 days after the date of the vacancy.

Conclusion

Not only is the idea of replacing one non-partisan board responsible for administering elections and handling ethics complaints in Wisconsin with two partisan commissions, one for administering elections and another for handling ethics complaints, an inherently awful idea, the two partisan commissions would be guaranteed to be controlled by the Republican Party, based on my interpretation of the wording of proposed legislation. The thought of a single political party having majority control of an state elections commission and a state ethics commission in any state, let alone the state that will probably decide the 2016 presidential election, is absolutely frightening. Republicans could easily use the Wisconsin Elections Commission to change election administration procedures to benefit Republicans, and they could also use the Wisconsin Ethics Commission to wage baseless, Joe McCarthy-style witchhunts against Democrats for purely political reasons.

How Republicans are going to turn the Congressional Budget Office into a right-wing propaganda outfit

Anytime Congress needs to obtain a cost estimate, an economic impact analysis, and/or other types of budget and/or economic information, Congress is legally required to turn to its own internal think tank on economic issues, the officially non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

However, the Republicans that won control of both houses of Congress in last November’s elections are about to turn the CBO into a part of their far-right propaganda machine that will probably be one of the most hyperpartisan government agencies in the entire country.

The director of the CBO is currently Douglas Elmendorf, who has run the CBO quite well for the past several years, having originally been appointed by a Congress controlled completely by Democrats in 2009 and then continuing on as CBO director even after Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 midterm elections. However, with Republicans now in control of both the House and the Senate, the House Speaker (more than likely to be John Boehner) and the Senate President Pro Tempore (which will be Orrin Hatch), who are jointly responsible for appointing the CBO director, will almost certainly get rid of Elmendorf and replace him with a new CBO director that will likely be very conservative and use the CBO to spew right-wing lies about the economy and the country’s finances.

What the Republicans want to do is appoint a new CBO director who will turn the officially non-partisan agency into a right-wing, non-partisan in name only agency and use dynamic scoring, a disproven economic theory that is based on the falsehood that cutting taxes for the wealthy results in more revenue to the federal government:

AS Republicans take control of Congress this month, at the top of their to-do list is changing how the government measures the impact of tax cuts on federal revenue: namely, to switch from so-called static scoring to “dynamic” scoring. While seemingly arcane, the change could have significant, negative consequences for enacting sustainable, long-term fiscal policies.

[…]

Such proponents (of dynamic scoring) argue that conventional projections are skewed against tax cuts, because they do not consider that cutting taxes could lead to higher economic output, which would make up at least some of the lost revenues. They maintain that dynamic scoring will, therefore, be both more neutral and more accurate than current methodologies.

In reality, the whole concept of dynamic scoring is built on a mountain of lies and false assumptions about how the economy and taxation work:

But the bigger problems lie deeper. Federal deficits are on an unsustainable path (as it happens, because of undertaxation, not excessive spending). Simply cutting taxes against the headwind of structural deficits leads to lower growth, as government borrowing soaks up an ever-increasing share of savings.

The most optimistic dynamic models get around this by assuming that the world today is in fiscal equilibrium, where the deficit does not grow continuously as a percentage of gross domestic product. But that’s not true. If you add the reality of spiraling deficits into those models, they don’t work.

To make these models work, scorekeepers must arbitrarily assume either that we tax more and spend less today than is really the case…or assume that a tax cut today will be followed by a spending cut or tax increase tomorrow. Economists describe such a move as “making counterfactual assumptions”; the rest of us call it “making stuff up.”

In reality, dynamic scoring encourages absurd economic policies that would decrease the amount of revenue the federal government receives, drive up the federal budget deficit and national debt, hurt economic growth, and wreck our country’s economy. The fact that Republicans want to turn the officially non-partisan Congressional Budget Office into a part of the hyperpartisan right-wing propaganda machine in order to lie to the American people about how legislation effects the economy and our country’s finances absolutely scares me, and Democrats need to start attacking the CBO at every opportunity if they do start acting like a right-wing organization.