This blog entry is dedicated to Lori Compas and her Recall Fitz team. Lori single-handedly created a truly grassroots effort to recall State Senator Scott Fitzgerald from Wisconsin's 13th Senate District. She did so on her own, without the backing or machinery of any of the large political organizations until the very end. Lori embodies the warrior spirit I wrote about in "Not your average liberal," and speaks truth to power. Due to my work schedule (cops4labor sometimes has to be just "cop") and being spread incredibly thin among various efforts, I was not able to join the canvass in the 13th District, but I have a tremendous amount of admiration for Lori and her team. This post is for them.
As I try to do when my schedule allows, I was able to catch John Nichols' almost-daily appearance at 8AM on Madison's own Sly in the Morning radio show during my morning commute today. For the sake of full disclosure, I have a bit of a man crush on John, but it is all OK because my wonderful wife knows and tolerates this. On this morning, one of the topics of discussion was Scott Fitzgerald. John floors me with his command of the English language and ability to present an idea, and today was no different. As John and Sly were talking, John described his view of Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald with the most fantastic analogy. I went back to the audio spot tonight to make sure I got it right. This is what John said:
"When I watched the Wizard of Oz, I didn't like the Witch, but what really scared me was her monkeys."
What a perfect mental image to capture the essence of what this man has been to our state. While I think Fitzgerald is much more cunning and agenda-driven than the flying monkeys, the analogy totally satisfies.
So why am I writing about Scott Fitzgerald tonight?
BECAUSE I WAS THERE.
I was there in the committee room on the evening of March 9, 2011, the night a partial Wisconsin Senate rammed through the bill killing collective bargaining for public employees. Not in the hallway. Not in the gallery. In the room. I was standing ten feet from Fitzgerald, on the other side of the table at which he was seated. Don't ask me how or why, it is a long story for a different day. What matters is that I was THAT close. Close enough to observe him, evaluate his body language, and hear his words without amplification. For those who don't work with me, I and my coworkers make our living in part by watching and evaluating people to determine their credibility and truthfulness. It is a skill that comes unconsciously to police officers.
That night I watched in utter horror as Scott Fitzgerald ran the sword through the belly of Wisconsin democracy. With Fitzgerald at the helm, he and his Republican cohorts steamrolled, at breakneck speed, what should have been a deliberative, transparent, and reflective process. I bore witness as the rule of law disintegrated in this man's grasp.
I watched him ignore another warrior in this fight, Representative Peter Barca, as Barca asked those pesky and annoying questions such as "what exactly is in this bill we are voting on?" (Fitzgerald himself said "changes" had been made, and Barca clearly had not been given the opportunity to READ IT before voting). Or another obnoxious question of "why are we violating the open meetings law and not providing proper notice," while Barca clutched a copy of the REPUBLICAN Attorney General's opinion on the issue. When I say Scott Fitzgerald ignored Barca, I mean that he literally spoke over him as if he wasn't even in the room. In Fitzgerald's world, there is no room for dissent, and the rule of law can be broken at will to further an agenda. However, in my world, ignoring a colleague, and dismissing his very presence as a human being, is disrespectful beyond words.
As this unfolded in front of me, I looked in Scott Fitzgerald's eyes. What I saw was pure, unmitigated contempt. It was so apparent that it almost dripped off of him. He couldn't begin to hide it, and I seriously doubt he even knows how.
Contempt for Peter Barca. Contempt for the 30 or so people watching this from the small committee room gallery, who were truly struggling to not come unglued. Contempt for the thousands of citizens who were streaming into the Capitol on the news of this cloak-and-dagger legislative charade, and whose growing roar could be heard from within the room itself. Contempt for the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens who had marched in the snow and the cold to have their voices heard. And, most certainly, contempt for the thousands of citizens who just had their voice in their workplace stripped without apology in order to further the interests of corporate campaign contributors.
This event truly shook me to my core that evening. I realized with complete clarity that the majority of the people we elected to act as the stewards of our great state had no interest in fulfilling that mission. This is a terrible realization for a cynic who is actually an idealist at heart.
It is not, however, fair for me to judge Scott Fitzgerald on his actions on one cold March evening. Maybe he was just having a bad day. We need to consider all of the wonderful things he has brought to the State of Wisconsin before casting our vote.
For instance, his subsequent admission on Fox News that this union busting was a way to strike at the heart of the Democratic funding source and make it more difficult for Obama to get elected. Seems like a good reason to me to destroy 40 years of labor peace and to push some lower-paid public employees to the brink of poverty. Real Wisconsinites suffering real consequences so a political battle can be won.
Or the fact that Fitzgerald is an active member, and former chair of the Wisconsin branch, of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate and special interest equivalent of a terrorist organization. During that time, Fitzgerald spoke with glee about the possibility of making Wisconsin a "right to work" state. For those unfamiliar with the term, "right to work" is corporate speak for "right to pay workers whatever the hell we want and make them work in whatever conditions we deem fit." What's a few catastrophic injuries on the assembly line among friends, right?
The list of ALEC-sponsored legislation turning up in Wisconsin is appallingly lengthy, from voter ID/voter suppression to huge tax loopholes for corporations to privatizing Wisconsin's phenomenally managed public employee pension fund. There are few institutions in Wisconsin life that are not addressed by some piece of model legislation written by ALEC. ALEC isn't merely a lobbying group, it is a bunch representatives of corporations that actually write legislation beneficial to their interests (i.e. bottom line) and hand it to OUR lawmakers for passage. It is political corruption at its worst. To add insult to injury, our tax dollars paid the ALEC membership fees of Fitzgerald and other Republican legislators. The phenomenal article by Mary Bottari from The Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch entitled ALEC Bills in Wisconsin is a "must read" on this subject.
It boils down to this: Scott Fitzgerald represents the very worst of an American political system bought and paid for by special interests and representing the needs of a tiny, select few. He just needs to go. It's that simple.
Thank you Lori and the Recall Fitz Team for fighting to make it happen.