One of the disturbing sidelights of the current political upheaval in Wisconsin is the erosion of the separation of powers doctrine that is occurring. It will be complete if voters re-elect Justice David Prosser to the state Supreme Court on April 5.
There can be no question that the majority of voters were demanding budget and tax reform when they elected a Republican, Scott Walker, as governor in November. Voters emphasized their demand for change by giving Republicans majorities in both houses of the legislature. And a victory by Prosser would maintain a 4-3 advantage held by judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court, giving Walker a clean sweep of all three branches of government.
If there is any doubt about the impending collapse of the “checks and balances” that three independent branches of government represent, consider this statement from Prosser’s campaign manager. “Our campaign efforts will include building an organization that will return Justice Prosser to the bench, protecting the conservative judicial majority and acting as a common sense complement to both the new (Republican) administration and legislature.
Prosser tried to new back away from that statement but cannot undo the very clear message his campaign was sending to voters. Nor can he hide is background as a Republican Speaker of the Assembly when Walker was also in the assembly.
In the legislature the budget repair bill demonstrated that the legislature had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the governor’s office. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader of the Senate, and his brother, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, speaker of the Assembly, have been unapologetic about serving as Walker’s minions to get the bill passed.
At one point, Scott Fitzgerald actually sought Walker’s permission to talk to the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to block passage of the bill. Fitzgerald then acted as Walker’s personal valet in the strategy to pass the collective bargaining provisions of the bill separately. So much for the concept that the legislative branch acts independently of the executive branch.
It will be left to researchers and pollsters to determine if voters intended to eviscerate the separation of powers at the ballot box in Wisconsin. But recent history tells us that it was not healthy for the nation when President Obama and the U.S. Congress did it from 2009-2010 and it is not healthy for the state now.
Nationally, voters recalibrated the scales of power in 2010 by electing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. If will interesting to see if Wisconsin voters do the same thing in 2012 or if they are OK with a monopolistic state government with no checks and balances.
The Final Thought: the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers weakened in Wisconsin.
Editorial from the Oshkosh Northwestern, March 23.