Op Ed

Why Legislators Matter

And why Walker and Republicans should allow special elections for districts lacking them.

By - Mar 26th, 2018 12:18 pm
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto.

It is said that power often corrupts. But power can also reveal that tendency for all to see.

Saturday morning the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Republican lawmakers want to change when special elections must be held in Wisconsin. That follows last week’s court order requiring special elections be held soon for two vacant legislative seats. The reaction by the Republicans was stunning to witness not only based on their aims, but the speed with which they wish to act.

At issue is the First State Senate seat which was vacated by Frank Lasee, and the 42nd Assembly seat made empty by the resignation of Keith Ripp. Both of those seats were open in December 2017. Had Governor Scott Walker acted immediately, or anytime prior to January 2nd, by calling for special elections the voters could have made their selection at the Spring Election, April 3rd. Walker, however, chose not to.

But following a Dane County judge ordering special elections to be held in the coming months there has been boundless energy to be found from the legislative branch. All at once an extraordinary session was being mentioned to take up a bill that would change the timeline for special elections. This suggestion by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is remarkable since only recently he had made it clear his members would not return to work further with the Senate on state issues, such as the controversy with the Department of Corrections and Lincoln Hills.

But with the fear voters might have a say about the issues of the day in two elective districts there was no time to waste. Even Walker, who is known for not saying how he will act should a particular piece of legislation arrive on his desk, was gleeful to announce he would love to sign a bill–even though there is no language or ideas yet put to paper.

The argument used by Republicans is that these special elections are a waste of taxpayer money, and since session floor time is over there is no need for an elected person to hold office in those two districts. As a Research Assistant for a decade to a state assemblyman I could not disagree more! The needs of the constituents do not end at the close of the business day or upon an elected official taking a higher paying job.

One of the most emotional cases I handled in my years at the Capitol–and which makes my point as to why elected offices need to be filled–was when a mother called with the news her father was extremely sick and soon would pass away. Her son, who had a very close relationship with his grandfather, had just started basic training with the military in a southern state. Based on what was then defined as ‘immediate family’ the young man was not being allowed to return home for a short period of time. So our office was asked to intervene.

The number of calls I placed to work through the military bureaucracy would have carried no weight whatsoever if I had not been able to alert the person on the line I was calling from a State Representative’s office. The young man made it home in time to see his loved one, and was able to stay through the funeral. The kindest letter ever to come into our office during the years I worked for Rep. Lary Swoboda was penned by that mother. Not for one moment should there be any foundation given to the idea that an empty elected office in the statehouse does not matter—or is too costly to fill.

On Saturday night I read a quote from 61 years ago that struck me as perfectly aligned with the article from the front page of my morning newspaper. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson stood in the chamber as the last speaker before the vote on the 1957 Civil Rights legislation. One of his lines from the senate floor that evening was, “There are people who are still more interested in securing votes than in securing the right to vote.” (Master Of The Senate, Robert Caro, page 1011)

I cannot fathom how anyone who cares for democracy, or values the rights of citizens could disagree on the need for elections to be held in a timely fashion. We certainly can disagree on a wide array of policy items which our state faces, but I would deeply hope that on the foundations of our democracy we stand shoulder-to-shoulder. These special elections are such a case for rising above the political angst which grips, and too often, rips away common sense and decency.

Gregory Humphrey writes for the Caffeinated Politics blog

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

10 thoughts on “Op Ed: Why Legislators Matter”

  1. Terry says:

    Republicans hate Democracy.
    Republicans hate freedom.
    That’s why they gerrymandered the state as well as why they are trying to change the law AFTER the judge ruled the law mandates they hold these special elections. This is the height of corruption and it reaks of obstruction of justice!
    Reublicans are lying, cheating, scheming fascist Big Government Nanny State demagogues that will continue to lie, cheat, steal, gerrymander and scheme to maintain their greasy corrupt grip on power. The only solution is to dump as many of these corrupt charlatans in the November midterms as possible. Starting with Career Politrickster Scott Walker!

    Dump Walker!
    Dump Vos!
    Dump Fitzgerald!
    Dump ALL republicans!!

  2. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Republicans only care about power. Other than this they are people devoid of any other care or empathy.

  3. myfivecents says:

    Yes, Jake, you are so right. They only care about having the power, and nothing more except maybe for their benefactors, but never for the people they are supposed to represent. They are no longer representatives of the people and obviously do not believe in democracy.

  4. podman says:

    Good article. Certainly the governor and the resigning senator and repr knew long before the end of December that the seats would be vacant.The governor should have announced the special election at that date(December or earlier).If the governor refuses the court ordered special election the judge should proclaim the second leading vote getters in the last election the new senator and repr and swear them in.Hopefully the voters in the districts will remember they have been abandoned both by Lasee and Ripp as well as Scott Walker and the republican controlled legislature. Lasee and Ripp should not be forgiven for quitting midterm on the people they swore to represent.

  5. will says:

    Wisconsin GOP and Walker are ruling our state not governing. They have taken away local control and are being bought by out of state corporations. The GOP cannot create the right atmosphere for good paying jobs instead give a horrific company 4.1 billion dollars of taxpayer money.

  6. Tom says:

    Vote out all republicans in November!

  7. myfivecents says:

    “‘No Taxation Without Representation’ was the slogan of a revolution by the American colonies which protested that they should not be taxed until and unless there was someone to represent their community while making the taxation laws. The phrase “no taxation without representation” means if I don’t have a voice in the government, I’m not giving the government any money. Taxation without representation is one of the principal offenses of Britain listed in the Declaration of Independence.”

    So, the people living in those districts should not have to pay any taxes for this entire year since they do not have representation in the State Legislature or Senate.

  8. Terry says:

    Dump Walker 2018
    Dump ALL republicans 2018

  9. Terry says:

    Question. What happens when Career Politician Scott Walker and the entire Wisconsin republican corruption cartel runs head long into Eric Holder? Holder slam dunks on them and humiliates them.

    Holder for PRESIDENT 2020

  10. myfivecents says:

    Terry – Two thumbs up on that comment. It was good to see Walker cannot always get what he wants when he wants it. That he can’t always twist, bend, and change laws to allow him to do things like this. Hope they do leave the law alone now too, but I wouldn’t count on it. Next session I’ll bet they have a new law to ram through the Legislature and Senate and change it.

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