A hint of dawn

Over the past several years, the politicians who currently rule the roost in Wisconsin’s Capitol put in place close to a dozen different obstacles to voting. They abused the redistricting process to draw voting jurisdictions making it next to impossible to pry political power from their hands. They defunded their political opponents, and weren’t exactly coy about it.

Turns out they were just getting warmed up.

Earlier this year, they tried to gut the state’s open records law. They had to back off for the time being after encountering a firestorm of protest from the public and the media. But only a few weeks after saying they were no longer pursuing changes to the law, evidence emerged – thanks to an open records request, ironically – that they were back at it, laying the groundwork for another assault.

In recent days the party of Lincoln has launched a massive assault in Wisconsin on the very thing Lincoln insisted “shall not perish from the Earth.” They voted to exempt themselves from the state’s John Doe law, taking away a tool prosecutors have been able to use to investigate political crimes and convict a slew of top lawmakers and operatives from both parties of criminal misconduct over the last decade. They are moving at lightning speed to end Wisconsin’s century-old civil service system protecting against cronyism and political patronage. They are conspiring to kill off the state’s independent Government Accountability Board, replacing it with two partisan commissions modeled after the perpetually deadlocked and dysfunctional Federal Election Commission.

That’s not all. They are scheming to double the size of political donations they can legally accept, while concealing from public view which companies are behind those donations. If they get their way, illicit campaign activity that caught the attention of a bipartisan team of criminal prosecutors in one of those John Doe investigations will be made perfectly legal. The same legislation that does all that also allows unlimited sums of money to be routed into elections by dark-money front groups, and lets these outfits plan and execute their attacks with the candidates they aim to help. Oh, and they can keep the public totally in the dark about where the money paying for their hit jobs comes from.

Feels weird to say this, and probably even weirder to hear it, but in a strange way all of this is good news. The foul agenda of the ruling majority in Wisconsin’s Capitol is a good sign.

Their hostility toward democracy shows how afraid they are, and it shows they understand they are ruling on borrowed time. Why go to such lengths to keep so many people from voting? Because they fear they can no longer count on the public’s support, that’s why. Why such interest in exempting themselves from open government laws and barring prosecutors from investigating political crimes? Because they obviously have a great deal to hide. Why muzzle the watchdogs? Because they might bark . . . or worse yet, bite.

Why do away with civil service protections? Because they are not civil and they are not servants, and because they know hiring decisions based on merit will not fill public stations with people of their ilk. Why do they want more money in politics, when citizens of every stripe think there’s way too much already? Because money’s all they’ve got. Why are they so afraid of us seeing where their money comes from? Because they know the game they are playing is corrupt at best, criminal at worst.

With their current behavior, they are revealing how vulnerable they feel. The cornered animal is most dangerous, and they are cornered animals. They are staring down the barrel of a demographic shotgun. They realize that younger people are far less likely to buy what they are selling than older folks have been. They can see that American is getting browner, and that people of color are not as into them as whites have been. Their days in power are numbered, so they are using every trick in the book to rig the system in hopes of prolonging the inevitable.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. The intensity of the efforts by Wisconsin’s current rulers to plunge the state into total darkness is a sure sign that dawn approaches.

Mike McCabe