Category: Draconian legislation


Ex-Lobbyist Valerie Cass (Left), Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) (Right) (Republican Family Values)

As the brouhaha over Governor Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill continues, more and more details about just the sort of dealings that Republicans have brought to the Wisconsin state government. Meanwhile, we also learn just how similar the Tea Party candidates are across the country.

Err…Pay for Play?

Senator Hopper has had a rough time since it came out that he has been living outside of his district with a 25-year old ex-lobbyist after abandoning his wife. More has been revealed about the details of the new job his mistress, Valerie Cass. After leaving her lobbying group, Persuasion Partners, Ms. Cass landed a nice job working with the Walker Administration. (Persuasion Partners is the lobby firm that caters to a number of other prominent Wisconsin Republicans including Governor Walker and Attorney General Van Hollen.) As it happens, she received a remarkable pay increase over her predecessor – earning fully one-third more with a total salary of $43,200 per year.

Appealing the hold on the Budget “Repair” Bill

When Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen submitted his petition to appeal the recent Dane County court ruling that blocked the enactment of the anti-union bill, he did something interesting: He did so in the name of Secretary of State Douglas La Follette. The problem with the petition is that Sec. La Follette was never consulted prior to the Attorney General’s filing the petition. Says La Follette:

“The circuit court that entered the Temporary Restraining Order has scheduled a March 29, 2011 hearing to determine whether the Wisconsin open meetings law was violated. I intend to fulfill the public trust in my office by abiding by the Temporary Restraining Order, by respecting the court’s decision and by allowing the judicial process to reach a conclusion regarding 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.”

The claim Van Hollen makes is that the judge had no authority to review the case. However Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County District Attorney who filed for the injunction against the bill, responded to the Attorney General’s actions:

“If the attorney general’s office had its way, no court could overturn a law even if everyone agrees that the state legislature violated every requirement of the states open meetings law”

And more:

“Nothing in the open meetings law limits the authority of a court, in the appropriate case, to enjoin publication of legislation that results from a violation of the open meetings law, so long as the balancing of public interests supports that outcome.”

Running to end the office

Another Republican in Wisconsin State Government, State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, ran for the office of State Treasurer so that he could end the office. Among the duties of the State Treasurer, according to Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution, includes the Treasurer’s duty to oversee the proceeds of the appraisal and sale of public properties including school and University lands. The Treasurer also oversees the $3.1 billion state investment pool, tracks unclaimed property within the state and runs a state-run college savings program.

Schuller has a problem though. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Schuller was hoping to “be active and visible and possibly build a credible political resume that shows the voters I can serve in the public interest, then hopefully run for another political office.” Now Schuller is in the uncomfortable position of having run to eliminate his office, only to realize once he is there that he would like to expand his current budget.

Governor Walker’s first attack against Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Law

After the state of Wisconsin approved a law that provides limited rights for same-sex couples to live and work in the state, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to enforce and protect the law, despite the law’s importance in protecting the rights of a large minority of the state’s citizens. Because of the Attorney General’s refusal to protect established law, then-Governor Doyle hired a law firm, Cullen Weston Pines & Bach, to protect the law against political attacks. Now Governor Walker has fired that law firm. In response, Pines says:

“Gov. Walker is ideologically opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian and transgendered people as is everyone in his administration as far as I can tell and they will be probably want to take steps to ensure that gay and lesbian and transgendered people do not have equal rights.”

“Everything that Gov. Walker is doing is ideological. I don’t see that his administration has any particular respect for the law per se.”

How the Wisconsin Republicans have worked together so far

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal show the types of comments and ideas that were bandied about to retaliate against the 14 Democratic Senators who left the state in order to allow a number of issues to come to light. On February 20, a legal aide of Scott Fitzgerald said, “I say we not only make it hurt for them, we have to make it hurt for their staff as well,” an interesting attitude considering that none of the interns who work for the Dems would have had any say in their decision to leave. The draconian nature of the punitive actions proposed and enacted by the Republicans has led to ethics complaints against Scott Fitzgerald by groups such as the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

Reaction to the Republicans

Recall efforts against incumbent Republicans continue well ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, more and more attention is focusing on electing Kloppenburg against the Supreme Court Justice who has argued that he intends to “complement” Governor Walker’s actions against the citizens of the state. The election is coming up on April 5th – be sure to register ahead of time! Good luck Kloppenburg!

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Missouri pro-child labor State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) (Missouri Legislature)

There is news to report on the Missouri proposal to allow children under the age of 14 to work up to 80 hours per week and to specifically allow them to work after hours in hotels and motels: The bill is now dead. It turns out that the measure received poor publicity for some reason – perhaps it was the part that would have prevented the state from investigating the working conditions of the children.

In other news, South Carolina Tea Party Governor Nicky Haley has had a bad week. People are now catching on that the Tea Party intends to privatize all public entities, and that privatization will only mean further disenfranchisement for normal people. Things are no different in South Carolina, where Nicky Haley is planning to attack pensions and benefits for state workers just like everywhere else that happens to have Tea Party governors.

Haley also planned to grade legislators – a bald attempt to pressure legislators to agree with her.

One thing that she is doing well is that she is promoting a bill that would require greater financial transparency for office holders. According to The State, the law would require:

Requiring more financial disclosure from lawmakers. Haley is backing a Senate bill that would require lawmakers — and her —to disclose to the State Ethics Commission any gifts or services that they get from companies that have contracts with the state and from groups that lobby lawmakers. The bill also would require lawmakers to disclose any contractual work they have done for companies that employ appointed members of state boards or commissions.

But there is a problem. The State also reports:

Haley’s tax returns, released during last year’s campaign, show she earned nearly $43,000 between 2007 and 2009 from a never-before-then-disclosed contractual job with Midlands engineering company, Wilbur Smith. Both the company, which has done work for the state, and Haley declined to say what she did to earn that money.

Another scandal swirling in South Carolina occurred when she removed the largest donor in the history of the University of South Carolina from its Board of Trustees. She replaced her with Tommy Cofield, a major donor to her personal gubernatorial campaign.

The Governor of South Carolina is now also taking heat for lying on a job application to earn more pay. Read more on that here. This all begs the question – why are people allowing crooks to run for office? It is not as if the Lieutenant Governor is any better – Ken Ard has just been charged with 92 ethics violations… something about using campaign funds for personal expenses or something illegal like that. Good grief!

But the Tea Party Moral Compass Award for the past week has to go to Kansas State Representative Virgil Peck (R-Tyro), who during a committee meeting that discussed culling the state’s wild pig population by shooting them from helicopters said that the same plan would be a good way to control illegal immigration. He said that he was joking, but judge for yourself on the sound clip at this link.

Welcome to the wonderful world of compassionate conservatism.

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Good news and bad news: Bad news first

As part of the nationwide Republican efforts to undermine public education, Minnesota House Member Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who is Chair of the House Education Committee, plans to eliminate state funding for programs that promote racial integration in Minnesota schools. The programs, which in Minneapolis provide some $480 per year per student, are intended to close the achievement gap between racial minorities in the classroom. Worse, Garofalo’s plan would re-work the formulae used to determine funding levels in state schools. The results could end up taking money from under-funded schools and give that money to schools that are already well-funded.

MinnPost reports:

Speaker Kurt Zellers said House Republicans are working “hand in glove” on both the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and on a “fundamental change in how we deliver government.”

Republicans highlighted efforts to streamline state agencies, improve the use of technology and consolidate operations, but the only specific figure was a $172 million savings from a proposed 15 percent state workforce reduction.

Indeed. The Republicans in Minnesota, just as in many other states are seeking to end government’s ability to deliver services.

In fact, the Minnesota State Government has published its bi-annual Tax Incidence Report. It reports a heavily regressive tax burden within the state, even when compared with historical averages. According to the report, the effective state tax rate for a member of the top 1% of income earners within Minnesota was 9.7% in 2008. Meanwhile, the effective tax rate for the poor is 32.5%. Hence, the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.

Yet, the Republicans are also looking to slash funding for the state Medicaid programs, especially programs geared toward the poor and the infirm.

But that is not all. The Republicans are waging all-out war on the poor. Representatitve Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has introduced a bill that would prevent those who use government assistance EBT cards from withdrawing cash on the cards at ATMs above – get this – $20 per month. The bill, H.F. 171, would also create problems because one of the reasons that people are now able to use the cards to withdraw cash is that many stores are not connected to the state EBT system.

$20 is not even enough to purchase a Minnesota Drivers license (current price – $43). And there are already Republican proposals to require a photo-ID in voting.

In addition, the bill appears to make it illegal for people under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) to carry cash at all! Nor could they put any money into a checking or savings account.

Crooks and Liars relates testimony of Angel Buechner, from the Welfare Rights Committee, referring to the efforts of the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee:

“We’ll leave you with this. It is not right to punish a whole group because of the supposed actions of a few. You in this room could have a pretty rough time if that was the case. It is not right to stigmatize and dehumanize women living the hard life of trying to raise children while living 60% below the poverty level. It is not right to use racist, bumper-sticker hate to inflict human misery for political gain.”

Where would the sort of thinking that would make it illegal for poor people to carry cash come from? Well, let’s take a look at a Republican strategy meeting that too place at the conservative Hudson Institute to find out. There, National Review editor Kate O’Beirne suggested that the parents of children on school lunch programs were “child abusers”, because they can not afford a meal. “What poor excuse for a parent can not put together a bowl of cereal and a banana?” as she puts it. She argues that despite the fact that more and more families across the nation are finding it difficult to make ends meet (due to conservative economic policies), that there is no national solution to the problem because it is not “in Washington’s interests” to solve the crisis of child poverty. Perhaps that is because for her, national interests are solely geared toward tax cuts for the wealthy and wars abroad to fight over resources.

Republicans discuss public education and decry school lunch programs (Crooks and Liars)

Another panelist at this hearing said that safety in schools could not be guaranteed because, despite the national scope of the problem, it should not fall under the purview of the federal government. Yes, he essentially makes those two very statements one right after the other. That is the sort of callous bastard that is driving the economic and educational policy of the Republican Party right now.

Some good news…

Luckily, the press is beginning to ask some pointed questions, because Republican Party policies are currently being driven by their corporate benefactors who believe that the sole reason for the existence of the government is to load their own coffers. That is precisely why Republicans would begrudge the poor of any money to spend and why they believe that school lunch programs as a waste of money, despite the fact that they have been shown to improve student performance and help to increase upward mobility in society. There is a way to prevent corporations from holding such a grip on the political process that the process would realign itself to work against the interests of citizens.

Minnesota Democrats have introduced bills in the House and the Senate to rectify the problem. The bills, S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 would amend the Minnesota Constitution to define “person” to mean a “natural person”.

The distinction between “person” and “natural person” is vitally important. British common law has always made a distinction between “natural persons” (meaning people) and “artificial persons” (meaning organizations like churchs, businesses, etc.). Well, the Citizens United decision effectively eliminated the many of those distinctions by allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections. And they did. Now we can see how that has effected the political process. We now have people cutting back on schools so that big companies – already earning record profits – can earn more in tax breaks.

Minnesota is no different in this regard than other parts of the country. A recent article by the Star Tribune highlights the largest lobbying efforts in Saint Paul for 2010. More than $3 million in big business lobbying expenses arose that year and $1.8 million (60%) was due to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce alone. Big business is trying to buy the political process.

Author Thom Hartmann discusses corporate personhood (The Daily Take, RT)

So be sure to contact your Minnesota State Senators and House Representatives to give support to S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 in order to help the constitutional amendments to come to fruition. You had better believe that they will meet with strong resistance from the Republicans who currently hold majorities in the House and Senate.

Scott Walker at a press conference, February 28th (MinnPost)

Scott Walker’s lie to the Press is exposed

Now that Governor Walker has released thousands of emails that he claimed supported his efforts to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights, we find that Scott Walker harbors an interesting perspective on support. The vast majority of the emails are decidedly against his plan, which indicates that he was lying to the press when he claimed the opposite. Then, after the largest protests to that point, he argued that he was getting even more support, which made the lie even worse. It was therefore predictable that Walker would fail to respond to the Madison Isthmus’Freedom of Information Act request to see the emails. When the Isthmus filed suit, Walker capitulated, but managed to negotiate a settlement in which there would be no allegation of wrongdoing, despite the fact that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act is a violation of federal law. Walker’s office will pay legal fees for the case totalling some $7,000.

So what was the level of support for Walker’s policies? According to the Houston Chronicle, the vast majority of the emails are against. Here is a sample from the Chronicle:

“Your handling of the current situation in Madison is an embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin. You appear to be an ignorant puppet and I am ashamed to have you as governor of the state I call home,” wrote a person who said he lived in Wisconsin and is married to a teacher.

Another email compared him to “maggot puke”. Here is another, posted by the Chronicle:

“WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO TAKE WHAT WE HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR? WE ALL HAVE FAMILIES AND HAVE CHILDREN OF OUR OWN TO FEED! TIMES ARE HARD ENOUGH WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS!”

In Walker’s defense, there were a few letters of support, though they were outnumbered by views opposing him.

Judge blocks anti-union measure

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi has blocked a Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette (who has already held back signing as long as legally possible) from signing the anti-union law signed by Governor Walker last Friday. The judge ruled that the passage of the bill in the state Senate violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, which require 24 hours public notice except in cases of an emergency. Dane County Distrcit Attorney Ismael Ozanne successfully argued that there was no cause for an emergency in the passage of the law.

In her ruling, Judge Sumi said, “Some may wonder how something as minor as failure to (properly) notify the public really stops this bill in its tracks. My answer is, it’s not minor,” referring to the importance of open and fair procedures in government.

The ruling is certain to be met with more legal challenges by the Republicans.
When the Democrats filed for an injunction, they filed with the Dane Country District Attorney as well as with the State Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen. After this initial ruling by Judge Sumi, the Capitol Times is reporting that Van Hollen will appeal the restraining order against the signing of the anti-collective bargaining bill. But according to the Capitol Times, because the ruling was a “non-final order,” the Attorney General will have to “petition the court for permission to file an appeal.”

Attorney J.B. Van Hollen is a client of the same conservative lobby group, Persuasion Partners, as Governor Walker. Persuasion Partners gained public notoriety when an ex-lobbyist for the group was found to be the mistress of a State Senator, Randy Hopper, who is currently facing recall action. The group also has corporate and third party clients such as Americans for Prosperity, a public advocacy group that is funded by the Koch brothers. That Van Hollen would attempt to defend the anti-union measure should not be considered a surprise.

What can be done? Well… Contact Attorney General Van Hollen to let him know what you think about his defense of stripping collective bargaining rights from workers. Van Hollen can be reached through the Wisconsin Department of Justice here:

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
114 East State Capitol
Madison, WI 53707-7857
Phone: (608) 266-1221
Fax: (608) 267-2779

When you contact Van Hollen, remind him that he could be subject to a recall. Here is how to recall J.B. Van Hollen. Defending Wisconsin is a new organization that is already seeking to recall Van Hollen.

Budget Proposal

The next battle in the Wisconsin Legislature will involve Governor Walker’s budget proposal. The plan still includes provisions to sell state-owned power plants in no-bid contracts so that they can become privatized. The state would then purchase power from the plants at a higher cost, which instead of going back to the state would then go to the coffers of a private firm such as Koch Industries.

Other provisions in the budget proposal would violate federal law. Walker is proposing to eliminate municipal stormwater standards to abrogate the Clean Water Act. The provision has been supported across the country by Koch Industries, a major polluter worldwide.

Despite a growing population, the budget would also end growth in the state Medicaid program, by hacking $500 million in spending over the next two years. This would entail dropping up to 50,000 Wisconsin residents from the Medicaid program.

Education, however, takes the biggest hit – nearly $1 billion in cuts – in addition to at to local municipalities. That measure would eviscerate education within the state and it would force a number of schools to close. Even if the budget were not enacted as it currently is, a good deal of damage to the state’s education system has already been done because of Walker’s boorish threats in is handling of the union issue. Teachers have been urgently seeking early retirement in the hopes of receiving the retirement pensions that they were promised in their state contracts before Walker renegs on them.

Keep in mind that the state budget can easily be closed if only the state’s billionaires would pay their taxes.

Here is a link leading to the current budget proposals submitted to the Assembly and the Senate.

Walker on jobs

Jobs continue to leave Wisconsin under Governor Walker, though Walker did recently report that he has brought in a new company, Catalyst Exhibits, Inc., which will be moving to Pleasant Prairie from Illinois. Of course, the state will gain very little from it. A $500,000 gran and $1.25 million in low-interest loans (with an actual value of $750,000) from the state to the company enticed them to enter Wisconsin, but the company will not pay taxes and most of the Illinois workers will simply drive further to work. Paul Stahlberg, the firm’s design manager is a rather solid Republican donor.

More ethics complaints against Scott Walker

The Democrats filed another ethics complaint against Scott Walker on the 17th, stemming from a conversation with Republican strategist Frank Lutz on the day after his infamous phone conversation with a faked “David Koch”. Lutz met with Walker in the Governor’s Office, which is by law off limits to use for political machinations. The complaint argues that Walker is using his office for personal political gain.

Mosaic: "Justice" from the Wisconsin State Capitol (rbw)

Last February 17th, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed that he had received over 8,000 emails regarding his proposal to attack unions in his Budget “Repair” Bill. He also claimed that most of the emails were in favor of his proposal. By the 18th, he claimed to have received over 19,000 emails. The Madison Isthmus, curious about his claims, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to read through the emails. Yet surprisingly, the Governor was not eager to divulge the level of support he had received for his proposals. After Walker’s office failed to respond to the Freedom of Information Act request (a violation of federal law), the Isthmus sued for access to the emails. Yesterday, the Isthmus announced a settlement for the lawsuit. It is one-sided because Walker did not want to go to court for a breech of federal law. The settlement indicates that Scott Walker will release the emails to the Isthmus by Tuesday, March 22 and that the governor’s office will also cover all legal costs. Soon, we will be able to see just how much support he really received.

The next battle in Wisconsin will involve the Executive Budget itself, as opposed to the Budget “Repair” Bill. Governor Scott Walker is proposing deep cuts to education and the sale of public assets to companies, who will sell their services back to the state.

Click here for the Wisconsin State Legislature homepage.

Here is the Assembly version of the Executive Budget, AB-40.

Here is the Senate version of the Executive Budget, SB-27.

Be sure to peruse the different sections of the bills to see which public assets Governor Walker would like to sell off to corporations!

Oh, and Republican efforts to recall Democrats are just not as popular as Democratic efforts to recall Republicans. I wonder why?

The next battle in Wisconsin will involve the Executive Budget itself, as opposed to the Budget “Repair” Bill. Governor Scott Walker is proposing deep cuts to education and the sale of public assets to companies, who will sell their services back to the state.

Click here for the Wisconsin State Legislature homepage.

Here is the Assembly version of the Executive Budget, AB-40.

Here is the Senate version of the Executive Budget, SB-27.

Be sure to peruse the different sections of the bills to see which public assets Governor Walker would like to sell off to corporations!

Oh, and Republican efforts to recall Democrats are just not as popular as Democratic efforts to recall Republicans. I wonder why?

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison (rbw)

Last night, while Wisconsin Republicans were being thanked for their services by billionaires in Washington, a couple of thousand people decided to keep them company so that they would feel at home, despite being a long way from home.

Several hundred protesters filled the atrium of the building where the BGR Group Fundraising dinner was held to pay off Wisconsin Republicans and more people spilled down the street – over a thousand people in total. The Nation quotes Russ Feingold:

“Today, Wednesday March 16th, Republican state senators from Wisconsin are in Washington, D.C. attending a big fundraiser at the headquarters of a corporate lobbying firm. That’s less than one week after Republicans rammed through an anti-worker bill that polls showed was heavily opposed by Wisconsinites — but was heavily favored by corporate lobbyists,” said Feingold. “If your senator is Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Glenn Grothman of West Bend, or Alberta Darling of River Hills, your senator is at the fundraiser. But no matter where you are in Wisconsin, your interests just got sold out to big corporate interests.”

Protests at BGR Lobbyist dinner for Wisconsin Republicans (Thom Hartmann, YouTube)

Sourcewatch.org gives a list of clients of BGR and this list shows a long line of companies and foreign governments that are interested in energy – especially petrochemical companies. Feel free to boycott each and every one of these companies.

The close ties between petrochemical lobbyists and the Republicans may be why Governor Walker is planning to sell state-owned power plants and why he is trying to ban wind power in Wisconsin. This is a bad move for the state and it will cost jobs as well.

Back in Wisconsin, Dane County District Attorney fIsmael Ozanne filed a complaint to a Dane County Judge to void the Governor’s anti-union measure because the Republicans violated the state Open Meetings law in the process of its approval. Hearings on the issue will continue Friday to discuss in Ozanne’s efforts for an injunction that would bar Secretary of State La Follette from publishing the bill, an act that allows it to become law.

On one last note – a Wisconsin farmer gave a terrific speech at the rallies last Saturday. It is because Wisconsin has a great education system (now under attack) that Wisconsin has eloquent farmers like Tony Schultz.

Farmer Tony Schultz speaking to the protesters in Madison on March 12 (Geof Hermann, YouTube)

"The Spirit of Detroit" (DetroitDerek, Flickr)

Over 1000 senior citizens are staging a protest in the Michigan capital of Lansing tonight in opposition to Tea Party Governor Rick Snyder’s tax plan that removes tax exemptions for retirement pensions, which will bring in up to $900 million in revenue to the state government. This follows announcements that Governor Snyder plans $1.8 billion in tax cuts to corporations and $600 million in cuts to funding for education in the state. Detroits public schools are already likely to raise class sizes to 60 students per classroom after state financial emergency officials have order the city to close 50% of its schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is expected to sign a new emergency finance bill that is highly controversial to say the least. The bill has passed both the Republican Senate and the Republican House and it grants sweeping powers to the Governor to eliminate the locally elected government of municipalities that are under a financial emergency to replace them with Financial Emergency Managers, who ostensibly oversee the town’s financial recovery. How does a city know it is in a financial emergency? The Governor gets to say so, and he has the power to appoint the manager, while declaring all existing union and worker’s contracts null and void. The law also allows corporations to take control, represented by the Financial Manager appointed by the Governor.

Check here for the complete text of the Emergency Financial Manager bill

Michigan Congressional Representative John Conyers has made the following statement about the bill:

The takeover provision of the legislation – allowing the dissolution of locally elected bodies — implicitly targets minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn, without providing meaningful support for improved economic opportunity.

Worse yet, this bill raises serious constitutional concerns. Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits any State from impairing a contract, which is exactly what this legislation does. As the Supreme Court has held in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934), the sanctity of contracts cannot be impaired by a state law “which renders them invalid, or releases or extinguishes them . . . . Not only are existing laws read into contracts in order to fix obligations as between the parties, but the reservation of essential attributes of sovereign power is also read into contracts as a postulate of the legal order.”

Further, the bill empowers this financial czar with the Governor’s approval to force a municipality into bankruptcy, a power that will surely be used to extract further concessions from hardworking public sector workers. And, by making the risk of bankruptcy a reality, the bill will make it more not less expensive for municipalities to obtain financing given this risk, which will make the financial circumstances of municipalities even worse.

Conyers describes the situation well. This bill could encourage corporate representatives to run for office and drive a town into the ground so that it can be taken over by his or her company. It represents another corporate takeover of public interests, just of the sorts found in Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Budget Proposal. This is about a power grab because State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) and others attempted to cap the salary of the financial managers at $150,000 per year, but the response was to encourage cash-strapped schools to invite volunteers to teach in their classrooms. Watch here:

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) speaks out against Emergency Financial Manager bill (Michigan Senate Dems, YouTube)

Big protests are expected in Michigan today in Lansing! Good luck everyone!

Wisconsin Republicans look on as Governor Walker signs their anti-worker bill (Dangerous Minds)

Though once quite self-contented after signing the provision to end collective bargaining rights for state employees, the state Republicans are facing a few new problems, even as they prepare for tonight’s big fundraising event in Washington D.C., where they hope to be rewarded by billionaires and corporate PACs for their efforts to undermine unions.

Huge Madison Protests, March 12, 2011 (Digby's Blog)

The Republicans plan to attend a fundraiser tonight that will be put on by the BGR Group, a bi-partisan lobbying group based in Washington and London that has (according to BGR) been “Dubbed a powerhouse by CNN and Newsweek” and they claim to be a leader in government affairs, strategic communications and investment banking. Senator Ron Johnson will be there, too (Russ Feingold would never go to this event!) The Republicans plan to fill their coffers at the $1,000 per plate dinner tonight. BGR has deep ties with Wisconsin. According to Digital Journal,

BGR has a long list of ties to the Republican Party. Bob Wood, a former aide to Tommy Thompson, the Republican governor of Wisconsin for 14 years is among BGR’s executives and BGR’s past client list includes Wisconsin Energies Corp. who provides electrical service to much of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin Energies Corp. also serves natural gas customers in Wisconsin.
The Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit advocate for campaign finance reform, pointed out that Wisconsin Energies has spent $320,000 on lobbying with BGR since 2009, and that BGR executives donated at least $10,800 to Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign. Wisconsin Energies stands to benefit greatly from a provision in Walker’s budget that would privatize state-owned companies through no-bid contracts. Adding fuel to the controversy is the fact that Wisconsin Energies has ties to the Wisconsin’s State Senate caucus: Heather Liebham, who has worked for Wisconsin Energies state regulatory advocacy, is the wife of Republican Wisconsin State Senator Joe Liebham, who was one of the eighteen who illicitly pushed Walker’s “budget repair” bill through the Wisconsin Senate, producing a major conflict of interest.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjdqlg8h

BGR also maintains an active client base with a number of foreign banks, governments and power companies,

The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics are two informative resources for people wanting to follow the money in politics. In addition to representing Wisconsin Energies Corp., BGR represents a significant number of foreign interests and governments including The Republic of India which paid BGR $1.2 million to represent its interests in Washington, India’s Reliance Industries which has paid BGR $1.52 million from 2009 and 2010, The American Chamber of Commerce in China and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, which paid a combined total of $280,000 to launder money into the U.S. political process, The Kurdistan Regional Government which paid BGR $1.13 million from 2009 to 2010, and Russia-based Alfa Bank which paid BGR $510,000 in 2010 to help subvert U.S. politics.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjeyuy6A

Meanwhile, attempts to sell Wisconsin power stations have reappeared in Walker’s budget bill.

It was a weekend of record-breaking. Last Saturday, while the largest protests in the history of the Wisconsin took place, the largest protest in the history of Washburn, Wisconsin also took place. When Governor Walker arrived to give a speech to Republicans at a local steakhouse, governor Walker was met on location by up to 5,000 protesters. What is special about this is that the city of Washburn only has 2,280 residents! Here is a video from the huge protest in the little town:

Protests in Washburn, WI, March 12, 2011 (SunRidge Video)

Walker was also met the following evening by 4,000 protesters when he was to give a speech in Green Bay.

But that is not even half of it!

More legal problems are mounting on the Wisconsin Republicans. The International Commission for Labor Rights has declared Governor Walker’s anti-union provisions illegal, and so have the National Lawyers Guild. According to truth-out.org, statement by the ICLR says:

As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.

There is more. State Senator Randy Hopper, already considered the least likely Senator to survive a recall election, has a new heap of trouble. When protesters showed up at his house in Fond du Lac to demonstrate, they were surprised when his wife came to the door and mentioned that they were now estranged. It seems that Hopper has been living in Madison for the past few months with a 25-year old lobbyist named Valerie Cass. Several reports mention that his former wife and maid were apparently happy to sign the petition for Hopper’s recall, though this is not confirmed.

He is in a lot more trouble, though. Madison, as it happens, is not technically inside his legislative district – if he has been living outside of his district, that would be a felony violation of elections law. So would be conspiring with lobbyists while acting in a state office. Ms. Cass no longer works for her former lobbying firm, Persuasion Partners of Madison, located one block from the State Capitol. The group touts itself for “Turning blue states into red states”. I have three screenshots, showing their “Candidate Clients” as well as their “Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients”, shown here:

Persuasion Partners Inc. Candidate Clients, part 1 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

Persuasion Partners Candidate Clients, Part 2 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)


Persuasion Partners Inc. Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

There are a couple of interesting things to note here. First, the firm Persuasion Partners is involved with Koch-sponsored groups. It is also involved with the Minnesota Republican Party and the Republican Party of Tennessee and Republicans in both states are pushing for draconian cuts to state services and benefits for public workers just as they are in Wisconsin. The Kochs are apparently embedded with the Republicans quite deeply. Another surprise is that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is also a client, along with Scott Walker and Wisconsin Congressional Representative Paul Ryan – who gave the Republican address after the most recent State of the Union speech, in which he called for draconian cuts for federal services and public employee benefits. It seems as if there may be a connection…

Will the State Attorney General investigate whether Hopper has been living outside of his district and whether there are ethics violations involving his ex-lobbyist girlfriend? He should, a complaint has already been filed against him by a citizen, Dawn Meyer.

Remember when the Republicans put arrest warrants out for the Wisconsin 14? Well, that was a felony. Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach discusses this and very clearly explains what is happening in the video here.



Video streaming by Ustream

The recall efforts are progressing ahead of schedule as well – the recall of the Republicans, that is. A new poll indicates that at least three Republicans would lose in recall elections, by sizable margins. And mswsm at Daily Kos has found out that the Americans for Prosperity “Stand with Walker” Bus Tour must be faking its signatures. They had about 1,000 signatures when they left Green Bay, and after meeting 200 supporters in Wausau (pop 38,000), they somehow arrived in Rhinelander (pop 7,700) with 115,000 signatures! Someone on that bus has a very sore wrist!

Meanwhile, calls for boycotts are picking up steam. A “move your money” campaign has already begun to spread statewide with firefighters spontaneously closing their accounts with M&I Bank, conveniently located at the site of the Madison protests. It turns out that M&I bank is not in the best financial shape as it is. They gave out lots of bad loans and hold a high ratio of toxic assets. For information on companies that supported Scott Walker, check out my link as well as the list at Scott Walker Watch. Boycotts are the way to go:

Cenk Uygur discusses how to fight billionaires (MSNBC)

It is disappointing that the Obama Administration has not come out more strongly in favor of the workers in Wisconsin, however in his defense,
he is trying to manage negotiations with the Republican House of Representatives who would like to make all sorts of crazy cuts to everything that middle class people need to remain in the middle class. Standing firmly behind the crowds could inflame the his problems with the House is probably what he is thinking, but why not take control of the bully pulpit of the presidency and promote the idea of worker’s rights? Obama is running the show at the moment and he could really get a boost from people who are already fighting for their rights. Besides, President Obama should be concerned about his re-election prospects if labor chooses one of its own to run for the Presidency.

Other Democrats are helping a bit more. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich gave a great speech last week at the Madison Worker’s Rights Rally. It pretty much sums up what is at stake and how to make sure that the U.S. remains a democracy, free from corporate control.

Cenk Dennis Kucinich in Madison, March 12, 2011 (Uptake)

And on one final note – more rallies are planned throughout Wisconsin! Keep up the great work! The schedule can be found at SEIU with information on free buses to the events.

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Women’s Labor Rights

While the state of Minnesota has not made the same national headlines as its neighbor Wisconsin, the 2010 election had a major impact there as well. The political situation would be identical to the conditions in Wisconsin and Michigan were it not for the election of Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. During the last term, the State Senate had a Democratic supermajority + one, while the State House had a Democratic supermajority – one. The tables have now turned as both houses hold modest Republican majorities.

Other than their majorities, there is little modest about the group. There have already been clear indications that the Republicans are intensely ideological with the debate over the state budget now well under way.

The extremism has been broadly-based. Senator john Carlson (R-Bemidji) was forced to apologize for his attempt to repeal equal pay for women. Now, one may consider that a fluke occurrence, but just read his glib response to his pulling of the bill from the rolls (courtesy of the Bemidji Pioneer, via the Minnesota Independent):

“That bill’s been pulled and it won’t see the light of day. I would admit I didn’t do my homework very well.

“So I author the bill, put it in the hopper, and the next thing I know, all hell breaks loose and I deserve it for being naïve. Quite honestly, I deserve that. I did it with good intentions.

“Obviously, I’ve been married for 32 years, I have a daughter out in the workforce, and I have a granddaughter — I can’t believe anyone would think I would harm that relationship.”

Indeed. How could one have the foresight to realize that telling one’s wife and daughter that they do not deserve equal pay simply because they are female would endanger those relationships?

One might argue that it was all a simple mistake – that it was one Senator who made a bad decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case: This was at least the fifth attempt to do so in the state legislature. The original form of the bill was authored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) and it ranged further, with additional restrictions on part-time police officers and cuts to library funding.

The Republicans are gunning for the 1984 Pay Equity Act for local government jobs. Each of the attempts are being supported by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In a December 2010 statement on Fiscal Policy they state:

    Pay Equity/Comparable Worth:

The Legislature should repeal the state’s pay equity/comparable worth law. It is outdated and hampers a government entity’s ability to manage the workforce. It is also an unfunded mandate to local governments.

There you go – equal pay for women is now “outdated” as our future begins to look a lot like the past. The Chamber of Commerce statement on women has been revised since December. A February 1st post by Politics Daily quotes the same source in the following way:

“The state’s pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated, and requiring governments to correct perceived ‘errors’ in labor markets based on bureaucratic and subjective assessments of the relative value of government jobs is an
unnecessary and costly mandate.”

The current economic crisis has hit men very hard. Women now comprise a slight majority of the workforce. One can see the cynical thinking: Rather than increase the salaries for struggling men, Republicans seek to cut pay for women. Such a move would only make life more difficult for families that are already facing financial crisis.

Worker’s Rights

Minnesota residents can expect more action on labor issues as time goes on. Here is what the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says about outsourcing and arbitration:

    Competitive Sourcing:

The Legislature should remove any restrictions to competitively sourcing services. This does not mean that the state or local governments should outsource all services. Instead, the Chamber supports having public employees compete with the private sector for the provision of services.

    Arbitration Considerations:

The Legislature should require labor arbitrators to consider the total compensation and prevailing benefit levels offered in the private sector. This should help make sure that future compensation and benefit decisions do not become out of line with private-sector counterparts.

One can see there in essence the same provisions that Governor Walker has passed through t he legislature in Wisconsin. The difference in Minnesota is that thanks to a narrow voting margin, that state has a Democratic Governor who is likely to veto any such measure.

Reproductive Rights

A total of four bills have been introduced to ban state funding for abortion. Some contain wording that state that if one portion of the law is repealed by a court, the rest should stand. Such wording is intended to reverse court decisions of the past 40 years that have ensured reproductive rights for women.

Republicans added more fuel to the fire by challenging the Roe vs. Wade decision with three bills to ban abortions that take place after 20 weeks of pregnancy – regardless of consideration of medical conditions that could injure the mother.

In response to this flurry of anti-reproductive rights action, the Democrats introduced a bill, HF646, that guarantees that all people have a right to use or refuse birth control and abortions, containing the same severability language that protects the remainder of the bill if one part of it is overturned.

Stay tuned, there is a lot more to report on the Minnesota legislature as it continues to work against 20th century progress. Luckily, there is a Governor in Minnesota who can prevent these laws from taking effect.

Thousands of workers protest in the Wisconsin State Capitol (Wikipedia)

Nearly a month ago, a Tea Party governor who was elected on a tidal wave of corporate money that was legalized by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision took power in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker began work on a billionaire-supported regressive agenda in a state long known for its progressive stances on labor and human rights. Once people realized what was happening, they took action and while the first bill got through, efforts to remove the Governor and the Legislators who are responsible are progressing rapidly. The protests are the largest ever seen in Wisconsin and they continue to grow in size. At stake are the right to vote, the right to bargain for wages without a power differential between the worker and the management, the public maintaining control over the infrastructure that it built and maintaining a high quality of life, health and education within the state.

Great work so far everyone. Keep it going!

Wikipedia: 2011 Wisconsin Protests

A record showing is predicted for the protests that are scheduled for today in Madison, Wisconsin. Adding to the crowds that could be larger than the nearly 100,000 people who protested in Madison on February 26 will be a host of teachers from Minnesota showing solidarity, thousands of farmers who will drive their tractors to the capital, and the 14 Democratic Senators, who are expected to speak this afternoon.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Democratic Senators have seen a large spike in fundraising since they left the state and that fundraising accelerated after the passage of the anti-union bill. Here is how the Journal-Sentinel puts it:

But the fight over collective bargaining has also helped Democrats fill their coffers. The state Democratic Party raised $300,000 in less than a day after the Senate vote, party Chairman Mike Tate said. That brings to $800,000 the total the party has raised in recent days.

The fundraising arm of Democratic Senate candidates has taken in nearly $750,000 since Democrats fled the state.

“I have confidence that although we lost the battle, we may win the war through the ballot box,” Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) said in an interview in Grayslake, Ill.

For their part, Republicans have a big fundraiser planned for Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The event costs $1,000 per person to attend. State legislative leaders for the GOP are being featured at the fundraiser.

That’s right, the Republicans are raising money to protect themselves from recall efforts in by wining and dining bigwigs Washington. How appropriate that they should be rewarded for their efforts to make labor cheaper for billionaires – the only thing that is amazing about it is that it is not called graft.

Good luck everyone!

The Republicans are now going after your right to vote (The Rachel Maddow Show)

As part of their goal of making President Obama a “One-term president”, the Republicans are now attacking your right to vote by requiring very specific I.D.’s while putting up roadblocks to get them. They are also eliminating same day voter registration – but only if you are from a group that tends to vote for Democrats. Meanwhile, several Republican politicians around the country are now going to prison for voter fraud. Learn more about the new wave of voter suppression that is hitting the country in this Rachel Maddow segment.

Republican Assemblymen leave the Capitol after voting to strip workers rights (screenshot from video by Todd Milewski, Madison Capitol Times)

Despite the fact that Wisconsin Governor walker is certain to sign the union-busting bill now that it has been passed by both houses of the legislature, all is not lost.

First and most importantly, people now know what this fight is about. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has mentioned publicly that this was about hurting President Obama’s chances of being reelected.

Second, according to FireDogLake, the efforts to recall the GOP Wisconsin State Senators are progressing ahead of schedule. The fact that the bill is about to be signed by the Governor will only speed up the efforts as well as sway the upcoming Supreme Court election behind the Democrats. The Dems would also stand to gain influence with successful recall campaigns against the Republican Eight. If all are replaced, the Democrats would have a 2/3 majority in the Senate.

Third, passing the bill did not make Scott Walker’s legal troubles go away. Much the opposite, new legal measures will now be taken against the Senate Republicans in addition to Walker for their illegal handling of the Joint Conference Committee meeting prior to Wednesday evening’s Senate vote. In fact, the Democrats have filed a complaint arguing that the Joint Conference Committee broke Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. According to the Madison Capitol Times, so have Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and the Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director Marty Beil. Assemblyman Peter Barca also charged that

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, violated Senate rules in moving the controversial measure quickly through the legislative process,

again according to the Madison Capitol Times. The unions are also filing a complaint for contempt of court due to the restricted access to the Capitol Thursday during the Assembly vote on the bill. The Governor is still facing heavy fines and jail time for ethical violations in his efforts to pass the bill at all cost.

Finally, the people are now organized! There will be GIGANTIC protests in Madison on Saturday! Click on the Wisconsin AFSCME site for a bus schedule to the event. There will also be continued rallies throughout the state and there are rumblings about the possibility of a general strike. This is a waiting game, but the more pressure we put on the Republicans, the sooner we can get them out of office. Keep up the great work! The SEIU Wisconsin website has full details of upcoming events, but here is a list of cities where they will be held:

Friday, 11 March, 2011
Delavan
Eau Claire (every work day)
Egg Harbor
Merrill
Walk from Milwaukee to Madison
Milwaukee
Minocqua
Racine
Watertown
Wisconsin Dells

Saturday, 12 March, 2011
Madison!
Superior
Washburn

Sunday, 13 March, 2011
Green Bay

Monday, 14 March, 2011
Cashton
Mount Horeb
Shorewood
Woodgate

Tuesday, 15 March, 2011
Balsam Lake
Lancaster
Menominee
Monroe
Tomahawk
Wisconsin Rapids

Thursday, 17 March, 2011
Weston