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Plain Talk: If Wisconsin's Legislature were a business, Republicans would've already been fired

Plain Talk: If Wisconsin's Legislature were a business, Republicans would've already been fired

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Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy wrote a column earlier this month asking if Wisconsin has the laziest Legislature in the U.S.

He noted that the Republican-led state Legislature, which is among the country's highest paid, hasn't been in session since the middle of April. That's more than six months if you're counting, despite everything that's been swirling around the state in this most noxious of years — a massive coronavirus outbreak, social justice unrest and huge financial hardship for businesses and individuals.

An online commenter asked, "If you were running a business and had employees like this wouldn't you fire them? The electorate should do likewise."

No kidding.

But, these same legislators who refuse to even honor the governor's request to convene and work on a plan to combat the out-of-control spread of the virus that has made Wisconsin a national poster child will likely survive next Tuesday's election.

If this were a fair world, they shouldn't. But, it isn't a fair world. This same legislative majority has seen to it by enacting what many students of government say are the most gerrymandered districts in the United States, another dubious distinction for what was once considered a shining light among America's  state governments.

So they've stayed home, thumbing their noses at a governor who happens to be of a different party, and ignoring health professionals who plead for some help in their dangerous daily battle. Instead of contributing a plan of their own, they've spent the entire pandemic encouraging lawsuits to undo any attempt to deal with the problem, safely from their homes.

Meanwhile, they continue to collect their $52,999 annual salary — which is the ninth highest among the 50 states — per diems of up to $160 a day if they should so happen to individually come to Madison (no receipts required), taxpayer-paid health care and pension contributions, 51 cents a mile for travel expense and a generous allowance for mailings and office supplies.

Oh, where two or three legislators once shared a secretary and maybe an intern, they all now have their own staff, some with several assistants. Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker who famously throws darts at the governor but refuses to call a session, has 14 people to help him explain himself.

Ordinarily, as Murphy's commenter said, voters — 70% of whom tell pollsters that they support Evers' mask mandate, for instance — would fire these kind of employees. But, their districts are designed to make sure they get to stay in office. So while a significant majority of Wisconsinites will vote for Democratic candidates again this year, the GOP is likely to hold on to its power.

And it's a power that has become a huge tool in today's political climate.

I'm old enough to remember the days when Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans respected each other. They played fair, keenly aware that power changes hands on occasion and there's always a chance for payback when the shoe is on the other foot. These part-time legislators, in their jobs because they viewed it as a public service, seldom tried to bully their way simply because they temporarily held the cards.

Of course, there were exceptions, but today it's the norm. You don't have to cooperate, because when districts are rigged there's little chance of consequence. You can unfairly take away a governor's power simply because he beat your guy in an election. You can hold his cabinet appointments hostage until they do your bidding. Or you can just stay home and refuse to help the wheels of government turn.

Unfortunately, it's the classic Catch-22 to change it. When you have safe districts and the ability to misuse your power, you can dismiss calls to make redistricting a nonpartisan function, no matter how popular that idea may be.

The only way this unfair and unaccountable grip on Wisconsin's state government will change is if the people decide enough is enough, safe gerrymandered districts or not.

Next Tuesday will be yet another test whether voters will decide that employees like this should be fired.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Murphy wrote a column earlier this month asking if Wisconsin has the laziest legislature in the USA.

He noted that the Republican-led State Legislature, which is among the country's highest paid, hasn't been in session since the middle of April, that's more than six months if you're counting, despite everything that's been swirling around the state in this most noxious of years -- a massive coronavirus outbreak, social justice unrest and huge financial hardship for businesses and individuals.

An online commenter to the column asked, simply, "If you were running a business and had employees like this wouldn't you fire them? The electorate should do likewise."

No kidding.

But, these same legislators who refuse to even honor the governor's request to convene and work on a plan to combat the out-of-control spread of the virus that has made Wisconsin a national poster child will likely survive next Tuesday's election.

If this were a fair world, they shouldn't. But, it isn't a fair world. This same legislative majority has seen to it by enacting what many students of government say is the most gerrymandered state in the United States, another dubious distinction for what was once considered a shining light among America's  state governments.

So they've stayed home, thumbing their noses at a governor who happens to be of a different party and ignoring health professionals who plead for some help in their dangerous daily battle. Instead of contributing a plan of their own, they've spent the entire pandemic encouraging lawsuits to undo any attempt to deal with the problem, safely from their homes.

Meanwhile, they continue to collect their $52,999 annual salary, which is ninth highest among the 50 states, per diems of up to $160 a day if they should so happen to individually come to Madison (no receipts required), taxpayer-paid health care and pension contributions, 51-cents a mile for travel expense and a generous allowance for mailings and office supplies.

Oh, where two or three legislators once shared a secretary and maybe an intern, they all now have their own staff, some with several assistants. Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker who famously throws darts at the governor but refuses to call a session, has 14 people to help him explain himself.

Ordinarily, as Murphy's commenter said, voters -- 70 percent of whom tell pollsters that they support Evers' mask mandate, for instance -- would fire these kind of employees. But, their districts are designed to make sure they get to stay in office. So while a significant majority of Wisconsinites will vote for Democratic candidates again this year, the GOP is likely to hold on to their power.

And it's a power that has become a huge tool in today's political climate.

I'm old enough to remember the days when Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans respected each other. They played fair, keenly aware that power changes hands on occasion and there's always a chance for payback when the shoe is on the other foot. These part-time legislators, in their jobs because they viewed it as a public service, seldom tried to bully their way simply because they temporarily held the cards.

Of course, there were exceptions, but today it's the normal. You don't have to cooperate because when districts are rigged there's little chance of consequence. You can unfairly take away a governor's power simply because he beat your guy in an election. You can hold his cabinet appointments hostage until they do your bidding. Or you can just stay home and refuse to help the wheels of government turn.

Unfortunately, it's the classic Catch 22 to change it. When you have safe districts and the ability to misuse your power, you can just dismiss calls to make redistricting a nonpartisan function, no matter how popular that idea may be.

The only way this unfair and unaccountable grip on Wisconsin's state government will change is if the people decide enough is enough, safe gerrymandered districts or not.

Next Tuesday will be yet another test whether voters will decide that employees like this should be fired.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com

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