Fiend for Democracy

Good news! Banana Republic has announced its Spring lineup. The vintage straight is in. Democracy is still out.

In case you haven't been following Wisconsin's version of U.S. politics, things in Madison have been interesting of late.

The short version is that the Republicans used, um, questionable tactics, to pass a bill stripping public employees of most collective bargaining rights. I know everyone's different in this regard, but for me the highlight was when the Wisconsin GOP held an "emergency" [video*] conference committee meeting on a new version of the anti-union bill, didn't post adequate notice, and didn't allow Democrats time to read the bill they were voting on.

Given the uncertainty about the legality of both the bill's contents and the process by which it was passed, there's broad agreement that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will likely hear one or more cases to determine if the executive branch can implement the legislation. That brings us to this week.

There are seven justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, four conservatives and three liberals. As it happens, incumbent Judge David Prosser Jr. (a conservative) was up for re-election this Tuesday. Conventional wisdom has been that this election would determine the fate of the Wisconsin GOP's anti-union law. Campaign donors reacted accordingly.

Yesterday morning, it appeared that liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenberg had won (pending an automatic recount) by a margin of 204 votes out of nearly 1.5 million ballots cast. And that's when things got really interesting.

Last night, the clerk of Waukesha County (a Prosser stronghold) announced that she had found 14,315 votes. With these new ballots, Prosser took a 7500 vote lead. Interestingly enough, this lead is just wide enough for Prosser to claim victory without triggering an automatic recount. If the margin holds, Kloppenberg and her allies may have to pay the full cost of any recount they request.

It gets better. By which I mean more interesting.

All of the missing ballots were from Brookfield. The day before County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus found the 14,315 "missing" votes, at least one outlet was already reporting the vote tally for Brookfield, with a total of 14,315 votes cast. I doubt that there was 106% turnout in Brookfield (split exactly evenly between wards, no less). I've been to Brookfield. They don't like democracy that much. What is going on here?

Then there's the biography of Kathy Nickolaus:
Nickolaus was given immunity from prosecution in a 2002 criminal investigation into illegal activity by members of the assembly Republican Caucus. She worked for 13 years as a data analyst and computer specialist for the caucus.

She resigned from her state job in 2002 just before launching her county clerk campaign.

The corruption probe took down then-Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Republican; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison; Sen. Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee; Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti, R-Oconomowoc; and Rep. Bonnie Ladwig, R-Racine. They all reached plea deals.

I remember that. Good times. Use of state resources for political purposes is a big deal-- just ask the Republicans.

By the way, Kathy Nickolaus' boss at the assembly Republican Caucus was then-Assembly speaker David Prosser. FYI.

In any case, if there's one thing I'd like to think that everyone can agree on, it's that Kathy Nickolaus is a horrible, horrible county clerk. Last year, Waukesha County audited her office. Among its concerns was Nickolaus' practice of storing election results on her personal computers. The auditors also complained about Nickolaus' secrecy.

Maybe this was an honest mistake on Nickolaus' part. However, given the circumstances surrounding an election to determine the fate of the body charged with deciding the legality of Wisconsin's laws, it would be seem prudent to do a full investigation to make sure the election was legal.

A hopeful development:
(Reuters) - The agency overseeing Wisconsin elections will not certify results of Tuesday's state Supreme Court race until it concludes a probe into how a county clerk misplaced and then found some 14,000 votes that upended the contest.

*Help! Can anyone find/make a transcript?

Transcript via Shaker trinity91 (thanks!):

[A screen from Wisconsin Eye reading: Joint Committee of Conference. January 2011 Special Session Assembly Bill 11. March 09, 2011. Executive Session, Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison, WI.]

[Paper rustling, various unidentified people: “Yeah, you're over here.” “What's this say?” “Bob, you're down here.” Incoherent muttering]

Senator Scott Fitzgerald: Okay, we'll call the conference committee... uh, to order and I'll ask, uh, Director Lang, the committee clerk to call the roll.

[The clerk calls roll]

Senator Scott Fitzgerald: [Reading] Okay we have a quorum. In order to move this process along, the Speaker and I have asked Director Lang to prepare a proposal for the committee's consideration. The proposal is in front of you. Uh, If the committee approves it, the proposal will be drafted as a substitute amendment to Special Session Assembly Bill 11.

Representative Peter Barca: Mr. Chairman?

Sen. Fitzgerald: We have cons...

Rep. Barca: Mr. Chairman?

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Reading] I have consulted... let me read this statement. I have consulted with the Legislative Council, the Legislative Reference Bureau, and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. and have been advised that this proposal would not trigger the special quorum requirement in Article 8, Section 8 of the Wisconsin Constitution. At this time I would move to adopt.

Rep. Barca: [Talking over Sen. Fitzgerald] Excuse me, Mr. Chairman?

Sen. Fitzgerald: ...As the conference... [inaudible]... Is there a second?

Rep. Barca: Wait! Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, Conference Chairman, excuse me.

Voice: I'll second that.

Rep. Barca: I have a question about the open meetings rules being violated.

[Rep. Barca continues talking over the reading of the bill, there is yelling in the background: Take a moment! Step back from the abyss! Think about what you're doing here! ]

Rep. Barca: [Hand raised] I have a statement saying you need 24 hour notice, from current Attorney General.

Sen. Fitzgerald: Wait, wait, wait, let me, discussion, let me recognize you, discussion, go ahead.

Rep. Barca: Okay. Thank you very much, Chairman. First of all, Mr. Chairman, most importantly before we even get started, obviously, I'm going to want a summary of this bill from our Director Lang, uh, so that I understand what's in here.

Sen. Fitzgerald: It's.. It's the same bill that you debated, for 60 hours.

Rep. Barca: Oh there's nothing different?

Sen. Fitzgerald: Nah, they just removed items from it.

Rep Barca: [Indicates that he didn't quite hear Sen. Fitzgerald] They removed what?

Sen. Fitzgerald: They removed items from it. There's nothing new.

Rep. Barca: So we can't get a description of what was removed?

Sen. Fitzgerald: There's nothing new.

Rep. Barca: Well, you said things were removed, Mr. Chairman. I want to know what's removed. It seems to me that the body should have, that our Committee should know what we are voting on. I don't know what was removed, so I need to know that. I do want a description from Director Lang. Secondly, I have a couple of motions that I would like to make as amendments to this...

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Interjects] No motions.

Rep. Barca: Clearly, uh, conference committees...

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Interjects] No motions.

Rep. Barca: have an opportunity to for people to amend a bill.

Sen. Fitzgerald: No. There's no motions.

Rep. Barca: So, I want to be able to present those, but before we even get into that, I want to say that this is a violation of the open meetings law. Ah, it is required,... I've got a memo here from our current Attorney General, not a past one, the current one, August of 2010. [Chants of “shame!” are audible in the background] No Wisconsin court decision will not allow meetings unless you have good cause to provide less than 24 hours notice of a meeting. The provision, like all other provisions of the open meetings laws must be construed in favor of providing the public...

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Interjects] Representative Barca?

Rep. Barca: ...with the fullness of...

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Interjects] Representative Barca?

Rep. Barca: ...of information about all government affairs...

Sen. Fitzgerald: [Interjects] Representative Barca?

Rep. Barca: ...that's compatible with the good conduct of government business. If there's any doubt...

[Representative Barca continues to read the memo while Senator Fitzgerald continues to interrupt]
Sen. Fitzgerald: Representative Barca?

Rep. Barca: [Stops reading] Yeah?

Offscreen: Get the gavel.

Sen. Fitzgerald: Clerk, call roll

Representative Barca: No! Excuse me! No! [Stands up, holding the memo] Listen! It says if there's any doubt whether good cause exists, the governmental body should provide 24 hour notice! This is clearly a violation of open meetings law! Know if you've been shutting people down, it is improper for you to move forward while this is a violation of open meetings law!

[Roll proceeds]

Unidentified Committee member: Aye.

Rep. Barca: You're not allowing amendments and that is wrong.

Unidentified Committee member: Aye.

Rep. Barca: Now, I... I... Mr. Chairman? This is a violation of law! This is not just a rule, it is the law.

[Senator Fitzgerald gavels the meeting to a close.]

Clerk: Meeting is adjourned.

[Protestors chanting “SHAME” in the Capitol rotunda are clearly audible.]

Rep. Barca: No, Mr Chairman! This is a violation of the open meetings law! It requires 24, at least 2 hours notice!

[Within the room, observers say “Shame!” “What have you done?” The clerk opens the door, there are still protesters shouting outside. Rep. Barca has his hand and is saying “Excuse me?” in an attempt to be recognized from the rest of the committee, which is leaving the room. The screen cuts away to an image from Wisconsin Eye and some light music.]

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