When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his aides hailed the series of back-door moves -- violations of open meeting laws, restricted debates, snap votes -- that gave him a momentary victory in his fight to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, they claimed they were doing the bidding of the people of Wisconsin.
Referencing last November’s election, which gave him the governorship and control of the Legislature, Walker has repeatedly said through the monthlong fight in Wisconsin that “the people have spoken” and “the voters have spoken.”
If we elected monarchs (or “kings for four years,” as Thomas Jefferson feared), then Walker’s pronouncements from on high might be worthy of note.
But, of course, the United States went with a representative democracy, where elected officials are supposed to at least respect and ideally respond to the clear will of the people.
The clear will of the people has been shown in contacts with the offices of Republican legislators, which ran in some cases 10-1 against the governor’s proposal; in polls that show less than one-third of Wisconsinites support the governor’s approach (and that a clear majority would replace him as governor if they could); and in mass demonstrations that are drawing hundreds of thousands into the streets.
So where do the people who actually believe in representative democracy turn their energy?
The first concrete opportunities come on April 5, when Wisconsin voters will choose a new Supreme Court justice, county executives, mayors and city council members, village presidents and trustees, and town officials. The Supreme Court race has received a lot of attention as it offers a choice between a sitting justice, David Prosser, who has identified himself as a conservative judicial activist, and veteran Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who has positioned herself as a defender of the rule of law -- no small matter at a time when there is so much official lawlessness.
But the most dramatic choice may come in the race for Dane County executive. Dane County has taken a lead in mounting legal challenges to the governor’s assault on working families. One candidate for county executive, state Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, has been in the forefront of the defense of worker rights in the Assembly and on the streets. The other candidate is Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz.
A few days into the current struggle, Dane County Supervisor Melissa Sargent, a stalwart defender of worker rights, led a group of supervisors in proposing a resolution that declared: “The Dane County Board of Supervisors supports the Wisconsin worker and supports the right to organize and collectively bargain. We stand opposed to Gov. Walker’s attack on the middle class and on the rights of Wisconsin workers.”
The overwhelming majority of supervisors, from across the political and ideological spectrum, voted “yes.”
Bruskewitz voted “no.” She has also defended the governor’s approach in public statements.
That makes the Parisi-Bruskewitz race a “Which side are you on?” choice -- perhaps the starkest that Wisconsin voters will face before the recalls begin.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com