Joseph Stalin is reputed to have suggested that it did not matter who cast the votes. What matters is who counts the votes. I don’t have a taste for comparing Gov. Scott Walker with the Soviet strongman. But when it comes to managing elections, Walker is giving his harshest critics ample encouragement to make the comparison.
How so? While Stalin wanted to game the system after the voting was finished, Walker wants to game it before the voting begins.
Specifically, Walker and his legislative allies have moved in recent days to have the state’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules cede authority over the state Government Accountability Board — which oversees Wisconsin elections — to the governor.
Walker’s scheme is a dictator’s dream. With the prospect that the scandal-plagued governor could face a recall threat in short order, what could be better for Walker than gaining control of the rule-making process regarding recalls?
“Allowing Gov. Walker to veto any recall rule from the GAB that he doesn’t like, for an election that affects him personally, is the definition of an abuse of power. Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans know that they are in trouble with Wisconsin’s working, middle-class families because of their extreme agenda. But rather than let the voice of the people be heard, Republicans are trying to control the recall election rules in favor of Gov. Walker,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.
Barca was aghast, and rightly so.
The GAB was established after Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature reached a remarkable bipartisan deal that protected the GAB from meddling by politicians. That 2007 agreement was reached by Democrats such as state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, the former co-chair of the legislative Joint Finance Committee, and former Assembly leader Mike Huebsch.
Pocan now worries that the Walker administration — in which Huebsch serves as Department of Administration secretary — and its legislative allies are not just ripping up the deal. They are undermining the promise of nonpartisan oversight of ethics and elections.
“With so many clouds hanging over the Walker administration, now is absolutely not the time to cede more authority to Gov. Walker. Instead of attempting to change the rules for their own benefit, legislative Republicans should be working with Democrats to ensure that our election rules continue to be governed by nonpartisan officials and that those who break the rules are held accountable for their actions,” Pocan said. “The Government Accountability Board was set up as a nonpartisan agency to regulate elections and ethics. It was never envisioned that any single politician would have the power to control its decisions.”
In February, the senior member of the Wisconsin Legislature sounded the alarm. State Sen. Fred Risser warned that, with the extreme power grabs contained in a “budget repair bill” that attacked labor union rights, undermined local democracy and shifted dozens of civil service positions to political jobs he could fill with cronies, Walker was “acting as a dictator.”
With this attempt to turn the GAB into the governor’s political plaything, Risser’s assessment seems all the more prescient. And unsettling.
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org