Monday, February 11, 2013

Three reforms nobody seems to care enough about


By Bill Kraus

The reform agenda when I entered the wilds of good government was just as widely ignored but more fun before the Supreme Court took spending and contribution limits off the table by deciding in Citizens United that spending by third parties was sacrosanct and impliedly reaffirming what their 19th and 20th century predecessors ruled, respectively, that corporations are people and money is speech.

So we are pretty much down to redistricting, which is arcane and boring, donor disclosure, which is obliquely tied to the aforementioned money, and recall by fault instead of whimsy which is too toxic to touch, in Wisconsin anyway.

None of these initiatives are on the legislative leaders’ short agendas. Maybe not even on their long agendas.

In no particular order then:

Recall Restriction:

The recall provision that La Follette worshipers from the 1920s inserted in the Constitution is a paean to former state senator David Berger and anglophiles everywhere.

In Britain whole governments are overturned when majority parties make unpopular votes on major issues. In the U.S. these apple carts are intended to be corrected at the next scheduled election unless an incumbent does something egregiously close to criminality while in office.

No-fault recalls empower emotionally impelled outsiders who it seems to me are altogether too powerful and too intimidating already.

The voters who voted for Governor Walker despite their antipathy to him and what he had done agree with me.

The Democrats don’t and the Republicans who do are, so far, too timid to risk opening that pandora’s box again.

The odds are against action on recalls.

Dispassionate Redistricting:

The Republicans who voted for congressional and state legislative districts that brought their party significant majorities in all three places concerned think they will be powerful enough after the 2020 census to maintain those advantages.

The Democrats who were hosed and outsmarted in the wake of the 2010 census want revenge in 2020 more than reform now.

The lonely few incumbents of both persuasions who are more worried about what rampant partisan advantage does to the democracy and less concerned about hanging on to their mostly safe seats than about voters right to choose and making representative government more representative and less preordained are outnumbered by the contented in office and the lightly engaged voters who like what their geographical clubiness has got them.

A protest about getting mail delivered on Saturdays is likely to draw more interest than one about getting a chance to choose a congressional representative in a November election.

Donor Disclosure

As it opened the doors to massive spending by any and all in the Citizens United decision the Supreme Court also permitted, even encouraged, state legislatures to let voters know who is giving all this money to all these campaigns under the cover of organizations with admirable names which reveal little or nothing about what the organizations stand for and who pays for the TV exhortations they produce.

The state legislatures, unfortunately, are told that the funds coming from their secret ideological supporters in those organizations will dry up if they have to let everybody know who they are.

Putting aside the irrelevant question of whether the voters should know who is trying to buy their representatives, the question comes down to: Will the legislators, given the choice, prefer to find out who is funding their adversaries’ or to protect the anonymity of the contributors who are on their side?

The Supreme Court has opened the door to disclosure. There has been no discernible rush in Wisconsin to walk through it. Yet.

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