Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader (and subject of a recall effort) Scott Fitzgerald released a statement Wednesday afternoon which, by all accounts, has left his own party in political chaos. The Juneau Republican suddenly dissolved the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs, and informed the Republican Caucus that the Assembly version of the Mining Bill (AB426) would be taken up in the Joint Finance Committee on Friday; likely to be fast-tracked for a vote next Tuesday.
One of the significant differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the bill were reportedly creating issues between GOP leadership and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). WMC not only holds the purse strings for many a GOP legislator, but have reported spending 386 hours lobbying for AB426. James Buchen, President of WMC, was recently reported as not favoring the Senate version of the bill. Gogebic Taconite was also resistant to the Senate version of the bill. Both WMC and Gogebic disliked the idea of “Contested Case Hearings” being restored in the Senate version of the bill. Contested Case Hearings would require public hearings, with “expert” testimony occurring under oath and subject to cross-examination. This factor, combined with more reasonable environmental consideration and potential for further public input in the Senate version, have raised the ire of WMC and Gogebic.
Mining Committee Chair Neal Kedzie had scheduled two hearings – the first in Platteville (appropriate based on Platteville’s history as a center of mining in Wisconsin, and highly regarded mining program at UW-Platteville), the second in Ashland – near the proposed Gogebic mine and in Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch’s District. Kedzie also promised his Committee would consider testimony and input from the Bad River Nation in finalizing the bill; something virtually ignored by the Assembly in Mary Williams’ Committee or the Assembly draft legislation. One member of the Mining Jobs Committee, Republican State Senator Dale Schultz is cited in two reports (Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) as being unable to support the Assembly version of the bill. It appeared the final version of the bill, if it was to pass the Senate, would be significantly different that what Gogebic or WMC wanted.
In one drastic power play, Fitzgerald has eliminated any hope of the Senate Bill seeing the light of day in public hearings. He has assured fast-track passage of the bill out of the highly partisan Joint Finance Committee, to be available for a vote next Tuesday. This type of power play has been used against Senate Democratic members with regularity this session. In this case however, Fitzgerald has left members of his own party (including four – himself included – likely facing a recall election) highly exposed and “holding the bag.” They don’t seem particularly pleased – the question is – will this be the straw that causes the GOP camel to grow a spine?
In interviews Wednesday afternoon, three of the four (Kedzie, Cowles, and Schultz – Zipperer’s staff was unreachable) GOP Mining Committee Legislative staffers informed Badger Democracy that none of the Senators were consulted by Fitzgerald, nor were they aware the Select Committee they had served on for 5 months was being dissolved, or that the Senate Bill was virtually dead prior to reading Fitzgerald’s statement. Senator Neal Kedzie released a brief statement Wednesday afternoon, falling into lockstep with the GOP. His staffer added in a follow-up question that Senator Kedzie was “signing on as a co-sponsor ” to the Assembly Bill heading to Joint Finance, and had no further comment.
Democratic Senators Jauch and Miller released their own statements, expressing sheer disgust at the “declaration of war on responsible government” (Jauch). Fitzgerald’s actions today are a microcosm of the entire 2011-2012 session, and the blatant power-grab taking place at the hands of Scott Walker, The Fitzgeralds, and the GOP. There is subversion of public participation in the process at every turn, closed-door meetings, behind-the-scenes deals being cut on behalf of Corporate special interests, and an overt sell-out of the resources in Wisconsin to the most powerful and wealthy – at the expense of the majority of citizens and the environment.
The Mining Bill AB426 will pass out of Joint Finance – there is little doubt of that. The burning question lies with the Senate. In throwing his own party under the bus at a time when 4 GOP Senators will likely face recall elections, have the Corporatists and Fitzgerald finally gone too far? Kedzie, Cowles, and Schultz were left out (and Zipperer, most likely), as was the entire GOP Caucus. They reportedly spent Wednesday afternoon in meetings which were held to get them “in line.” Were they reminded of the threat from the Budget Repair Bill vote one year ago – vote with the party or face a Tea Party challenge in your next primary…loss of WMC backing…loss of ANY GOP money…?
The past year has seen courageous acts – not by any GOP legislators, but by the Democratic State Senators. The greatest of which was putting their career on the line, and standing up for what is right by denying a quorum to the GOP overreach for power. In leaving the state, they risked their own recall election, but are still standing, and representing their constituents – which is more than one can say for ANY of the GOP Senators.
In order for the Mining Bill to be blocked, two things must happen. The Joint Finance Hearing on Friday must be packed, with citizens in peaceful protest of this blatant disregard for Democracy. Fitzgerald’s actions are living proof of the strangle hold WMC and the GOP have on the idea of open, clean, and honest Government of, by, and for the people.
Finally – ONE GOP Senator must do something courageous. They must risk their political career for what they know is right. One GOP Senator must finally, after one long year, stand for Wisconsin and the people…not WMC or Corporatic interests. That Senator must understand the ends that comes from turning against your own, and the people, in the selling out of Wisconsin…and vote against this bill.
Fitzgerald must think he has (or will get) the votes one way or another, or he would not have taken this action. If the GOP falls into lockstep, yielding to the Corporatics, the New Robber Baron Age will officially be alive and thriving in Wisconsin. Scott Walker’s slogan “Open for Business” will take on new meaning – “Closed for the people and transparent government.” This is why the recall is critical and necessary. The likes of Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald have betrayed not only the people of the state, but their own party in a desire for power and favor with the Corporatist elite. The only remedy is the recall.