We the Irrelevant People
Citizens overwhelmingly opposed long list of legislation passed by Republicans.
How much does it matter to the Republican leaders of the Wisconsin State Legislature what the people they are elected to represent think?
Time and again, we’ve seen, the answer is hardly at all.
Late in the day on Friday, Nov. 30, the Legislature’s GOP leaders unveiled a raft of so-called lame duck legislation. The bills sought to significantly limit the powers of the incoming Democratic administration and make it harder for people in Democratic strongholds to vote.
About 1,400 people turned out to register their opposition during the sole hearing devoted to the bills, on Monday, Dec. 3. More than one hundred people waited as long as ten hours to testify for up to two minutes each. All but one person was opposed. The bills passed easily in the Republican-controlled legislature, on mostly party-line votes.
That’s when I began documenting the gap between public opinion and legislative action, and publishing data on my website, we-the-irrelevant.org. That name is no accident. The more data I collected, the clearer it became that the voice of the people didn’t matter.
I asked GOP legislators to send me all citizen correspondence they received on a number of controversial issues. Time and again, the same pattern emerged. Regarding the GAB, campaign finance changes, and exempting themselves from John Doe investigations, roughly 95 percent of the input lawmakers received on bills they then passed was in opposition.
Among the only support I found for the bills was from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers that spent $269,000 on lobbying during the 2015-16 legislative session. The group thanked lawmakers “for taking bold leadership to restore accountability in our state’s government.” Accountability to whom? To lobbyists or to the people who wrote and called? My data suggests the former.
Recently, I sent open records requests to the entire Legislature, asking for citizen correspondence regarding the three lame duck bills that passed in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, after an all-night session. The responses are beginning to come in.
Rep. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond) and Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) were among the first. Stafsholt’s email said this: “Attached is a document with all of the constituents that contacted our office opposing the extraordinary session bills. The physical emails are no longer in our files, but this is the information that remains. This open records request is now considered closed. Have a wonderful holiday season.”
The attachment lists 115 people who called and 88 who emailed. All 203 opposed the legislation. Rep. Stafsholt voted “Yes” on all three bills. The actual emails were presumably destroyed, as the law allows. (Legislators, alone among Wisconsin state and local officials, are exempt from records retention rules.)
Gov. Walker signed the legislation on Friday, Dec. 14. My request to the lawmakers arrived Monday, Dec. 17. The emails had already been trashed.
Skowronski sent phone call records and actual emails. Of these, 244 contacts were in opposition, and only two in favor. He voted “Yes” on all three bills.
Many questions remain, but I am seeing a very familiar pattern emerge: Those in power use their power to perpetuate itself. Opposition receives the legally required hearing after which, it is ignored. The people’s voice is irrelevant. That needs to change.
Sheila Plotkin, a resident of Madison, is the Founder of We the Irrelevant. This column was produced in collaboration with the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive, a Madison-based magazine.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- Rep. Jimmy Anderson Seeks to Void the Wisconsin Power Grab - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Jan 10th, 2019
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Mischief Defamed the State - Spencer Black - Jan 2nd, 2019
- Campaign Cash: Lame Duck Law Helped Ashley Furniture - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: Liberals All Wrong on Early Voting Law - Rick Esenberg - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: We the Irrelevant People - Sheila Plotkin - Dec 19th, 2018
- History Repeats With Latest Post-Election Republican Attack on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 19th, 2018
- Kaul Calls Lame Duck Laws ‘Terrible’ - Mary Kate McCoy - Dec 19th, 2018
- Court Challenge to Voting Restrictions Filed - Laurel White - Dec 18th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: State Facing Endless Lawsuits? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 18th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Files Request for Court to Enforce Rulings Striking Down Republican Lame Duck Restrictions on Voting - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 17th, 2018
- Motion to Block Early Voting Restrictions to be Filed Today - Citizen Action of Wisconsin - Dec 17th, 2018
- Carpenter: Require ‘Lame Duck” Bills to Supermajority Votes - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Bills Too Rushed, Secretive - Erin Grunze - Dec 16th, 2018
- Walker Signs Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 14th, 2018
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Lame Duck Bills - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Dec 14th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Announces Coming Legal Action Against GOP ‘Lame Duck’ Voting Rights Attacks - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker just sealed his legacy as the worst Governor in state history - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Extraordinary Session Legislation into Law in Green Bay - Gov. Scott Walker - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Kimberly-Clark Announcement - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 13th, 2018
- Walker Defends Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 12th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans’ Plan for Permanent Power - Bruce Murphy - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lame Duck Law Adds Work For State Agencies - Rich Kremer - Dec 11th, 2018
- 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 - Gov. 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 - Gov. 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