Scott Walker Is Proving Himself Unfit To Govern Wisconsin-- But Iowa GOP Caucus Voters Think He's Swell
It's especially difficult to imagine how any self-respecting Tea Party-identified Republican could relate positively to Walker and his authoritarian nature. Saturday at HuffPo Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari from the nonpartisan Center for Media and Democracy wrote about how Walker and his right-wing legislature have been twisting the very nature of democracy itself in their state. "America," they wrote about the meaning of the 4th of July celebrations, "fought a revolution against secret and unaccountable government, but this 4th of July Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are planning on gutting Wisconsin's open records law, the strongest in the nation."
On the same day that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his run for president, the Wisconsin GOP has proposed a virtual gutting of Wisconsin's open records law, long considered one of the best in the nation. The drastic changes were proposed in a last-minute, anonymous budget motion, with zero public input on the eve of a holiday weekend. The motion will be rolled into the state's massive budget bill and voted on in the coming weeks.The tragedy of the 2016 Republican field is that there isn't a single contender who could be expected to hold Walker's feet to the fire for this outrage. I suppose Hillary's speechwriters and consultants could make something of it if they ever had to.
The unprecedented proposal would give lawmakers broad authority to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation. It would keep legislative drafting files under wraps, create a new "deliberative materials" exemption in the open records law that would exempt records at all levels of government, and give the legislature an easy way to hide even more records from disclosure in the future.
The move to gut the open records law appears to come in direct response to a lawsuit that the Center for Media and Democracy filed against Governor Walker in May. State Rep. Gordon Hintz, a democrat from Oshkosh on the Joint Finance Committee, tweeted that GOP budget leaders made it clear to the committee that Walker had signed off on the changes, including the changes to the open records law.
...The sweeping proposal would gut the public records law as it applies to the legislature and governor's office, hiding special interest influence over public policy. The measure would help candidate Walker sidestep public scrutiny as more and more national media outlets file records requests with his office. The Joint Finance Committee chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling (R) and Rep. John Nygren (R), have refused to say who asked for the changes.
Bill Lueders, president of the transparency watchdog Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called the proposal a "cowardly" and a "shocking assault on the state's long and proud tradition of open government."
"These radical and sweeping changes represent a full-frontal attack on Wisconsin's history of open government," Lueders said. "They are clearly intended to block the public from discovering what factors drive the official actions of government, especially the Legislature, and will inevitably lead to abuse, malfeasance and corruption."
Ron Sklansky, a former 35-year senior staff attorney at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Counsel and an experts on open records, told CMD he had never seen a legislative proposal put forward that was as "devastating" to the open records law as this one. The measure is "almost a complete gutting of open records as it applies to the legislative and executive branch. It prevents the public from investigating the undue influence of special interests on the passage of legislation and the development of executive branch proposals and rule making," he said.
Although the proposal passed the Joint Finance Committee along party lines-- with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats against-- the move has prompted outrage across the political spectrum. The president of the right-wing MacIver Institute, Brett Healy, said the proposal "looks to be a huge step backwards for open government." Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, Brad Schimel, said "Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction." Hours later, Walker's spokesperson promised vaguely that the governor would work with the legislature to address the issue.
Critically, some legislators are saying they will not vote for the controversial budget with the changes included. "I will not support a budget that includes this assault on democracy," GOP Senator Robert Cowles said. And other GOP Reps. expressed discomfort and surprise with the move.
UPDATE: Caught Like A Rat, Walker Backs Off
Over the weekend, Walker and his allies in the legislature-- recognizing the catastrophe of their untenable anti-democracy position going public-- dropped it unceremoniously.
Faced with a swift and fierce backlash, Republicans on Saturday abandoned a plan that would have gutted the state's open records law.
In a joint statement issued Saturday afternoon, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislative leaders said the provisions relating to any changes to the law would be removed from the state budget.
"After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state's open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government," the statement read. "The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents' privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way."
...The turnaround came less than 48 hours after lawmakers slipped the plan into the budget unannounced in a late-night session heading into a three-day holiday weekend.