Friday, May 27, 2016

Governor, state lawmakers use questionable rhetoric in defending “potty crusade” lawsuit

"Jim Crow" language exposes bigotry, and nothing more, drives conservatives on debate over bathrooms

Wisconsin is joining ten other states across the country in a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its recent recommendations to recognize the rights of transgender students to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

This is hardly a surprising, but still very depressing, turn of events. As I’ve noted frequently, transgender students deserve recognition as the gender they identify with, and should be granted the right to use restrooms that reflect that identity.

But others see it differently, and intend to use taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government to change its directive. In defending the planned lawsuit, Gov. Scott Walker and other Wisconsin politicians have expressed themselves in some very concerning ways.

Republican Rep. Tom Larson told reporters that he felt God “wrote in my heart that I shouldn’t go into a women’s restroom because I’d be tempted to be a pervert.”

This is troubling for two reasons. First, Larson is stating that his temptations are staved off only by limiting his access to a private room with females present. It’s not hard to imagine that such comments could sound off alarm bells for women working in the Capitol building.

Second, it implies that transgender men and women wishing to use facilities aligning with their genders are perverts. They are not -- the American Psychological Association explains that transgender individuals are simply pursuing their true identity. Some have suggested, in the past and more recently, that trans individuals suffer from a “mental disorder,” but those ideas are similarly shot down and refuted by the APA:
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault.
That last line is especially telling -- transgender men and women often face huge burdens of discrimination, including being prevented access to restrooms that they identify with. When such burdens become overwhelming, the result far too often is self-harm, including documented events of suicide.

But Larson’s comments aren’t the only examples of troubling rhetoric from Wisconsin conservatives. Gov. Scott Walker, in defending the decision to sue the feds, offered his thoughts as well.

“The federal government has no business telling local school districts what to do with bathrooms for kindergarten students,” he tweeted out.

That same line of argument, however, was repeatedly used by bigoted segregationists in the south when they tried to legitimize keeping blacks separate from whites in public restrooms. Southern lawmakers, the descendents of secessionists, used the “states’ rights” argument for generations to legitimize Jim Crow laws, even after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

It is especially hypocritical of Walker and other Republicans to say it is wrong for a higher government authority to limit the actions of local governments. Wisconsin Republicans have passed nearly 130 bills since 2011 that limit local control, and just this past year Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) tried to pass a bathroom bill that would have directed how local school districts must treat transgender students -- in a negative way.

To use the same rhetorical tactic in the restrooms debate that racist lawmakers used in the past undermines any arguments that Walker and company can make, especially about supposed safety concerns that are overblown and exaggerated. The true motivations of those supporting this lawsuit are exposed -- it is bigotry that drives their ambitions, and nothing more.

Transgender students deserve to feel safe in Wisconsin schools, not derided by the lawmakers that are meant to represent their interests. They deserve respect and to be treated as the gender they identify as. Gov. Walker and other GOP state representatives need to educate themselves on transgender issues, and drop their planned lawsuit against the Obama administration.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

WisGOP's partisan-based gerrymandered zig-zagged maps should be tossed out

Wisconsin GOP made democratic preference of voters irrelevant in drawing new district lines

Here’s some peculiarities to consider as a federal court hears arguments on Wisconsin’s redistricting lawsuit:
  • If you live on the west side of Lake Winnebago, you’re in the 6th Congressional District. Go to the east side of the lake, and you’re in the 8th Congressional District. Fine enough -- unless you travel another 40 minutes east, then you’re back in the 6th District. Even stranger, go fifteen minutes west of Lake Winnebago, and you’re back in the 8th if you live in Winneconne. The district lines zig-zag in significant ways.

  • The 7th Congressional District grew in geographic size from 2000 to its 2010 map. But in order to do so, three large-ish (and Democratic) Wisconsin cities were booted out of the 7th District -- Stevens Point (which voted 64 percent in favor of Barack Obama in 2012), Wisconsin Rapids (53 percent for Obama) and Chippewa Falls (56 percent for Obama). The geographic gains in the new district lines are primarily Republican-country.

  • The three cities listed above that were formerly in the 7th District now join the 3rd Congressional District. That means that Stevens Point is in the same district as Platteville, which is a three hour’s drive south. Yet Plainfield, just thirty minutes south of Stevens Point, is in a separate district from both. The 3rd District also now resembles the shape of the letter “Y.”
These are just a few instances of strange electoral maps that Wisconsin Republicans drew -- in secret -- that favors their party considerably. And this is just the Congressional districts we’re talking about. When it comes to state legislative districts, it gets worse.

How bad is it? In 2012 voters favored Democratic candidates over Republican choices by 52 percent of the overall vote count. Yet Republicans won 60 out of 99 Assembly seats. A clear “efficiency gap” emerges, demonstrating that a disadvantage for Democrats exist where more competitiveness should regularly be.

To be sure, a clear standard for throwing out gerrymandered maps on being too partisan isn’t yet established. The key word there is “yet” -- the High Court is certainly ready to establish such a standard. In a 2004 case, the justices split 4-4 on a partisan-based gerrymandering case. Anthony Kennedy, the deciding vote, couldn’t move himself to establish a new precedent at that time:
“The failings of the many proposed standards for measuring the burden a gerrymander imposes on representational rights make our intervention improper,” Kennedy wrote.
But he DID leave room for the possibility...
Nevertheless, he concluded that “if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens … courts should be prepared to order relief.”
Emphasis in bold added.

If ever there was a set of electoral maps that existed that demonstrated a clear reason for needing to be tossed out, these Wisconsin maps would surely fit the bill. The secrecy and plain-as-day partisan nature in which they were drawn renders them unfit for use. They should ceased being used entirely, with the old maps in place until a better solution is presented.

And a new method for creating maps should be implemented, one that is nonpartisan in nature and takes into account the democratic leanings of the people lawmakers are meant to represent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court revives John Doe investigation into Walker's illegal campaign coordination

SCOTUS grants permission to file "writ of certiorari under seal," a sign it wants to hear more about the case

The so-called “John Doe” investigation into illegal campaign coordination between Scott Walker, third party special interests groups and his donor base is moving forward.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted prosecutors permission (PDF) to file “a writ of certiorari under seal,” meaning they can file a request for the Court to hear the case with personal information of principal players redacted. A John Doe investigation is purposely performed under secretive means to protect the identities of those being investigated, usually in high-profile cases.

It’s been confirmed to the public, however, that the John Doe investigation includes Gov. Scott Walker and politically-aligned conservative groups that he coordinated with in order to allow donors to make unlimited donation amounts to help win his recall election back in 2012. One such donation, $700,000 from Gogebic Taconite, likely resulted in helping secure legislation favorable to allow the company to mine in northern Wisconsin.

Five county district attorneys, including Ismael Ozanne of Dane County and John Chisholm of Milwaukee County, sought to investigate just how far this collusion went, but were abruptly stopped by intervening state courts that demanded the investigation come to a halt and that all evidence be destroyed. Appealing to the state Supreme Court, four conservative justices agreed with the lower court rulings.

But some of those justices had benefitted financially from the very same organizations involved in the case before them, causing many to question whether their opinions weren’t influenced in some way. More than $10 million was spent to support these judicial candidates by these conservative groups that were at the center of the investigation.

Wisconsin’s code for judges and justices states that a “judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” which includes actions that “would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity” would be compromised. Certainly receiving millions of dollars in campaign donations and refusing to recuse oneself would fit the bill -- at least, it would in a reasonable mind, and it has in previous Supreme Court cases.

Which is likely the reasoning behind the order made by the federal Supreme Court to allow the writ to move forward. The order means that the justices want to hear more from Chisholm and the other DAs, which is a good indicator that they want to have the case end up before them eventually. It isn’t a guarantee, of course, but why else would the Court allow the writ to continue if it were otherwise?

What’s known for certain? The John Doe investigation isn’t dead like some reported it was. It’s very much alive, thanks to some reasonable minds on the federal Supreme Court.