Life in ‘Fitzwalkerstan’: Sudden, Suspicious Vote Shift Strengthens Backlash in Wis.

Roger Bybee Apr 11, 2011

Since conservative Republican Scott Walker became Wisconsin’s governor, the state’s tradition of democracy and openness has been under ferocious attack.

The relentless rush to pass Walker’s anti-union bill has been marked by unceasing violations of state law and legislative procedure, enumerated below. In view of all the unseemly and unlawful steps taken by Republicans, Democratic State Rep. Marc Pocan declared that Wisconsin had devolved into “Fitzwalkerstan,” like one of the rogue-state tyrannies spun off from the Soviet Union. This new order is named after Walker and the Fitzgerald family, whose members include the Senate Majority Leader, the Assembly Speaker, and commander of the State Police.

But all of the Republicans’ sleazy maneuvers were cast in a much more sinister light on Thursday afternoon when Kathy Nickolaus, the Republican clerk of Waukesha County, abruptly announced that she had re-calculated her figures and come up with 7,500 new votes for a conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who had seemingly been narrowly defeated on Tuesday by the liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The stakes in the outcome are momentous. If Prosser’s new lead (large enough to prevent an automatic recount) holds up, it will maintain a 4-3 conservative majority on a Supreme Court that may very well pass judgment on the legality of the Republicans’ anti-union bill.

The treasure trove of votes from the town of Brookfield was discovered by  Nickolaus, a former Republican Assembly staffer under Prosser when he was Assembly majority leader and when Walker was a fast-rising young talent. It was the latest episode in a career marred by her peculiar approach to voting procedures and computer security, sparking conflict even within the overwhelmingly Republican Waukesha County. Nickolaus had maintained a separate, personal file of computerized voting records apart from thee general Wausha County system:

Prof. Mordecai Lee of the Univesity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a former long-time legislator appearing on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” said Thursday night that the state had never seen such a massive alteration of voting results.

Another guest on the show, The Nation magazine’s John Nichols, noted Nickolaus’s “erratic” record as clerk and questioned the plausibility of Nickolaus entirely overlooking all votes coming from her county’s second largest city until she discovered the computer error. Nichols also reported that the discovery of votes was curiously reported on right-wing blogs prior to Nickolaus’s public announcement. The Madison Capitol Times elaborated on this in a compelling editorial:

Nickolaus claims that it was “human error” that caused her to “lose” the Brookfield results on her personal computer where she had secreted away the data. Yet, she apparently knew of the “mistake” for 29 hours before reporting it and then handed the information off to conservative bloggers and talk-radio personalities.

A call for a full-scale federal Justice Department investigation has come from the liberal coalition Citizen Action of Wisconsin (where I served as communications director for six years). Kloppenburg’s campaign immediately filed demands for Nickolaus’s records under the state’s Open Records law, with a particular interest in checking on her contacts with outside individuals and groups about the election.

The potential of Nickolaus committing an honest error certainly exists. But the Republicans’ scorched-earth methods over the past two months have planted sufficient doubt that a thorough investigation is vital to reassure the public that the legitimate winner will acutally be occupying that crucial seat on the Supreme Court.

‘Fitzwalkerstan’ in Action

The Republicans’ exhibition of contempt for the rule of law and the intelligence of the public under Walker has been unprecedented. “Fitzwalkerstan” in action has included:

  • Walker threatening to mobilize the National Guard;
  • Walker’s imperious rejection of a compromise by pubic-employee unions, who agreed to accept massive pay cuts in 8% to 11% range while retaining their right to represent workers;
  • The sudden shutoff of debate on the anti-union bill in the Assembly, with the vote taken before all Democrats could reach the floor to vote;
  • The GOP’s reversal of its central proposition that the anti-union provisions were a budgetary necessity. They changed their stance in order to rapidly pass the bill without the quorum required for bills with fiscal implications; however, Gov. Walker’s website still carried the now-discarded message: “Collective Bargaining Has a Fiscal Impact”);
  • The closing off of the State Capitol to the public, contrary to a court injuction,
  • The improper order to arrest the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to prevent a quorum and rapid passage of the bill; and
  • Illegal attempts to implement the bill into law despite explicit warnings from a judge. On Thursday, the Republican attorney general filed yet another motion to have the bill implemented.

So arrogant are the Republicans that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has been willing to openly admit his motives on FOX TV. While other Republicans were claiming with a straight face that the anti-union bill was strictly driven by budgetary concerns, Fitzgerald spilled the GOP’s actual motives to FOX’s Megyn Kelly: de-funding the unions, weakening labor and the Democrats politically, and defeating Obama in Wisconsin in 2012.

Fitzgerald revealed his concerns about holding another vote for the union-busting bill to FOX’s Greta Van Susteren on March 23. He admitted that the Republicans might not be able to muster the votes again: “(T)he legislature is always very tentative, and you may have the votes on one day and then you don’t on the next.”

Tthe Republicans indeed have plenty of reason to worry that they may now lack sufficient votes for their effort to crush public-sector union representation. They have spectacularly over-played their hand with their tactics, and deeply alienated broad swaths of the Wisconsin public.

Gov. Walker’s disapproval rating now stands at 53%, according to MSNBC. Recall efforts against eight GOP senators are still building steam. Perhaps most ominously, Kloppenburg carried 18 mostly rural and low-income counties that Walker had won just a few months back by working in a conservative social appeal and claiming that he would generate 250,000 new jobs.

But now it looks like Gov. Walker’s regime, with his combined assaults against unionism and democracy, has at least succeeded in re-igniting some class consciousness in Wisconsin.

This article was originally published on Working in These Times.

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