Tuesday Links

Seat 1 Madison Board of Education Candidates:

Maya P. Cole:

Cole: Put public back in public hearings
00:00 am 12/06/05
The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reported some disturbing news in its most recent public opinion survey. A mere 6 percent of Wisconsin residents believe their elected officials represent their constituents’ interests. For black residents, the survey found not one resident felt their interests were represented.
The survey also found that as 2005 draws to a close, 88 percent of the Wisconsin citizenry believes that the priority of elected officials is to represent either special interests (41 percent) or the politicians’ own interests (47 percent). These are most troubling findings for our state.
I would like to offer an anecdotal explanation for this pervasive public discontent.
As an activist mom of three boys, I have a pretty good understanding of how our Legislature works. My latest experience involves how the Legislature now conducts a “public hearing.”
After registering early in the morning to speak as a member of the general public in opposition to the proposed concealed carry law, I waited from 8:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. while lobbyist after lobbyist and several arranged speakers, many not even from Wisconsin, gave their presentations.
After spending almost the entire day at the Capitol, having cancelled an appointment and arranged for alternate child care, I had to leave without speaking.
I did strike up a conversation with a pro-concealed carry gentleman from Appleton. He told me his wife works in the schools and he is a father who shoots for sport and practices at the shooting range twice a week. He is proud of his skill and should be. We shared stories of our fondness of raptors, the outdoors, and the beauty of the Capitol. He also had no opportunity to speak at the hearing.
Maybe the Legislature doesn’t want to publicize or acknowledge what Wisconsin citizens think about concealed carry law. Maybe the Legislature wants to strangle the democratic process in this state.
The entire committee obviously had an agenda and had no intention of listening to ordinary citizens and adhering to a time limit. Sen. Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire, even announced in the beginning, and it was joked about during the hearing, that there would be a five-minute time limit. By 4:00 p.m., the committee was still calling “experts,” almost all in favor of concealed carry, and many speaking for 45 minutes at a time.
Zien asked question after question, for several hours. When a committee member tried to clarify something in the bill, Zien had to look over and ask the lobbyist from the National Rifle Association what the bill said. Isn’t the author of the bill supposed to have most of his questions answered before he writes the bill?
It is apparently not enough that the Legislature gets visits from lobbyists daily along with campaign contributions (many times from out of state). We now hold public hearings where the lobbyists, paid professionals and chairs of committees have the floor. The only time citizens’ opinions seem to count is when we are polled.
Cole is from Madison.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Links”

  1. Maya describes the legislative sausage-making perfectly. No longer are legislators hashing out their political or philosophical differences. No, rather they hold hearings to give their big contributors air-time to get p r for the bill the lobbyists wrote.
    Recently, I went to testify at a natural resource committee hearing on aquatic invasive species as a member of the board of the Vilas County Lake Association. I never got to testify either. I waited through testimony on giving hunting clubs sales tax exemptions, what certainly looked like prohibited special legislation, as well as legislation which proposed opening school forests to hunting. The NRA rep spoke twice, on a first-name basis with the chair. I saw the same cronyism and waiving of the rules and exclusion of all the but the hand-picked Maya witnessed.
    By the way, I found the discussion about school forests pretty alarming. The legislators are considering giving school boards the right to allow the public to hunt in their school forests. However, if the school district lets anyone hunt there, and note that the Madision school forest has had controlled hunts to reduce the deer herd, the forest would be open to all under this new legislation. They were also considering allowing whatever hunting season term to control the time limits. Without further clarification, if a district allowed one hunt, it allowed all. In other words, school boards could open their school forests to hunting pretty much the entire school year, when teachers and students might want to use them. When this was brought to their attention, the legislators realized they might have to tweak their bill a bit, but you see, the whole point was there is this public land these hunters are itching to get onto, forget what its primary purpose is for. Until Wildlife Ecol Prof Scott Craven showed up this was a done deal because the only testimony they were “taking” was from pro-hunting groups who’d had a hand in drafting the bill.
    Maya will be a great school board member. She clearly understands how important it is to include the public in decisionmaking, something that has been pretty much absent from the way the BOE does business with its current leadership.

  2. I voted “No” when the issue of hunting in the school forest came before the school board last year.

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