The GOP leadership in Wisconsin will have a lot to answer for.
Gov. Scott Walker, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Speaker Robin Vos are not only power-mongers. They are not only scoundrels. They are slashers of democracy.
Their assaults on the basic norms of democratic behavior began right away, when Walker, in his own words, decided to “drop a bomb” on the people of Wisconsin by going after the unions in 2011.
Then they closed the state Capitol down, though it was supposed to be open to the public.
Then they arrested people for holding signs in the galleries or for singing songs in the rotunda.
Then they gaveled down any Democratic state senator who wanted to raise a point of order about how they were violating established procedures.
Then they passed a voter ID law, and were “giddy” that it was going to disenfranchise young people and minorities, according to the chief of staff of one Republican state senator.
Then they gerrymandered the political maps in one of the most grotesque riggings in recent American history, so much so that a panel of federal judges said that it violated the U.S. Constitution.
Then they dismantled the Government Accountability Board, and established an Ethics Commission and an Elections commission to succeed the GAB. But not satisfied with their tampering, they then fired the acting directors of the commissions without ever giving them the courtesy of a hearing, something that had never happened before.
Along the way, they rewrote the campaign finance law to let the super rich and corporations spend much more money in our elections — with much less transparency.
They did this all in a bullying manner.
And now, having lost the race for governor and attorney general, they are slashing away even more recklessly, desperate to subvert the will of the people and hoard every last ounce of power they have.
All the while, over these past eight years, they’ve been inflicting grave harm on democracy in Wisconsin.
In their new book, “How Democracies Die,” Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write: “Democracies work best – and survive longer – where constitutions are reinforced by unwritten democratic norms. Two basic norms have preserved America’s checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives.” They call these “the soft guardrails of American democracy.”
Walker, Fitzgerald, and Vos have brazenly destroyed these guardrails. They have shown no toleration for the opposing party, and they certainly have shown no restraint whatsoever in deploying their institutional prerogatives.
This is more than just three small men acting in small ways.
This is about the highest elected officials in the state of Wisconsin stabbing at the very heart of our democracy.
Matthew Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. This column ran first on the group's blog.
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