Earlier this week Republicans in the Legislature decided to attempt to eviscerate Wisconsin’s open records laws, and outrage over the attempt to make Wisconsin’s government even less accountable than it already is to citizens crossed party lines. The Lakeland Times, which is anything but a liberal news source, published a blistering opinion piece outlining just how awful this attempt by Republicans to virtually eliminate Wisconsin’s open records laws is.
As it stands, the Thursday night, pre-holiday attempt to eviscerate the state’s open records laws is a political calamity for the Republicans — there’s no way this outrage won’t damage the GOP brand — but unless it’s pulled from the budget it will become a policy travesty that will do far more harm to the very foundation of democracy.
It is nothing less than the attempted murder of honest government, and the perpetrators of it deserve the political equivalent of the death sentence: recall. To that end, the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), need to come clean and tell the world who authored this attack on democratic principles.
If they won’t, they need to be recalled.
As our readers are aware, we are not in favor of recall elections except in the most extreme and egregious instances, where potentially criminal or unethical behavior is involved. And that’s what we have in this instance, an extreme and egregious attempt to provide cover for those who would work against the public interest, either illegally or unethically.
For those who live in a cave — and we all will be if the Republicans get their way — the majority members of the Joint Finance Committee voted for a surprise motion Thursday night that would exempt the Legislature from the open records law and redefine public records so as to exempt the vast majority of state and local government records.
Want to see how a bill evolved in draft form over time? If this measure becomes law, the public won’t be able to. Same for administrative rules. Ditto for policy memos and analysis circulated within state agencies.
The strange thing is, it’s exactly those kinds of documents the public must have to be able to understand why policies, rules, and laws are being written the way they are, and to be able to contribute to those discussions.
Essentially, the Republicans are telling the people they have no seat at the table. The laws, the rules, and the policies that govern our lives are none of the public’s business, the GOP is saying with these sweeping provisions.
Oh, and so much for transparency and integrity. If a lawmaker or a bureaucrat wants to wheel and deal with a special interest, they won’t have to worry because nobody will ever know. Right now, the possibility that somebody will find out through an open records request is one of the biggest reasons the bureaucrats stay as honest as they are.
As capper notes over at Cognitive Dissidence, this attempt by Republicans in the Legislature to gut Wisconsin’s open records laws could very well be a ploy to make Gov. Scott Walker look less extreme just before his official announcement that he’ll be seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2016, but I’m inclined to believe Republicans in Wisconsin just really don’t want average citizens to be able to find out how laws are made – because the truth is appalling.