by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
June 19, 2017
This is a rough transcript of Matt Rothschild’s speech at the Rally to Defend Civil Service, June 17, 2017, at the Wisconsin Capitol.
It’s great to see everybody.
I want to put Governor Scott Walker’s attack on our civil service in a larger context of his assault on clean and open government, the common good, and democracy itself.
Because what Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have been doing since the moment they grabbed power is to turn the clock back to the era of the Robber Barons. That’s their favorite period in American history, when corporations ran roughshod over workers, when politicians were totally on the take, and when citizens had little voice and less power.
You see, Walker and Vos and Fitzgerald don’t believe in clean and open government, the common good, or democracy.
That’s why they’ve attacked our professional civil service corps, which used to be above patronage and partisanship.
That’s why they got rid of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which was run by career civil servants and was a model for the country.
And that’s why they rewrote our campaign finance law to let corporations, for the first time in more than 100 years, give money to political parties.
And that’s why they, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the most corrupt state supreme court in the country, said that it’s now legal for candidates to coordinate with outside groups.
They had to say this to immunize Scott Walker, who, you’ll remember, was running all over the country to sit on the laps of millionaires and billionaires like Diane Hendricks and John Menard and Sheldon Adelson and a lead manufacturer in Texas and had them write six-figure and seven-figure checks not to Scott Walker or to the Republican Party but to Wisconsin Club for Growth. And then Walker told Wisconsin Club for Growth what to do with that money. He gave them a radio script and told them what stations to run the ads on. This, at a time when the law on the books in Wisconsin said you couldn ’t coordinate with outside groups if you’re a candidate. And so they erased the law. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice who wrote that decision was none other than Michael Gableman, who announced his resignation this week.
Another way they demonstrated that they don’t believe in clean and open government and the common good and democracy is the way they rigged the legislative maps. They didn’t draw the maps in this building behind me. No, they went half way around the square to the private, pricey law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich, where they drew the maps in a locked room that was called “the map room.”
The media wasn’t allowed in.
The public wasn’t allowed in.
Democrats weren’t allowed in.
Even Republicans who weren’t in leadership had to ask to be let in, and then once they saw their own redrawn districts, they had to sign an oath of secrecy.
That’s not how the people’s business is supposed to be conducted.
And they rigged the maps so blatantly that a panel of federal judges ruled the gerrymandering to be unconstitutional.
Here’s another example of their contempt for clean and open government, the common good, and democracy: They passed the Voter ID law to make it harder, not easier, for people to vote. And the chief of staff of Republican Senator Dale Schultz said that Republican senators, and this is his word, were “giddy” at the prospect of disenfranchising students and minorities.
Wisconsin used to have a reputation for protecting workers’ rights.
We don’t anymore. Not after Act 10, and Gableman wrote the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding that one, too.
We had a reputation for preserving our beautiful landscape and our treasured waterways.
We don’t anymore. Now the DNR fires its career civil service scientists and scrubs the words “climate change” from its website.
We had a reputation for investing in top-notch schools.
We don’t anymore.
And don’t be fooled by Walker’s latest shifty maneuver, as he now claims to be a champion of the public schools after slashing their funding in every budget but this one. He’s like the pyromaniac who lights fires by night and then puts on his firefighter costume by day and pretends to be the hero.
He’s no hero. He’s an arsonist.
Walker and Vos and Fitzgerald are attacking everything that made Wisconsin Wisconsin, except the Packers and cheddar cheese.
We need to ask ourselves, as I’ve asked myself, why are they doing this?
Well, first of all, they’re doing it for their bosses. We’re supposed to be their bosses. We, the citizens of Wisconsin. But we’re not their bosses.
No, their bosses are Diane Hendricks, John Menard, the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, ALEC, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. These are the folks who fund their campaigns and give them their talking points. Walker and Vos and Fitzgerald are just their water boys.
And the second reason they’re destroying this state is because they’ve eaten and they regurgitate the ideology that is so prevalent today. The ideology that says that everything public is bad, everything private is good.
And it’s a very convenient ideology. Because if you discredit government and take the teeth out of the watchdogs, and if you destroy unions, there is absolutely nothing to stand in the way of a corporation grabbing as much profit as it can, no matter the cost.
The cost to workers.
The cost to consumers.
The cost to citizens.
The cost to our environment.
And the person who epitomizes this ideology is Donald Trump, the five-year-old tantrum-er who has turned the White House into a playpen, but it’s a playpen filled with nuclear weapons.
Trump has no appreciation whatsoever for democratic values.
He repeatedly trashes the media, our Fourth Estate.
He repeatedly trashes the Judiciary.
He’s now trashing his own Justice Department.
And he put forward not just a Muslim ban but an executive order that says the immigration service can round up not only people convicted of a crime, but also people just charged with a crime or even people who are “chargeable” with a crime.
My friends, this is a perilous time for democracy in Wisconsin, and for democracy in the United States.
But I have no doubt that we’ll make our way through.
We’ll survive Donald Trump.
And we’ll survive Scott Walker.
We’ll make it because of you, and millions like you, who are rising up, right now, in ways that I haven’t seen for decades.
We got a glimpse of this during the Bernie campaign.
We saw it with the great Women’s March in Washington, the day after Inauguration Day, and the one here, with 75,000 people. I was stuck way down on State Street, and there were so many of us we could barely move. But it was exhilarating, nonetheless.
We saw it with the huge rallies for immigrant rights in Milwaukee and around the country.
We saw it in the Earth Day marches and the Marches for Science.
And we see it in the spontaneous blossoming of Indivisible groups all across this country, including in places like Jefferson, Wisconsin.
And we see it with the tremendous success of Wisconsin United to Amend, which has passed 105 referendums in one place after another, by overwhelming margins, proclaiming that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech.
And we see it, here in Wisconsin, with one county after another suddenly coming on board for nonpartisan map drawing like they’ve done in Iowa for 35 years. If it works in Iowa, it can work here in Wisconsin.
Just this year, nine counties have gone on record, again by lopsided margins, that they want career civil servants—yes, civil servants!—to draw the maps in a nonpartisan way.
The people are with us, my friends.
Together, we’ll make our democracy expand, and not contract.
For as Robert La Follette said 100 years ago, “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”
We need, we desperately need, more democracy, in Wisconsin right now.
We need, we desperately need, more democracy in this country right now.
And we’re going to get it.