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In Lawless Fitzwalkerstan, a Constitutional Officer Refuses to Bend to a Royal Governor’s Dictate | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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In Lawless Fitzwalkerstan, a Constitutional Officer Refuses to Bend to a Royal Governor’s Dictate

The fear that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican allies such as state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald are turning Wisconsin into the American equivalent of a lawless “rogue state”—dubbed “Fitzwalkerstan” by state Rep. Mark Pocan, the former co-chair of the powerful Legislative Joint Finance Committee—was being taken more seriously Sunday. Walker’s lieutenants have announced that they would begin implementing the governor’s draconian anti-union power grab, despite the fact that a judge has issued an order blocking the law from going into effect.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking publication of the anti-union law until the courts could weigh multiple questions about the legislature’s actions and the law itself. But Walker’s minions are now claiming that steps taken Friday by the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau to prepare for publication of the bill are an authorization to begin implementing it.

“Upon the advice of my legal counsel, the Department of Administration will begin the process of implementing [the law] as we are required to do the day after a bill is lawfully published,” claimed Walker’s Department of Administration secretary Mike Huebsch.

The problem is that bill has not been lawfully published.

“Official publication by the Secretary of State is required for this act to go into effect,” state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca explained. “The Secretary of State, the only Constitutional officer with the power to publish law, is prohibited by court order from publishing this Act.”

Barca’s right.

State law in Wisconsin clearly says that the elected secretary of state has the authority to order the publication of laws on a timeline established by statutes. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, responding to concerns expressed by local governments with regard to the confusing and potentially illegal manner in which Walker’s law was forced through the legislature, delayed publication in keeping with the statutory timeline.

Then, in response to legal challenges to the new law, which have focused on violations of the state’s open-meetings rules and core constitutional questions, Judge Sumi issued the TRO. Sumi’s order prevented La Follette from ordering the law published. La Follette embraced the order.

Now, with the Walker administration is trying to go around the elected secretary of state and the courts, the talk of Wisconsin as a lawless “Fitzwalkerstan” has spread.

State Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, described the Walker administration’s announcement that it would “begin the process of implementing” the law as “just another example of how desperate the governor and the Republican leadership is to try to circumvent the law and circumvent having a court determine whether or not they acted appropriately with the law.”

While the governor and his aides have decided to go rogue, Secretary of State La Follette is refusing to let Wisconsin become Fitzwalkerstan.

The state’s senior statewide official, an elected officer with authority afforded him by the state Constitution, La Follette says of the anti-labor law: “It’s still an act of the Legislature that has not yet become law because I have not yet designated a publication date.”

In the midst of the chaos created by a governor and his legislative allies, a chaos that veteran state Representative Pocan, D-Madison, refers to as “authoritarian anarchy,” the secretary of state is holding out for the rule of law.

Noting upcoming trial dates, La Follette says, “At this point, we wait until Monday to see if the Supreme Court decides to do anything. We wait until Tuesday for the trial judge to hold a hearing, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Beyond that, I don’t know.”

But Americans should know that, in the wilds of Fitzwalkerstan, an honest man with the great name of La Follette is holding aloft a copies of the Constitution and the state statutes promising that he will abide by its dictates—not those of an outlaw governor.

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