More Freedom for Wisconsin Citizens
By Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson and Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca
No matter who you are or where you come from, everybody deserves the freedom to pursue and achieve the American Dream. The American Dream begins with the ability to obtain a family-supporting job if you work hard and play by the rules.
Unfortunately that freedom has diminished greatly in Wisconsin since Gov. Walker took office and Republicans regained the legislative majority nearly four years ago, leading to a stagnant economy that has put Wisconsin in the bottom third in job creation over the past two years, and with fewer opportunities for good jobs and even job training opportunities.
Wisconsin is 35th in the nation in job growth over the past year, still lagging behind neighboring states like Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan. According to Forbes magazine, Wisconsin is 45th in projected job growth. And Wisconsin is 48th in new businesses created, according to the nonpartisan Kauffman Foundation.
Despite economic numbers showing us still near the bottom of the pack, Republicans’ number one priority in the closing weeks of the legislative session was not addressing this jobs crisis. Their top priority was further limiting the freedoms of Wisconsin citizens – in this case by making it more difficult for people to vote.
The bills the governor recently signed into law will severely limit early voting – including reducing the number of available hours and days for voting early. From working parents to seniors, many citizens in Wisconsin regularly exercise their right to vote during extended early voting hours. These new laws will also make it more difficult for residents of assisted living facilities to vote, make it easier to intimidate voters at the polls, while at the same time – incredibly – moving up the date for when lobbyists can start making campaign contributions. The headlines could have read, “Citizens have fewer chances to vote, while politicians get to collect money earlier.”
But even these ongoing assaults on democracy and voting rights aren’t enough for Republicans. If their voter restriction law is thrown out in the courts, Gov. Walker intends to call a special session to resurrect this anti-freedom legislation. For people like the woman in the Wausau area who was forced to file a lawsuit after voting in every election for more than 60 years but never having a birth certificate needed to obtain a state ID card, Republicans would make it dramatically more difficult for her and other citizens to vote.
If there is going to be a special session of the legislature, it must be focused on issues that will strengthen Wisconsin’s middle class and expand access to economic freedom – creating jobs, helping workers receive much-needed job training and improving our economy so that everybody has a fair shot at success.
Democrats have put forward more than a dozen jobs bills focused on important issues like job training, promoting Wisconsin manufacturing, helping start-up businesses receive needed capital, Buy American and Buy Wisconsin and clean energy. With Wisconsin ranked 35th in job growth, we need a bold, vibrant jobs agenda that will help put people back to work.
If Republicans focused nearly as much on creating jobs as they did on protecting their own jobs, Wisconsin would likely be a national leader in job growth rather than 35th. Republicans may be satisfied with being 35th in the nation in jobs, but Democrats and the people of Wisconsin are not.
Restricting people’s basic freedoms – like exercising their constitutional right to vote – will not create a single job or improve our economy. Even worse, it further discourages people from participating in their democracy. Once Republicans choose to work with Democrats on fixing problems instead of just fixing elections, Wisconsin can once again lead the nation in ensuring better opportunities and more freedom for its citizens.
Recent Press Releases by State Rep. Peter Barca
"Along with my Democratic colleagues, I’ll work tirelessly to make this a better deal."
"It’s clear that Republicans are trying to rush through the process to avoid as much scrutiny as possible."