In attempting to make his case against the People’s Legislature, John Gard makes the best case for it.
Lying by numbers
When Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Stacy Forester asked Assembly speaker John Gard for his thoughts about the January 4 convention of the People’s Legislature, where more than 1,000 people from throughout the state gathered to discuss the fundamental issues of governance that the state Legislature will not address, Gard replied that he and his colleagues passed 327 bills last session and are quite effective as it is. “The numbers don’t lie,” he added for emphasis.
Never mind that the session he speaks of was the most adolescently rancorous and least substantive anyone can remember, one dominated by content-free divisiveness of the God, Gays and Guns variety. Never mind that the session was bookended by the two most expensive and least enlightening campaign cycles in Wisconsin history. They passed 327 bills!
Ed Thompson, one of the People’s Legislature’s organizers, used some of his time to call for cutting the state Legislature to part time so its members do not have time to pass so many unnecessary laws. Indeed, no one who attended the People’s Legislature event was there to complain that Gard and Company do not pass enough bills. The gathered throng was an open-minded group of Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and independents from every age group and region of the state, but I am almost certain no one there believes that passing 327 bills to prop up big business and gut the environment is something to applaud. Neither does anyone else.
The numbers are not lying, Mr. Speaker, you are.
Forester’s journalistic persistence eventually penetrated Gard’s red herring campaign, as later in the article he confessed that the real source of his misgivings about the People’s Legislature is that, in the reporter’s words, “the attendees…skewed Democratic.”
So People are not the problem, Democrats are. But hadn’t the speaker just finished praising the perfect harmony between Democrats and Republicans that resulted in the passage of 327 bills last session? Gard was not making sense, but he was doing an excellent job of demonstrating precisely the kind of institutionalized dishonesty that the People’s Legislature’s attendees gathered to combat.
The truth is that the state Legislature we have is exactly the state Legislature that Gard and his corporate sponsors want. There are a handful of elected Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature who do not like the current state of affairs as much as Gard does, but not enough of them to change it.
There is only one threat to Gard World: A popular uprising of organized citizens. The People’s Legislature has the makings of just that, and Gard is understandably frightened.
It is often said that no good law ever starts with the lawmakers. The good laws start at the grassroots and become law because the grassroots grow so strong that the politicians are forced to give the people what they demand. Civil rights laws are the best illustration of this. Collective bargaining laws, child labor laws, and women’s suffrage are other examples of bills that came from the bottom up and were not exactly embraced by the beneficiaries and the architects of the power structure. The politicians delivered only because they believed they would be voted out of office if they did not.
Sometimes the politicos try to anticipate popular sentiment and introduce trendy laws before the clamor begins. And, after meeting with their pollsters, campaign consultants, big donors and industry lobbyists, this impulse most often results in execrable laws like Bridefare, Learnfare, Three Strikes and You’re Out, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Let’s just say their instincts are poor.
The two most prominent proposals to come out the People’s Legislature’s deliberations on January 4 are for public financing of campaigns and for electoral redistricting that is based on logic and geography rather than incumbency and high-priced legal maneuvers. These proposals are anathema to Gard, and they will never go anywhere if he has anything to say about it.
If the People’s Legislature continues to grow and organize, he won’t.
January 6, 2005
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Dustin Beilke is a FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Madison.