In Wisconsin, there's open government, and then there's Republican government | Wis.Community

In Wisconsin, there's open government, and then there's Republican government

[img_assist|nid=55501|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=155|height=215]Why do Wisconsin Republicans seem so constantly reluctant to let the citizenry know what they're up to?

If they really believed in the wisdom and popularity of their ideology and political views, would they constantly be shoveling legislation across the Assembly and Senate floors at midnight with little or no public notice?

Would they, like Gov. Scott Walker, plan to "drop the bomb" on an unsuspecting public by proposing draconian new laws gutting public employee bargaining rights? And then seek to enact the law in mere days, lest Democrats build opposition? Would they flout open records laws in scheduling a vote?

Would Walker have implied he was unaware of a secret, private wireless Internet connection used by aides in his Milwaukee County Executive offices and other county offices? So that his campaign could hide the fact that some county staffers he appointed could conduct fund-raising and other campaign work on government time, even while they were earning government pay?

Would Walker, when he departed the Milwaukee County Executive's office for the governorship, failed to have seen to it that all documents created in that office during his tenure be sent to the county's official record keepers?

And after that, would Republicans controlling the state legislature have signed secrecy oaths agreeing not to divulge details of their carefully crafted plan to seize more power by gerrymandering Wisconsin legislative districts in their party's favor?

That last example, reported Monday night online by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is just the latest in a disturbing and seemingly endless series of examples where -- in local and state government across Wisconsin -- Republicans are fond of secrecy and run shadow operations that appear outside the law. Even perhaps criminally so, based on what the public already knows of the Milwaukee-based John Doe investigation into Walker's campaign.

In the case of legislative redistricting a year ago, Republicans were in such a hurry to improve their electoral position by this year that they ignored the long-employed system in which the legislature or courts openly crafted redistricting plans.

The GOP also ignored the wholly logical and well-tested practice of letting local governments draw their boundaries first, instead imposing a top-down solution and thus causing very serious headaches for localities -- such as the county clerks who, as we learned a few weeks ago, discovered that thanks to the GOP midnight plan, some of their voters were now assigned to the continent of Africa.

Democrats promptly filed a civil suit to overturn the GOP majority's legislative redistricting maps on the basis that the maps violated the US Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

Now as a result of documents delivered to the court in that still pending case, the Journal Sentinel reports that the large, Republican-oriented law firm of Michael, Best & Friedrich had 75 Republican state legislators sign confidentiality agreements. The legislators agreed they would not discuss in public the redistricting maps as the maps were being developed by the law firm. For which work Republicans agreed the state would pay $400,000. Quite a nice little government outsourcing contract, huh?

It appears from the documents handed over by Republicans under court order that the overriding focus of the redistricting was to secure incumbent GOP seats and improve the party's chances to win more seats. That's arguably tantamount to gerrymandering, a tactic outlawed by the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act, when it minimizes the voting power of racial or ethnic minorities.

But the even bigger picture is even more disturbing. The main reason Republican lawmakers outsourced the redistricting work to the friendly Michael Best law firm was that they apparently believed their secret -- and potentially illegal -- planning would remain protected because of attorney-client privilege. In effect, the GOP was trying to take the public redistricting process private, and to keep it a secret, despite standing legislative hearing requirements, long-established redistricting standards, and the state's Open Records Law.

In the Democratic Party lawsuit, the GOP actually made that claim of attorney-client privilege in an attempt to avoid handing over its internal redistricting documents. The court shot the party down and fined its attorneys for dragging their feet.

Which brings us back to our original question: Why are Republicans so frequently secretive and dismissive of the need for transparency in government? Do they worry that sunlight would disinfect them? Or would it also take a wooden stake to the heart to end this kind of dark, shadow government?

Published

February 7, 2012 - 12:34am

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