This week is Sunshine Week and historically nowhere has it found a stronger legacy than here in Wisconsin. It has been an important part of our heritage. Unfortunately this legislative session has featured shameful Republican attacks that trampled Wisconsin’s tradition of clean, open and transparent government.
I am proud to be a strong supporter of the principles that underlie Sunshine Week. That’s why I have joined my Democratic colleagues in fighting back against Republican policies that destroy Wisconsin’s heritage of open government.
Wisconsinites deserve to know who is attacking and who is defending open and transparent government. When it comes to open government, Gov. Walker and the Republican majority’s actions speak louder than their words.
Last summer, as Wisconsin families were loading up their vehicles and taking off for the Fourth of July weekend, Republican lawmakers, with the backing of the governor, inserted a provision into the final budget motion that would have completely gutted Wisconsin’s open records law.
In response, every Democrat on the committee voted against it. In the hours following the budget vote, I joined legislative Democrats and we spoke to news editors and made every effort to rally members of the media, open government groups, and people across the state against this change.
On our next session day, Assembly Democrats introduced a resolution to reaffirm our commitment to open records and to not degrade these principles. Unfortunately, every Assembly Republican voted against this strong version of the resolution.
Democrats have also introduced bills that would preserve and strengthen the Legislature’s open meetings and open records laws. Democratic bills would enshrine open records and open meetings protections in our state constitution and Assembly rules, restore accountability and transparency at Walker’s jobs agency, WEDC, and broaden penalties for the destruction of records.
Democrats have also worked tirelessly to inform the public and media about the changes Republicans are making to our campaign finance system and our election and ethics watchdog agency. We have visited with media outlets and groups across the state and shared detailed policy memos on Republican legislation that likely will lead to corruption going undetected and escaping prosecution. Every single Democrat opposed the Republican proposals, now law, that hide from the public the employers of campaign contributors, and allow less transparency in campaign spending and greater funding from special interests.
The governor's actions to stonewall the public include taking the unprecedented step of using actions by a little-known public board to deny the media the release of public records and change record policy. Walker's recent proposed changes to state agency open records responses do nothing to address his overall track record of obfuscating records and denying the public access to information on his jobs agency, his party's efforts to remove the Wisconsin Idea from state law, and other matters on which Republicans continue to deny and delay public access to information.
Make no mistake: Wisconsin Democrats are fighting hard to be on the public’s side of open records and open government. At every turn, we have educated the public and media, offered amendments, and pushed back against the Republican changes in the strongest manner possible. We didn't just complain about the proposals; we rallied people and offered legislation to strengthen current law.
Our work is not over. In the face of the ongoing assault on records by the Walker administration and Republican lawmakers, we will continue to speak out and seek legislative remedies to protect taxpayers’ access to their government.
In recent months, Democrats sadly proclaimed that under Walker and Republicans, Wisconsin’s tradition of clean, open, and transparent government is over and, sadly, Wisconsin is open for corruption.
During Sunshine Week, I am proud to stand up and say that Democrats in Wisconsin are champions of clean and open government — and we will continue to stand up for open records every week.
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, is the Wisconsin Assembly's minority leader.
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