I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. But this time, it isn’t because I don’t have enough to say, it’s because I have too much to say. Those of you who follow my Twitter feed probably realize I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Capitol, joining in the protests against Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill,” which really has nothing to do with the budget.
But what I write today, I don’t write as a Democrat or a liberal or a union member. I write as someone aghast at what has been happening to the democratic process. I write as someone who wants to ensure that government really is by the people, for the people. I write as someone who believes that everyone – even those I disagree with – has the right to express their opinion. Now, I protest not just because I find the bill and its provisions repugnant, but I protest against the process.
It starts, of course, with the speed by which Walker tried to push the bill through initially, with little time for public debate or reflection. When Senate Democrats fled the state to give the public more time to digest and respond to the bill, they were accused of cowardice and of holding up the democratic process. I can even understand frustration with this tactic – but it should have never been made necessary. Despite Walker’s words, he did not campaign on many of the specifics of the original bill – limiting collective bargaining, no-bid contracts for power plants, or many of the adjustments to Medicaid. When the public, even if it isn’t everyone, expressed their concerns, the appropriate response would be to slow down and listen. This was not offered.
Weeks later, the same contempt for the democratic process and the public continues. And it’s beyond the well-publicized mistakes – such as the highly-disturbing call with “David Koch,” which if nothing else revealed Walker’s narcissism and naivete (why wouldn’t a billionaire be calling me?) and his willingness to “consider” subverting the process, both by interfering with protesters and by pretending to negotiate with Democrats. For negotiation has never been something he’s interested in, despite the fact that the majority of the state wants him to do so: this week, when news breaks that he might consider limited compromise with Democrats, he responds by forcing the bill through the Legislature, using increasingly disturbing means of doing so.
I hope that people now focus as much on the process as the bill when they protest, because this is a non-partisan issue. Access to the Capitol remains limited despite court order, leading the Wisconsin State Employees Union to file a motion for contempt. Complaints are being filed even now for the Senate vote last night, which violates the Open Meetings law requiring 24-hour notice of a vote, except in cases of emergency. The Senators voted over Representative Barca, who was trying to ask for details about what was stripped from the “fiscal” bill and to outline his concerns about the legality of the process. Today, despite a public vote scheduled for 11:00 a.m., not only were protesters denied access to the Capitol, but the Legislators and their guests themselves. I personally saw Rep. Parisi try to gain access for himself and Jesse Jackson, whom he had invited to speak. When Parisi was finally let into the building at 10:55 a.m., 5 minutes before the scheduled roll call, Jackson, the media, and the crowd were all denied access. Parisi also noted that he had not received a copy of the bill he was scheduled to vote on that morning, but instead a 37-page brief.
What Walker and his Republican colleagues have been doing throughout the process should be repellent to those of all political leanings – and those who have no interest in politics altogether. No matter what your position is on the elements of the bill itself, one simply cannot support the method by which Walker has attempted to make it law.
I would be protesting this process even if the bill being considered was something I vehemently disagree with. I ask those who do agree with the bill to still stand up and say “this is NOT what democracy looks like.” I ask for a clear public and non-partisan consensus: whatever the ends, nothing justifies these means.