Editor’s Note: The Lake Geneva Regional News presents “Party Lines,” a monthly discussion of political issues featuring side-by-side guest columnists from the local Democratic and Republican parties. The column below represents one side of this month’s discussion. Click here for the other side.
When one political party controls most, if not all, the levels of government (non-divided government), often a move away from the citizenry toward special interests, financial backers and politicians’ own interests occurs.
Democrats and Republicans have both been guilty of this over the years.
Wisconsinites for the past eight years have experienced the consequences of one-party rule. In 2011, newly elected Gov. Scott Walker introduced divide-and-conquer governance. Walker, with a Republican-dominated legislature, pitted public employees against private sector employees to legislate away the political power of public employee unions. This was the first step in moving state government toward Republican Party interests.
This had begun at the national level when Republican congressional leaders, led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, agreed to oppose all proposals coming from the White House to limit President Obama to one term.
Without opposition party checks and balances, secrecy and speed became the legislative norm in Wisconsin. The 2011-13 budget was fast-tracked with the Manufacturers and Agriculture Tax Credit slipped into the budget without notice or public hearings — rewarding donors and costing millions in lost revenue.
Wisconsin legislative and congressional voting districts were reconfigured behind closed doors, packing Democratic-leaning voters into fewer voting districts while Republican voters were spread over the remaining districts. This redistricting was so secret that Republican legislators could not see their new district boundaries until they signed a secrecy agreement to not divulge the content.
One-party control of state government allowed budget amendments at the end of the approval process with no public notice or debate.
Anonymous last-minute motions containing numerous changes became acceptable. It was not uncommon to change the scope or impact of a bill after its public hearing, which served to exclude citizens from having influence on legislation. Perhaps the most troubling action was the attempt to deny the public from seeing what their legislators were doing by gutting the public records law with a last-minute secret amendment.
At the national level, the mandate of “party before people” has no better example than the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The House Republicans voted nearly 60 times to try to kill the Democratic healthcare law.
Even with divided government now in place in Washington, D.C., our government has shut down recently because Mitch McConnell’s party loyalty would not allow the Senate to vote on bills provided by the newly elected House of Representatives. Divided government could provide a solution for these repeated shutdowns through passage of a Continuing Budget Amendment which when an agreement on funding levels cannot be reached, the existing funding levels renew for a set period of time (three, six or nine months). This requires our elected representatives to prioritize people over party — a value many no longer hold.
Wisconsin has returned to divided government, with top state officials being of the Democratic Party. Legislation that is rushed, secret or not in the interest of the common good can be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. To override a veto, two-thirds of the legislature must support the legislation, which gives the public more of a voice in its government.
Divided government offers the best chance of preventing lawmakers from serving political self interest while ignoring the will of the voters they were elected to serve. Term limits should be a consideration, if we are to prevent our state and nation from being governed by professional politicians beholden to special interests rather than people’s needs.
Above all, we must put political party labels aside and elect those who put the common good of people before party agendas.
Most importantly, we must contact our legislators and direct them how to vote on issues of concern, and refuse to return them to office when they willfully ignore us.
Jerry Hanson of Elkhorn is a member of the Walworth County Democratic Party.