State Capitol, March 13, 2008
Posted: March 14, 2008
I’m proud to stand with all of you today because I know you all made a personal sacrifice to be here. None of you are being paid to take part in this, and no one paid to get you here. You are here simply because you care and because you want something done in this building.
I am sure many of you are feeling downhearted about the state of our politics, and I know you are frustrated with how the people’s business is done in the Capitol. But the People’s Legislature is making an impact, and you can be proud of what’s already been accomplished.
Many of you were here back in 2006 on the very day the Assembly killed our ethics reform bill. But you kept the pressure on, and we weren’t even done licking our wounds when, just nine months after they killed the ethics bill, they were scurrying into special session to pass it. When this landmark ethics reform law was signed into law by the governor, one of the priorities that was established by the very first People’s Legislature assembly in January 2005 was achieved.
Then many of you were here last fall banging pots and pans on the steps of the Capitol, calling on the governor to call a special session on campaign finance reform, something he was steadfastly refusing to do. But you kept on the pressure, sending hundreds of petitions to the governor, and he finally relented and called the special session.
That special session doesn’t end today. It can continue through the end of the year if necessary. We’ll be here pushing for reform for as long as it takes to persuade our elected representatives to do the public’s will.
I need to say a few words about the 2007-2008 session of the Legislature. This legislative session – and this Legislature – has been an embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin. I’m tempted to say this is a do-nothing Legislature, but that could lend the impression that they tried to do something but failed. They met so infrequently that there never was a chance they’d accomplish much of anything. What we’ve seen is gridlock by design. It was choreographed stalemate.
They were four months late passing a state budget last year, and then did nothing of note for the rest of the year. The Assembly met for a grand total of 20 days in 2007, and the Senate met for 18 days the whole year. While they were meeting only about once every three weeks to do the public’s business, they were holding campaign fundraisers almost every other day. They held 158 of them in 2007.
I know legislative leaders have said that counting session days is not an accurate reflection of the Legislature’s work load. They say most work gets done in committee. Well, the Assembly Elections and Constitutional Law Committee almost never met. They sometimes went months between meetings. We know. We were watching and waiting for them to do something. We’re still waiting.
And I know Speaker Huebsch said nobody complains about the fact the Packers only play 16 games a year. Bad comparison, Mr. Speaker. The Packers actually accomplished something this year. They got some things done.
The truth is they are deliberately running out the clock. They are ending the session seven weeks earlier than last session. They have no business adjourning when there’s still so much work to do. None of us get to stop working for the year on March 13. Our elected representatives shouldn’t either.
On issue after issue, they’re ignoring the public’s clear wishes….
The public wants the Great Lakes protected. Eight states that border one of the Great Lakes and two Canadian provinces have approved the Great Lakes Compact. Wisconsin stands alone in refusing to act.
The public clearly wants a statewide ban on smoking in public places. Our neighbors Illinois and Minnesota already have put such a ban in place. Wisconsin stands alone in this region in failing to protect public health.
Everywhere I go . . . and I bet just about everywhere all of you go . . . people talk about their frustrations with our broken health care system. The public wants the system overhauled. Yet this Legislature has failed to act.
And our Supreme Court is in trouble. A cloud is hanging over our state’s highest court because of growing partisan and special interest influence. The public clearly wants reform. A leading Republican polling firm found that two-thirds of state residents support the Impartial Justice bill creating publicly financed state Supreme Court elections. The entire court – from the most conservative justice to the most liberal – wants the Legislature to create publicly financed Supreme Court elections. The court isn’t unanimous about much of anything, but it is unanimous about this. Even former Assembly Speaker David Prosser signed the letter. But the current speaker is blocking a vote on the Impartial Justice bill.
The Senate already has passed it. And make no mistake, if the Assembly votes it will pass. The only question is whether the leaders will allow it to be debated and voted on.
It’s not just the Impartial Justice bill that’s being obstructed. The Senate unanimously passed a bill that requires full disclosure of special interest electioneering and closes a gaping loophole in our campaign finance laws that allowed at least $15 million to be spent secretly to influence state elections in 2006 and at least another $3 million to pass under the table to help decide the 2007 Supreme Court race.
The Assembly refuses to even take it up. How can one house be unanimous and the other house refuse to even vote? They represent the same voters.
And then the Assembly blocked a bill banning campaign fundraising during the state budget process. One of the people who voted against it in committee was the committee’s chair, Sheryl Albers, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Another member of the committee, Robin Vos, told his colleagues they can’t “give in” to the perception that state lawmakers are corrupt.
Sorry, Representative Vos, but that horse already has left the barn. A conservative group, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, did polling that showed 82% of state residents are convinced that lobbyists and special interests – and not the voters – decide what’s in the budget and what the state spends money on. And 2% say they can trust legislators to do the right thing.
That perception Representative Vos talks about is reality. And this Legislature needs to come to terms with that reality.