15 State Legislators Paid to Attend
ALEC Conference in Seattle
MADISON . . . The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported July 31 that 15 Badger State lawmakers were planning to attend the annual legislative conference of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, in Seattle. ALEC covers most of the participants' expenses.
ALEC is a corporate-funded, right-wing think tank which designs and disseminates among state lawmakers ‘model' legislation focused on these areas:
- privatization of public services and entitlement programs
- corporate deregulation
- tax cuts and spending caps
- "right to work" and other anti-labor measures
- curtailment of civil rights and affirmative action
- rollbacks in consumer and environmental protections
- corporate immunity and tort restrictions
ALEC was founded in 1973 by fabled right-wing leader Paul Weyrich as a vehicle for advancing the right's anti-government, unregulated free market ideology in the states. While ostensibly a membership association of state lawmakers, it is actually a tax-exempt front for corporate interests to promote their pet legislation.
Membership dues for legislators are just $25, the total constituting less than 5% of ALEC's annual budget of $6 million. The bulk of ALEC's income is from corporations who pay large sums to sit on "task forces" dedicated to re-writing public policy on everything from banking and telecommunications to pharmaceuticals and energy.
This corporate control of ALEC means, according to the group Public Trust, that "strip-mining and chemical companies write environmental laws; drug companies write prescription drug laws, insurance companies and HMO executives write health care laws, and fast food chains and other companies that pay low wages write laws to abolish the minimum wage and worker safety laws."
For instance, the Truth in Sentencing laws adopted by 40 states, which have crowded prisons and over-burdened budgets, were first developed by ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force, among whose charter members is the Corrections Corporation of America.
In addition to corporate money, ALEC's agenda is fueled by the ceaseless promotion of right-wing think tanks allied to corporate interests. Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation has given ALEC at least $255,000 over the years and state think tanks like the Bradley-funded Wisconsin Policy Research Institute generate the type of studies and polls which support its goals.
According to the report Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States, published by the Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council, "State legislatures are often made up primarily of underpaid, under-appreciated part-time lawmakers with few if any personal staff to help research, evaluate and enact complex laws," making the ready-to-go resolutions handed down by ALEC especially enticing to some lawmakers. Meanwhile, says the report, "the public advocacy groups most likely to oppose corporate excesses are too thinly funded to compete effectively in most states."
ALEC's model bills often have benign, positive-sounding names like the Private Property Protection Act or the Consumer Choice Motor Vehicle Insurance Act. But beware. The Environmental Good Samaritan Act grants corporate polluters immunity from prosecution if they allow others to do voluntary reclamation of the lands or waters they have polluted. The Teacher Choice Compensation Act makes teachers eligible for merit pay but only if they opt out of their union contracts.
Wisconsin members of ALEC include: State Sen. Bob Welch (State Chair and ALEC National Director), Sen. Mary Panzer, Sen. Scott Jensen, Rep. Scott Suder (chair of ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force), Rep. Bonnie Ladwig, Rep. Frank Lasee (who acknowledged ALEC's support in helping to write his failed Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal), and Rep. Steve Foti. All are Republicans. Ladwig told the Journal Sentinel that 57 Wisconsin lawmakers are members of ALEC.
--- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, www.alec.org, www.alecwatch.org, www.publictrustaction.org
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Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment Closer to Adoption
MADISON . . . Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature have passed one of the most restrictive, anti-gay marriage amendments anywhere in the US. The Assembly vote was 68-27; the Senate vote was 20-13. For the amendment to be added to the Wisconsin constitution, it must be approved by both houses a second time in the next legislative session (beginning early in 2005) and then be approved in a statewide public referendum. The amendment reads:"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."
The state's gay/lesbian civil rights group, Action Wisconsin, expressed alarm that the wording of the amendment may ban civil unions and domestic partnerships and threaten the ability of local governments and private employers to offer health insurance and other benefits to gay couples. More than 90 private employers and at least seven public entities -- including the cities of Madison and Milwaukee and the La Crosse School District -- currently offer some type of partner benefits. Some of those benefits have been won through labor negotiations.
Much of the testimony in support of the amendment was dominated by readings from Christian scripture. Proponents included the Family Research Institute (FRI) and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference. Julaine Appling, Director of FRI, who regularly derides gay people for their "abnormal, deleterious lifestyle" on her radio show, was relatively restrained in her testimony, insisting that homosexuals "meet none of the characteristics of minority groups" and therefore should not be entitled to "special rights." While debate swirled, a Madison man, James R. Fraher, allegedly made harassing telephone calls to a gay couple. He was later charged with two counts of unlawful use of a phone as a hate crime.
--- Capital Times, www.actionwisconsin.org
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Church and State Issues
Legislators Challenge Catholic Bishop's Decree
MADISON . . . Three Wisconsin lawmakers have responded vigorously to the decree of Catholic Archbishop Raymond L. Burke that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights or euthanasia should be denied the sac-rament of Holy Communion until they repent and disavow their positions. Burke, who issued his edict as Bishop of La Crosse earlier this year, now serves as Archbishop of St. Louis. Other bishops have endorsed his crusade.
The politicians' fervent responses to the decree read like a civics lesson on the First Amendment.
Targeted by Burke, State Senator Julie M. Lassa said: "I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote according to the dictates of the church instead of the wishes of their constituents, because that is not consistent with our democratic ideals. When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district."
US Rep. David Obey, also targeted by Burke, said:"Bishop Burke has a right to instruct me on matters of faith and morals in my private life. ... But when he attempts to use his ecclesiastical position to dictate to American public officials how the power of law should be brought to bear against Americans who do not necessarily share our religious beliefs, on abortion or any other public issue, he crosses the line into unacceptable territory. The US Constitution, which I have taken a scared oath to defend, is designed to protect American citizens from just such authoritarian demands."
State Rep. Frank Boyle went further, bitterly accusing Burke and the Church of hypocrisy for their selective imposition of orthodoxy. In a posting on www.fightingbob.com, Boyle wrote:
"I do not expect to see Bishop Burke issue a similar decree regarding Catholic politicians who vote against church teachings on health care, housing, social services, gun control, capital punishment, unjust wars, and the abuse and abusers of the market economy. Why? Because the tradition of Catholic politics that once championed social and economic justice first and foremost has been hijacked and grotesquely distorted by a fixation on a single issue."
Boyle asked Burke to "repent" himself, for contributing to the ‘extinction' of Catholic "political relevance."
--- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Capital Times, www.fightingbob.com
State Group Takes Faith-Based Initiative to Court
MADISON . . . The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Bush's "Faith-Based Initiative," whose centers and personnel help religious groups to access federal funds for their work.
The suit names Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI), eight directors of cabinet department FBCIs and the secretaries of those departments, including Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services. It claims the Centers for Faith-Based Initiatives in those departments are improperly funded with tax dollars, with the purpose and effect of singling out and giving preference to faith-based social services in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit says tax funds granted to faith-based groups are used for services "that integrate religion as a substantive component" and "convey a message that religion is favored, preferred and promoted over other beliefs and non-belief."
In a related story, at a June 1 media event, President Bush touted the $1.1 billion distributed so far to diverse faith-based organizations. However, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page investigated and learned from an administration spokesman that none of the religious groups funded directly by the government were non-Christian.
--- FFRF press release, Extra! The Magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
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Conservative Hispanic Heritage Council Forms
MILWAUKEE . . . Conservative leaders in Milwaukee's Latino community have formed the Hispanic Heritage Council which aims to provide an alternative voice for Hispanics and get them more involved in politics. In announcing its formation in July, Council President Jerry Gonzalez used the anti-liberal rhetoric common to right-wing groups:
"The people in the Hispanic community are hardworking and self reliant. Too often we have been characterized as needing special assistance and having liberal values. We believe that most Hispanics today are conservative, business owners, often practicing Christians, and have the same type of values that made this country great. It is time that they also have a voice in the political arena that reflects their true interest and not one voice handed to them by liberal special interest groups."
The Council, whose board members have close links to Republican leaders, plan to work on issues like immigration, business development, the "rights of unborn children," and the expansion of Milwaukee's school voucher program.
Council leaders include Perfecto Rivera, former President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and appointee of former Gov. Tommy Thompson, and chair of Sheriff David Clarke's failed bid for Milwaukee mayor; Pilar Gomez, an advocate for voucher schools; Nancy Hernandez, the Program Coordinator for Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee; Domingo Leguizamon, recently appointed by County Executive Scott Walker as director of Milwaukee County's Veterans Services; and Oscar Herrera, a department secretary in former Gov. Scott McCallum's administration.
In a commentary on www.wispolitics.com, Spanish Journal editor Robert F. Miranda accused the "pro-Republican conservative establishment" of "trickery" in using a populist approach and emphasizing values to distract Latino voters from asking "hard questions" about economic and social policy. Without countering these tactics, he wrote, the Democratic Party could lose the support of Latino voters.
--- HHC press release, www.wispolitics.com, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Secret Meetings, Pollution, Corporate Welfare and More
MADISON . . . In July, State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager filed a complaint charging that the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation, which secretly negotiated a $6.2 million package of taxpayer-funded incentives for Wal-Mart to open a distribution center there, violated the state's open meetings law.
In 1997, Beaver Dam privatized its economic development efforts by creating the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation. Its meetings are private, and its records are not open to public inspection. However, the corporation is funded entirely by city funds (including 90% of the city's room tax) and is housed in the Beaver Dam municipal building. Many citizens only learned of the deal with Wal-Mart when the City Council voted to approve the plan.
Lautenschlager argued that a government agency "cannot ‘spin off' a private entity ... then consider itself above the state laws that ensure the public has open access to the public's business."
In July, the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin adopted a "big box" ordinance limiting the size of retail businesses to 125,000 square feet. The measure is likely to block the development of a 184,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter at Highway 100 and W. Loomis Rd.
On the national front, in June, a federal judge ruled that a sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart can proceed as a class action. Up to 1.6 million current and former female employees of the retail giant may be included in the case.
In ordering the class action to proceed, Judge Martin J. Jenkins said: "Plaintiffs present largely uncontested descriptive statistics that show that women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time, that women take longer to enter management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women."
In May, in a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a $3.1 million fine for violations of the Clean Water Act at 24 sites in nine states. This penalty follows Wal-Mart's payment of a $1 million fine for environmental violations in 2001.
The most recent violations included: failure to get proper permits before construction; failure to devise a plan to manage run-off; and failure to install proper fences and screens to prevent contaminated run-off from reaching lakes and streams.
Meanwhile, a detailed analysis issued by the group Good Jobs First reveals that Wal-Mart has fueled its rapid expansion with the assistance of more than $1 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies. The types of subsidies are highlighted include: free or reduced-price land; infrastructure assistance; tax increment financing; property tax breaks; state corporate income tax credits; sales tax rebates; enterprise zone (and other zone) status; job training and worker recruitment funds; tax-exempt bond financing; and general grants.
The $1 billion figure is probably low due to the lack of a centralized source of information on development subsidies. The challenge to researchers and more details can be found in the report, "Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Its Never-Ending Growth," at: www.goodjobsfirst.org.
--- Capital Times, New York Times
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Voices from the Milwaukee Hate Crimes Speakout
This Spring, the Wisconsin Center for Pluralism launched its Communities United Against Hate Project in Milwaukee with a series of three events at the Central Library. The first on April 20 was an overview of hate crimes and Wisconsin's hate crimes law, presented by Detective Alix Olson of the Madison Police Department. The second program on May 4 was a "Hate Crimes Speak-Out" at which representatives of diverse groups and law enforcement agencies offered their perspectives on hate crimes. A final "Strategy Session" took place on May 11. Excerpts from the May 4 "Speak-Out" are below. To get involved or to obtain a resource list for the Milwaukee area, call (414) 272-9984 or email: [email protected]
Janan Najeeb of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition spoke of the pervasive atmosphere of "Islamophobia" in the wake of 9/11, inflamed, she believes, by government policies like the USA Patriot Act and the hate speech of right-wing radio hosts. She described incidents of vandalism at the Islamic Center and Arab and Muslim-owned businesses and the harassment of Muslim women who wear the tradition hijab.
"The problem we face in the Muslim community is that our people are often reluctant to go to authorities and register their complaints. Because they have seen, particularly after 9/11, that the same agencies they thought would protect them are now the agencies that can hold them without trial, that can interrogate them, that can deport them for no reason they are aware of. . . .
Perpetrators of hate crimes are so often blinded by their hate, they don't even know who they're attacking. In Milwaukee, we've had Sikhs beaten up because the attackers can't tell a Sikh from a Muslim. They all look the same to them. So even other groups suffer because Muslims are targeted. . .
It is very important for people to have their freedom of speech, but if you are calling for the murder of others and making that your freedom of speech, there needs to be some type of accountability."
Carmen Alicia Murguía of the Juana Vega Resource Center and Scholarship Fund spoke about the murder of her friend Juana Vega. Vega, a lesbian, was killed by her girlfriend's homophobic brother, Pablo Parilla, who is now serving life in prison. Parilla had previously threatened Vega, and family members said he accused Vega of supposedly "turning" his sister gay. The case caused controversy in Milwaukee's gay and lesbian community because, although it was successfully prosecuted, it was not prosecuted as a hate crime.
"Juana was too cool. She was too confident, she knew what she wanted and, according to him, she had to be killed. So on November 11, 2001, he took her life. . . .
It shouldn't have taken so damn much trouble to get the DA to come to the table. If we say, ‘There's a hate crime in our city,' there's a hate crime in our city. Would you please investigate it? . . .
If you are a victim or the friend of a victim, talk with someone. Make sure you get the support you need to take care of yourself. That's the first thing. But then demand justice. Call the media, call community groups if you have to, but don't give up until you really feel that you are listened to and that justice is done."
Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Carol White spoke about the special challenges encountered in hate crime prosecutions.
"The hate crime penalty enhancer requires one thing that is rarely required in law: proof of motive. How do you prove, how do you do the investigation to show that the motivation was based on this fact? And, in doing so, are you potentially raising an issue that will distract the jury by taking on an extra burden? . . .
Whether I can get the evidence to prove it or not, if the victim or the people close to the victim perceive it as a hate crime, I know that it has exactly the same impact, it causes exactly the same pain."
Jim DeNomie of the Bad River Band of the Chippewa and board member of HONOR (Honor Our Neighbors, Origins and Rights) noted that "the native peoples of America have been experiencing hate crimes for over 500 years." After an overview of those crimes, he described the violent protests when Indians in northern Wisconsin exercised their rights to spear fishing in the 1980s.
"Non-Indian people basically went berserk because they didn't understand treaty rights. As a result, in places like Lac du Flambeau and Butternut Lake, at the boat landings we were shot at. We were driven off the roads, our tires were slashed, people were beat up. We were called ‘timber niggers' and ‘wagon burners.' Some of our people today are still traumatized by what was said to them at those landings. . . .
The court finally determined that what was happening at the boat landings was not Indians spoiling the fish pools but non-Indians committing hate crimes against Indians. When the court made the anti-treaty activists liable for the tribes' legal fees, the issue was done. . . .
Those same hate groups we encountered in Wisconsin didn't disappear though. They've now moved their act to Minnesota and are doing the same stuff there that they were doing here 15 years ago, only they're a little more slick about it now. They have web sites and patriotic sounding names like ‘Americans for Protecting Resources.'"
Paula Simon, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Jewish Council on Community Relations, spoke about the anti-Semitic incidents the Council documents and the model the Council has developed to monitor, report and respond to such incidents. Tracking them helps to identify possible patterns and to devise prevention strategies.
"We define anti-Semitism as activity that includes overt acts or expressions of anti-Jewish bigotry or hostility. We categorize activity in terms of 1) Expression: written or verbal communication by groups or individuals, including publicly or privately-directed letters, speeches, articles, phone conversations, emails and other forms of internet communication; 2) Vandalism: desecration, vandalism or other criminal activity against property; 3) Harassment, Threats, Assault: directed at individuals or institutions; 4) Discrimination: in employment, housing, education or organizational membership; and 5) Hate Group Activity: rallies, recruitment or other activities sponsored by white supremacist groups like the World Church of the Creator. I call them equal opportunity haters: they don't like anybody. In the effort that we all can make to address those kinds of groups, we strengthen our individual causes and we strengthen each other as well."
The Wisconsin Center for Pluralism thanks the following foundations for making the Milwaukee Communities United Against Hate series possible: Cream City Foundation, Deer Creek Foundation, Forest County Potawatomi Community Foundation, and Wisconsin Community Fund. Return to Contents
Other State News Diversity Proponents to Greet Racist Preacher
AMHERST . . . The racist preacher Pete Peters, who scheduled another a "Bible Camp" in rural Wisconsin Aug. 20-22, was expected to be greeted by a diverse array of citizens who oppose his divisive ideology. Members of the Appleton-based multicultural coalition Toward Community: Unity in Diversity planned a "peace rally" outside the camp on Aug. 20.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, "Pete Peters has been a leading anti-Jewish, anti-minority and anti-gay propagandist. He is a proponent of Christian Identity, which argues that Jews are spiritually degraded and pose a threat to civilization, that blacks and other people of color are inferior to whites, that homosexuals should be executed and that northern European whites and their American descendants are the ‘chosen people' of scriptural prophecy."
Peters has hosted the weekend camps in Wisconsin since 2000. The peace rally was to take place only a week after Toward Community's 11th annual Celebrate Diversity Picnic in Menasha drew 250 participants.
--- www.adl.org, www.focol.org/toward/
Hate Crime Convictions
WAUKESHA . . . All four individuals charged in the racially motivated beating of a Latino man in Waukesha last October have been convicted. The defendants are avowed white supremacists.
Mark A. Davis II was sentenced to 4 years in prison on two felony counts of substantial battery as a hate crime and bail jumping. He must undergo five years of extended supervision after prison followed by three years of probation. His girlfriend, Kasey A. Bieri, who lured the victim out of a bar where her friends assaulted him, was sentenced to 18 months in jail and three years probation on similar charges. (Bieri was convicted earlier this year of a hate crime for spitting at and harassing an interracial couple as they walked down a street in Madison.) Jeffrey C. Gerloski was sentenced to four months in jail followed by two years probation for disorderly conduct as a hate crime. Mark W. Lentz, also convicted of disorderly conduct as a hate crime, awaits sentencing.
--- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Cops Quell GOP Meeting
NEILLSVILLE . . . The Marshfield News-Herald reported that police officers were called in to quell argumentative participants at a meeting of the Clark County Republican Party on March 7. The newspaper noted an "ideological rift" and the resignation of several party officers. There were no arrests.
Finance chair Mark Shain resigned his position and quit the party altogether. He told the News-Herald: "[T]here are two factions in the party right now. Some are in favor of a more moderate approach, and some are pushing a more right-wing position. That's clearly not where I'm at."
--- Marshfield News-Herald
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