“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
In the America our brand of democracy is really an experiment in governance. The idea that a massive group of people from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds could come together and collectively decide on who will run their government has always been a challenging one to preserve. There has never been a time in our history where we didn’t have to fight to not only make our democracy better for everyone, but to keep in place the democratic principles that currently exist. Right now, in the State of Wisconsin we have reached another critical battle where our democracy is being threatened and we need to respond.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave citizens authority over the elections of the U.S. Senators. Prior to 1913, Senators were chosen by the State Legislatures; thus, the people had no direct say as to who represented them in the most powerful legislative body in the country. This practice was changed because it was decided that the public should choose who represents it, not a few people who hold public office. We decided that the State Legislature should not have the power to overrule the will of the people then and we are at a similar crossroads today.
Right now in Madison, Republican Senators and Assembly persons are awaiting Governor Walker’s signature on a measures that would undo the decisions that the general population of Wisconsin just made. As a state we just voted for new individuals to be our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and other Cabinet-level positions. We did not make this decision by accident. We didn’t fill in the wrong bubble. We decided that we wanted our state-wide policies to be Democratic, and our locally elected officials should accept that. As you read the specifics of this legislation, it is obvious that the intent of these measures is to undo the electoral decisions Wisconsin just made. This cannot be accepted.
This bill drastically changes a number of things that will affect us right here in Milwaukee. Early voting, a practice that expands opportunities for citizens to participate in their democracy has been limited to just two weeks prior to the election. This past November, you could vote as early as September in a variety of polling places across the City. To preserve our democracy, we should expand opportunities for people to cast their ballots, not reduce them. We must push back.
The people of Wisconsin elected a new Attorney General, Josh Kaul, to serve in a position with a number of different powers and authorities. This Bill strips many of those away. In cases where the Attorney General would normally be the primary legal authority, Republican legislators can now hire private attorney’s at taxpayer expense to intervene in cases and effectively shove the AG aside. Those private attorneys are not elected to represent the interests of the entire State of Wisconsin in these cases; they represent the desires of the legislators that hired them. We elected Mr. Kaul to perform this role and we must fight to make sure that he has that opportunity.
Republican legislators also gave their budget committee the power to withdraw the State from lawsuits, another power long held by the Attorney General’s office. This holds particular significance because the person we elected ran on a commitment to withdraw us from the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. We elected him to do so and he has been made unable to fulfill the will of the people in this respect. The outcome could be Wisconsin’s participation in a legal battle that results in the loss of health care for thousands of people state-wide. This is an absurd thing to occur at a time when the voters have clearly chosen to be represented by people that would do the opposite.
Our incoming Governor also lost some significant powers. Republicans have assured that Governor Elect Evers’ appointees will be unable to control the direction of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the chief job-creating agency in Wisconsin. He is no longer able to appoint the leader of this agency, and have the same level of control our out-going Governor possessed to help spur Economic Development across our State.
Your benefits are under attack as well. Measures are now in place that prevents the Governor from making meaningful changes in our social services and benefits programs such as Medicaid. Changes are needed to make these programs better for more people, and we elected someone to make these changes. Now, all changes have to go through the Legislature and they have shown us what their draconian changes will look like.
If Governor Walker signs this bill into law, a new requirement will be implemented that mandates childless adults to have employment in order to receive health insurance through Badger-Care plus. We know that, in Milwaukee hundreds of people in our City already do not have access to the health care that they need. We voted for a Governor who wanted to expand access to quality health care for everyone including low-income residents. Now, the people in our community searching for work not only have to worry about their financial insecurity, they have to worry about their health care too.
These are just some of the things that have been done to try and silence the voice of the people in our State-wide elections, and we cannot take this lying down. We have to be vigilant and informed. Contact your State Representative and State Senator. Learn the facts. Figure out some actionable items that you can demand from your government. Then, organize and let your voice be heard. Milwaukee is a community that is disproportionately affected by many of these policies; we have to let them know that we are not going to allow this to happen in a time after our electoral weight brought a change at the Governor-level. The future of our City and our democracy is at stake. Let’s fight for it just as hard as our ancestors did and our children will in the future.