Essay: Wisconsin Moves Toward Fascism

Less than a month after a Democrat, Tony Evers, defeated Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor, Robin Vos, the Republican Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, followed through on his threat to strip the new governor of some of his power. The heavily gerrymandered Republican Legislature has limited the powers of the incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers and attorney general Josh Kaul. The lame-duck legislation was drafted in secret and signed into law by Scott Walker.

A hallmark of the dictatorial political practice known as fascism is the suppression of opposition by force. No one is really bothering to hide the purpose of this lame duck legislation: to continue the Republicans’ hold on state government, even at the expense of core democratic principles like respect for the separation of powers and majority rule. The legislation would nullify the decision-making of Wisconsin’s voters, who rejected Republicans for every statewide office in the November midterms.

Lake Michigan, November 11, 2015, by Elizabeth G Fagan
Lake Michigan, by Elizabeth G Fagan

The legislation prevents Mr. Evers from fulfilling a campaign promise to take Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. It will also diminish the governor’s control over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a scandal-ridden public-private agency created by Mr. Walker to foster job creation, by giving the legislature an equal number of appointees to the board as the governor and revoking the governor’s power to appoint the board’s chief executive.

Mr. Evers campaigned on closing the agency, the subject of critical audits by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which revealed that the economic development corporation had mismanaged millions of dollars in loans. The agency also attracted controversy after leading the effort to entice Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturing contractor, to build its first American plant in Wisconsin, at a cost to taxpayers now reaching more than $4.5 billion dollars in subsidies.

The legislation also weakens the attorney general’s office by eliminating the solicitor general’s office in the state’s Department of Justice. It removes the attorney general’s power to determine how to spend settlement winnings and give that power to the Legislature. The bill also gives the Legislature the right to effectively act as its own attorney general by granting the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization the power to hire its own special counsel if it determines it is in the “interests of the state” to do so. (Both Mr. Vos and Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader, who is collaborating closely with Mr. Vos, are members of the committee.)

Apart from stripping powers from other branches of government, the legislation aims to decrease voter turnout by imposing a two-week limit on early voting, despite the fact that a federal judge struck down a similar Wisconsin law in 2016 on the ground that it was racially discriminatory. When Democrats swept statewide offices in November, it was mostly the result of record turnout in Dane and Milwaukee counties, Wisconsin’s two largest, both of which allow early voting to begin roughly six weeks before an election.

“The legislature is the most representative branch in government,” Mr. Vos and Mr. Fitzgerald wrote in a joint statement after the bills were released. It was meant to serve as a justification, but in Wisconsin, at least since 2011, that has not been true: That year, at a law office across the street from the state capitol, Republicans drew new redistricting maps, in secret and without input from a single Democrat or member of the public. In 2016, a federal court ruled the maps so excessively partisan as to be unconstitutional, the first time a court had made such a ruling on partisan grounds in thirty years. (Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.)

Nationally, Democrats won more than 300 state legislative seats in November, but the party gained only one seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly despite winning 54 percent of the aggregate statewide vote. That leaves Democrats with 36 out of 99 seats. (Since the 2011 redistricting, they have not held more than 39 of 99 seats.) In the State Senate, Democrats actually lost a seat, giving Republicans a 19-14 margin.

Gov. Scott Walker spoke for the first time Tuesday on the GOP bill package that seeks to limit the power of Gov.-elect Tony Evers. While Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups and individuals were outraged over the proposals, Walker downplays the impact the bills would have.

After leaving office, Walker says he “may do some speaking, may do some lecturing. Maybe at a college or university. May do a variety of different things.” Maybe Walker and his pals Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald could leave Wisconsin for good to work on that wall with Canada Walker suggested during his embarrassing 2016 presidential campaign.

Elizabeth G Fagan in Chicago
Elizabeth G Fagan in Chicago

Elizabeth G Fagan is a writer and artist who resides in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She’s endured the curse of being a writer since attending a private arts high school in Connecticut, where the bad habit was encouraged. She also became a photographer at that high school. She spent all the time she could in the school’s darkroom, creating black and white images from film. Alas, a second bad habit acquired. Fagan is passionate about the natural world and its creatures.

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Art, content, photography,, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast © 2015–2019 Elizabeth G Fagan
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