The GAB: A Pillar of Democracy

This was the prepared text of a speech that Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, gave on Sept. 14 at UW Marathon County on a panel organized by Common Cause in Wisconsin. The GAB: A Pillar of Democracy

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

September 17, 2015

(Other panelists included Jay Heck of Common Cause, Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters, Colleen Gruszynski of Wisconsin Voices, and former Rep. Mandy Wright.)

First of all, it’s a pleasure to be back in Wausau. The first time I spoke here was in February 2003, right before Bush launched the Iraq War, and it was about 10 degrees outside, so I nice to be inside here where it’s warm.

It’s always nice to be on a panel with such terrific people, great public servants all. It’s been one of the real treats of this new job I have to get to know and work with Andrea, and Jay, and Colleen. And Mandy Wright, it’s been great to get to know you a little bit. I’m sure you have a long political career ahead of you.

The other panelists have already given you the crucial background on the GAB, so I’m not going to go over that same ground except to reinforce the point that it’s crucial that we have an independent, nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. Otherwise, it’s an invitation to more corruption in Madison, and we have more than enough of that already.

Instead, I’d like to step back a little bit and put the assault on the GAB in a larger context, for I see it as part and parcel of an insidious attack on democracy itself here in Wisconsin the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Joe McCarthy.

And the character assassination of Kevin Kennedy is something that Joe McCarthy himself would have been very comfortable doing, but today’s assassins are Speaker Robin Vos and Gov. Scott Walker and State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette).

They are not interested in democracy. They are interested in consolidating power.

They see the GAB not just as an annoyance but as a threat to their hold on power.

And as we’ve seen across the board, they will do just about anything to keep their grip on power.

That’s why they did such a partisan redistricting, redrawing the electoral maps in one of the most flagrantly biased ways in modern American history.

That’s why they passed the voter ID Act—to make it harder for people to vote, especially people who disproportionately don’t vote Republican.

That’s why they want to rewrite our campaign finance laws to allow the wealthiest people to give more money, and to limit our ability to find out who is giving what.

That’s why they endorse—and AG Brad Schimel endorses—the state supreme court’s recent horrendous decision in the John Doe case to allow coordination between candidates and so-called independent groups.

That’s why they want to rewrite the John Doe statute to make it not apply to elected officials anymore.

They actually, in a sense, view themselves as above the law, and not just the John Doe law but the Open Records law, which Speaker Vos is still scheming to get around even after the public rose up to repel the July 4 th sneak attack on that law.

These guys just keep coming back for me. They’re doing it again with an attempt to install their own inspectors general in every major state agency, another power grab they tried in the summer that didn’t succeed. But they’re back at it again.

They’re like a Hydra-headed monster.

And like the Democrats before them, they don’t understand that they won’t always be in power.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so you can imagine that when the Democrats regain control some time down the road and act in as partisan a manner as these Republicans, the Republicans would be crying foul, to stick with the metaphor.

Is it too much to ask to have good public policy, regardless of which party is in power?

The Government Accountability Board is good public policy. It’s been ranked as model for the country by an Ohio State scholar who studies campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics in government.

Curbing the role of money in politics is good public policy.

Making it easier for people to vote is good public policy.

Having open records is good public policy.

And not just good public policy, but pillars of democracy, pillars that some of the most power-hungry people in Madison are systematically trying to knock down, one after another after another.

We simply cannot, we simply must not, let them get away with it.