Politifact is “Politifalse” on Risser rule assertion in voter ID passage

Senator Fred Risser (and other Democrats) have asserted that Senator Mike Ellis “broke the rules” before the final vote was taken on voter ID. Today (June 5) Politifact analyzed that claim as “false.” An analysis of politifacts’ analysis finds this conclusion to be faulty- and ignoring the actual facts of Risser’s statement. Politifact bases its conclusion largely on debate being limited to 11am, prior to the general session being convened. The analysis concludes that based on a debate limit being accepted by both parties, Ellis (presiding chair) was acting within the rules to cut off Risser and “call the question” leading to vote. The article briefly questions the appropriateness of cutting off Risser, but concludes “false.”

The problem with this conclusion is Politifact (specifically James B. Nelson) ignores the actual substance of Risser’s objection. The rule in question is the “motion to adjourn,” called by Senator Erpenbach before the role is called. Politifact itself references the press conference held May 19, 2011. It would seem that Mr. Nelson didn’t watch beyond the first 1:30 into the video. Senator Risser clearly states that while he felt Senator Ellis cutting him off is unconscionable, the rule he considers to be broken is ignoring the motion to adjourn. That is the issue that should have been closely examined by Politifact.

First, a little lesson in “Robert’s Rules of Order,” the basis for almost all deliberative bodies worldwide. In this chart showing motions in order of preference, the main motions (motions of primary importance) are listed in order of precedence, in descending order. The highest precedence for a main motion is the motion to adjourn. While the motion cannot interrupt a speaker who has the floor, it takes precedence over any other motion (including “calling of the question”), and must be addressed and voted on before moving onto any other business. The person making the motion must rise and make the motion to adjourn – they must also be recognized by the chair. The chair must advise that a motion to adjourn has been made and ask for a second. Once seconded, it must be voted on, needing a majority to pass. It is not debatable and cannot be amended. In this context, let us examine the Politifact findings.

Had Mr. Nelson done a little more digging, he could have located archived video of the actual session in question. This video of the session begins with Senator Risser speaking. 9 seconds in, we hear Senator Ellis interrupt and inform Senator Risser there are 15 seconds remaining until 11am – the prior agreed-to debate limit. Listen closely here – we hear the gavel of Senator Ellis striking to conclude debate (this is still questionable as to whether it was the appropriate action by the chair), and immediately Senator Erpenbach is heard calling a motion to adjourn – even before Ellis orders the Clerk to call the roll. In fact, Ellis orders the Senator’s microphones turned off (he orders the aide to his right to “shut it off”) before calling the roll. The audio is proof that the motion to adjourn was called by Senator Erpenbach after Senator Risser’s time had concluded, and before Senator Ellis calls the role. According to witnesses in the session that day (including an Erpenbach staffer), Senator Erpenbach did rise to be recognized and make his motion. At this point, Ellis had an obligation to deal with Erpenbach’s motion before moving on. These facts are completely ignored by Mr. Nelson in his analysis.

The only question which will forever remain unanswered is whether Senator Ellis intentionally ignored Senator Erpenbach’s motion; or whether he either didn’t hear him, or did not understand the rule at the time. What is known, is that Badger Democracy rates the politifact analysis as incomplete and misleading. Senator Risser clearly asserted the rule he was citing was the “motion to adjourn” being ignored. Politifact analyzed only part of the facts – facts that ignore the continual bending, stretching, and breaking of the rules by Republicans. The party in power is obliged to follow the rules of a deliberative body – they are in place to assure the rights of the minority party are not trampled upon. Even when one party has an overwhelming majority, the rules apply in a Democracy.

As much as politifact should print a retraction and clarification, I wouldn’t hold my breath. After all, their analysis of Ed Garvey after he broke the “Financial Emergency Manager” story is even worse. Badger Democracy has confirmed since and April 19,  April 26 that the Governor and GOP Legislators have been planning significant Municipal Governance changes, using Foley and Lardner lobbyists to secretly write the bills. On May 31, open records requests further verified lobbyists and ALEC/Koch influence on legislation already in committee affecting Municipal Governance – yet there will most likely not be a retraction or clarification of Politifact analyisis. If you are going to be the printed “unbiased” arbiter of what is true or false, do your homework and deal with ALL the facts – not just those convenient or expedient.

Contact Politifact Wisconsin at politifact@journalsentinel.com .