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Monday, Dec. 30, 2013

Issue of the Week: Wisconsin Is Losing Our Democracy

Scott Walker
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2013 didn’t have the drama of 2011—when Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature undid decades of progressive policies—or 2012, when Walker survived a recall and President Obama won a decisive re-election victory.

But 2013 did have a nonstop series of less dramatic but vitally important efforts to strip away our democracy. We began the year with a lopsided Legislature, in which the Republicans used their GOP-friendly legislative map to secure a majority in both houses, despite winning fewer votes than Democrats running for the Assembly. So it’s not surprising that we begin 2014 with a much smaller voice and role in what should be the people’s business.

In 2013, the Republican-led Legislature attempted to create new obstacles to voting, stripped Milwaukee County of much-needed oversight from the board of supervisors while concentrating power in the hands of the county executive, refused to hold a public hearing on nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanded unaccountable taxpayer-funded voucher schools statewide, is attempting to impose restrictions on those who want to recall an elected official, gave the state permission to sell our iconic state Capitol and other taxpayer-owned assets with loose oversight, and looked the other way when peaceful protesters (including a journalist who was covering the story) were arrested in the Capitol simply for speaking out against the powers that be.

We’re seeing the loss of democracy at the local level, too. Act 14, which radically diminished the role and power of the county board, will kick in with a vengeance this week. Staffers will lose their jobs, paychecks will be cut and Milwaukee County will have an emperor in County Executive Chris Abele. Abele didn’t campaign on gutting the board, but he worked behind the scenes with tea party legislators and conservative business interests to allow out-state Republican legislators to diminish checks and balances in Milwaukee County government. Abele’s aversion to public input also is apparent in the way he handled the bogus competitive process over the sale of the Transit Center site and his stonewalling on requests for documents that would allow the current, nonprofit bus operator to appeal Abele’s awarding of the bus contract to a for-profit, out-of-state corporation.

All of these changes are chipping away at our democracy. In 2014, let’s restore it by speaking out, heading to the polls and changing the way we do the people’s business.