Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin Legislature

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, California’s Prop. 8, in Historic Rulings

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Today, the United States Supreme Court struck down two laws, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) and California’s controversial Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state.   With two different 5-4 rulings, the Supreme Court has affirmed that discrimination on the basis of whom people love is illegal — at least, if you are in one of the twelve states where gay marriage is legal already, the District of Columbia (where it’s also legal), or in California, where it’s soon to be legal again.

Here’s a link to a story on Yahoo regarding the overall historical impact of these two different decisions, what the groups on both sides plan to do next, and so forth and so on.

As for what I think?  Well, I’m very pleased that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and threw out California’s Prop. 8 (albeit on a technicality), because I believe everyone who’s above the age of consent and is in love with a supportive and loving partner should be allowed to marry that partner.  Whether it’s a man and a woman marrying, two women, two men, or two transgendered individuals, what matters is the love — not the form of that love.

The only thing that bothers me about these particular decisions is the limitations placed upon them by the Supreme Court.  In striking down DOMA, the Supremes basically said that if you legally married a same-sex partner in the various states where it either is legal now or has been legal in the past (and was legal at the time, such as in California until Proposition 8 was voted for by that state’s voters), the federal government must treat you as married.  And that way, you have all the rights and privileges of a married couple — which is exactly as it should be.

However, if you’re in a state like Wisconsin, where we have a state-specific version of DOMA on the books, if you are a same-sex couple you still cannot marry under the law.  You are still allowed to be legally discrimination against in taxation, adoption, and other issues, under the law.  And unless and until we get a Democratic Assembly and/or a Democratic Governor, things are unlikely to change due to the bunch of radical Republicans we have right now in Wisconsin, as in addition to these radical Rs running the state into the ground, they also oppose same-sex marriage on reactionary terms — not on realistic ones.

In other words, the Rs in Wisconsin see marriage as a religious ceremony first, with statehood recognition of that ceremony coming second.  (This does not really make much sense because many non-religious people or those who are religious but want to save on money go and get married before the judge in a courthouse in a non-religious ceremony.  But it’s how they seem to believe.)  The rights and privileges a married couple gets in Wisconsin cannot go to a same-sex couple — not even in Madison, which has had domestic partnership benefits for many years — because that’s what the radical Rs want.

I have news for these Rs.  Marriage is for everyone.  That’s basically what the Supreme Court said today, even though they stopped short of striking down other statehood bans like Wisconsin’s in their narrowly targeted rulings.  If you are in love, and you want to get married, and if you want to raise a family, you should be allowed to get married and raise that family.  Period.

This is one of the few cultural issues where the Rs have largely been out of step with the mainstream of Wisconsin and the rest of the country.   For example, there are now three Republican U.S. Senators who are for gay marriage — Rob Portman of Ohio, who has a gay son, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  There are a few others, like John McCain, who’ve said before that they have no problem with gay couples, per se, but they don’t think these couples should be allowed to marry.  Then the rest of the Rs basically want to take the country back to the 1950s, if not earlier, on cultural issues — which isn’t likely to happen, fortunately for the rest of us.

In Wisconsin, I don’t know of any single one Republican Senator or Assemblyman who believes that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.  (Or even just in Wisconsin.)  All eighteen Senators oppose same-sex marriage; all sixty Republicans in the Assembly oppose it.

And, of course, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker also adamantly opposes same-sex marriage, mostly on religious grounds.

Look.  For the most part, I’m for most religions, providing they help people and give meaning and value to their lives.  But when a religion insists that some people are better than others — in this case, a heterosexual married couple matters more than a same-sex married couple — that’s where I start to get upset.

And when a politician can’t even be bothered to say, “Look.  I haven’t really studied the issues yet, but my religion has always said that gay people are sinful.  That’s why I really cannot support marriage equality,” but stands behind the religious fig-leaf as if the religion is doing his or her thinking for him, that really bothers me.

My thought right now is that this issue, along with the new legislation that Scott Walker said he’ll sign that mandates that all women get trans-vaginal ultrasounds before having a medically necessary abortion (unless you’ve been raped or a victim of incest and have gone to report the same), is the most likely one to defeat the Wisconsin Rs.

So those of us who worked so hard to recall Scott Walker (myself included) may still have hope.  This is an obstinate man we’re talking about, someone who firmly believes everyone in the state is behind him despite the recall evidence to the contrary.  And he’s leading a radical party that’s done a lot of things that voters disagree with, to boot — so when he’s up for re-election in 2014, if we have a Democrat with statewide recognition to run against him (please, not Tom Barrett again — I like him, but he has proven he can’t win against Walker), we should be able to get him out.

As for me, I voted against Walker, signed the recall, voted to replace him, and will vote against Walker again in 2014.  (I’m on the record as saying I’d rather vote for an empty paper bag rather than Walker, as that empty paper bag will do far less harm.)  But I’m a realist.  I know Walker hasn’t done what he said he would do — not with regards to jobs, not with regards to honesty and transparency, not with regards to anything, except for one (he kept his promise to turn down the money for light rail, as he found it unnecessary; however, in so doing, he also eliminated at least three hundred prospective new jobs) — and I want him out of there before he manages to harm the state even further.

My advice for the Wisconsin Rs is this — get with the program regarding same-sex marriage.  This issue is not going to go away any time too soon, and most younger voters disagree with you and your stated beliefs on this issue.  And if you are unwilling to change with the times, and admit that all marriages should be equal under the law, you will be voted out.

Maybe not in 2014.  Maybe not even in 2016.

But you will be voted out.

And I, for one, will be very happy once you are, as you’ve done more than enough damage already.

WI Redistricting: District Court says Maps Can be Redrawn, but Rs refuse; Trial to Resume Thursday

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Folks, this isn’t much of a surprise; the United States District Court (Eastern Division of Wisconsin) today rejected the Wisconsin Legislature’s argument that they cannot re-draw the maps based on a 1954 state Supreme Court decision.  The Legislature is dominated in both the Assembly and in the Senate by Republicans, so in essence it is the Wisconsin Republican Party that has refused as all along, as the Democratic Party and the few Independents in the state government at any level all seem to want to re-draw the maps.  The Court gave the Legislature (the Rs) 5.5 hours today to reconsider their viewpoint; the Rs, predictably, have refused to re-draw the maps.

The only reason this is significant is that now the Republican Party’s refusal is on the record.  Otherwise, nothing has changed from what I reported late last night; the Rs want the maps to stand, the Ds want the maps to be re-drawn, and the District Court seems mystified by the Rs recalcitrant behavior.

Here’s the link to today’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story:

Here’s a relevant quote:

Because lawmakers and the groups suing them could not agree on a settlement, the case will go to trial at 8:30 a.m. Thursday on an accelerated schedule. The trial was expected to last three or four days, but the presiding judge said he wanted to complete testimony by Friday, even if it meant going into the evening.

On Tuesday, an attorney for the state, Dan Kelly, told the judges that lawmakers were open to making changes to the maps, but he argued that a 1954 state Supreme Court decision prevented lawmakers from making changes to the maps after they had approved them. The panel of three federal judges – which includes two judges appointed by Republican presidents – rejected that argument Wednesday, and told the attorneys to tell them that afternoon whether the Legislature would spend the coming weeks drawing new maps.

Republican leaders declined to do that, sending the case to trial.

The only real news here is that the Court will expect this trial to wrap up on Friday evening even if they have to stay quite late in order to get everything done.  This means the Court will not allow the Legislature to obfuscate or delay any longer; these maps must be fixed by April 15, 2012, or things are going to get even messier than they already are.

As I said before, the only thing certain in all this is that the Rs don’t want to do anything.  They seem willing to let this go to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) because they believe they will prevail there due to the 5-4 split between conservatives/Republicans and liberals/Democrats.  But this particular panel is made up of two conservatives/Republicans and one Democrat and they don’t agree with the Legislature; how can the Legislature be sure they’ll get more than two votes at the SCOTUS level?  (Methinks they can’t, especially if the Supreme Court justices dislike the way the Legislature has behaved toward other judges the way I think is likely.  It’s possible that SCOTUS may rule 9-0 against the Wisconsin Rs, even though they don’t seem to think that’s likely.)

Oh, one other tidbit in this article:

The case comes to trial just as Gov. Scott Walker nearly doubles the amount in taxpayer money that can be spent on outside attorneys assisting the Department of Justice. Documents released Wednesday show the cap on the contract with Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren is being raised from $500,000 to $925,000.

Those costs are in addition to the $400,000 that Republican lawmakers have committed to two law firms that helped them draw the maps.

So, did you get that?  Walker is going to allow the Rs to get more state money to defend these terrible maps.  Which is why his recall cannot come soon enough.

That’s it for today; trial will resume Thursday, and I’d expect we’ll get a decision on this matter by the middle of next week due to the time-sensitive nature of this problem.  Stay tuned.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm

For the Fourth Time, US District Court Rules Against WI R-Controlled Legislature re: Redistricting Plans

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For the fourth time, the United States District Court (Eastern District of Wisconsin) has ruled against the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature and its attorneys over the new district maps the Legislature drew last year.  These maps were drawn in secret, the public had only one day to comment publicly on them in Madison, and then they were passed by party-line vote in the Republican-dominated Legislature.  No Democratic legislators had any input into these maps because the Republicans completely shut them out.

Worse yet, the Republicans, nearly to a person, signed non-disclosure agreements with attorneys in order to try to cloak their legislative business under the “attorney-client” privilege that’s commonly given to legal defendants.

But this did not work.

So, for the fourth time, the US District Court (Eastern Dist. of WI) has said that all the deliberations of the Republicans via e-mail with and without their lawyers (that is, communication to and from their lawyers, and communication among themselves) do not qualify as something that can be protected via attorney-client privilege.  And the judges’ comments, once again, are scathing.

Here’s the link to yesterday’s story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

And here’s a link to the actual order by the three district judges, two of whom were appointed by Republican Presidents:

Here are a few words from the judges’ decision that explained why they have ruled against the Republicans (again):

The documents produced by the defendants consist predominantly of a series of email messages discussing the support of certain Hispanic community groups for redistricting legislation and also discussing the floor debates on a pending bill.

In the Court’s view, it is quite apparent that these email discussions involve advice on political strategy, as opposed to legal strategy, and, therefore, are not afforded attorney-client privilege protection.

But wait!  There’s more!

Without a doubt, the Legislature made a conscious choice to involve private lawyers in what gives every appearance of an attempt—albeit poorly disguised—to cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin’s Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege. What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.

OK, let’s have that last sentence again, shall we?  With emphasis this time (as added by yours truly):

What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.

What bothers the judges here is also what’s bothered me from the start regarding the redistricting process.  Simply put: this should’ve been done in the full light of day, where Wisconsin voters would’ve had weeks to weigh in on what they thought of the districts (rather than only one day in Madison for people to hurry on up there and try to talk sense into the recalcitrant Rs).  The Democrats should’ve been consulted even if the Rs had still refused to listen.  And the actual redistricting itself should’ve been far less cumbersome than it’s turned out to be, which it would’ve been if the Rs had just done things openly rather than try to give themselves some sort of out via “attorney-client privilege.”

But let’s hear some more from the District judges, shall we?

In concluding that the documents at issue here are not privileged from disclosure, the Court does not mean to suggest that the attorney-client privilege is unavailable to government entities. It is simply not available in this instance because of the Legislature’s peculiar (and frankly unfortunate) decision in this case to so blur the lines between political, strategic, and legal advice as to make those lines practically disappear. In so doing, the movants—who, in fact, seem to act on behalf of only a portion of the Legislature despite their assertion that they act on behalf of the full Legislature (and, by extension, all of Wisconsin’s citizens)—have tried to hide the redistricting process from the very people whose rights are at stake in that process.

Amen!  (I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

The judges continue:

And those very people, Wisconsin’s citizens, have paid through their tax dollars for the efforts ostensibly taken on their behalf. The Court finds it highly doubtful that any lawyer’s client would delight in having the documents and communications  for which they have paid kept beyond their reach. Thus, in these particular circumstances, it would be inappropriate to shield from disclosure the communications provided to the Court for in camera review.

Now, did you note the language the judges used?  “The Court finds it highly doubtful . . . ” is quite pointed language from a judge (much less a three-judge panel).  But what about this next line?  “. . . the Legislature’s peculiar (and frankly unfortunate) decision in this case  to so blur the lines between political, strategic, and legal advice as to make those lines practically disappear” is practically acerbic, coming from a judge.  And this next line — my favorite in the whole five-page order — “What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny” makes the point that the judges have had quite enough of this, thank you, so let’s get on.

All of this is why it’s noteworthy that the judges’ ordered the R-dominated Legislature and its hand-picked lawyers release all e-mail communications.  Because, you see, the judges have obviously had enough — and for the fourth time, they’ve said so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 18, 2012 at 12:27 am

Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Wants to Limit Recall Elections Rather than Push Job Creation

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And here I thought I’d said all I possibly could about the need for Wisconsin recalls, when wouldn’t you know it?  There’s something new to be said due to Wisconsin Assemblyman Robin Vos, R-Rochester, as he wants to limit recall elections.  Vos calls this initiative “recall the recall elections.”

But why is he more worried about this than job creation, you ask?

You see, Vos is a far-right Republican who started saying in public only after two Republican state Senators were recalled from office and replaced by Democrats that the Wisconsin state constitution needs to be amended.  His new bill, which probably will pass the Republican-controlled Assembly and possibly pass the Republican-controlled Senate, would limit recalls to petitioners who “give a specific reason” like malfeasance in office or an actual criminal conviction — and that’s just wrong, especially considering Vos didn’t start making an issue of this until after Republicans Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke were successfully recalled and replaced on August 9, 2011.

As state Assemblyman Cory Mason (D-Racine) said in the Racine Journal-Times article on 8/10/2011 (note that date, please, as it’s one day after Hopper and Kapanke were recalled and replaced):

“This is the most self-serving piece of legislation we’ve seen so far this session,” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

I agree completely.

Then, Mason went on to say that:

the right to recall state elected officials is a constitutional guarantee and Vos is proposing to limit that.

“I understand the motivation behind it,” Mason said. “But it seems more about keeping a Republican majority than protecting Wisconsin citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Vos pointed out in the above-quoted article from the Racine Journal-Times that an amendment to the state Constitution requires two separate, successful votes in the state Legislature, then the voters of Wisconsin will get the opportunity to vote the amendment up or down.  But a recent poll from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Survey Center pointed out that 78% of Wisconsinites surveyed — an overwhelming majority — believed that recalls are a good thing, while 50% — half the electorate surveyed — believe that the then-current recalls of Wisconsin state Senators made them feel better about Wisconsin politics.  Which would surely make getting the public to throw out recalls as a way to remove a legislator much less likely, now, wouldn’t it?

State Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) had this to say about Vos’s proposed amendment:

“On Tuesday we saw two Republicans who ran on a message of creating jobs, yet spent a session pursuing an anti-middle class agenda, being removed from office by the voters who felt betrayed by their actions. The results of the election should serve notice to all politicians that they cannot ignore the will of the people.
“Floating this constitutional amendment the day after successful recall elections that held legislators accountable appears to indicate that Republicans are frightened that future actions to hold them accountable will also be successful.
“We must encourage and build on the amazing outpouring of public involvement in democracy that we have seen this year. The people of Wisconsin deserve to know that we are listening to them and responding to their concerns.”

Then Barca reinforced the whole “job-creation” issue with this comment, also from the article quoted above:

“The first bipartisan bill should address the vital issues of job creation, job training and improving public education in Wisconsin.”

And Barca is far from alone.  Overwhelmingly, the American people as a whole (not just in Wisconsin) want politicians on both sides of the aisle to concentrate on jobs as this recent poll from the New York Times and CBS News shows.  As this poll pointed out, people are extremely frustrated with the United States Congress and a record 82% of people disapprove of them because most of the folks who are “on the ground” in America know that creating jobs is the only way to cut the budget deficit in the long run.  It’s also the only way to have a healthy, prosperous society, as the recent poll said: by a ratio of two to one, more Americans believe that job creation, not deficit reduction, is what American politicians should be talking about.

So as you see, it’s not just in Wisconsin that joblessness is an issue.  Even brothers of members of Congress are not immune, as recent comments by Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) and the actions of Republican Rep. Allen West (R-Florida) have shown.  West sent his brother to a job fair in Atlanta, and he’s admitted doing so in an e-mail response from his office to Ed Schultz’s “The Ed Show” on MSNBC.  This should be a link to the segment on Ed’s show last night that discusses the whole issue; note that West is the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which supported a job fair in Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday.

But job fairs and unemployed people are not found only in Atlanta, which leads me back to to Governor Walker and Wisconsin, as the July unemployment numbers in Wisconsin went up to a seasonally-adjusted 7.8%.  Some of this may be due to the fact that many people finally received unemployment after federal Extended Benefits were accepted earlier this month by the Wisconsin Republicans in the state Legislature after being out of benefits since April 16, 2011.  (The Democrats had wanted to approve the benefits as soon as they were aware they were available, probably back in June of this year, but as the Republicans control both halves of the Legislature, the Ds had no power to bring a bill to the floor.)

Why is this noteworthy?  Well, only a month ago, Walker was all over the news crediting the “Wisconsin Miracle” as in June there had been a net increase in job creation, even though Media Matters debunked this — so the fact that the July numbers were bad just underscored how dubious the previous claims were.

I don’t know what the answers are.  But I do know that focusing on limiting recalls in Wisconsin is not the way to create any jobs.  Because the only way to “limit recalls” in the future is simply this: legislators from both parties need to be responsive to their constituents, including focusing on job creation rather than stupid and petty crap, rather than insist they’re right until they’re blue in the face no matter how many people tell them they’re wrong.

If Walker was a truly gifted politician, he’d realize this and start dialing his rhetoric — and his actions — way, way back in order to avoid his potential recall.  While the Wisconsin Rs should distance themselves from Vos’s bill as most of us in Wisconsin know that the Rs also pursued recalls of Democratic Senators — they just didn’t manage to get any of them out.  This means that any vote on “recalling the recall elections” will look extremely hypocritical at best, which will make every single member of the Assembly who votes for this vulnerable to being voted out in November 2012.

But my guess is that most of the Wisconsin Rs, including Walker and Vos, will continue to insist they have a “mandate” and that they’re right, until they’re all voted out by a disgusted Wisconsin electorate.