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McCarthyism in Wisconsin

Facing a recall election that could very well cost them control of the state Senate by the end of the summer, the Badger State GOP has embarked on a campaign to prove they truly deserve to get thrown to the curb.

Two weeks ago, enraged at Democratic efforts to stop the majority from passing union-busting legislation, Senate Republicans stripped Democrats of their committee voting rights. They backed down in the face of popular outrage, but promises to “[Put] this stuff behind us” by the GOP leadership were short-lived.

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Last Friday, those Republicans decided that neither the U.S. Constitution nor Wisconsin courts had any jurisdiction over their autocratic edicts.

They first set their sights on University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon. You see, Cronon had the temerity to write an opinion piece in The New York Times criticizing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the push to end collective bargaining rights for state employees, and he used his blog to examine the role of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council in drafting that legislation.

Enraged, Republicans have filed an open records request demanding access to Cronon’s email, in particular any email with the words “Republican,” “collective bargaining,” “union” and the names of several specific unions like AFSCME as well as the eight Republicans currently threatened by the recall effort. Republicans are citing an open records law that usually applies to elected and state officials conducting official state business. That Republicans are trying to use it to stifle an academic critic is thuggish, twisting a good-government law to stifle dissent.

Asked to justify the intimidation effort, the executive director of the state GOP snapped to a Washington Post reporter, “Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.” The reporter wasn’t trying to find a reason — the GOP’s intent is obvious enough. He was trying to see whether the state party could justify the action. They’re not even bothering to try.

That same day, Republicans attempted an end-run around a judicial stay of the union-busting legislation. 

Wisconsin laws generally take effect a day after being “published” by the secretary of state, but a judge has placed a stay on the legislation as Senate Republicans violated the state’s open meetings laws by passing the bill without providing 24-hour public notice. Rather than re-passing the law properly, Republicans have decided to ignore that judge.

“It’s my opinion it’s published, it’s on the legislative website, it’s law,” Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald said, ignoring the court order, which specifically stated, “further action by the Secretary of State is required in order for Act 10 to take effect.” The secretary of state’s office has confirmed that laws cannot take effect until he directs publication in the state’s official newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal. And no, slapping the law up on their personal website is not an alternative. As a local lawyer wrote on his blog, the Illusory Tenant, the “Senator’s bold move [is] constructively no different than visiting Kinko’s.” 

These ridiculous, undemocratic moves are merely fueling Democratic recall efforts, which have already netted over half of the required signatures. Republican efforts at their own recall of Democratic senators — led in large part by a Utah-based conservative group — have fizzled.

Rather than try to paint the petition-gatherers as unreasonable, Wisconsin Republicans continue to confirm, with no ambiguity, the wisdom of the recall effort against them. 

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos.