Lame Duck Laws All About Secrecy
Vos and Fitzgerald didn’t even attend the public hearing on their far-reaching legislation.
This spring, I taught an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that investigated the state of Wisconsin’s democracy. We interviewed current and former lawmakers and activists on the left and right, consulted public opinion polls, talked to regular people and tapped experts who study voting, redistricting and money in politics.
The conclusion: Many people in Wisconsin feel state government is moving in the wrong direction, away from the citizenry and toward the interests of politicians and their financial backers.
One of the trends we identified as part of our Undemocratic: Secrecy and Power vs. The People series for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism was the increased fast-tracking of bills under Gov. Scott Walker. In his first two years, after Republicans took over the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature, one out of every four bills was introduced and passed in less than two months, according to the analysis by UW-Madison graduate journalism student Teodor Teofilov.
Among the fast-tracked bills that session were some of the most consequential in state history. They included redistricting, which is still tied up in a court battle that could set the national benchmark for how far majority parties can go in drawing lines to ensure their own members’ election.
More recently, in the 2017-18 session, Teofilov’s analysis found much less fast-tracking. But one of the bills that did pass quickly awarded more than $3 billion in state taxpayer money to Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn — believed to be the biggest state subsidy of a foreign company ever in the United States.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was especially dismissive of our fast-tracking story, calling the analysis of 20 years of bill passage “politically motivated and superficial.” He insisted that the Legislature under his leadership had “approved bills in an efficient, effective and transparent manner.”
Efficient? Yes. Effective? Perhaps. Transparent? Hardly.
The bills — which Fitzgerald had said publicly were little more than legislative “inside baseball” — were instead sweeping efforts to shift power to the Legislature from the executive branch, limit early voting and enact major changes to road spending, agency oversight and public benefits.
As GOP lawmakers entered the hearing room Monday, protesters booed and shouted, “You’re changing our democracy!”
But Vos and Fitzgerald did not hear those chants. They declined to attend the hearing to discuss their bills. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, likened the process to a “third-world dictatorship.” News of Wisconsin’s lame-duck session maneuvers made national news.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, after the package of bills passed, Evers called the lawmakers “power-hungry” and accused them of overriding the will of voters “while hidden away from the very people they represent.”
It would be difficult to craft a more fitting exclamation point to our “Undemocratic” series.
Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the council’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- Lawmakers Change How WEDC Tracks Jobs - Laurel White - Dec 10th, 2018
- Op Ed: Republican Power Grab Unprecedented - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 10th, 2018
- The State of Politics: 5 Reasons for Republican Power Play - Steven Walters - Dec 10th, 2018
- Campaign Cash: WMC Behind New Anti-Regulation Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 7th, 2018
- Wisconsin Budget: One More Tax Cut For The Wealthy - Tamarine Cornelius - Dec 7th, 2018
- City Beat: Episode 002 - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2018
- Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding - Rich Kremer - Dec 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: What Will Scott Walker’s Legacy Be? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 6th, 2018
- Governor Walker: What Will Your Message To Gov.-Elect Evers Be? - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 6th, 2018
- WI & MI GOP Attempt to Undermine the Voice of Voters, Put Democracy and Safety at Risk - Democratic Attorneys General Association - Dec 6th, 2018
- Your Right to Know: Lame Duck Laws All About Secrecy - Dee J. Hall - Dec 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The Republican War Against Democracy - Bruce Thompson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Update: Legislature Approves Critical Reforms - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 5th, 2018
- Rep. Gwen Moore Statement on Republican Power Grab - U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - Dec 5th, 2018
- Statement on Lame Duck Session - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Dec 5th, 2018
- Legislature Works Overnight To Curb Evers Power - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 5th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Extraordinary Session - Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers - Dec 5th, 2018
- Republican’s Holiday Gift to Wisconsin: An Assault on Democracy - State Sen. Janis Ringhand - Dec 5th, 2018
- Unprecedented Power Grab Will Break Wisconsin for Years to Come - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Senator Taylor Believes GOP Are Taking Career Ending Votes - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Dec 4th, 2018
- Bill Curbing Evers’ Power Moves to Legislature - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 4th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Policy Items Flying Under the Radar - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 4th, 2018
- Will Republican Legislature Risk Contempt With Scheme to Enact New Limits on Early Voting? - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 4th, 2018
- Representative Lisa Subeck Statement on the Extraordinary Session - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Dec 4th, 2018
- Power Tends to Corrupt, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Dec 4th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers’ Testimony to the Joint Committee on Finance Opposing Extraordinary Session Legislation - Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Eight Days After November Election Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos Requested New Restrictions on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Op Ed: GOP Bills Change 400 Sections of State Law - State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Rep. Brostoff Statement on Republican Effort to Override Will of Wisconsin Voters - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Conservation Voters issue statement on lame duck bills - Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Evers Will Fight Plan to Limit His Power - Corri Hess - Dec 3rd, 2018
- GOP Lame Duck Session Targets Evers - Laurel White - Dec 3rd, 2018
- ACLU of Wisconsin’s Board of Directors condemns lame duck session - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Stop the Wisconsin GOP power grab - Indivisible Madison - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Election defeat leads to GOP temper tantrum - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Nov 30th, 2018
- Vos Republicans: ‘Too Many People Voted’ - One Wisconsin Now - Nov 30th, 2018