Democrats in the state Assembly pledge a focus on ethics – and invite Republicans to join them. Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha saying the past year has seen unprecedented deterioration in open and accountable government in Wisconsin. “Clean, open and transparent government in Wisconsin is in tatters. Democracy is at risk,” says Barca. “That’s why we feel it absolutely essential that Republicans joint with us to restore one of the most important values that we believe in here in Wisconsin.”
AUDIO: Rep. Peter Barca (4:00)
The minority party proposes a host of reforms, on everything from political appointments to fundraising during the state budget debates to a constitutional amendment on open meetings. That would include, says Representative Jon Richards of Milwaukee, the now closed partisan caucuses held before legislative floor sessions. “We want to work with the Republicans to do that together,” says Richards, when asked whether Democrats would consider unilaterally opening their caucuses.
Also included in the proposals is a Restoring Judicial Integrity Act. It would, among other things, provide that if a Supreme Court Justice denies a motion to disqualify him or herself from an action, the Court may review and potentially reverse that decision. “We’ve never seen a Supreme Court . . . where we have a justice with a clear conflict of interest who does not recuse himself,” says Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler, in a reference to Justice Michael Gableman.
AUDIO: Rep. Fred Kessler (:50)
Gableman did not recuse himself from three cases before the court, including an attempt to reopen last year’s decision allowing the governor’s controversial collective bargaining law to go into effect. Attorneys involved in the cases asked Gableman to step aside because a law firm that previously represented the justice against an ethics violation is also serving as opposing counsel.