We've come through another week where the ideologues who run Wisconsin government today, including our high court, have further diminished the state of our state.
The five conservatives on the Supreme Court, who owe their offices to obscene campaign contributions and attack ads financed by in-state and out-of-state corporate interests, delivered yet another blow to Wisconsin unions' ability to represent workers.
In throwing out a case brought by Madison Teachers Inc., Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, who won re-election to the court in 2013 backed by $500,000 of attack ads from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and another $350,000 in spending by the Koch brothers' Club for Growth, proved once again that big businesses' money reaps big rewards.
The MTI case was a narrow one. Like all public unions, thanks to Scott Walker's infamous Act 10 MTI has to hold an annual certification election supervised by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to continue representing workers. But Act 10 requires approval of not the majority of those voting, but a majority of all members, whether they vote or not.
During a recent multiday election, the union had asked WERC for a list of members who had voted, but WERC turned down the request, claiming that it might open employees who hadn't voted to intimidation from the union. MTI filed suit for the list under the state's open records law and won in Dane County Circuit Court.
The state appealed to the high court, which quickly reversed the lower court's decision. It shouldn't, given the current control of the court, have come as a surprise.
What was a surprise, though, was the court's cavalier dismissal of the open records argument, a dismissal that many openness advocates believe could spell huge problems for future records cases. In essence, the court ruled that it is more important to protect union members from the possibility they may be pressured to vote than to uphold the state's historic openness laws.
Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in a dissent that this was the conservative court's third decision in the past three years in which the court has undermined the open records law.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature, many of whose members along with the governor also owe their offices to massive corporate handouts, was busy advancing an unbelievable bill that former DNR Secretary George Meyer has described as "the worst conservation bill that I've seen in a generation."
The bill raised such ire that an amendment has been adopted to soften it a bit. But it still represents a sop to the road-builders and developers who have long filled Republican campaign coffers. Thousands of acres of wetlands near populated areas would no longer be protected. Developers and builders would no longer need a permit to fill them nor would they have to create new wetlands to replace them, as has long been the case in Wisconsin.
The tired mantra is that we've got to take restrictions off businesses so they can create jobs, a flimsy excuse to dismantle the state's historic protection of natural resources
As I've asked before: Will we be able to recognize Wisconsin once this cabal is through causing havoc?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society Press website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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