Dystopian Madison: GOP Assembly Edition

Wisconsin voters are about split evenly between the Democrats and Republicans with a healthy number who identify as independent. And for most partisan general elections, you can expect the majority of the voters to vote along party lines…with independents voting for someone who best aligns with their interests.

But regardless of our party affiliation, I would anticipate that most voters expect their elected representative to understand the bills that are up for consideration and to vote for bills that will be in the best interests of their districts…even if that sometimes means voting against the party.

Of at least that’s how they tell us it should work in civics class.

But as we know, here in Wisconsin for most of the 21st Century, party rules all and you will be damned by party leadership of you go against the grain.

So now we have the strange events around Republican State Representative Timothy Ramthun, who as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests is a ‘vote first, ask questions later’ kinda party guy.

Now, although it may seem that I am picking on Rep. Ramthun, I am not particularly, but he just happens to be in the news right now. And I am willing to bet that this happens on the Democratic side of the house…but just hasn’t made the news.

But it seems that Rep. Ramthun voted in favor of a supportive state COVID-19 bill without understanding the nuances of a last minute amendment forwarded by GOP leadership. An amendment apparently not documented or annotated as is usually the case.

And his vote went along just fine until a constituent, a law enforcement officer who would be directly affected, asked about the amendment, and the representative couldn’t provide an explanation. Hmmmm….

The freshman Republican from Campbellsport last month (ed note: May 2020) indicated to the Assembly speaker that he didn’t know what was in an amendment he’d voted for in April, according to an email released under the state’s open records law. Ramthun asked Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester to explain a part of it addressing benefits for police officers stricken with coronavirus, writing that the provision appeared “deeply disturbing.”

The incident offers a peek at how legislating sometimes occurs in Madison, with lawmakers casting votes based on what leaders tell them without looking into the details themselves.

At issue is a last-minute amendment by Vos to a sprawling coronavirus relief package. The dense, eight-page amendment didn’t include a plain-language explanation of its provisions, as amendments offered earlier in the legislative process do.

A month later, Ramthun expressed second thoughts about the vote.

He told Vos in an email that a police chief in his district had asked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ office about the provision. An aide to the governor told the police chief that the governor supported making workers’ compensation more easily available to officers but that the Republican amendment prevented that.

Ramthun did not explain why he had to ask Vos what was in the amendment a month after he had voted for it. He didn’t answer questions about why he hadn’t asked for an explanation of the amendment before voting on it.

emphasis mine

I am not going to get into whether this amendment is good or bad law. Right now I am not interested in that. What I am more concerned about is lawmakers blindly following party leadership and not knowing what they are voting for or against. And I will say that for both parties, Republican and Democratic. Every single legislator needs to know the gist of every bill they vote on and what the ramifications of that law in the real world. If they still want to vote party line after that, they personally have to be responsible to their constituents for their actions.

But they really really need to know what they are doing.

Now Rep. Ramthun is a freshman, but he was what, 15 months into his term when he made this vote? So he really should have known better. And I would have thought as a freshman he’d still be anxious to be the best legislator he could be and take more initiative to know what he was working on and why. I hope he has learned a lesson and will do better.

And I hope all of our lawmakers in Madison will also take note.


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