At DNR hearing, GOP to take another Stepp (as in Cathy) away from the public | WisCommunity

At DNR hearing, GOP to take another Stepp (as in Cathy) away from the public

So now it's RSVP for any public hearing, apparently.

First Gov. Walker let loose with his bill to gut state employee unions and start a chain reaction down the line to local government unions, a move that would shift more political power in the state toward Republicans. The bill also would create more political appointments out of current civil service jobs.

Next the GOP rammed the bill through the Senate at light speed, stopped only by the departure of Democrats required for a voting quorum. Next the GOP went all snarky and ran an insta-vote at 1 a.m. in the Assembly, approving the measure so fast that 25 legislators -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- couldn't 't even make it to the floor in time to vote.

And over the weekend, rumors flew that the administration and legislature had pressured Capitol police into removing protesters who have been camping out inside the people's building, a highly visible embarrassment to the Walker administration. The rumors gained so much traction thanks to partial confirmation from the police that unionized law enforcement officers used off-duty time to spend the night with protesters, making a statement of their own in support. Earlier in the week, we learned from the phony David Koch phone chat with Walker that the governor's team had considered sending protesters of their own into the anti-Walker crowds, presumably as agents provocateur.

All this is part of the increasingly authoritarian command-and-control frame of mind that infests mainstream Republican thinking. The latest example might be coming up Tuesday. GOP leaders have scheduled a 9:30 a.m. hearing in the Senate Parlor to confirm Walker's appointment of the controversial Cathy Stepp, who has a business background in the homebuilding industry, to run the Department of Natural Resources, an agency whose workers she has in the past heavily criticized.

Hearings to confirm gubernatorial appointments are often perfunctory affairs but this one will be unusual. Why? Well, read this statement from the official hearing notice:

Seating for the public and legislative staff will be limited. Access for the public will be available by contacting the Sergeant-at-Arms staff outside of the third floor Southeast corridor of the Capitol 15 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.

It would be interesting to watch the poor sergeant trying to accommodate scores or even hundreds of would-be hearing attendees in 15 minutes or less.

Before the Walker administration came along, official notices for state public meetings didn't tend to show up at the very last legal minute in the fewest possible venues and for those meetings to be schedule in tight quarters. While those wishing to testify at a hearing always have to sign slips at the door, It is practically unheard of for a public hearing to require advance reservations and for artificial barriers (like a 15 minute window) to be enforced.

When Joint Finance scheduled its hearing on the Walker measure, it notified in advance friendly forces such as the conservative Club for Growth, ensuring that pro-Walker speakers would get the first 20 or so slots to testify. The explanation was that these were "busy" people who had good reason to bump other people who had to sit or stand for hours in line.

The best face Republicans can put on this latest stage management is that they're worried about security -- which of course has been a talking point in the GOP rhetorical trick bag ever since Walked announced along with his budget repair measure that he'd ordered the Wisconsin National Guard to begin planning to mobilize in the event of work disruptions.

But the more likely explanation is this: Republicans know Stepp is a highly controversial figure, disliked intensely by many at the DNR itself and in the environmental community. And they know that there are a of Walker and Stepp adversaries in the vicinity and around the state. They don't want any more black eyes, and they're aghast at the thought of another public hearing jammed with anti-Walker speakers that goes on for hours. So they've opted to control access as much as possible, just like they're busy figuring out how to control as much of the popular political discourse and the actual workings at all levels of state and local government as possible.

What's the next public hearing going to be like? Will the Sergeant of Arms operate under orders to check your official Wisconsin Voter ID papers at the door, or perhaps even ask you whether you voted Republican? Nah, that's just a waking nightmare; it can't happen here.

UPDATE: Citizens who attempted to attend the Stepp confirmation hearing had to go through a recurring gauntlet of security people. One citizen who got into the Capitol for the under-reported hearing observed many lobbyists who did not wear visitor badges and who didn't appear to have to wait in line like ordinary citizens. While citizens literally were escorted about the Capitol by a phalanx of staff and guards -- sort of like zoo animals taken on a controlled stroll --  lobbyists appeared to have free run and no escorts. Citizens had visitor badges; lobbyists did not. So: How do you tell a lobbyist from a citizen in the halls of the new state government? The lobbyists get to run wild; the citizens are under control and constant watch. Lest they get, you know, uppity!


February 27, 2011 - 6:38pm