Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Our state government should operate in a fully transparent way. We need to know what our elected officials are doing, how their decisions are being made, and how they are spending our money. On the other hand, private citizens should be granted a good deal of anonymity. We should be able to vote, express our opinions, and communicate with our representatives without our actions being widely publicized.
There are several recent Wisconsin political actions that reveal an alarming trend. Our state government is becoming less open and less transparent. At the same time, the anonymity of private citizens who are exercising their Constitutional rights is under increasing threat.
For example, earlier this year a law was enacted that allows partisan election observers to stand as close as three feet from the table at which voters must state their names and addresses. I don't know about you, but I really don't care to have total strangers standing one yard away when I am giving-out my personal information. This voter intimidation law, Act 177, was endorsed by State Representative Knodl and State Senator Darling. It was signed into law by Scott Walker on April 2.
If that isn't enough, Republican legislative leadership recently recommended that the Government Accountability Board remove the current ban on cameras at the polls. So not only could you have some hostile stranger lurking over you, they could also be filming you from a yard away the entire time. Fortunately, wiser heads have prevailed. The GAB decided to reject the change earlier this month. However, the ban on cameras at the polls could still be lifted by legislative action.
Yet another privacy infringement on Wisconsin citizens is in the offing. The right-wing propaganda machine, MacIver "Institute" recently sued a State Senator to obtain name and contact information for his constituents. The extremist MacIver organization went to court to get names and e-mail addresses of people who contacted State Sen. Jon Erpenbach during the political turmoil of 2011.
The "Institute" had made an open records request of Erpenbach to obtain the e-mails. The Senator complied with the request, submitting over 26,000 documents. In order to protect his constituents from harassment, he redacted the names and contact information. This did not suit MacIver's nefarious purposes and they went to court to force Erpenbach to release the names of private citizens who dared to contact their legislator. The Senator prevailed in a Grant County court ruling, but lost on appeal in a Waukesha County court.
MacIver just received the unredacted e-mails on July 28. It is not yet known what use will be made of the information. As described last year in Just Sayin', MacIver used information from recall petitions to conduct an asinine witch hunt against people who dared to exercise their constitutional rights. Based on past actions, they will likely publicly "out" those who contacted Erpenbach, opening these people up to harassment by the politically insane. The expected result can only serve to discourage private citizens from communicating with their legislators on any future controversial or personal issue.
As the rules change to decrease the privacy of citizens, state officials are quickly making our government more private and less transparent. The Walker re-election campaign has recently been stung over revelations about the Governor's scandal-ridden WEDC. Ostensibly designed to attract and keep jobs in the state, at least six companies who have received WEDC grants have out-sourced jobs from Wisconsin.
Even more outrageous are revelations that employees and owners of companies that received WEDC grants have donated $395,930 directly to the Walker campaign. They also donated $218,899 to the RGC, a group that has spent an estimated $14.5 million to support Walker.
So what does Walker do? Does he clean-up this cesspool of mismanagement, impropriety, and corruption ? No, he simply changes the rules to keep the identity of companies seeking WEDC funds secret from the taxpayers who foot the bill (at least secret until after the election).
In addition to the WEDC scandals, Walker has come under fire for neglecting his job as Governor, traveling the US to plug his book, to fund-raise, and to campaign for President. Our part-time Governor took an astounding 110 out-of-state trips through December 2013. So what is Walker's solution? Certainly, not curtailing his trips and focusing on the job we hired him to do. No, Walker is attempting to obscure his jet-setting ways by redacting parts of his travel calendar ! As if the people who hired him have no right to see where our elected employee is spending his time.
So under Wisconsin's Republican leadership, the actions of private citizens are being increasingly opened to public scrutiny. Voting, signing petitions, or simply writing to our elected officials are becoming public declarations, opening all of us up to harassment by those with differing political opinions.
At the same time, functions of our state government are becoming increasingly opaque. The Walker administration has decided that we have no right to know which companies his WEDC group is considering giving our money to. That we have no right to know where our Governor is staying on his next out-of-state political jaunt.
These trends must be reversed. The privacy of our citizenry and transparency of our state government are important ideals that must be maintained. To act otherwise is an affront to the Wisconsin way.