Several days ago, this brief item by Tierney Sneed appeared on the TPM website:
“Wisconsin Republicans may have swiftly backtracked on a proposal that would have gutted the state’s open records law, but the big question remains as to who inserted the language into the budget bill in the first place and whether Gov. Scott Walker (R) — who was already facing a lawsuit challenging him to release certain legislative documents — was involved in pushing the changes.
“The changes to the public records law were initially approved by the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee by a party-line vote Thursday evening, before the long Independence Day weekend. But a fierce backlash prompted Republican leaders, led by Walker, to announce during the holiday weekend they were dropping the provisions. The proposal, part of a budget package known as Motion #999, would have removed a number of legislative documents from under the scope of government transparency laws, and would have permitted lawmakers to opt out of submitting to other types of public records requests. The proposal appeared to target communications tracking how legislation is developed, which often reveals the influence of special interests.
“So far, Republicans have stayed mum on who initially pushed for the changes, though it has emerged in the last 72 hours that most of leadership chain was at the very least aware of them before they were put in front of the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday. As for Walker’s role, the specifics of his involvement, if any, remain unknown. But the consensus in Madison is nothing would have gotten that far in the legislative process without at least Walker’s tacit approval.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following what has been occurring in Wisconsin since Walker was elected governor. But it should be especially chilling for anyone in higher education. He has gutted collective bargaining, and he has undermined academic freedom and shared governance by eliminating the recognition of tenure in state law. Now, assuming that there would have been any academics insufficiently cowed by the threat to their continuing employment, this new law would have eliminated the individual’s right to file many previously routine freedom-of-information requests, making it much more difficult for the individual not only to expose what the state government is doing and why but also to defend himself or herself against politically motivated reprisals.
At some point, Walker and the Far Right in Wisconsin will go too far, and the voters in the state will wake up to the fact that while Walker and his cronies have been benefitting greatly from his “transformation” of Wisconsin, they themselves have benefitted very little, especially economically.
As Walker prepares to roll out his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the rest of the nation should take careful note of what has been occurring in Wisconsin. Walker is a throwback to the old “machine” politicians, but he has coupled that sort of very organized political partisanship with an ideological extremism that has compounded the damage that he has done in Wisconsin and that he may be able to do on a broader stage.