How Tony Evers Can Fight Back: Maximum Transparency

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To the surprise of absolutely no one, soon-to-be former Governor Scott Walker signed all of the lame duck sore loser legislation sent to him that limits the powers of incoming Governor Tony Evers and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul. And he supported the sore loser signing with a Venn diagram that was  more embarrassing than anything I’ve ever seen in my thirty-plus years as a teacher of Introduction to Public Speaking. You can watch a portion of Mr. Walker’s remarks here.

Dear Governor Walker: that Venn diagram does not say what you think it says. Oops.

Instead of treating the election of a new governor as an opportunity to start fresh and begin the process of reaching bipartisan agreement on the critical issues facing Wisconsin, Republican leaders in Madison treated us to a sore loser tantrum. Since the November elections, Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Governor Walker have made it crystal clear that their own hyper partisan political will outweighs the will of the People. Bruce Murphy sees their efforts as part of a “cooly-plotted, long-term scheme to assure Republicans continue to hold power permanently in Wisconsin.”

Whether the Republican leaders are Murphy’s power hungry partisan plotters or “merely” pathetic sore losers, the fact is that the Evers Administration is going to have to find a way to deal with them. The manner in which Walker/Fitzgerald/Vos (WFV) argued for the lame duck bills provides Mr. Evers with an opening to fight back; they kept insisting that the changes they were making were necessary for reasons of “transparency.” (Apparently it never occurred to them that releasing the bills late on a Friday, allowing minimal public input on or nonpartisan vetting of them, and debating the legislation while most of the state was asleep does not meet any sane definition of transparency.).

But’s let’s assume for the sake of argument that WFV really do believe in and want full transparency in government. Okay then, the Evers Administration needs to give them what they want. Here are some suggestions for the what the Evers Administration should do after the new guv is sworn in on January 7th:

*Open Up The WEDC: A major goal of the lame duck sore loser session was to find a way to prevent Tony Evers from making good on his campaign promise to either dismantle or reform the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The WEDC has been mired in scandal from its inception, and as a result had much executive turnover.  The state’s mainstream media has never done a very good job of exposing the corruption in a manner that would lead to public outcry for the dissolution of the outfit and a restoration of public accountability in economic development. Tony Evers needs to use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to make sure that EVERY impropriety that occurred over the last eight years is revealed, with the roles of WFV in the mess(es) made explicit; remember, THEY want maximum transparency.

Paul Jadin is one of at least four Walker-era cabinet secretaries who could tell us much about (dys)function of state agencies in that era.

*Create a Blue Ribbon Commission on State Agency Ethics: This Commission should be co-chaired by a bipartisan group of former state agency leaders and be charged with investigating ethical lapses of the last eight years and suggest recommendations for moving forward. Former secretaries Paul Jadin, Ed Wall, Peter Bildsten, and Mark Gottlieb–all of whom spoke out against the way Governor Walker handled their respective agencies–need to be invited to give public testimony on what happened during their tenure. WFV will of course cry on WTMJ radio that this is nothing more than a partisan cheap shot, but the fact of the matter is that the public has every right to know the extent to which state government integrity suffered in the last eight years, and an even bigger right to expect that the Evers Administration does not repeat the same mistakes. Remember, WFV say they WANT maximum transparency.

*Create A New Government Accountability Board. From 2008-2015 Wisconsin had an award winning Government Accountability Board that did its job so well that WFV waged nonstop political war on it. The kind of transparency and accountability that WFV talk about is what the GAB actually tried to guarantee. For the Board’s heroic efforts its members and staff were publicly attacked and derided in ways that were shameful and unfair. Governor Evers cannot create a new GAB on his own, but he can announce it as a priority of his administration. Democrats could help the cause by announcing that when they attain majorities in the legislature they will immediately restore nonpartisanship to government ethics and elections agencies. Remember, WFV say they WANT transparency.

*Open the Closed Caucuses. One of the reasons–perhaps the main reason–why the government in Madison is so dysfunctional is because much of the peoples’ business gets worked over and strategized about in closed, partisan caucuses. The state government is allowed a level of secrecy in deliberations that no local government could legally get away with. Just think of how the sore losers got the lame duck bills passed: they spent hours in closed session, emerging from secrecy only after the party leaders were able to bully and cajole all members into supporting the bills. The floor “debate” then became a meaningless, theatrical display of talking points. That’s no way to run a government.

Bruce Murphy thinks that Scott Fitzgerald, Scott Walker, and Robin Vos used the lame duck session to act on a plot to keep Republicans in power permanently. Others think they are just acting out a pathetic sore loser tantrum. Regardless, Tony Evers has to take them on by insisting on maximum transparency.

Former Democratic state representative Cory Mason (now the Mayor of Racine) championed legislation to open the caucuses, but he could never get even the majority of his own caucus to support it. Tony Evers should forcefully and repeatedly take a stand for opening the closed caucuses. He should educate the public on how EVERY bad law that has hurt the state, from the election bills that excessively gerrymandered our legislative districts to the lame duck sore loser bills, was the result of closed caucus politics.

Tony Evers has said that he will explore all options in dealing with the sore loser lame duck session bills. One Wisconsin Now will seek legal action on those parts of the lame duck bills that impact voting rights. Legal action on that front makes complete sense. For the rest of the sore loser legislation, however, the solution should be what sore losers, bullies, and power hungry partisans most fear: MAXIMUM TRANSPARENCY. Opening the WEDC for public inspection, creating a Blue Ribbon Commission on State Agency Ethics, Advocating for a new Government Accountability Board, and demanding that the closed partisan caucuses be open are just four things that Mr. Evers can do to reassert the will of the People.

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About Author

Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri is a Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh. He teaches courses in rhetoric and public advocacy, freedom of speech, the rhetoric of rock and roll, and the communication career capstone. He maintains a blog called "Tony Palmeri's Media Rants." Tony served two terms on the Oshkosh Common Council and ran for state legislature in 1996 and 2004.

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