For the last seven years the concept of local government control in Wisconsin communities, including our own, has been under attack. Our elected city governments and school districts can no longer decide for themselves what is in the best interests of their citizens.
Among over 128 measures already passed or proposed to reduce local control are: How much can a community spend to fund its public school system? After slashing state aid for public schools and forcing community taxpayers to fund private schools at the expense of their own schools, school boards were forced to go to school referendums to ask their citizens to exceed state imposed revenue caps. Thankfully, 76 percent of those referendums passed. Apparently, the citizens of those communities were more concerned about the educational prospects of their children and grandchildren in a rapidly changing world, than the small savings from property tax reductions. Some state legislators are proposing to limit school district referendums to coincide with spring and fall elections and if the referendum fails, barring the school district from seeking a referendum for two years after the failed referendum.
The state prohibits local governments from requiring pipeline companies to carry clean-up insurance for projects going through their borders. The state gives out-of-state companies the power to condemn private Wisconsin properties for oil pipeline operations and projects.
The state now allows more lead in paints, reduces lead paint inspections and testing and exempts lead paint manufacturers from future product liability lawsuits.
The state now allows a lender who is making a variable rate mortgage loan to include a lower, discounted initial rate. These types of mortgages were a major factor in the economic meltdown of 2008.
The state now prohibits challenges to applications for building high capacity wells, even though they did not account for the cumulative effects that these wells would have on surrounding wells, bodies of water and rivers over time.
The State forbids the DNR from regulating agricultural waste (manure run-off into lakes and streams) with stricter rules than allowed by federal law, nor are local governments allowed to do so.
Wisconsin municipalities are not allowed to enact firearms ordinances. This is now is the prerogative of the State which has been drastically reducing firearms regulations.
Local government District Attorneys are no longer allowed to conduct “John Doe” investigations of Wisconsin legislators and the Governor for violating ethics and election laws. This, along with making the Government Accountability Board (former government watchdog) part of the Department of Administration populated with administration political appointees, has left Wisconsin open to all manner of corruption by special interest groups.
It’s hard to see how the above examples benefit the average Wisconsin citizen, but it’s not hard to identify the special interest groups that benefited from them.
What has led to this sad state of affairs? There were three major developments. The first is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2010 “Citizens United” case. The conservative-led court, in a 5-4 decision, ended over a century’s worth of compromises which tried to prevent wealthy individuals and special interest groups from “buying elections” with their overwhelming economic power and resources. The court allowed them to spend whatever they wanted to advocate for their point of view or cause. This led to multi-billionaires and special interest groups spending unprecedented sums of money for sophisticated character assassination TV, radio and social media ads which were rebroadcast over and over. Our politicians became more afraid of these few, than the voters who were being manipulated by the ads. Moreover, these few manipulated the politicians by giving or withholding campaign donations.
The second development was the enactment of voting rules that would discourage certain groups from voting … the poor, the elderly and college students, because they tended not to vote for their party. This was done by requiring photo IDs, which were no problem for licensed drivers, but a challenge for those too poor to own a car or too old to drive. The times to register to vote, get absentee ballots, or vote were reduced. Long lines and long waits discouraged urban voters. Some states went as far as purging their voter rolls of previously eligible voters.
The third development was the rise of sophisticated gerrymandering. After the 10 year census, the party in power hired a law firm with demographers with powerful computers and software to redraw voting district boundaries that would virtually guarantee a politician’s re-election in future elections. This could be done by dividing their opponents’ voters over several different districts denying them a majority in any individual district or by putting their opponents’ voters into one district so the opponents could only control one district not several. In Wisconsin in 2011, the GOP redistricting plan was so successful that in the 2012 elections Republican Assembly candidates won 60 of 99 Assembly seats, even though 61 percent of the votes cast in the election were for Democrats!
But perhaps the most disturbing thing is the loss of the sense of community in our state and nation. That sense of community is the idea that we are all in this together and need to cooperate with one another for the benefit of all.
The principle reason for the loss of this feeling is the prevalence of a “divide and conquer” strategy. Pit privately employed union workers against public employee unions and after the public employee unions are destroyed, turn around and pass “right to work” laws that weaken the power and unity of privately employed union laborers.
To divide the public, politicians use “wedge” issues. Wedge issues are ones that invite citizens to react emotionally, rather than rationally about a topic. Like an actual wedge, they are used to split up people and communities. Now we know that a hostile foreign power is trying to weaken our nation using social media like Facebook and Twitter to pit us against one another. In 1858 Abraham Lincoln observed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”