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Constitution

Tomorrow Wisconsin's governor and members of the state Senate and Assembly will take their oaths as they either begin their first terms in public office or resume the ones they've already held.

It's a biennial ceremony accompanied by a lot of pomp and circumstance both in the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C., where Congress convened last Thursday. A fellow journalist had a good question about it all. How many of those pledging allegiance to the United States Constitution or the Wisconsin Constitution really believe in — or understand — those oaths?

Indeed, the oaths seem to have become mere words inserted into a ceremonial inauguration, their meaning and role in democratic America often forgotten by politicians who apparently have no intention of putting the public's interest first.

The oaths, for instance, aren't swearing allegiance to a political party, but, clearly, are promises to uphold the constitutions of the U.S. and Wisconsin, which spell out the protections to which every citizen is entitled. They say nothing about politicians' desires to consolidate power, as Wisconsin legislative Republicans did in their lame-duck power play to essentially overturn an election.

Nor did many of those same state politicians consider the oaths they took to defend the federal and state constitutions when they gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts to gain unfair advantage at election time. The constitutions they pledged to uphold call for keeping the interest of the public supreme, not the parochial interests of politicians in hock to their campaign sugar daddies.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos ignores his oath every time he slaps a gag order on state workers and others to prevent the public from discovering how and why private lawyers were paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to help him and his Republican Party consolidate power.

The documents handed down by our forefathers don't call for special tax benefits for the rich or special privileges for those in power, as Congress' $1.5 trillion tax cut delivered in late 2017.

The oaths to defend the constitutions don't specify that other secret "oaths" are somehow more important, like the pledges many make to a charlatan lobbyist named Grover Norquist to never vote for a tax increase, no matter what. That's what Vos, Scott Walker and dozens of other Republicans have done.

So if it might be in the public's interest to raise the gas tax to fix roads now considered among the worst in the nation, that public interest caves to the Norquist oath. Scott Walker has been the prime example.

The New York Times' conservative columnist David Brooks last week wrote about the loyalty of many members of Congress, especially in light of what he's sure will be the indictment this year of Donald Trump.

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"At that point congressional leaders will face the defining choice of their careers: Where does their ultimate loyalty lie, to the Constitution or to their party?" he asked.

Indeed, at what point does ignoring their pledges to uphold and support the federal and state constitutions undermine our claim to be a government of laws?

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

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.