Top 10 Stories of 2018 Affecting Democracy
How Wisconsin went forward -- and backward -- in democratic government.
1. Record Turnout Takes Down Walker
On Nov 6, massive turnout, especially in Dane County and Milwaukee County, succeeded in defeating Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel. The total statewide turnout was just over 59 percent, crushing the previous mid-term record of 55 percent in 2014.
2. US Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering Case
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court punted on the big Wisconsin gerrymandering case, but not before Justice Elena Kagan offered the plaintiffs a new argument to use when a federal court in Madison hears more arguments this coming April.
3. Vos, Fitzgerald, Walker Limit Early Voting During Lame Duck Power Grab
After having no problem whatsoever with the authority of the governor and the attorney general when those two offices were held by Republicans for eight years, the GOP leadership in Wisconsin suddenly stripped some of that authority in a brazen lame-duck session after Democrat Tony Evers won the governor’s race and Josh Kaul won the race for attorney general.
4. Outside Spending Smashes Record in 2018
Outside electioneering groups spent a total of $61.4 million in Wisconsin, including nearly $31.3 million by Republican outfits and $30.1 million by Democratic groups. This was 68 percent higher than the $36.6 million spent in 2014 elections and more than three times the $18.9 million spent just eight years ago in the 2010 fall elections. (For a list of the groups, click here)
On April 3, liberal Rebecca Dallet defeated conservative Michael Screnock for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, filling the vacancy left by retiring Justice Michael Gableman. The split on the court is now 4-3 (instead of 5-2) in favor of the conservatives, who have routinely acted as a rubber stamp for the Walker administration and for corporations, and who have been downright hostile to the rights of the accused.
6. GOP Witch Hunt on Ethics, Elections Directors
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Speaker Robin Vos waged a McCarthyite attack on Michael Haas, the acting commissioner of the Wisconsin Elections Board, and Brian Bell, the acting commissioner of the Wisconsin Ethics Board. In January, under enormous pressure, Haas and Bell resigned.
7. Assault on Local Democracy Continues
The legislature and Walker continued their assault on local democracy and home rule, including passing a law that prohibits local governments enacting laws governing wages and a law that favors landlords by giving new rental units an eight-year holiday from inspections. In their time in office, Scott Walker and the GOP-dominated legislature has passed more than 162 laws that take away power from local governments.
8. Walker signs Sheldon Adelson’s Anti-BDS Bill
In April, Walker signed a bill that prohibits any business that gets a public contract worth more than $100,000 from endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that pressures the Israeli government to stop oppressing the Palestinian people. The bill is a pet project of Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, directly contributed $270,000 to Walker’s 2012 recall and 2014 reelection campaigns. Adelson also contributed another $650,000 in 2014 to the state Republican Party, which turned around days later and contributed $600,000 to Walker’s campaign. The ACLU has filed suits in Arizona, Kansas, and Texas challenging the constitutionality of such laws.
9. Students Give Nazi Salute in Baraboo
A photo of dozens of Baraboo high school students giving a “Heil Hitler” salute last spring surfaced in the fall and brought national and even international coverage to this city in south-central Wisconsin. It also underscored the extent to which Donald Trump has given a permission slip to people to be as public as they ever wanted to be with their bigotry.
10. Grassroots Support for Democracy Reforms Grows
The grassroots movement for a fuller democracy in Wisconsin continues to grow. Now 41 county boards have passed resolutions calling for a ban on gerrymandering in Wisconsin, and 6 counties have passed referendums in favor of this ban. And a total of 142 communities have endorsed the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United and to proclaim, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech.