On Wednesday, February 29, Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz issued a statement that remains one of the only responsible, non-partisan, and thoughtful actions by a Republican in the 2011-2012 Legislative Session. Schultz listened to his constituents, the residents who would be affected by mining, statewide testimony, scientific experts, and stated that he could not “in good conscience” support any of the current legislation on mining now before the Legislature. With the GOP majority merely a single vote, this made the Mining Bills in the Senate and Assembly (sb488 and ab426) “all but dead.”
The previous hearings on the mining bill have offered hours of testimony (Mellen, and Platteville hearings can be viewed at the preceding links to wiseye) and ideas both opposed to and supporting mining in Wisconsin. Even amongst those supporting mining, they do so consistently with a keen eye on environmental and local economic issues. One need only compare the testimony given in those hearings with the statement of “compromise” issued by Rep. Vos and Senator Darling ; to realize that unlike Schultz and Senator Bob Jauch, the GOP is only concerned with making the mining industry in Wisconsin happy – and eventually very, very wealthy at taxpayers’ (and the environments’) expense. Vos, Darling, and the rest of the GOP Legislators (with a little “prompting” from bill advocates Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) have scheduled a final hearing on BOTH bills in the powerful Joint Finance Committee on Monday, March 5. All GOP Senators (save Dale Schultz) have now signed on as sponsors or co-authors of the bill. The heat has been turned up on Dale Schultz with the session coming to a close on March 15. The voices of those Wisconsinites giving personal and expert testimony have been set aside, in favor of an out-of-state, corporate profiteering agenda.
It is time for all who believe in government of, by, and for the people; whether Republican, Democrat, Progressive, Socialist, or Independent to rally to the defense of Dale Schultz and all of Wisconsin. This movement continues to make history, and the momentum and passion must be sustained if a better politic in Wisconsin is to evolve. History is on our side. We have been here before, turned away the forces of greed and corporatics, only to have lost that momentum. Let us not lose this moment to complacency or despair; rather take the lesson of history to forward the cause.
In 1874, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted the “Potter Law” in response to growing railroad monopolies. The railroads were given free rein to govern themselves, with virtually no state or federal regulation and access to public land. On April 28, 1874, Governor Taylor signed the Potter Law, and the railroads immediately responded. Alexander Mitchell (Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul RR) and Albert Keep (Chicago and Northwestern RR) released a statement that their companies were both going to “disregard” the new law, as the state of Wisconsin was infringing on their right to practice business as they saw fit. Never mind that Potters law regulated rates and practices for fairness, discrimination, and “free passes” for elected officials (a common form of bribery); the company knew its business, and the state had no right imposing.
The case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and on September 25, 1874, a landmark decision was written by Justice Ryan. In it, he stated that “corporations should exist as subordinates of the state which is their creator.” The ruling was upheld by Federal Appeals and US Supreme Courts. Potter’s Law stood…until the next election.
In an unprecedented (at that time) assault on Democracy, the railroads utilized their own newspaper media and communications (along with party bosses owned by the railroads) to publicly smear Governor Taylor, inventing stories of bribery and calling supporters of Potter’s Law “The American Karl Marx.” Their plot (and investment) worked. Taylor narrowly lost his re-election bid, and in the following session the Legislature repealed Potter’s Law. This sequence of events proved inspiring to Robert M. LaFollette in his early years as a politician.
LaFollette battled against corporate, “Robber Baron” crusaders with profit as their only goal – and their attempt to buy influence and legislation amounting to a hostile takeover of democracy, public land, and the public coffers. As is the case today, the influence these corporatics held over the political and fiscal state of our nation was immense.
In LaFollette’s second inaugural speech he stated, “The real danger to Democracy is in the corrupting influence of powerful business organizations upon the Representatives of the people. The real cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”
The direction of legislation being forwarded by the current incarnation of the GOP eerily echoes legislation being passed a century ago. LaFollette observed “…all legislation in this era in the direction of exploitation of resources was under the claim of creating opportunity and increasing population.” Read jobs, and benefitting the “job creators.”
It is our obligation in this movement to bring “more democracy” to the people. LaFollette won, and Wisconsin won a century ago by the direct actions of the people. That is our strength, which, as in LaFollette’s day, no amount of money could overcome. The movement will succeed, if we make it so through our actions – the Mining Bill is proof of that fact. Through public protest, outcry, engagement, and testimony this bill akin to the “Robber Baron” age will likely stall – the centerpiece of the current GOP. Take to heart these words of Robert M. LaFollette, from his “Defense of Free Speech” address to the US Senate in October of 1917, fighting a charge of sedition for speaking against war:
“Our government…is founded on the right of the people freely to discuss all matters pertaining to their government…How can that popular will express itself between elections except by meetings, speeches, publications, petitions, and by addresses to the representatives of the people? They must have the right to the freest possible discussion of EVERY question upon which their representative has acted, every measure he has supported, every vote he has cast, every speech he has made.”
The road government followed into 1924 led us into the Great Depression, as Progressives like LaFollette were voted down in Washington by powerful corporate interests. The collapse of the Market proved what plutocracy and despotism end up meaning for the middle class. The direction we are headed in today proves that the GOP is willing to reject that historical fact for the benefit of its 1% benefactors.
Just as the 1932 election ended that gilded age; let the end of this Mining Bill and the 2012 recall and regular elections prove to be the end of this gilded age. Lest the current GOP succeed in its destruction of the promises of the “New Deal”, the “Great Society”, and the Great Progressive era of Wisconsin a century ago.
Remember the history of this state, this movement, and what that promise holds for future generations. The Republican (and some Democratic) Party members by and large have forgotten…it is our duty to remind them.