John Nichols: An assault on local democracy

2013-10-27T07:30:00Z John Nichols: An assault on local democracyJOHN NICHOLS | The Capital Times | jnichols@madison.com madison.com

Democracy is most real — and often most consequential — at the local level of government in Wisconsin.

It is there that citizens choose from among their neighbors to serve on town boards, village boards, city councils and county boards.

The elections are nonpartisan, and often non-ideological. Local officials serve with little or no pay, and they do so as true representatives of their neighborhoods, their regions, their communities.

And when those communities are concerned — especially about destructive projects and developments — local elected officials reflect and act upon those concerns. They don't bow to big-money campaign donors. They don't defer to out-of-town, or out-of-state, lobbyists. They do what is right for the people and the place they serve.

This really is what democracy looks like.

Unfortunately, democracy is under assault.

Legislators in states across the country are attacking local control with so-called "preemption" bills. These measures — often promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group funded by multinational corporations — take away local control and rest the decision-making power with politicians in state capitols.

Those politicians are much more likely to do the bidding of all those free-spending campaign donors and lobbyists.

In Wisconsin, state Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Republican who has aligned himself with out-of-state mining interests, is trying to get the Legislature to adopt a proposal that would severely limit the ability of local governments to control the destructive practice of frac sand mining.

Tiffany, who chairs the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue, used a hearing last week to promote his proposal. The senator says he wants to prevent Wisconsin's towns, villages, cities and counties from becoming "mini-DNRs" — a reference to the state Department of Natural Resources.

But an analysis by the public interest group Food and Water Watch has determined that the bill represents "an attack on local governments by the silica sand mining industry, better known as 'frac sand' mining. This proposed legislation would strip counties, cities, villages, and towns of their authority to protect local air and water quality, to prevent unsafe blasting, and to recoup costs to taxpayers from damage done to local roadways by heavy truck traffic from silica sand mining."

Conservation, environmental and community groups have expressed concerns regarding the measure, which Glenn Stoddard, an attorney with broad experience in environmental and land-use issues, told WisconsinWatch.org, “essentially takes away all meaningful regulatory authority of local and county governments to protect the public from the adverse environmental and public health impacts of frac sand mining.”

Those concerns are not only environmental. They also relate to the quality of our democracy.

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout decries Tiffany’s bill as “another example of legislation … that is being driven by out-of-state corporate interests that takes away local people’s ability to protect their health, their safety, and their neighborhood.”

The Alma Democrat, a potential gubernatorial candidate, is not alone is speaking up. State Sen. Dale Schultz, a responsible Republican from Richland Center, says he has “a deep concern about any bill which would remove local control over a municipality’s natural resources and send it to Madison.”

Vinehout and Schultz speak for the traditional Wisconsin faith that the cure for what ails democracy is always more democracy — especially when it shifts power from the corrupted corridors of power back to the communities where Wisconsinites live.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com @NicholsUprising

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(31) Comments

  1. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 29, 2013 12:05 pm
    In one of the local newspapers I read a recent sports story about Bielema, in which he referenced the movie Groundhog Days, meaning, iirc, a riff about the doldrums, about not getting where you wanna get. Something like that. Or maybe Bielema should join the Charles Barkley club and lose a few pounds. (Last night on Late Night with David Letterman) Anyhoot, the thought of eating a groundhog can be creepy and gross, but I didn't really mean it that way. Somewhat, I was influenced by them ole musclecar bumperstickers: Chevys Eat Fords For Breakfast, but mostly I meant it about: Get out of the doldrums / eat / own / the day. Something like that. Hey, is what's on the menu at Mickies Dairy Bar on a menu somewhere near Bielema's office? Maybe: a light steak. three eggs. some fluffy french toast with saucy cranberries. coffee. yanks. those are potatoes on the menu at Mickies. salsa on those. some rye toast. maybe another steak and a blueberry shake. that's what I'd have. more coffee please.
  2. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 29, 2013 11:45 am
    In one of the local newspapers I read a recent story in which Bielema makes a Groundhog Day reference, that, iirc, riffed on change, regarding, well, let's just say: the doldrums of not getting somewhere. Something like that. Anyhoot, it can seem creepy and gross, the concept of eating a groundhog, but I was, I admit, riffing on the ole musclecar bumpersticker taunt: "Chevys eat Fords for Breakfast." And I was not wondering what they eat in Arkansas. So, would anything on the Mickies Dairy Bar menu be on a menu somewhere near Bielema's office? Maybe a light steak? three eggs. some fluffy french toast with saucy cranberries. coffee. and a blueberry milkshake, maybe. oh, and yanks. that's a style of potatoes at Mickies Dairy Bar. salsa on those. maybe some rye toast.
  3. jrgb
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    jrgb - October 29, 2013 10:19 am
    Really Senator Vinehout - you clamor for local control NOW???? You stood by and did nothing to help us regain local control for industrial wind turbine siting. You listened to my neighbors' testimony about having to abandon the homes they still own own (due to the irresponsibly sited turbines around their homes) to regain their health and you did NOTHING! This new policy of yours is so two faced it makes me sick. People in my neighborhood continue to suffer each and every day and politicians do nothing.....except to say 'prove it'....despite the mountain of PEER REVIEWED studies saying the state wide turbine siting rules are clearly UNSAFE. Democrats AND Republicans have stood by and done nothing to restore local control for siting wind turbines. I agree that local control is ESSENTIAL to protect health and safety - isn't time that you took that stance CONSISTENTLY across all issues that that can ROB families' health and safety?? Senator Vinehout - the time is NOW.
  4. jrgb
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    jrgb - October 29, 2013 10:18 am
    Really Senator Vinehout - you clamor for local control NOW???? You stood by and did nothing to help us regain local control for industrial wind turbine siting. You listened to my neighbors' testimony about having to abandon the homes they still own own (due to the irresponsibly sited turbines around their homes) to regain their health and you did NOTHING! This new policy of yours is so two faced it makes me sick. People in my neighborhood continue to suffer each and every day and politicians do nothing.....except to say 'prove it'....despite the mountain of PEER REVIEWED studies saying the state wide turbine siting rules are clearly UNSAFE. Democrats AND Republicans have stood by and done nothing to restore local control for siting wind turbines. I agree that local control is ESSENTIAL to protect health and safety - isn't time that you took that stance CONSISTENTLY across all issues that that can ROB families' health and safety?? Senator Vinehout - the time is NOW.
  5. AllAmerican11B
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    AllAmerican11B - October 29, 2013 7:34 am
    Fact or Fiction's fingers wrote this...

    "Nichols writing is neither hypocritical nor self-serving."

    "Of all the writers on the scene in Wisconsin Nichols is the most concerned with true democracy and fairness."

    "If you have evidence that the 'Democratic side of the fence' is representative of 'ever intrusive regulations and big government' then provide it..."


    I'm well aware that typing fingers cannot read the things that John Nichols has written over the years, but you would think there would be some kind of direct connection between those typing fingers and the host. I think it would be entirely appropriate to direct a David Bowie lyric to the fingers of Fact or Fiction, "Ground control to Major Tom...."

    "He writes from a progressive point of view..."

    No kidding, Mr. Obvious. Nichols is kinda like Charles Krauthammer who writes from a Conservative point of view. Maybe we should go back and objectively look at some of the things you have written about Krauthammer in his opinion pieces and use that as direct comparison to what I wrote above in this Nichols opinion piece.

    Challenge to Fact or Fiction,
    I'll use the same logic I've heard regularly from left wing extremists so you can fully understand this challenge. Prove me wrong on any of the points I made in my opinion above.

    Let's see how you choose to respond to this comment.
  6. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - October 28, 2013 11:39 pm
    The GOP regularly makes the point for State control -- as the issue is usually fought at the federal level. People tend to extrapolate that to local...but I am not sure that is the stance of the GOP.

    You are crazy if you think local groups would never choose to degrade environmental protections...because so many of the protections are seen as unnecessary anti-business measures by many (not making the argument just saying many people view it that way). So when a business opportunity presented itself, I could easily see local groups willing to do that for financial gain. How is it any different then the state doing it?

    Careful about my second question I may have worded it poorly but it was not about where to negotiate...but whether or not the local unit had the option to recognize the union or not and IF they would negotiate at all. Pre-Act 10 that would have never passed liberal muster...I am sure they would like that now but no way before.
  7. Fact or Fiction
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    Fact or Fiction - October 28, 2013 9:12 pm
    @ tomtom33's "Your extreme demonization is as successful as it was defeating Walker in the recall."

    You've got it backwards. First, you can't demonize a demon. Second Walker and ALEC are essentially the demons in the neo-conservative battle against democracy.
  8. Fact or Fiction
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    Fact or Fiction - October 28, 2013 8:31 pm
    tomtom33. If ALEC provides "solid service" then it does so in service to extreme neo-conservative ideology with the guidance of multinational corporations. And, that "solid service" is offered in the same spirit and care for the welfare of our nation that a pimp has for the interests of another man's wife and children.

    http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed
  9. Fact or Fiction
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    Fact or Fiction - October 28, 2013 8:27 pm
    AllAmerican11B, your comment is both cynical and desrespectful of John Nichols. Nichols writing is neither hypocritical nor self-serving. Of all the writers on the scene in Wisconsin Nichols is the most concerned with true democracy and fairness.

    If you have evidence that the "Democratic side of the fence" is representative of "ever intrusive regulations and big government" then provide it, but don't violate your own self-proclaimed disdain for "smears" by lumping John Nichols with a group you haven't even defined, much less succeeded as associating with John Nichols.

    Nichols is, as I see it, the closest thing Wisconsin has had to Robert LaFollette, Sr. since 1925. He writes from a progressive point of view, like it or not, but that does at all lesson his credibility or integrity.
  10. Fact or Fiction
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    Fact or Fiction - October 28, 2013 8:20 pm
    Papalorax, I appreciate your point of view on this. But I think Nichols' essay is addressing the functions of local government that are best served at that level, not fuctions which could be handled at the local level but which are best handled at the state level.

    In any event, the idea that local governments would choose to degrade environmental protection is answered by Nichols - no, they would not, because local government is in that environment, not in the Governor's mansion (with it's new $500,000 kitchen - now that's environmental enhancment, but it serves primarily Scott and Tonette Walker.

    As for union negotiations at the local level I think Scott Nichols would say "yes" - counties, cities, and school boards should be allowed to negotiate with local unions, rather that the macro-banishment approach of fascist Tea-Party Republicans such as Scott Walker.

    The entire point of Nichols essay, as I see it, is to point out the the one hypocrisy of one political party, the Republican Party, that makes a platform of local control, but selectively violates its own "principle" in that ideology when it erradicates local control for the benefit of large multinational corporations without an interest in the well-being of local citizens, or their environment.
  11. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 28, 2013 7:56 pm
    oops.
    correction:
    I apologize for my misspelling of Bret Bielema's first name.
  12. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 28, 2013 7:31 pm
    (My two comments, "Democracy is...alright?," and, "Keep...planetary," are examples of my fairly usual letter-draft mode. If one or both were to be letters-to-editors, I'd have work to do, but, methinks they's both fine as is.)
  13. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - October 28, 2013 1:56 pm
    obviously for GOP lawmakers who agree with the policies of ALEC.
  14. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - October 28, 2013 12:03 pm
    So John Nichols would you be ok if local governments could lower the standard of environmental protection?

    would you be ok with allowing each municipality in the country the option of negotiating with a union of their workers or not?
  15. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 28, 2013 11:52 am
    Keep in mind, I am writing as a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, i.e., one in federal and state governmental law, county, as it is, a closer agent to state than municipal -- not that that possible polarity of administration should be unconstitutional, yet if it is, there could be cause for federal governmental concern -- city, as it is, a hometown closer to municipal but unforgetting of state, federal, and planetary.
  16. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - October 28, 2013 11:20 am
    "Democracy is most real — and often most consequential — at the local level of government in Wisconsin." -Nichols' reality check is drafted backward, i.e.: When locals act, they feel it, because of their acts. This physicality of the physiology of participation of a democratic process is lively, as compared and contrasted to poring over every infomatical available on a particular issue, and then, exhausted, getting a night's sleep, and, awaking to a cup o mugs o java and to: a different set of news items, putting yesterday's news aside, aaaaand repeat; groundhogdaze, not so lively; to wit, Brent Bielema eats groundhogs for breakfast? and could probably become a NFL coach? if that's his goal? if the South promotes him? whoa! that aside -- "kids," "kids", "kids" -- those are, for example, three, Coach Andersen quotes. No, there's no such thing as "democracy" or "a democracy," there's only democratic participation, be you a member of this Party or that Party or no Party, whether you participate or do not participate (<---------->) directly or indirectly in, say, frac sand mining? what is that? a federal concern? a state concern? a county concern? a municipal concern? a regional: geographically and / or of a legal-instrumentality concern? (ex: Sands of Here Authority / Association) a group and / or individual sovereignty concern? Question for discussion: If -- I say If -- there's no such thing as "a democracy" or "democracy," i.e., if there's only democratic participation, then what does Nichols seek to alert? to change? to impose? to assault? to not assault? to sustain? to scare? to care? what's he for Halloween? what's he on other days? whose kids does he seek to see alright?



  17. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - October 28, 2013 8:05 am
    Nav, I am afraid that your lack of knowledge concerning the legislative process is glaring.

    ALEC, for the most part encourages nothing. If any State wants to take a shot at making it more difficult to cheat at the polls, ALEC has available some things that have been done in other States. You can pick and choose or use none. And cheating at the polls is still endemic. WI is somewhat cleaner, but look at our neighbor to the south.
  18. AllAmerican11B
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    AllAmerican11B - October 28, 2013 7:40 am
    I find it kinda "interesting" that someone that seems to be all for moving individual, municipal, county, and state control of almost everything up the government line to the federal government would be complaining about something like this. Could there be something politically motivated about the opinion piece, naaa, that just can't be possible?

    It's fine for the Democratic side of the fence to strip the individuals, municipalities, counties, and states of their "local democracy" with their ever intrusive regulations and big government; but woe be it when the Republican side of the fence do something "similar"! Don't give us any of your pompous nonsense John; hypocrisy is thy middle name.

    I'm not a big fan of mining, but that is not why I don't support this bill. I don't support this bill in exactly the same way I don't support the Democratic Party side of the political aisle sticking their intrusive nose in things that should remain close to home and not under the control of some distant disconnected government.

    I sent notice to my elected representative that I don't support the bill, if you don't support it, you should do the same; for that matter, if you do support it, you too should share that opinion with your elected representative. Our elected representatives need to know what we are thinking, tell them!
  19. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - October 28, 2013 7:31 am
    They decide nothing. They merely provide a template. Sheesh.
  20. Nav
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    Nav - October 28, 2013 6:16 am
    Model legislation is their primary service? Really? Who are THEY to decide what is good for the people of any particular state? isn't that the role of the Governors and Legislatures people choose?

    ALEC has encouraged states with Republican Governors and legislatures, among other things, to develop laws that restrict voting, or makes it harder for people to vote. How do you justify that tomtom33?

    I am afraid your propaganda simply is not working!





  21. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - October 28, 2013 5:52 am
    I have rarely tried to justify many policies of anyone. I comment mostly about processes and the application of the same standards to all.

    Your extreme demonization is as successful as it was defeating Walker in the recall.
  22. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - October 28, 2013 5:50 am
    Model legislation is their primary service. They provide a clearinghouse of what has and has not worked in other States. Model legislation has been around for decades. I used model legislation in the 80s to write a bill, and the model was not provided by ALEC. It was provided by a national trade group.

    It does not matter who writes the bills. Each bill has to pass both Houses and is subject to alteration many times during that process. Your demonization of ALEC is a red herring. Try discussing the issues.
  23. Nav
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    Nav - October 28, 2013 5:21 am
    tomtom33, you are not changing any minds on these boards, and you won't. The reason is because you always try to justify the policies of extreme Republicans.

    IF you read the latest polls, you will know that people are NOT associating themselves with the extreme Republicans or the tea partiers. That "fad" has lost its luster as it should.

    ALEC has not provided any" solid service" but ALEC has provided the extreme Republicans with template of bad laws to impose in various states, and how to pass them undemocratically. We see this happening in almost all states with Republican Governors. It is a very well coordinated scheme, and ALEC's finger prints are all over it.
  24. witness2012
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    witness2012 - October 27, 2013 8:47 pm
    Solid service for whom?
  25. pikerover
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    pikerover - October 27, 2013 3:21 pm
    Could you provide us with some "solid service" ALEC provides. Maybe writing laws for Republicans to pass so they don't have to waste time writing them passes as "solid service". I don't
  26. Nav
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    Nav - October 27, 2013 2:59 pm
    It does primarily to one party, and that is the REPUBLICAN party. People all over the country are seeing it first hand.
  27. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - October 27, 2013 1:01 pm
    ALEC for the most part provides solid service. If you don't like something they provide, don't use it. What would the left have left to say without its demons?
  28. marlori
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    marlori - October 27, 2013 12:19 pm
    I agree with everclear-- it is the GOP following and pushing ALEC proposed legislation and succeeding at it. While I certainly do not trust, support all Democratic party ideas, I am very concerned about money in politics. It is the GOP doing the most damage to all levels of government right now by their use of money and power. Do some research into libertarian publications-- and find their Lying to Liberals Guidebook. Yes, all politicians stretch the truth, but currently the amount of money going into the extreme right and the results of this are scary. Wisconsin's business and economy have not improved; our schools have serious monetary and educational limitations imposed in the past few years; our environment is being threatened; and many personal and local governing rights are being limited by legislation. Between the Koch brothers and ALEC, democracy is being seriously eroded. We need moderates back in our voting choices! And the huge money and misleading, dishonest ads out--from all sides. (let's get decent redistricting while we are at it.)
  29. everclear
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    everclear - October 27, 2013 10:07 am
    Well, only one party carries the water for ALEC
  30. toobad
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    toobad - October 27, 2013 9:28 am
    You (and Nichols) can't be that dumb to think that the rise in eminent domain issues belongs to one political party.
  31. Nav
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    Nav - October 27, 2013 7:41 am
    I would say the Republicans have launched an assault on Democracy IN GENERAL be it at a local, state or national level.

    The American people, of course will fight back the Republicans and TRULY take their country back from them!
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