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Government is ruining democracy while we are sleeping

By   /   March 12, 2013  /   7 Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  |  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Let’s be honest. Politics is the raw kale of our lives.

WebMD hails kale as an “exceptional … superstar vegetable,” packed with fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.

Take it from Michael Douglas: America is advanced citizenship.

Take it from Michael Douglas: America is advanced citizenship.

Similarly, lots of people make the case for paying attention to politics: “Countless numbers of people have died so that you have the right to vote!”, “Politics affects everything in our lives – our health, our education, our roads, our environment!,” “It’s our taxes they’re spending!”

So, one day, we try it: We bake a few kale chips, optimistically believing that they really, really will taste just like Pringles. Or we turn on C-SPAN or Wisconsin Eye, determined and optimistic about our brighter, more politically savvy future.

Fifteen minutes later, however, be it kale or politics, we’re left with the same thought: “Yep, that’s every bit as disgusting as I thought it would be.”

So, it’s back to our lives of Funyuns and “Real Housewives.”

Unfortunately, as we lie sleeping, the people we elect are ruining democracy.

So, in celebration of Sunshine Week, which honors open government, here’s some information on how they’re doing just that:


Pop quiz: Which political party, Republicans or Democrats, garnered the most votes last November in the Wisconsin state Senate, state Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives?


Which party controls all three chambers? Republicans.

And that’s largely (though not entirely) due to redistricting.

Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, states redraw legislative and congressional district lines to account for population shifts.

The GOP won big in the 2010 elections, giving them significant control over the redistricting process and allowing them to redraw the lines to protect their own incumbents and pack Democrats into as few districts as they could get away with legally.

Don’t feel too bad for Democrats — given the chance, they would do the same to boost their own party’s advantage.

What difference does it make, you ask?

Look at the partisan gridlock in Congress.

And that mining bill Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Monday might look vaguely familiar — say, from a year ago, when a very similar bit of legislation failed to make it through the state Senate.

This year, with a padded GOP Senate majority, the bill’s success virtually was guaranteed.

That’s good news or bad news, depending on your political persuasion.

Either way, if we’re to have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” shouldn’t the government, at minimum, reflect the people’s vote?

Closed caucus meetings

Want to know what your elected representatives really think?

You’ll have to join the Legislature.

Technically, what happens on the state Assembly and Senate floors is called “debate.”

In reality, by the time a bill gets to “floor debate,” its fate is already sealed — everyone in the chamber knows the opinions of everyone else, whether a bill will pass, who will speak about it, what each person will say, etc.

That’s because all the real debate has happened in closed “caucus” meetings, where all the Republicans gather in one room and all the Democrats gather in another room and they battle it out until the members of each party have a single stance on the issue, at least publicly.

No media or public allowed, even if there’s a majority of lawmakers present, because legislators exempted caucus meetings from open meetings laws long ago.

Hear it from a lawmaker himself.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said this in January, as the Assembly was adopting new rules governing its operations: “(The new rules say), ‘Look, we know what the outcome’s going to be anyway. We go to our closed-door meetings where the public can’t hear us, where the press can’t get in. We do the arm twisting and then we come to the floor, and that’s it. So we really need to streamline how long this is going to take,’” Mason said. “That’s not deliberation. That’s not democracy.”

Open records laws

This is an issue that gets ignored because it seems like a media thing — as in, members of the press whining that they can’t easily get the information they want.

And generally the public doesn’t feel too sympathetic toward members of the press.

But, do you want to know who has the ear of your local lawmaker?  Curious about who your elected officials are emailing, what promises are being sworn, which commitments are being made?

Good luck.

The Legislature decades ago decided it doesn’t have to follow the open records laws others — including the governor — have to obey. Lawmakers, for example,  don’t have to keep email correspondence, unless someone requests the information before it is deleted.

Has your local police department wronged you, and you’re looking for proof? Seeking evidence that the city council is corrupt?

It may cost you. Lots.

Last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won a state Supreme Court case against the City of Milwaukee, which tried to charge the newspaper more than $10,000 to redact private information from police records — records that indicated the city was misreporting aggravated assaults as lesser offenses.

This year, lawmakers are trying to pass a law that would allow governmental entities, such as Milwaukee, to charge for the time it takes to redact information from public records.

If that passes, the cost of getting public information could skyrocket, and there’s little accountability for how much is charged.

So if you want to know what your government is up to, be prepared to pony up some serious funds.


There are a few facts in life.

Kale chips are gross and taste nothing at all like Lay’s.

C-SPAN is boring.

But America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight.

Lawmakers do some pretty wretched things when they think nobody’s paying attention. They’re not (usually) evil, but they are human.

It could be that, in a government of the people, by the people and for the people, we’re just getting what we deserve.

But I think we can do better.

So, tonight, neither politics nor kale might be what you’d like for dinner.

But, maybe, in honor of Sunshine Week, you could try putting some on your plate anyway.

Contact Kirsten Adshead at [email protected].


Kirsten formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Iamacitizen2

    Well interesting article to say the least LOLOL. After the last election Nov 8th, 2013 I saw democracy in full steam ahead, or was it just DEMO CRATS? Yeah right!!! NOT with democratic volunteers stuffing the ballot boxes 4, 5 or 6 times in numerous states that they are just now starting to files charges against Democratic voters. Gosh and one of them worked as a Poll person in Ohio, go figure. And, how about those digital voting machines converting Mitt Romney votes to O??? Oh, you think possibly it was a software glitch? Well how about the guy that walked around those machines with his cell phone and he was re-programing those machines to take ALL votes entered for both candidates to only default to O’s votes (per you tube video). Talk about people staying up all night working on scheme’s to “fix” the votes as we the people sleep. Wow I thought this article was so lopsided and filled with half truths or less, but what else can one expect when the votes were already in before the voting started???

    Talk about the “lack of sunshine” nationwide or is it the lack of honesty and one sided news, or no honest news being reported at all? As that old saying goes: you can fool some of the people some of the time….BUT not ALL of the people ALL of the time. Good luck with that. God bless. No fool here.

  • Jack Lohman

    Yea, yea!!! 100% of the Dems are bad people and 100% of the R’s are good. No shenanigans on the R side, for sure.

    Or not. With all of the technology we “could have” an honest voting system, but BOTH SIDES do not want to lose their finagling advantage.

  • Jack Lohman, all the technology in the world won’t help if you ignore voter fraud. Something as simple as requiring a voter to present proof of identity would stop it. But who stands in the way of that simple reform? It sure as H isn’t the Rs.

  • Dear Kirsten Adshead perhaps you don’t understand the concept of representative democracy? Do you understand why we have districts? Do you understand how the math works when you have a few districts which lean heavily to one side and many more districts with a smaller tilt the other direction? Do you want to deny me a voice at the table because I happen to live in one of those flyover country districts? To claim that this is ruining democracy is absurd. It is working as designed to give all citizens their rights. Even when you stamp your feet and throw a hissy fit.

  • Jack Lohman

    I’ve lived in WI for over 40 years and am appalled that I never have to show ID to vote. But both R’s and D’s are guilty of not fixing the system (and both have been caught in frauds). How about getting picture ID’s at nearby banks and pharmacies? And, does Walker’s manipulation of redistricting count?

  • Jack Lohman

    Yea, it works, until you run into Walker’s manipulation of the redistricting, then all districts look Red. And oblong and cut up. But what the hell; life was never fair.

  • Here Jack, have a dollar, perhaps you can buy a clue. In Wisconsin the drawing of congressional districts is done by the Legislature. You know? The part of the government that Walker doesn’t run. But you keep blaming Walker for every little thing because it shows how little you know.