Walker, Wis. GOP, Consolidate Power with ALEC’s Help

After winning majorities in both houses last month, Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature are making major changes in how – and where – they do business.

Late last week Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) released a list of senate committees and the Republican appointees to each. Not a single committee from last session was left intact. All are newly named and newly configured.

In addition, Fitzgerald has appointed foxes to guard the henhouses of each area of legislative oversight.

Every committee chair has the dubious distinction of having scored 96% or 100% on the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce legislative scorecard, a report “designed to help the business community see how individual members of the legislature voted on key issues affecting the business climate in Wisconsin,” for the 2011-2012 legislative session.

Most are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization funded by corporations, which writes model legislation to promote their interests.

For example, Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), co-chair of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task force and a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, is now the chair of Health and Human Services. This committee will likely see a lot of action around the implementation of federal health care exchange since Governor Walker refused to take it on at the state level.

Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), a veteran who has enjoyed the financial support of road builders, rental car agencies and truckers, will chair the Transportation, Public Safety and Veterans and Military Affairs committee. Last year he successfully championed a bill increasing weight and length limits for trucks. This has been a boon to the frack sand-mining industry that has exploded over the past year and a half in the western part of the state.

Heading up the committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue is Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), who has been a champion of the forestry industry in northern Wisconsin and was one of the only members of the legislature willing to take responsibility for authoring a controversial iron mining bill last session. In addition to taking up the mining bill, this committee will likely deal with major changes in the structure and administration of federal Workforce Investment Act programs and funding.

The Elections and Urban Affairs committee is comprised of three ALEC members: Chair Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), Vice-Chair Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) and Frank Lasee (R-De Pere). Even though a voter id law was struck down by courts earlier this year, Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker and ALEC State Chairman Robin Vos (R-Burlington) have vowed to pass another voter id bill, as well as put an end to same day registration at the polls in the state. The combination of Elections with Urban Affairs have some wondering whether the work of the committee will be to further suppress the African American vote in the heavily urbanized southeastern part of the state.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) released a list of senate committees and the Republican appointees to each. Photo by Rebecca Kemble
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) released a list of senate committees and the Republican appointees to each. Photo by Rebecca Kemble

Over in the Assembly, Speaker Vos is shaking things up by shuffling offices around. He is moving Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) one floor down so that he can expand office space for up to six staffers. Vos hopes that these additional staff members will work on party-wide communications and policy, in addition to serving him as Speaker and representative of the 63rd District.

The office shuffling is having a domino effect on other legislators. Veteran legislator Terese Berceau (D-Madison) has to pack up her office for the second time in two years. She said, “For many years, despite Republican control, we followed "tradition," which meant that seniority counted - either party - and freshmen didn't take your office away. No more.”

Republicans will hold closed caucus meetings later this week. Even though there are plenty of rooms available in their office building -- the Capitol -- they have decided to convene at the private Madison Club a block away.

Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.

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