I have been “involved” in Wisconsin politics for nearly 40 years — first as director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups for 27 years, where I was CWAG’s paid lobbyist, and as a volunteer since my retirement a little over 10 years ago. I have seen a lot of changes over that time period and, unfortunately, the changes have not been good.
The major changes have been pretty obvious, such as all the money in politics that was caused, in large part, by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates for private corporate donations to political campaigns. This is bad enough just on its face, but is made much worse by the fact that most of it is made by wealthy donors who are able to hide these donations from the general public. This means that you do not know who made the donation, but the people running for office who benefit from them know damn well where they came from and who they owe for them.
To add insult to injury, these secret donations are now being used to help judicial nominees either get elected (e.g. the Wisconsin Supreme Court) or get appointed (e.g. the U.S. Supreme Court). So if wealthy individuals and/or corporations can’t get what they want through the legislative process, they can get what they want from the judicial branch of government. As you well know, the vast majority of us do not have enough money to influence elections or appointments. Our voices are muted.
When I retired at the end of 2009, I thought things couldn’t get much worse. Boy, was I wrong.
The latest trick to take away power from the people is something called “voter suppression” and it takes several iterations. For example, Wisconsin has adopted one of the most punitive “voter ID” laws in the country, despite the fact that voter impersonation is for all intents and purposes non-existent. The objective is to suppress the votes, especially of minorities, elderly and disabled people and poor people, who might be more inclined to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans (if you don’t believe that this is partisan, simply ask which political party is passing these laws). Our voices are muted. Other forms of voter suppression include cutting back on the number of hours that the polls are open and reducing the number of hours that people can vote on evenings and weekends.
Perhaps the most diabolical form of voter suppression is called “gerrymandering.” This is where voting districts are manipulated so that one party (the one drawing the maps) is assured of getting a majority of their candidates elected or, more likely, re-elected, thereby maintaining a one-party majority. Again, our voices are muted.
When I retired, I had just started to notice that state representatives and senators had a new standard for passing legislation or budgets — they no longer needed facts and data. It was enough to just believe that they were correct no matter what evidence might contradict that belief. And, even this has gotten worse, much worse. It has evolved into being okay to lie in support of what a politician wants; it doesn’t make any difference how many “fact checks” prove that it is a lie. The answer is to tell yet another lie. We have our president to thank for this abnormality. Our voices are muted by lying.
My grandfather, William O. Knight, who was born in 1880, used to say that “he is a liar and the truth ain’t in him.” Lately, I have been thinking more and more about his old-fashioned statement and how seldom he said it. If lying is not illegal, then it is up to those of us who do not believe lying in any form equates to good government to stop electing liars who, as my grandfather would say, do not have the truth in them.
Tom Frazier is a member of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board, and was the executive director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups from 1983 to 2010.
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