Here is Rep. Mark Pocan’s March 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald:
Usually a letter from me is filled with pointed humor. You will find none of that in this letter. I write today in the utmost somber of terms, out of fear for the institution of the Wisconsin Legislature.
In the past few months, we’ve seen the state Capitol completely locked down to the public and, at times, our own members couldn’t even get inside this building. We’ve seen a joint committee end a public hearing with members of the public still on the speaking list. We’ve seen the Assembly also shut off debate with members of both parties still on the speaking list and deny members the right to vote. You’ve literally silenced the minority party and the general public. That alone should give you pause.
Rather than heeding that pause, you pushed ahead and violated the open meetings law on multiple occasions. It is a sad day in Wisconsin when our legislative leaders think they are above the very laws we make.
Sen. Fitzgerald, after trying every trick in the book you could think of to compel members of the state Senate back to Wisconsin, you realized your gimmicks weren’t legal. But that didn’t stop you from threatening your own members with those gimmicks. Imagine my surprise when the headline in March 16’s paper read “Olive branch offered.” That’s an awfully nice headline for someone who was doing nothing more than acknowledging their own illegal threats.
Speaker Fitzgerald, never in my seven terms in the Assembly, one as member of leadership, have I witnessed leadership overreach so far that there were motions to remove both the speaker pro-temp and the speaker. I hope the gravity of this isn’t lost on you.
Gentlemen, the threats need to stop. Look around. Is this institution your family runs the same institution you want to look back upon 20 years from now with pride? I’ve served with both of you during my seven terms in the Legislature and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. The Fitzgerald brothers that I got to know on the Joint Committee on Finance and in the Assembly are not the same men running Wisconsin’s Legislature right now.
So far this term, Wisconsin politics has sunk to a new low, something to be ashamed of. Contrary to media accounts, flip-flopping on potentially illegal threats isn’t the same as offering an olive branch. I believe just two and a half months into this legislative session, this institution is already beyond repair. Only time will tell if I’m right. For the sake of the integrity of the Wisconsin Legislature, I hope I’m wrong.
The state Legislature over the past few months has been transformed into a vindictive and malicious institution with severe repercussions. Last session, when Democrats controlled the majorities in both chambers, we never reached this far or violated our own rules in the manner in which you have done.
Issuing press releases and conducting press interviews isn’t going to put this genie back in the bottle. It is going to take hard work and long hours of reaching across the aisle. It may even mean standing up to your own governor the next time he illegally threatens to kick kids off BadgerCare or issue layoff notices to state workers as a pawn in his political game of chess.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau hasn’t even released their summary of the governor’s budget bill, yet the few details the public has already gleaned from the bill make it wildly unpopular from the start. You have your work cut out for you in the coming months, as the state budget bill is surely going to be contentious. Will you continue to lead as you have the past few months, or will you use the beginning of this legislative session as a series of teachable moments to be learned from and improved upon? For the sake of the integrity of the Legislature and for the sake of all of Wisconsin, I hope you choose the latter.
As I write this, I do not have an answer of how to fix all that has gone wrong this session. However, simply assuming we can return to session as things have been for the past 100 years is just not possible. This Legislature will function long after we are all gone, but this shouldn’t be the standard we set. We owe more to this institution.
Please, gentlemen, put this genie back into the bottle.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, represents District 78 in the Assembly.