A Wisconsin Tragedy in Three Acts

  • Theater Stage with Stool

A Wisconsin Tragedy in Three Acts

By Nancy Kaplan, Kath Michel and Pat Slutske

(of Grassroots North Shore)

The word ‘free’ is heavily used by the Right, even in contexts where it is not appropriate.  They use it wantonly in order to control perception and influence people. Because everything ‘free’ must be good (like motherhood or apple pie), the word has a halo effect on other words in a phrase or sentence, magically making them inherently good too.

But beware!  Right wingers use it to mask their true intentions: to strip us of the liberty and freedom democracy affords.  Their war against democracy — an insidious, well-planned, and multi-pronged assault — has been waged covertly for many years.  Lately we have seen many manifestations of the battle plan, especially attempts to get rid of Open Records requirements, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), and the Government Accountability Bureau (GAB).

Act I:  Open Records, Defeated Once But Not a Done Deal

As a last minute addition to the biennial budget, on the evening of July 2 and just hours ahead of the national Fourth of July holiday, Republican File Folder with Top Secret Labellawmakers (particularly Robin Vos and Governor Walker) tried to gut Wisconsin’s Open Records Law. Holiday or no,

The public was having none of it. Within 48 hours, public outrage forced GOP legislators to pull the heinous Open Record ‘reform’ provision from the budget. 

 But don’t think the danger is over.  As Jessica McBride points out in an article for OnMilwaukee.com , legislators haven’t “abandoned” or “dropped” the deeply troubling gutting of the state open records law. They simply removed the changes from the budget, where they were placed in a sneak attack on the citizenry leading into the holiday weekend.

They moved the issue to a committee to get “public input.” That means it’s not yet dead. Apparently, this zombie idea is now the purview of a “Legislative Council Committee.” So far, we have no idea what the process for obtaining “public input” will be.

Some version of the effort to restrict the public’s right to know what is being done will be resurrected. Here at Grassroots North Shore, we will be tracking this issue closely. Stay tuned.

Act II: The Legislative Audit Bureau

The effort to dismantle the Legislative Audit Bureau is already under way. State Representatives David Craig (R-Big Bend) and Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) have drafted a bill (not yet introduced as of June 8, 2015) that would eliminate the LAB and replace it with a number of “independent” inspectors general placed in various state agencies.

Audit LabelThe Legislative Reference Bureau analyzed the bill and found that it would “allow the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader to direct the inspectors to ‘audit the records of any state agency or program or any county, city, village, town, or school district'” (CapTimes, June 8, 2015).

Senator Kathleen Vinehout exposed the real intention of this legislation when she pointed out that the proposed legislation “would put audits under the direction of the leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature, as opposed to the current system of having the LAB overseen by a bipartisan legislative committee” (CapTimes, June 8, 2015).

For a fuller account of the Legislative Audit Bureau and reactions to the Craig-Jarchow proposal, visit the Grassroots North Shore article “Is It Shoot the Messenger Or Something Worse?

Act III: The Government Accountability Board

Finally, at least for now, Governor Walker and his cronies are making public noise about “reforming” the GAB. Wisconsin’s GAB is the premier system in the country to ensure that the workings of government remain above reproach, so is it any wonder that the Republicans want to shut it down? 

Jay Heck, director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, called the proposal  ‘completely misguided, self-serving and counter to the interests of all Wisconsinites who value a fair and independent state agency overseeing our elections, campaign finance laws, lobbying and ethics.’Money changing hands

‘Walker’s call for the elimination of the GAB is simply revenge and retribution for the GAB approving of an investigation of what was clearly a violation of Wisconsin campaign finance law in 2011-12,’ Heck said. ‘The elimination or evisceration of the GAB will only raise further questions about whether or not Walker and his campaign were involved in illegal activity. And it will be viewed by citizens as an attempt to simply eliminate any entity that puts adherence to the law above partisan fealty’ ( The Cap Times, 7/20/2015 ).

Although a concrete “reform” proposal has not yet been openly promoted, it’s clear that one is in the works. And once it does become public, we will undoubtedly have little time to act. We need to be ready with our phones and our keyboards to push back as hard and as loudly as we can.

To learn more about the history of the GAB and the coming efforts to disband it, see the article “A Chapter In the Story About the Bad Guys and the Government Accountability Board” on our website.

Our Progressive Challenge

In all three cases, public outcry can stymie Republicans’ plans to dismantle good governance statutes. The backlash that succeeded in having the attack on open records removed from the budget bill provides both hope and a cautionary tale. Part of the reason the effort worked is that, state-wide, journalists were swift and merciless in their response. And major conservative voices, including that of Attorney General Brad Schimel and groups like the McIver Institute, joined those of progressive citizens and groups around the state.

That’s the hopeful part. The caution is this: we cannot count on the press to be as forceful in its opposition to wreaking the LAB and the GAB as it was in opposing legislative language to defang the open records law. And we can be sure conservative institutions like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity will be behind these two efforts all the way.Computer Keyboard

  • Our best chance, then, it to be alert and
  • Ready to bombard every Senator and Assembly person with phone calls, letters, and emails.
  • Ready to write letters to the editor of multiple state-wide and even national media outlets.

Ready to use all of our social media tools to get the word out and to mobilize additional voices.

Ready to enlist the help of your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues by phoning, emailing, or just chatting in that old fashioned, face-to-face way.

If you are ready, sign up to volunteer for our RAPID RESPONSE team at Grassroots North Shore. We’ll alert you personally when we learn what’s happening on these issues and we’ll provide you with tools to fight back when the time comes.TO BE READY.