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We, the Irrelevant

Formerly known as We, the People


July 12, 2019:

Data from my May 23, 2019 query to members of the Joint Finance Committee awaits tallying. A busy summer has kept me from completing that task, but it will get done. 

On June 5, 2019, the WI Court of Appeals District 4/2 affirmed the Dane County Circuit Court's ruling that electronic records must be provided when specified by an open records requester. This is a victory for open government!

On July 12, 2019, this opinion piece appeared in the New York Times under the headline "Politicians Don't Actually Care What Voters Want". The research was conducted by Dr. Joshua Kalla of Yale and Dr. Ethan Porter of George Washington University, both Assistant Professors and political scientists. I recommend it.

May 23, 2019: Joint Finance Committee Open Records Request

Today, I sent an open records request to members of the Joint Finance Committee. I asked them to send me all of the correspondence they've received from citizens regarding education funding beginning with the first public budget hearing on April 5, 2019 through and including today May 23, 2019. Results will be posted as they start to come in.

April 24: A Much-Needed Hiatus

Looking back at the lame duck session open records project, I understand why I needed a break from We the Irrelevant. While I was "recovering", new visitors have continued to arrive. They now number more than 145,500! Thanks to everyone to whom open government matters. As the budget process continues in the legislature, I may consider querying the Joint Finance Committee regarding citizen contacts on particular issues such as public education funding, environmental protection, and the legalization of medical marijuana, among others.

March 5, 2019: Spread the word!

I hope you'll agree that people all over Wisconsin need to know about the information We the Irrelevant has gathered here. They need to know that their GOP representatives have ignored them on a regular basis, and that documentation of that fact does exist. 

To that end, I've created a downloadable 4 - UP flyer that We the Irrelevant's fans can print and distribute. Once it's downloaded, the user should set their printer to print on both sides and flip on the short side. This is important to remember, or the backside won't print correctly.

Here's the link to the 4 - UP. The flyer will open on a new page, and you can download it. Thanks for SPREADING THE WORD!

March 4, 2019

Today, I've published what really is the final result of my open records request to the entire WI legislature asking for all of their citizen contacts during the period of the lame duck session. I've also posted 25 more emails from disgruntled, self-identified Republicans, Conservatives, and Independents. 

Feb. 18, 2019

With only one legislator out of 126 not responding, I've published the final spreadsheet of my lame duck open records project. 

After their sudden announcement of a lame duck session, one public hearing, and floor votes all happening within less than a week, the GOP legislative majority and their Democratic colleagues received 43,857 citizen contacts! 43,134 of those contacts were in opposition to the session itself and/or the legislation under consideration. 723 contacts were in favor.

Wisconsin has strayed far from true representative government. These results are the most stunning evidence to date. 

Feb. 12, 2019

Today, I've posted what may be the last data spreadsheet of the lame duck open records project. Two things will trigger an update: two representatives and 4 senators will fulfill my open records request electronically, and/or 14 representatives will submit electronic records in place of the paper ones they printed. In the meantime, I've decided to include the paper records by applying the total percentages to them. Since I know the number of records printed, I've applied 98% in opposition to each legislator's total. 

This project has generated a great deal of attention. Citizens responded immediately to the surprise announcement of a lame duck session, contacting their legislators repeatedly. I wanted to honor their efforts and their commitment to democracy. The data spreadsheet is my way of doing that. Thank you to all who emailed, wrote, and/or called their elected representatives. 

You made contact 42,399 times. 41,683 contacts, or 98%, were opposed to the lame duck session/legislation. 716 were in favor. 

Feb. 2, 2019

The lame duck open records project is coming to a close. 

     1. 104 legislators have responded with electronic records. 
     2. Records of 7 legislators have not yet arrived. 
     3. 6 are no longer in office and neglected to respond to my request before they left. 
     4. 15 GOP legislators have generated paper records I can neither access nor pay for.

The totals to date are revealing.

     1. 104 legislators received an aggregate of 34,572 contacts from citizens.
     2. Of these, 34,012 were opposed to the lame duck legislation. That's 98% of all the relevant contacts received. Only 560 contacts        expressed support.
     3. A significant number of Republicans expressed their disappointment in their elected officials and their party.

Jan. 28, 2019

Most polls tell us that, regardless of political labels, a majority of Americans believe that their government no longer represents them. They believe that the wealthiest campaign donors have replaced them as the only constituency that matters. The driving force behind We the Irrelevant was to document those beliefs. 

The citizen outcry in opposition to the WI GOP majority's lame duck session in December, 2018 is a vivid example. The GOP majority received over 32,000 contacts from citizens in opposition to the proposed bills and to the session itself.  That count continues to rise.

Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) voted against one of the three bills that emerged from that session. But, Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) voted against all three of them. He explained his votes in a newsletter to his constituents. His rationale is one that should be prominently displayed in the office of every official elected by the people. It echoes the declaration Gov. Evers quoted in his inauguration address. "The will of the people is the law of the land." 

From Rep. Novak to his constituents

Jan. 22, 2019: New Lame Duck Session totals

I've been doing a lot of counting with more to come. Legislators received over 31,000 citizen contacts urging them to vote NO on the lame duck bills. Many of these were from Republicans. Along with an updated spreadsheet, I've posted four more letters from disappointed, self-identified Republicans. 

Jan. 11, 2019

New data and additional letters from citizens have just been posted. More than 75% of WI's legislators have responded to the open records requests sent on Dec. 15 & 16, 2018. Most have sent electronic records as I specifically requested. 

To date, 14 GOP Representatives have generated paper records. The size and cost of those printed records has become a serious enough issue that I decided to add them to the spreadsheet. You'll be able to see who generated paper, how much paper and taxpayer money they wasted doing so, and what they expect me to pay them. 

I made it clear in my records request that I could neither read records in the respective Chief Clerk's Office nor could I afford to pay what it would cost to mail them to me. These 14 (and perhaps more) knew my limitations. But, they chose to print their records regardless. It's not the first time, but it is definitely the most egregious. 

Stay tuned.

Dec. 24, 2018: Happy Holidays

I wish you all joyful times with family and friends and a safe, celebratory new year. 

We the Irrelevant's unique visits are nearly at 130,000! Thank you all for your interest in what I've tried to do on behalf of our struggling democracy.

There will be new data published by the time you've eaten the last of your festive leftovers. Meanwhile, enjoy.

With gratitude,

Sheila Plotkin

Dec. 20: First Lame Duck Records Published

Dec. 18, 2018: Results are coming in

I have queried each member of the state legislature asking for records of citizen correspondence related to the lame duck legislation. Some data is available. Here is just the beginning:

December 3 public hearing before the Joint Finance Committee:

             Speakers opposed            337             Speakers in favor           0   

             Registered opposed      1,087             Registered in favor         2

Sen. Shilling (D-LaCrosse)

             Contacts opposed            443             Contacts in favor            8

Totals to date      Opposed       1,867                       In Favor            10

Dec. 15, 2018: Lame Duck Legislation

The Republican majority made their lame duck bills public on Friday, Nov. 30. On Monday, Dec. 3, the Joint Finance Committee held one public hearing on all of the bills. Neither legislative leader appeared to defend the proposed bills. Hundreds of citizens registered and/or testified in opposition to what many viewed as a naked abuse of power weaponized to hamstring the incoming Democratic administration.

 

Thousands of Wisconsinites wrote to their respective legislators about the lame duck legislation. We the Irrelevant wants to honor their efforts and to expose what I believe will be overwhelming evidence of citizen opposition which their GOP elected officials ignored.

 

I intend to query all WI state legislators: 99 reps and 33 senators. Results will be tallied and published as they come in.

Dec. 7: Wisconsin's Extraordinary Session

On Dec. 3, I testified before the Joint Finance Committee regarding 7 bills published only late in the afternoon of the previous Friday. I was one of more than 100 speakers. Hundreds more registered their opposition, spreading themselves beyond the hearing room into 3 overflow rooms and outside on the Capitol grounds. 

Here's a link to my testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTga7AGLRBU

Gov. Walker has 10 days in which to sign the lame duck bills.

Contact him via his website, and your email will become part of the public record. Here's the link: https://goo.gl/ofg6ey

Scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the website's home screen. Click on "Get in touch today." It doesn't look like a live link, but it is. Click on "Contact Governor Walker" at the top of the message page. Select "General" from the Issue menu. Type "Extraordinary Session" in the Subject line.

I focused on his legacy, asking him to separate himself from Speaker Vos and Leader Fitzgerald.

Please share this information widely. Thanks.

Nov. 16: Investigative Report on Open Records Exemption

I recommend this piece from Milwaukee's Fox 6 investigative reporter Amanda St. Hilaire. Wisconsin's legislators exempted themselves from the requirement to retain records that they imposed on every other government body. Many have willingly accepted this "invitation to corruption". 

https://goo.gl/odrsVY

Oct. 29: This is Who We Are

I keep hearing people say, "This is not who we are." Mostly, those who say it are privileged white people like me.

I don't presume to speak for anyone other than myself, but if I had to guess, I'd guess that African Americans know better than we do who we are. The same might be true for brown-skinned immigrants, for Muslim Americans, for LGBTQ Americans....the list is long and getting longer.

We were born of white supremacist fathers who built this country on the backs of slaves. Hundreds of thousands died in a war to keep us one nation, but the stain of white supremacy remained. In every generation, it has seeped through the fabric of our civility leaving us to wonder, "Will it ever end?"

I can't answer that question, but I know this: White supremacy is our national chronic disease. Periodic treatments of marginalization can give us only remission. As soon as we feel better about ourselves, we're suddenly awakened by dog whistles that have become trumpets and indulgent laughter that has become the roar of hate. Gun shots ring out, fires blaze, children are ripped from their parents and put into cages, people who are not me are, with good reason, more afraid than ever.

Historically, moral leaders have helped us treat our illness. Many of those leaders died for their efforts. But, we now have leaders across this country who want us at each others' throats.They want some of us triumphant and the rest despairing. They do not want remission. They want disease.

I will not allow it. I will not shut up and go away. I will begin by acknowledging that, yes, this is who we are. But, until my dying day, I will fight to prove that this is not who we must be.

Oct. 26: Democracy Under Attack

I am nearly sick with outrage. 

  1. Republicans in Georgia don't want black Americans to vote. They were tossing absentee ballots until a Federal judge stopped them.
  2. Republicans in North Dakota don't want Native Americans to vote. They are requiring mailing addresses where none exist.
  3. Republicans in Texas don't want black college students to vote. They have changed the rules and moved the polling place.
  4. Republicans in Wisconsin don't want Democrat votes to count. They have blatantly gerrymandered districts to stay in power.
  5. Trump's unrepentant vitriol against anyone who challenges his authority just brought us closer than we've ever come to the mass assassination of political rivals.
  6. Trump, who promulgated the unconscionable policy of ripping children out of their parents' arms, now wants to close our southern border to those seeking asylum while simultaneously cutting aid to their home countries. 
  7. Corruption and self-dealing run rampant in this administration with the example coming right from the top.
  8. Courageous women who love their country are vilified as liars or as confused or as spotlight-seeking. They are dismissed like unruly children disturbing the grown ups at dinner.
  9. Privileged old white men with a solidly-entrenched sense of entitlement look upon citizens seeking redress of their grievances as a mob, as rioters, or simply as repugnant pests.

10. Constitutional checks and balances no longer function. 

I have never been so afraid for my country. If those who oppose the far-from-inclusive list above choose to stay home on Nov. 6, the message to Trump will be clear: "Do what you want. I don't care."

Please don't deliver that message. Vote early if you can, or vote Nov. 6...but VOTE! 

 

Aug. 7, 2018: We the Irrelevant Makes News!

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) cooperates with the U of Wisconsin, providing experiences for journalism students. The Center's project for this school year is entitled UNDEMOCRATIC: SECRECY & POWER VS. THE PEOPLE. For several months, students heard from legislators, academics, and ordinary citizen activists. I spoke to the class about We the Irrelevant in February, 2018. Nicole Ki interviewed me in April, and her piece has just been published here. Edited versions of Nicole's piece have appeared online in the following publications: the CapTimes; the Wisconsin State Journal; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; the Post Crescent; the Superior Telegram; and the Washington Times. Stay tuned.


July 3: Take a moment

As you celebrate Independence Day, I wish you joy and perhaps a bit of awe. Our country's ideals are worthy of awe as are our struggles to live up to those ideals. Sometimes, we forget what they are. Other times, we change our interpretation of them. Occasionally, we act as though they no longer exist. 

I confess to never having read the complete text of the Declaration of Independence. If you have 5 minutes, here it is. I encourage you to read what Thomas Jefferson wrote. Below I've pasted the paragraph that resonated with me this morning. It reminded me of the nobility, courage, and determination that is our heritage. I wish you inspiration.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

What You'll Find Here

This site houses data compiled from multiple Open Records Requests (ORRs) sent to Wisconsin's Republican state legislators beginning in October, 2015. We asked for citizen correspondence concerning the dismantling of the independent Government Accountability Board. We got more than we asked for.

Volunteers combed through hundreds of pages of documents furnished by the legislators. Each time a citizen mentioned the GAB, whether for or against dismantling it, a tally mark was made on a specially designed spreadsheet. Frequently, citizens included their feelings about two other concurrent bills - exempting politicians from secret John Doe investigations and changing campaign finance laws to allow coordination between candidates and special interest groups. These comments were also tallied. 

Every effort was made to keep accurate tallies. Most records remain with the legislators. The volunteers would have had to pay hundreds of dollars in aggregate to have copies of all of them in order to document their results. 

Anyone wanting proof of accuracy will have to submit their own ORR, asking for the same records within the same time period and be prepared to review records in the respective Chief Clerk's office or pay for the cost of searching, printing, and perhaps mailing them.

You can use the site in several ways:

April 11: Records Runaround

The CapTimes just published this enlightening piece about the accessibility (or lack thereof) of public records.
 

Your Right to Know

April 4: Here's a link to this month's "Your Right to Know" column from the WI Freedom of Information Council. Gag orders, muzzles, and stonewalls cannot, must not be our "new normal". I urge you to read this article and to share it widely.

https://goo.gl/SzJkMz

March 11: Sunshine Week

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week when Wisconsin focuses attention on open government.

Here's the link to the WI State Journal's editorial regarding two legislators who have refused to supply electronic records in response to open records requests. One of these cases began with We the Irrelevant

March 9: Thank You!

We the Irrelevant's number of unique visitors has just passed 100,000. Thanks to all of you who care enough about open government to check out what this website has to say. 

Feb. 9: Foxconn & the Great Lakes

The WI DNR has opened the public comment period regarding the diversion of 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water. The water will flow through Racine to Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics company. Of those 7 million gallons, 2,730,000 million will be lost to evaporation or disappear into Foxconn's production process. 

It's hard to get one's mind around a number as large as 2,730,000.

Here are a couple of comparisons: If you began counting from 1 now, it would take you about 6 weeks to get to 2,730,000. In terms of seconds, 2,730,000 of them would equal 4 weeks, 3 days, 14 hours, and 20 minutes.

We the Irrelevant has published data showing that more than 2,000,000 Wisconsin citizens believe that water is a public trust, not to be given away to private interests.

You can send your comments about this massive diversion of public waters to: DNRRacineDiversionComments@wisconsin.gov

Feb. 5: Your Right to Know

Here's the link to the Your Right to Know column in today's WI State Journal. It's written by John Foust, a member of the WI Freedom of Information Council.

http://host.madison.com/wsj/opinion/column/john-foust-citizens-have-a-right-to-electronic-records/article_01ee214f-16d7-541a-8418-4c4dde0529cf.html

Jan. 18, 2018: Who's In Charge?

Below is the link to Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout's (D-Alma) recent column. In chilling detail, she lays out the process by which Wisconsin's democracy is slipping away from the control of its citizens. I urge you to read it.

Sen. Vinehout is a candidate for Governor. Her regular columns will give you an insight into her policy principles.

 

http://www.kathleenvinehout.org/how_haste_empowers_the_shadow_legislature

Jan. 11, 2018: The Racist in the Oval Office

The racist in the Oval Office has revealed himself once again. We are fooling ourselves if we think he's hit bottom with this latest insult to the country he pretends to lead and to the world looking on in dismay and disgust. There is no bottom to his hatred of people of color nor any hope of one.

What will we do about it? We will chatter to one another as we often do. We may call our legislators as we should. We might write letters to editors; I recommend it. But, there is more.

  • I suggest we contact the League of Women Voters, and support their registration efforts with our money and our time.
  • I suggest we put signs on our lawns and in our windows that say, "He doesn't speak for me!"
  • I suggest we volunteer as election inspectors in our respective municipalities. The average age of WI election inspectors is 72. Younger people need to step forward.
  • I suggest we contact our local Indivisible group, join them, and work to retrieve our democracy before it disappears under the mountain of muck that the Republicans, for reasons of their own, have no wish to confront.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

 

Don't do nothing.