“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
The United States’ system of government is one that functions based on a system of checks and balances. Each branch of the federal, state, and local governments hold a different set of powers that are intended to work in harmony with safeguards against corruption. The ability to put a check on another branch of government was not designed to advance a partisan agenda or undermine an election; those laws were written to ensure that our government was effective and free of corruption. In our state, we are witnessing an abuse of this system to advance a partisan agenda.
This partisan gap is wide and getting wider. As agreements cannot be reached and common sense policies are shoved to the side for ideological battles, many people in our communities are ignored. Legislators in our state feel hesitant to support our City out of fear that they might be labeled as “out of touch” with the rural community. However, our lawmakers need to realize that Milwaukee is not the problem. We are the solution. It is up to us to preserve our victories when they try to make them irrelevant. We must take a stand, not because we aren’t afraid, but because we know we have to win.
At the end of the day the courts serve neither party, nor should they. The Constitution is the basis a judge’s decision and it is clear that the franchise of voting is the most fundamental principle in the democracy that this Constitution describes. However, the Courts have ruled against the protection of these rights in the past. They have granted a free pass for people in positions of power to use their leverage to create an absence of sound. We saw it in 2014, when restrictive voter identification law was upheld by the Courts. That law led to the silencing of numerous voices in our City and State and hurt our democracy. How soon we forget the views of the past patriots who said, “No taxation without representation” and “Give me liberty or give me death”.
Power grabs similar to that of the State Legislature can be found in many different states such as Michigan and North Carolina. That is, Republican-Majority Legislatures pass sweeping and unprecedented changes to voter access, the structure of the judiciary, and placing constraints on the new governor’s ability to execute laws that she/he campaigned on. These laws will make it more difficult for the government to respond to the will of the people and for our governor elect to fulfill the promises that he made to Wisconsin. Political norms have broken down. So I urge you, educate yourself, organize your community and family, and disrupt by demanding accountability. Contact your State Representative and State Senator.
This break down will lead to an increase of Milwaukee citizens, especially those of color, being deprived of the right to vote, the loss of our health care, and increase financial insecurity for many struggling families. The Republican Party is willing to jeopardize democracy rather than taking a good hard look at itself. Instead of retooling their platform to better suit the needs of the people who took a chance on change they were willing to object to a legitimate election just because they didn’t like the outcome. These bad losers will work their hardest to eliminate the Affordable Care Act without our participation.
Milwaukee will push back. We will push for our healthcare. We will push for our roads, and for investment in early childhood education. Without pressure from us, the battle that puts the health insurance of thousands of people state-wide at risk could be lost within the next year. Instead of healthcare expanding like Milwaukee as a whole voted for, families will lose their health insurance. We must put our full weight behind ourselves and empower others to do the same.
By limiting early voting, they have presented us with a challenge; whether or not we take that challenge is up to us. Early voting was crucial this past election. Access to the ballot in Milwaukee’s hyper-segregated community is threatened by this legislation. It reduces the timeframe of early voting from around six weeks to only two. Early voting is strongly linked to significantly higher overall voter participation and many Milwaukee grass roots organizations have been doing their best to empower voters with the information that they need to get to the polls. Additionally, they have attempted to limit the powers of both Tony Evers and Josh Kaul who have challenged the very early voting restrictions that were pushed by the Walker Administration in 2016. Like these firms pushing for extended voting, we must remain vigilant and proactive.
So what will the courts do? In North Carolina, similar measures were passed to try and limit the powers held by Governor Roy Cooper over various election boards at the state and local level. In their case, Judge Don Stephens ruled that the risk to future free and fair elections justified the temporary block. He will continue to review the constitutionality of the law. Members of the Legislature went against the will of the voters to do something that may not even be constitutional. In Wisconsin, we must hope that this precedent leads to a similar ruling in our State, to protect the interests of the voters against cheap power grabs.
As I type this article, groups are preparing lawsuits to challenge some of these lame-duck measures. We will see battles in court; some of which will lead to the preservation of the laws most at risk with this new legislation. However; the fundamental question that people in Milwaukee and across the state must answer is simple. Should we elect people into office that are willing to strip power from a legitimately-elected politician just because they have different ideas? Is it a democracy if 81 people undo the results of an election in which 1,324,307 voted for new leadership and a new direction? We must recognize that our democracy is at stake in times like these and our elections have consequences. Now that a new fight is on, Milwaukee has to stay ready to defend the policies that are important to us and beneficial to the entire state. Which do you choose: Lame duck or Legacy?