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Wisconsin residents fight back against Republican power grab

By staff |
December 28, 2018
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Milwaukee, WI - After the electoral victory of Democrat Tony Evers over Wisconsin's incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker, the Republican state senate has taken unprecedented steps to grab power back from the governor's office. Over the course of the past few weeks, the GOP-dominated state legislature held an extraordinary session at the capitol, swiftly ramming through a laundry list of powers to be transferred away from the governor's office. In short order, they passed a package of several bills which will undermine the abilities of the incoming governor and the new Democratic State Attorney General Josh Kaul, and further strengthen the GOP-controlled state senate.

During Walker's time in office, he and his cronies in state government were able to consolidate power and authority into the hands of a few reactionary business-class puppets. After taking office in 2011, Walker and his administration immediately went to work dismantling workers’ rights, unions, health care, welfare and public education.

Protests against Walker's attacks on public sector unions numbered 250,000 people as working and oppressed people gathered for rallies and an occupation of the state capitol. Energy from the 2011 uprising was funneled into a Democratic Party recall campaign that failed to unseat Walker or stop his agenda of dismantling union rights. But the mass movements against Walker continued organizing for seven years, raising awareness of the negative impact of his attacks on public schools, unions, oppressed nationalities and working people. These efforts finally dealt Walker an electoral defeat this fall as his opponent Tony Evers ran a successful campaign to fully fund public schools and undo many of Walker's attacks.

In the weeks since the election results came in, Wisconsin GOP lawmakers worked in secret to strip as many powers as possible from the incoming governor. A surprise announcement of the special legislative session in the late evening on November 30 sparked a wave of outrage from the masses of people who had finally rid themselves of the reactionary Walker administration.

Labor groups organized phone-banks in an attempt to sway state senators, or at least make them aware of the outrage of their constituents. More than 1000 people flocked to Madison on the day of the session for the public hearing section. While the hundreds of people who signed up to speak out against these measures waited for their opportunity, still more hundreds more packed the chamber of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), the hallways leading into it, and the capitol's overflow room. The righteous protesters chanted and banged on the walls, prompting the police to lock the doors to the committee chamber. The people would not be so easily subdued, however, and the police ultimately began removing the most vocal opposition. After the hours-long public comment hearing ended, the masses of people bore the brunt of harsh Wisconsin winter weather and continued to rally in the dark while the JFC voted to approve passing the bill package on to the state legislature.

By the time the dust settled on the morning of December 5, the GOP senate had shifted a long list of powers to GOP-controlled offices and bodies. Lame duck Governor Scott Walker would sign the bills all into law on December 14 before a confused Venn diagram that has since been relentlessly mocked on social media.

With their power grab as law, the reactionaries in government have severely handicapped the Evers administration and further diminished the ability for the masses to participate in the paltry corporate democracy offered to them to begin with.

Some measures include: the restriction of early voting; elimination of the ability of the governor to approve withdrawal from lawsuits, effectively derailing Evers' campaign promise to remove Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act; requiring Medicaid recipients to hold a job while also giving the legislature oversight over any future attempts of the governor to seek waivers for health care; and requiring state health officials to implement a waiver granted by the Trump administration which allows Wisconsin to demand that childless adults must work in order to receive health insurance from a state program designed for the poor. The bill prevents Evers from withdrawing the waiver and from gaining control of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) - a private-public hybrid agency created under Walker which is allegedly responsible for job creation - through new appointments, instead expanding the number of legislative appointments.

The power grab in Wisconsin is not unique. Similar events have occurred in Michigan and other states. This is an attack on democratic rights and the rights of working and oppressed people. This is one attack in a long history of attacks on voting rights for African Americans and other oppressed people. The outrageous voter suppression that occurred in Georgia's 2018 mid-term election is another recent example of the ruling class seeking to undo years of advances earned through the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s.

Another major piece of the power grab in Wisconsin is the component that takes away the governor's control over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Walker oversaw the establishment of the WEDC to facilitate the stripping of Wisconsin's environmental regulations, thus making the state more appealing to monopoly capital investment. In other words, the function of the WEDC is not to create jobs, but to make the billionaires who have propped Walker up all the more rich.

In 2017 Walker's WEDC facilitated an enormous transfer of wealth from Wisconsin's working class to the Taiwanese corporation Foxconn to the tune of $3 billion in taxpayer money. The bourgeoisie and their reactionary political representatives in the Wisconsin GOP want to continue to control the WEDC in spite of the democratic will of the majority for a change of direction. The ruling class and their allies seek to prevent Governor-elect Evers from being a conduit of a developing movement toward mass resistance to the continued selling off of the state.

Governor-elect Tony Evers wants to lead the state in a more progressive direction, but has his own ties to big business. He has repeatedly emphasized relying on cooperation, compromise and finding "common ground" with the Republican-dominated legislature. After the unprecedented lame duck power grab it is clearer than ever that the GOP has no interest in cooperating to accomplish any reforms that would benefit working and oppressed people.

At the end of the day, what is happening currently in Wisconsin demonstrates the naked reality of bourgeois democracy: the billionaires can change laws or government structures to their benefit, all while the votes of the majority can be ignored.

In the face of what may appear to some to be insurmountable obstacles, how can we fight back and win? We cannot wait for Evers to bring the fight to the GOP and the billionaire interests they represent. Whether he does anything at all will be entirely dependent upon the progressive forces across Wisconsin. Without a mass movement pushing Evers, little will be accomplished.

While some of the lame duck changes are already being challenged in the courts, we shouldn't hold our breath for those courts to overturn any of the contents of this legislation. The people behind the movements fighting to overturn Act 10, fighting against racist police and immigration policies, against the attacks on women's reproductive rights, on the rights for trans and other gender non-conforming people to exist, and all of the other mass struggles need to hold Evers's feet to the fire.

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