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Sunshine Week 2016, Reflecting Back on the 2015 Budget Open Records Attack PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District   
Friday, 04 March 2016 16:15

joint-financeMADISON - The last day of the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) state budget work in the summer of 2015 was expected to be a day with some surprises. One surprise no one could have anticipated was the inclusion of page after page of open records changes. Limiting not only nearly every Legislative office record, the changes also would have closed state public agency records and the Governors records as well. Maybe that is why we celebrate “Sunshine Week” every year, to remind us all of the value of open government and the importance of transparency.

To close open records was monumental, epic and dangerous. As JFC Democrats we were given only 15 minutes to talk about the Republican motion that gutted open records. I spent every single second of my time talking about the mistake of the open records change. I remember saying that in the future when these Legislators left office and were looking back, this vote, to gut the open records law, would be their biggest regret because of the damage it would cause the people of Wisconsin.

Not one Republican vote was swayed by that argument and every single Republican on the Committee voted in favor of gutting Wisconsin open records law, including Representative Czaja and Senator Harsdorf. So of course it was a little disappointing that the Wisconsin Newspaper Association honored these two Legislators with awards.

Wisconsin had some of the first open records laws in the country. Decisions making sure records of the government were open for inspection in Wisconsin are almost as old as the state itself. As we are about to embark on Sunshine Week 2016 to celebrate open government, I hope we will all reflect on the 2015 budget open records crisis and remember how quickly the rules can change if we take them for granted.

I have always been a defender of a strong Wisconsin Open Records law, even when I was sued because I would not give out personally indefinable information of constituents who had contacted my office. The ability to make a decision as a custodian of public records and the counter balance of being able to bring suit when you disagree is central to the Wisconsin open records law and I hope it will be for years to come. Let’s celebrate Sunshine Week 2016 with extra vigilance given the summer of 2015 action.

For more information on Wisconsin’s Open Records law contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 888-549-0027.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 March 2016 16:27
Beating Back Walker's Counterrevolution PDF Print E-mail
Written by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign   
Friday, 04 March 2016 15:44

scott-walker-MADISON - Last Friday night, I went over to Lake Mills to speak with a great local group called “Progressives Informed and Engaged.” (They’re acronym is PIE, and true to their name, they brought five delicious homemade pies, and I sampled each one!)

Here’s the text of the speech I gave. There’s a lot of hope in it, so please take a look:

Beating back the counterrevolution in Wisconsin

This week, our ace research director, Mike Buelow, dug out some information that no other media outlet has reported yet on some of Walker’s big donors who exceeded the legal limit in their donations to him. To see who’s on the naughty list, just click here:

Eleven contributors prompted $28K in penalties paid by Walker campaign

Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, Walker was rewarding some of his other donors, even as he assaulted Wisconsin’s great tradition of local control and home rule. Landlords and bill collectors were among the winners—and tenants and consumers among the losers:

Walker approves more laws to limit local control

On Tuesday, we unveiled our “Influence Peddler of the Month,” and it’s none other than Kurt Bauer, who heads Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), which is the most powerful outside group inside the Capitol. You can read all about him here:

Influence peddler of the month - Kurt Bauer

In the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a comprehensive indictment of the anti-democratic and anti-good government laws passed in the last five years of this Walker counterrevolution, laws that were backed by WMC and other special interests.

Please send us a tax-deductible gift today to help cover our research and to support the urgent work that we’re doing to save democracy in Wisconsin:

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.


P.S. You can make your tax-deductible gift simply by clicking here ( or by mailing it in to us the old-fashioned way at 203 S. Peterson St, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53703. Either way, we really appreciate it!

Last Updated on Friday, 04 March 2016 16:02
"Bumper stickers and silos" - Blue Jean Nation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation   
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 10:24

dems-v-repubFor different reasons and in different ways, both the Democrats and Republicans are missing something. Both are convinced their own world view is superior, both are slaves to special interests, and both seem oblivious to the fact that most people embrace elements of both world views.

ALTOONA, WI - I’m not one of those who thinks you can’t tell apart the two major political parties in America. I don’t buy for a second that they are two wings of the same bird.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have very real and very substantial differences. But both parties have been corrupted and each is failing the country in its own way.

On the surface, Republicans and Democrats talk and act differently. Their words and actions differ so much because below ground their core values conflict and they don’t see eye to eye on how the world works.

Republicans concentrate on the individual. They emphasize self-reliance. Successful people are self-made. Achievement comes from discipline and individual initiative. Failure is the fault of individual weakness or lack of effort, not a scarcity of opportunity or the absence of social justice.

Democrats focus on the community. They stress how interdependent we are. Those who succeed stand on the shoulders of countless others. Advancement depends on many helping hands. Creating opportunity for one — and helping up those who fall — is the responsibility of all.

For at least the last 30 or 40 years, just about every step Republicans take and every move they make has been justified on the grounds of four core principles that fit comfortably on a bumper sticker. Less governmentLower taxesIndividual liberty.Safety and security through strength.

Of course, today’s Republicans have an infidelity problem. There’s the dirty little secret that the biggest expansion of the federal government in the last half-century was largely the GOP’s doing. And it’s the richest who enjoy the lowest tax rates. Republicans used to be for local control but aren’t anymore. They no longer act on the belief that the best government is the one closest to the people.

Your average Democrat, on the other hand, does not summon an overarching principle or core value when explaining a stance or justifying an action. Democrats prefer facts, and have large collections of them. Problem is, when facts and values collide, most people will discard the facts and hold on tight to their values.

The Democratic Party is an amalgamation of a dizzying array of issues and causes and constituencies, the sum total of which does not add up to a governing majority in most parts of the country. Think of the group behavior of Democrats and you are reminded more of cats or rabbits than bees or geese. There’s even a metaphor commonly used to describe this trait that runs particularly strong in Democrats. They are said to each be in their own issue silo.

Having grown up on a farm, I can say from personal observation that silos are no fit place to live. They are cramped and cold and dirty. They work well for storing feed for cattle, not so well for storing the hopes and dreams of Democrats.

For different reasons and in different ways, both the Democrats and Republicans are missing something. Both are convinced their own world view is superior, and both seem oblivious to the fact that most people embrace elements of both world views. Most people put great value on discipline and personal responsibility, but also see the importance of lending a helping hand and making sure that everyone gets a fair shake. Few love paying taxes, but most see the sense of pooling our money to pay to do those things that need to be done together.

The future belongs to the party that figures out that, philosophically speaking, we’re mutts not purebreds. And reconciles itself to the unpleasant fact that we see how both parties are slaves to special interests. They favor different constituencies, but they both cater religiously to those constituencies. The future belongs to the party willing to truly dedicate itself to making the government and the economy work for all of us, not just a few of us.

Now there is a core principle — making the government and economy work for all of us, not just a few of us — that fits comfortably on a bumper sticker. Maybe it can be plastered on all the silos.

Beating Back the Counterrevolution in Wisconsin PDF Print E-mail
Written by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign   
Monday, 29 February 2016 14:46

scott-walker-GOPSpeech originally presented before Lake Mills Progressives Informed and Engaged on February 26, 2016.

LAKE MILLS, WI - Thanks, Leslie, and Progressives Informed and Engaged, for inviting me. I would have come anyway, but the lure of homemade pies made it absolutely irresistible since pies are my favorite things to eat.

I’ve been baking my own fruit pies for 30 years now, and if you need to know, I use a blend of Organic Valley butter and that old standby, white coagulated Crisco, for my shortening, and it works every time.

You know, I could talk about pie all day, or about birds, since I’ve been a birdwatcher for 50 years, and it’d be a lot more diverting than the topic at hand, which is the plight of democracy in Wisconsin.

But that’s why we’re here, and that’s why we all do the political work that we do:

because we believe in democracy,

and we cherish Wisconsin’s historic reputation for clean government,

and we’re appalled at the destruction that the Scott Walker Wrecking Crew has wreaked on our beloved state in the span of just five years.

The fact is, we’re in the midst of a counterrevolution right now.

Our state has been taken over by people who don’t give a damn about democracy.

They don’t give a damn about clean and open government.

They have no respect whatsoever for the public good.

There’s a wholesale assault on democracy in Madison right now, waged not only by Gov. Scott Walker but also by Speaker Robin Vos and your very own Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and by the corrupt justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court – and they’re all doing the bidding of the corporate powers behind them.

When I said they don’t give a damn about democracy, that’s obvious by the fact that they passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country.

I don’t if you saw the recent John Oliver segment on his HBO show ridiculing your own Joel Kleefisch, but it was a thing of beauty. He showed Kleefisch on the floor of the Assembly denouncing people who vote more than once in an election, and then Oliver showed him voting twice on one bill, once for himself and once for an absent legislator. Oliver also showed that Sauk City’s DMV is only open on the 5th Wednesday of every month for registering to vote, and there are only four months with five Wednesdays this year.

That’s how they disenfranchise people. And they do it in other ways, too.

Republicans have also gotten rid of weekend voting before the elections.

And they’ve done away with allowing the League of Women Voters, or anyone else, for that matter, to be deputized to register people to vote.

They even won’t let the city clerks conduct voter registration efforts in public libraries.

Another way they’re assaulting democracy is by drawing some of the most rigged electoral maps in the country. This gerrymandering has got to stop! In secret, in the offices of a high-priced private law firm in downtown Madison, the Republicans met in 2011 to devise, with some fancy computers, some devious electoral maps that stuffed Democrats into fewer and fewer districts. As a result, even though Republicans in the Assembly lost the overall popular vote, they gained 60 of the 99 seats.

I said they don’t give a damn about clean and open government. That’s clear by their repeated efforts to curtail our open-records laws. You’ll remember that Speaker Vos led a sneak attack on these laws on the weekend of July 4 th last year, which showed his appreciation for irony, I suppose.

Fortunately, the people of Wisconsin, and the editorial page writers, rose up and gave legislators a piece of their mind, so they had to back down. But Vos, who has that lean and hungry look, keeps scheming about ways to accomplish this goal even to this day.

They also showed their hostility to clean and open government by drastically rewriting our campaign finance laws so that candidates can coordinate with outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money and never disclose where it’s coming from. And big donors who give directly to candidates no longer have to say where they work so it’ll be harder to tell which piece of legislation is bought and paid for by which company.

And I said they had no respect for the public good. Actually, in their crude and selfish ideology, everything public is bad, and everything private is good. They don’t like public workers; they don’t like public schools. Hell, they don’t even pay for public parks anymore.

So what do they believe in?

They believe in power, and all they want to do is grab as much as they can as fast as they can . And to reward their paymasters and their corporate crony friends, whether it’s the Koch Brothers, or ALEC, or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. There isa sinister symbiosis at play here. The politicians who rule our state get the money that keeps them in power from these corporate groups, and then these politicians dutifully push through legislation that benefits these corporate groups, which then turn around and give more money to these same politicians. The leaders in the legislature have turned our government into an ATM for their corporate cronies. And that’s what most of the legislation they pass is all about.

Just this week, they passed a bill that helps debt collectors. You know, when these guys were running for office, I didn’t hear them saying we’ve got to make life easier for debt collectors!

There’s no public demand for most of the bills that I see flash across my computer every day.

Were people really demanding the right to carry switchblades?

Were they really demanding the right to allow payday lenders to sell more products to desperate consumers?

Were they really demanding the right for bankers to offer misleading sub-prime loans, which were immortalized in “The Big Short?”

Were they really demanding the right of pipeline owners to exercise eminent domain and boot you out of your house?

Were they really demanding the right to give landlords more power to evict people?

Were they really demanding the right to let huge factory farms have less regulation over their high-capacity wells?

Were they really demanding the right to have more lead in our paint?

Of course not. These are all special-interest bills, written for and sometimes by, they very groups that would benefit from them. They are not written for, or by, you--I can you promise you that.

This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

This is happening not just in Wisconsin, but around the country. And it’s not a new problem:

Thomas Jefferson warned us 200 years ago almost to this day, when he said: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of the monied corporations.”

150 years ago, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan warned us that "there is a looming and new dark power. . . .The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only, but for political power. For the first time really in our politics money is taking the field as an organized power. …

Well, money has really taken the field these days and it wins almost all the time.

Edward Ryan continued: “The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine:

“Which shall rule — wealth or man?

“Which shall lead — money or intellect?

“Who shall fill public stations — educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?"

You know who picked up on this “feudal serf” line? Not just Fighting Bob La Follette, who fought corporate power his whole life.

No, a more recent Wisconsin politician, a Republican named former State Senator Dale Schultz. He was the Senate Majority Leader for the Republicans for a while. And when he decided not to run again, he said that many legislators have become, and these are his words, “feudal serfs for folks with a lot of money.”

People get this in their gut.

This is a bipartisan issue. The people by a huge bipartisan margin, already understand that big money plays too big a part in our political life. In a recent poll:

84 percent agreed that money has too much influence over politics.

And 80 percent of Republicans agreed with.

78 percent said money spent by outside groups in campaigns should be limited.

And 73 percent of Republicans agreed with that.

People understand a fundamental truth: We no longer live in a functioning democracy.

As Jimmy Carter told Thom Hartmann last year, we’ve become an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

Two years ago, two political science professors, one from Princeton and the other from Northwestern (Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page) studied 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002 and what they found was startling: “It makes very little difference what the general public thinks…They have little or no independent influence on policy at all. … In our findings, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Why don’t they teach that in seventh-grade civics class, or in high school social studies? Because there it is: Our democracy is not working anymore.

We’re finally hearing about this in our Presidential race.

Oddly, Donald Trump has talked about this. Remember in his first debate he said how easy it was for him to buy favors from elected officials? Hell, he bragged that he got Hillary Clinton to sit in the front row of his wedding. And that’s the least of it. Usually, tycoons give money not for vanity’s sake but because they want government agencies to give them something in return. And they get it! Now Trump says he’s not taking money from anyone else—that he’s self-financing, and therefore uncorrupted. Last night, he made the point again, saying he knows politicians because he gives them money, and he gives to candidates from both parties because he’s a good businessman. It’s heads I win, tails I win. And for proof, he mentioned the $5,000 check he’d written to Ted Cruz.

On the other side, Bernie Sanders talks about how the political system is rigged by Wall Street every time he says good morning. And he’s been saying it for at least 15 years now, God bless him, if you’ve heard him at Fighting Bob Fest, year in and year out, as I have.

And he’s gotten Hillary to start talking about it, too.

Both Hillary and Bernie are on record that they would make sure their Supreme Court appointees would vote to overturn Citizens United.

So let’s look at Citizens United for a second.

That decision said corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect this candidate or defeat that candidate. And it contained the two most naïve statements ever written in a Supreme Court decision:

Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

And “The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”

What planet were those five justices living on when they came up with those whoppers?

Fortunately, people right here in Wisconsin haven’t fallen for them.

In 60 villages, towns, cities, and counties all across this state (including here in Lake Mills!), the people or their representatives have voted by overwhelming margins in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to say, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money is not speech. (The vote of the town board on Sept. 10, 2013, here was unanimous, by the way.)

But this movement is not just about overturning Citizens United; it’s about overturning 140 years of absurd Supreme Court precedents that grant personhood to corporations.

Amending the Constitution is the fundamental solution to the problem of money in politics, and I hope I’ll live to see such an amendment pass.

I’m an impatient man . I don’t want to wait for the pendulum to swing. I want to give it a big Badger shove in the pro-democracy direction.

As Fighting Bob La Follette put it 100 years ago, “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

We need more democracy, now, in this country.

And we need more democracy, now, right here in Wisconsin.

And no, I don’t get discouraged. I know that nothing is static, and that these guys won’t be in power forever, and that democracy surges forward unexpectedly – but especially when we give it a shove.

I’m a student of Howard Zinn’s, the great people’s historian, who chronicled these surges from below. And he once wrote:

“ TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

So, yes, let’s defy all that is bad around us!

And yes, let’s affirm all that is good!

What is good?

Well, things are starting to move.

Nationally, there’s the Fight for $15 movement. Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that people would have been walking off their jobs, en masse, at McDonald’s and Burger King and demanding $15 an hour? And who would have thought they’d be winning, as they have already in Seattle and elsewhere?

There’s the Black Lives Matter movement, focusing attention on police brutality in a systematic way that we haven’t seen since the 1960s.

Or look at the movement to end climate change: It stopped the XL Pipeline, let’s not forget.

And then there’s Bernie’s campaign, whether you’re voting for him or not, you’ve got to admit he’s drawn attention to some of the key issues of our day: like our rigged economy and our rigged political system, and our rigged media. And he has caught on in a way that few could have predicted.

Here, statewide, you’ve got the success of United to Amend, the group that’s working so hard to overturn Citizens United.

Plus, Walker’sapproval rating is barely above the freezing mark, and that of the Republican legislators is actually below freezing.

And here’s another thing: The Walker Wrecking Crew wasn’t able to get everything that it wanted in this session.

It didn’t get:

--to impose limits on school referendums

--to allow individual landowners to excavate Native burial grounds

--to allow AquaAmerica, a Pennsylvania company, to have an easier time buying up public water utilities

--to allow people who own property on a lake to dredge up and haul away three truckloads of sediment every year.

Here’s another ray of hope: The district attorneys of Dane County, Iowa County, and Milwaukee County are appealing the horrendous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision on the John Doe straight up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where I think they’ll actually win!

But more than any other reason, I’m hopeful because over the last year, I’ve met some really amazing people in the pro-democracy movement here in Wisconsin.

Some of the amazing people are in the state legislature, such as JoCasta Zamarripa, who stands up for immigrants and poor people, or Chris Taylor, who exposes ALEC and defends women’s health. Every day, they defy the high school bullies who rule the Capitol. And there are some courageous Republicans in there, too, like Senator Rob Cowles, who voted against the Campaign Finance bill and blocked some of the worst elements in the latest shoreline giveaway bill. Or Assembly Rep Todd Novak, who voted for nonpartisan redistricting and against the budget.

And some of the amazing people are in the nonprofit sector, like Christine Neumann-Ortiz, of Voces de la Frontera, who last week led 20,000 people in the “Day Without Latinos” rally.

Or people like Jay Heck of Common Cause, or Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters, or Kerry Schumann of the League of Conservation Voters, or Kim Wright of Midwest Environmental Advocates, or George Penn of United to Amend, or Astar Herndon and Martha de la Rosa of 9to5, or Robert Kraig and Anita Johnson at Citizen Action, or like Dana Schultz and Colleen Gruszyinski at Wisconsin Voices, or Scott Foval at People for the American Way, or Peter Skopec at WisPIRG.

These are people, many of them a lot younger than me and with a lot more energy, who are working together as never before to get this state back on track.

We’ve torn down our silos, we’ve shelved our egos, we’re meeting and strategizing together on a regular basis, and we’re all rowing in the same direction. And we’ll get there yet!

So let me leave you with one final quote:

Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet who died two years ago, wrote a beautiful poem called “The Cure at Troy.” I’m not going to read the whole poem to you but one line sticks in my head: He wrote, there are times in our lives when “hope and history rhyme.”

Let’s make hope and history rhyme again in Wisconsin.

Let’s turn things around here so we can say, once again, that we’re proud to be from Wisconsin.

Thank you.

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