Sunday, February 12, 2012

What They Heard In That Room

I think I have this thing figured out with the Republicans and their formerly-secret redistricting meetings in the Michael Best offices across the street from the Capitol in Madison.

It appears in June and July 2011, each Republican in the Assembly and the Senate was brought into a room at the law firm individually and shown a map of their newly-gerrymandered district.  One of the leaders was there (in the case of the Assembly, Rep. Robin Vos), and probably other people from the law firm and staff involved in the put-the-fix-in-for-Republicans redistricting project.  Vos was given talking points, drafted by an aide who, in a further outrage, now spends most of his time at the firm's offices instead of at the Capitol.

The talking points were meant for Vos to run the meeting.  The first part of the talking points is strictly ass-covering.  Under the heading "General Map Goals", Vos pretended to embrace three of the legitimate, statutory goals of redistricting -- equal population, "properly drawn" minority districts and "compact and contiguous" districts.  You could imagine the winking, smirking and laughter around the room as Vos recited the empty rhetoric so that, if asked, the legislators could all say they were told those were the goals. But, seriously, folks...

Then Vos proceeded to the meat of the meeting -- why the districts were really drawn the way they were.  As far as that's concerned, the talking points are silent on the content of what was relayed, but completely clear about what to do with the information -- don't tell a soul and, by the way, sign this secrecy agreement, just to be sure.  I can hear it now: "Your brains or your signature are going to be on that paper..."  You'd hope that nobody ended up with a horse head in their bed -- this bunch of Republicans are so obedient anyway, probably not necessary.

[UPDATE: Or maybe some were coerced into submission. Check out this nugget from Zac Schultz at Wisconsin Public Television:
According to one lawmaker who asked not to be named, the logic they were given was the maps and the documents would be protected by attorney-client privilege, and the secrecy pledges were needed to protect that. But this lawmaker told me he felt part of the pledge was intimidation, to keep the rank and file from complaining. He was even shown two versions of the map, one more favorable and one less favorable, and was told if he didn’t go along, the less favorable version would become law. 
h/t: Blue Cheddar]

"Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room," the talking points pronounce ominously.  "Previously signed [secrecy] agreement applies to this meeting." Jesus Christ, what the hell were that talking about in there? What was so damn dirty about What They Heard In That Room that they had to move ahead of time to cover it up by pretending a meeting between legislators is entitled to the attorney-client privilege, just because it is taking place in a law office across the street?  If their chief public legal apologist Rick Esenberg is right about how much power they have to gerrymander and design their own future success through redistricting, given the sorry state of the federal and state Supreme Courts, what are they so afraid of? Sounds like a lot of guilty behavior for some awfully guilty people.

Imagine being soon-to-be ex-senator Van Wanggaard, carted into the room and being told that your friends in the leadership and law firm had eliminated all those icky minorities in the city of Racine and instead carved out a special non-urban area  in western Racine and Kenosha counties just for you. (My favorite nugget from the Craig Gilbert piece: "The one section of the city of Racine that's kept in the Wanggaard district is the one where Wanggaard lives." Precious.)  There you go -- from barely winning your "community of interest" Racine County district by 300-some votes in 2010 (and getting creamed in the forthcoming recall), you can come back in November and suckle yourself to all those creamy white breasts in those safe parts of two counties.  You don't even have to apologize for you and your party being such a bunch of pussies you have to run from a fair fight.  Of course you signed the secrecy agreement.  Maybe they'll even let you hang out at the law firm until you "win" "your" seat back.

So many interesting stories from so many formerly-secret meetings.  That sound you heard from the Capitol this week is 76 subpoenas hitting the doors of Republicans in the Assembly and Senate who are going to be asked all about this.  The chance of any of them honoring all that "the truth and the whole truth" crap is slim-to-none, but it's worth a try.  More interesting would be the discussions with the leadership and law firm about how to screw with the Democratic districts -- none of those legislators were invited to Michael Best for so much as a cup of coffee.

Speaking of Michael Best, the Republican law firm that has its mitts all over all three branches of the radical Republican jihad, James Rowen -- who writes the best chronicle of the Walker Horrors on the net -- wondered out loud this week whether Wisconsin lawyers might want to sign a petition to protest the creative legal stunts of the firm.  Well, as someone who represents people accused of sex offenses and homicide, I know that lawyers should not be known by the sins of their clients -- necessarily. On the other hand, isn't having your clients set up shop in the law firm in an attempt to avoid legal culpability (much less open records requests) how the mob does it?

No, Jim, no petitions.  But there is one interesting way available for the Wisconsin community of lawyers to show their contempt for Michael Best giving us all a bad name.  I got an blast e-mail from someone I know in Michael Best asking for the support of one of his partners who happens to be running for State Bar president in an election in April.  Both houses of the legislature, the governor, the Supreme they want the State Bar, too?

The guy's name is Bill White and his resume is fairly innocuous.  For all I know, they may have him up in an office somewhere, doing real estate work or something far away from the political circus his firm is hosting on another floor.  And, in 26 years in the Bar, I have never voted in a State Bar election due to complete lack of interest.

But, this time, I think I'm going to break that pattern and encourage others to do the same.  White's competition for the largely figurehead position is Patrick J. Fielder.  Interestingly, he was Tommy Thompson's Secretary of Corrections before he was a Dane County Judge.  He is now in another silk-stocking firm in Madison (there is a reason I don't vote in these things).  But, what the heck.  He's running against a guy in Michael Best, which is currently the prime legal mover-and-shaker in a state that is being moved and shook by a a bunch of out-of-control radicals.

Pat Fiedler for State Bar President!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Recall -- Not a Re-Do

When I first saw Richard Foster's column in the Sunday paper, my liberal knee reflexively jerked.  So, the Journal Sentinel was running a column supporting its anti-recall campaign from a proclaimed liberal who used to write editorials for them.  What a surprise.

Usually, that's when I haul out my snarky anti-Journal Sentinel wisecracks; remind people that the paper endorsed Scott Walker for governor and has been covering for him ever since; pile on about how it's just like them to sneak behind supposed liberal skirts to hide the true Republican nature of their pro-Walker-by-default position; reminisce blissfully about the glory days of the Milwaukee Journal, when the newspaper took on issues great and small with grace and competitive writers, and Doonesbury ran in the Green Sheet and in color on Sunday...

All true -- but, not this time.  I want to give the ideas in Foster's column the respect they deserve, because the piece is an excellent expression of a sentiment us recall supporters will have to find a way to address.  I have a very dear friend who feels the same way.  Sure, we have a million signatures on our petitions.  But how do we reach the legitimate middle, who hates what Walker and the Republicans are doing and have done, but figure the whole thing is the product of a legitimate election in 2010 that we lost -- badly?  The side that loses the election is stuck with the results until next time, aren't they?

This is not an easy one to answer, but it can be done.  The answer lies in the radicalism of the Republicans in Madison; their drastic restructuring of state government; the seizure of control away from local governments; the dictatorial process used by ramming legislation through without a quorum, in the middle of the night, without regard to the rights of the minority (and, as we now know, with signed secrecy pacts to protect their illegal deliberations); Republicans taking their marching orders from right-wing think-tanks in Washington, rather than from their own Wisconsin hearts.  And, yes, the deliberate destruction of the historic and positive collective bargaining relationship between public employees and their employers.

We can't assume that everyone "gets it", this need for recall that has been so obvious to the rest of us since Walker, in his words, "dropped the bomb" exactly one year ago.  We have to make the case to those who should be with us -- to those who hate what the Republicans have done and are doing almost as much as we do but are not convinced a lost election allows a re-do.  What I hope they come to understand is that the recall movement is not an attempt at a re-do.  We need to convince some that the recalls are a legitimate response to the radical actions of legislators and a governor with an extreme agenda, the likes of which this state has never seen.

As much as I respect his overall concerns, Foster is off on at least one point.  The standard for recall under the Wisconsin constitution isn't anywhere near the "high crimes and misdemeanors" required to remove a president under the U.S. Constitution, and it shouldn't be.  Leaving aside for a moment that we may well get there with Walker, as the vultures circle the political operation he at least condoned in his county executive office, there are no such notorious prerequisites for recall under the Wisconsin Constitution.  The only thing required is one-fourth of the number voting in the last election to sign petitions indicating they want one.  Foster is right that recall should be "an extraordinarily rare and grave step". But he's wrong when he writes "You don't remove an officeholder before an election simply because you disagree with his or her official acts." Well, you can and you do.  It depends on the "acts".  Just ask Tom Ament.

In a way, Scott Walker is just the figurehead for a perfect storm that has led to disastrously bad governance.  He wouldn't be in the political predicament he is now if both houses of the legislature hadn't also flipped from Democratic control to an obedient cadre of similarly bought and schooled radical Republicans who were willing to rubber-stamp his drafted-in-Washington agenda.   Even with control of both houses of the legislature and the governor, the Republicans could have driven a moderately right-wing agenda without running roughshod over the loyal opposition like they were irrelevant gnats.

You'd expect them to do stupid things like concealed-carry, Photo ID, giving tax breaks to the rich, raising taxes on the poor, making it harder for regular people to sue the GOP's giant corporate constituents and try to make it easier for mining companies to dig 4-mile wide holes by weakening our historic environmental protections.  I mean -- they're Republicans -- bad government is what they are paid to be there for. But it's quite another thing to ramrod the most radical versions of all of that, plus everything in the right-wing handbook, as if Wisconsin were some kind of Laboratory for Bad Nut-Right Ideas.  Which is just how the right-wing Washington think-tanks thinks of us.

I was just thinking today when I was reading about the outrageous GOP secrecy agreements Republicans were required to sign to hide the true intentions of their hyper-political redistricting map -- Who ARE these people?? More to the point, who do they THINK they are?  Really -- trying to make a meeting of the legislature protected by attorney-client privilege? It's one thing to have control of the entire Capitol building -- it is quite another to swing that power like a bludgeon, without regard for or compromise with a large and legitimate minority in the legislature and an outraged majority in the rest of the state.

And then there is the end of local control on what have always been local issues.  Walker could have just taken collective bargaining rights away from state employees outright -- he alluded to doing that between the election and his inauguration.  But he did so much more than that.  He took away local control from every local unit of government -- including school boards -- by dictating that they can no longer engage in meaningful collective bargaining with their employees (the remaining "right" to bargain wages only, up to the rate of inflation, is a joke)  or allow their employees to have union dues deducted from their paychecks like the United Way, even if they ask for it.  Threatening the cut-off of state funding if they don't comply, the Heavy Hand of the State now limits the ability of schools to run referendums even if, as a community, the voters want to fund their schools better.

This goes far beyond what he had to do to get the health insurance and pension contributions he dictated. All Walker and the Republicans had to do is pass a law saying that pension and health insurance contributions were no longer subjects of collective bargaining for public employees.  There would have been a lot of noise, sure.  But what they did instead is use the desired health and pension changes as an excuse to destroy organizations that have done nothing but promote labor peace within public employment sector for the past 50 years, and their mostly positive relationship with the school boards and public employers they bargained with.  The only reason for this was to advance the national right-wing agenda to destroy public labor unions.  The decimation of the public unions does nothing to solve any fiscal problem -- it is all about power and destroying a perceived enemy of the Republican agenda.  Like so many of the actions of the radical Republicans in Madison, it had nothing to do with finances or good government and everything to do with a mad power grab.

As Wisconsin citizens, we don't have to put up with that kind of radical, unchecked governance for four years.  The recall process gives us the option, if we can meet the heavy burden of gathering 540,000 some-odd signatures (better -- we doubled it), we have the right -- no, the responsibility -- to try to stop the bleeding.  Some of what the Republicans are doing in Madison could have been predicted but so much of the worst stuff could not.  The first recalls last year have already served to moderate the Republican onslaught by carving the Republican margin in the Senate to one vote and making the senators now facing recall to think twice before rubber-stamping the rest of the right-wing agenda (see the hesitance of the Senate to approve the Assembly's attack on the environment in the mining bill).  In this year's recalls, the Senate will almost certainly flip -- and then the radical Republican revolution is over, whether Walker prevails or not.

This is the way it should work, I think.  The Madison Republicans have definitely gone too far in too many areas, and now Walker, Kleefish and the 4 senators will have to face the public in a recall election they brought on themselves.  Richard Foster and my good friend may continue to think that, as an electorate, we get what we deserve for what we let happen in 2010.  Elections have consequences, sure; but so do radical actions taken after the election.  I hope they and others come to believe that the extreme nature of the Republican agenda calls for an extreme remedy -- RECALL.

At least Foster admits that he's not going to go into the recall polling booth, hold his nose, and vote for Walker to survive, just on the general principle that there shouldn't be a recall in the first place.  He says he'll probably vote to recall him, if it comes to that -- and I think my friend will do that too.  We'll appreciate and count their votes.  But we really need their support.


Hey, we might even be doing Walker a favor.  If, with the ten of millions of dollars of out-of-state money he is going to be able to spend to lie his way out of this, he survives, the ridiculous Rebecca Kleefish almost certainly will not.  Sure, he'll have to deal with a Democrat as lieutenant governor, but at least he'll be rid of that albatross around his neck.  Maybe he'll even thank us later.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Excuses of the Doomed

The screeching voices of the radio right have been mostly silent about the alleged criminality in Scott Walker's County Executive office.  Apparently, the defensive talking points have yet to be developed and the well-paid Republican mouthpieces on the radio just don't know what to do about it, as the dirty water circles down the drain of his soon-to-be short-lived governorship.

So they squawk about a few recall petitions that seem a bit off as if it proves massive fraud and partake in a few of their other usual and tired diversions.  They don't seem to have any problem going after an African-American Milwaukee County supervisor allegedly accepting a small bribe in a simple sting operation and pretending that's the End of Times.  But, when it comes to skilled prosecutors closing in on their favorite puppet-governor for putting active political fundraisers on the county payroll and in his office suite -- complete with a separate wireless router and other hardware to try to hide their activities -- well...crickets...

Into the vacuum steps Bradley Foundation beneficiary and blogger Rick Esenberg.  Swinging his supposed academic credentials like they mean something to anyone (which is always and only, sadly, the Journal Sentinel), the once "visiting", now "adjunct" (read: part time) Marquette law professor has taken it upon himself to publish several think pieces on his blog lately, presenting an extremely amateur, scattershot legal defense of the charged Walker political operatives and generally ruminating about the supposedly dubious need for criminalizing of political behavior in government buildings in the first place. 

It goes without saying that, in a game of What If A Democrat Did It, Esenberg and the other members of the scripted right-wing megaphone universe would be exposed as hypocritical frauds. A Democrat caught doing the same thing would already be in jail, at Esenberg's insistence.  But, if it's one thing the well-funded right-wing Walker apologists are, it's shameless.

Esenberg first dipped his toe in the water of "analysis" of the criminal complaint against Kelly Rindfleisch on January 27th, looking down his elitist nose at this whole notion of criminalizing any behavior that is can ever be attributed to a Republican.  "I continue to dislike dealing with this type as a criminal matter," he snoots, even after admitting, yeah, well, fundraising, that's like a bright line.  And, charged as four felonies, I mean, that's just too much for him.

After flirting with "what's the big deal" about this Big Deal, he moves on, without any proof whatsoever, to attack District Attorney John Chisholm for daring to bring the charges.  "It [the law] leads to the threat of partisan use of the prosecutorial process...the timing - on the eve of a recall election..." he says of Chisholm, who is and always has been totally beyond reproach. Then, after that unfounded hit-and-run, he lurches into imaginary "they all do it" fantasy. "What would you find if you subjected the offices of Tom Barrett, Jim Doyle or Kathleen Falk to this kind of scrutiny?" Well, probably, you'd be pretty bored.  And you certainly wouldn't find their staffers blatantly fundraising for favored candidates 25 feet from the boss's desk.

At this point, if I'm Esenberg, I realize I'm writing circular nonsense and I either hit delete and start over or at least quit while I'm behind. But, no.  "There is still nothing that implicates the Governor in anything," he writes hopefully.  Wrong.  As we have discussed, the one e-mail in what is truly a fascinating complaint attributed to Walker, written to the head of his Courthouse operation while he was supposedly (heh) Director of Housing (if you asked Tim Russell a housing question, what are the chances he'd be able to answer it? Not much.), telling him to cool it (and, according to the complaint, many things cooled the same day) is all you need to know about who was in charge and who wanted things done exactly the way they were doing it -- until discovered, that is.

The first post ends with a whimper, not a bang, with rote speculation about the widespread use of the kind of separate campaign IT infrastructure that Russell installed in Walker's office suite in the Courthouse. "I wonder how many public officials use this or other tactics in an attempt to engage in communications that won't be subject to open records requests," he wonders.  Well, how about "none"?  This comment is interesting -- how does he know the secret infrastructure was "an attempt to engage in communications that won't be subject to open records"?  Remember, Esenberg is a proud member of the Republican legal brain trust that brought us Act 10 and so many other wonderful products of the Walker regime, including various defenses to the Brave Wisconsin 14 leaving the state.  Perhaps he was consulted ahead of time about how they could get away with fundraising on the taxpayer dime and gave them lousy advice.  Again.

In his second kick at the same cat in the next post, Esenberg elaborates on the "sure they did it, but who cares" meme.  He first declares that whatever Rindfleisch and Wink (and Russell and probably Walker) did are technical violations of the law rather than "a threat to the republic".  "The offense here is malum prohibitum (wrong because prohibited) rather than malum in se (intrinsically wrong)," he declares.  Sez who?  Besides throwing around Latin phrases (the last refuge of the legal writer trying to impress -- I haven't used Latin since I was an altar boy in second grade [pre-Vatican II] and certainly never in court, lest the laughter from judges and DAs drown out my argument), setting up a separate IT infrastructure to escape the discovery of your illegal fundraising while on the County dime -- especially if on of you were granted immunity in the caucus scandal and another (Walker) was one of Scooter Jensen's closest associates in the legislature at the time -- is certainly boldly, proudly and intrinsically malum in eff-ing se.  Besides, the distinction is legally irrelevant -- except when you get to sentencing.  Let Walker make that case when he gets there.

Almost as amusing and pathetic as Esenberg's excuse-making is the appearance of "school" "choice" whore George Mitchell in the comments section.  Besides arguing that we should legalize all forms of politicking and fundraising in public offices (whatever happened to the supposed conservative protection of the public dollar?). Mitchell laughably alludes to dark secrets he knows from a time long ago when some people foolishly let him in the room, smearing various Democrats without providing any detail.  "[Journal Sentinel Managing Editor] George Stanley was so surprised and offended by what I knew and did he said I was 'lucky the statute of limitations had expired,'" he claims.  While I wouldn't be surprised if Stanley said such a thing -- he and his paper have been buying too much of Mitchell's "school" "choice" bullshit for years, I don't know why he wouldn't fall for this load too -- the necessary discussion of the political ramifications of official acts is a far cry from spending hours and days in the County Executive suite sending (literally) thousands of e-mails arranging the grand and minute details of fundraisers (drafting invitations, even) for Walker's favored lieutenant governor candidate. The funniest line of all is Esenberg writing "George's views can't be easily dismissed."  Hilarious.

Although he gets paid well to be an apologist for anything the Republicans do or get caught doing, I don't envy the heavy task Esenberg has taken upon himself.  This is a tough one for the Walkerites to crawl out of, and they know it.  Luckily for Walker, Esenberg isn't really offering him legal advice -- he's just helping the Republicans soften up the public for the very real possibility of a Walker indictment by putting a legal gloss on a sow's ear.  It's a partisan prosecution, it shouldn't be criminal, everybody does it -- whatever works, the facts be damned.  

Walker himself isn't fooling around.  He's got a real criminal defense lawyer now -- Mike Steinle was in my Trial Ad class in law school and is one of the best in town.  Walker is going to need all the real help he can get.