Wednesday, August 28, 2013

WISGOP depiction of Mary Burke is full of holes

Republicans call potential candidate "out-of-touch," overlooking their own party's foibles

The Republican Party of Wisconsin is trying to depict a potential candidate for governor as “out of touch” with the middle class.

They’re wrong, and need to look at their own party's actions before making such assumptions.

Mary Burke, a member of the Madison school board and former Doyle administration cabinet appointee, is the daughter of Trek Bicycle founder Richard Burke.

As reported by the Journal Sentinel, Burke has paid more than $500,000 in taxes over the past five years -- a figure that puts her in the top one percent of income earners in the state.

But the assessment that Burke is somehow “out-of-touch” with the middle class is hypocritical, especially coming from the GOP, and also full of errors about Burke's character.

Since Gov. Scott Walker came to power, Republicans have passed several pieces of draconian legislation that have impeded the ability of low-income and middle class Wisconsinites from making ends meet during these hard economic times.

From cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, to booting nearly 100,000 needy citizens from BadgerCare, to creating new barriers for unemployed workers to receive benefits, to the infamous Act 10 (which cut the incomes of thousands of state workers), the Republicans have quite the record when it comes to the middle class and the working poor.

The GOP being critical of Burke is outrageous for another reason: Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is (at least) of equal wealth as her, yet Wisconsin conservatives simply state that his wealth adds to his credentials. Indeed, it was a moniker -- whether deserved or not -- that the Johnson campaign clung to vigorously in his senatorial campaign in 2010. What’s a strength for Johnson, however, is typified as a character flaw for Burke by the right.

It’s also very, very tough for Republicans to call Mary Burke “out-of-touch” when Gov. Walker himself is holding fundraisers where the minimum donation is $2,500 per plate.

The characterization of Mary Burke as an “out-of-touch” millionaire is a hypocritical statement on the part of the Wisconsin GOP. It’s also wrong, and indicative of how little Republicans actually know of her -- Burke has a strong understanding of the struggles of low-income and middle class families, as evidenced by her many donations and involvement in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Road Home. She also volunteers several hours of her week towards helping others who are less fortunate than herself:
She sits on five different boards of directors for area nonprofits. She volunteers twice weekly at Frank Allis Elementary. She mentors a sophomore in the AVID/TOPS program, as well as a teenage mother coming out of foster care. And through a program at Porchlight Inc., she has befriended a formerly homeless diabetic man.
Burke’s personal story is also worth sharing:
"When I was growing up, my father was a small businessman with a family of seven to provide for, so we grew up like most middle-class families in Wisconsin," Burke said by email. "My commitment to creating jobs and opportunity so that more families can prosper in Wisconsin is why I'm looking so seriously at running for Governor."
The Republican Party is wrong to state that Mary Burke is an “out-of-touch” millionaire. She is a very wealthy individual, with strong business credentials...and that’s exactly the reason the GOP is going after her. She's successful AND empathetic to the problems and challenges facing working class individuals today.

It’s BECAUSE she’s successful that Republicans feel the need to bring her down, before she’s even a declared candidate, because if a business-savvy woman stands up to Gov. Scott Walker, it can expose a vulnerability in Walker’s supposedly pro-business image.

The Democrats don’t need to rush to pick a candidate quite yet. Nor do they need to worry themselves with the possibility of a primary election. But Democrats (and those who typically identify with the party) shouldn't stand by while errant characterizations of a potential candidate are being thrown about either.

Mary Burke may become the eventual nominee for governor for the Democrats, and she may not. But if she does, it'd be beneficial to correct these baseless attacks before they become mainstream talking points of the right.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unaccountable Scott Walker passes the buck on job Syria

Gov. Walker once again places blame for dismal numbers somewhere else, but not himself

Gov. Scott Walker is retreating on his pledge to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin before his first (and hopefully only) term is out.

But he’s not doing it by altering his pledge, or even acknowledging that he couldn’t reach it.

Rather, he’s counting on you to forget about it altogether, hoping you won’t be smart enough to remember that he once said 250,000 was his base goal:
I’ve said all along that 250,000 is my floor, not my ceiling. I think it’s at least 250,000 jobs...
That was then-candidate Scott Walker in 2010. But now, Gov. Walker is singing a different tune:
[Walker] has less than a year and a half to create nearly 170,000 jobs to keep that pledge.

On Monday in Merrill, he carefully backed away from the specific number.

My goal wasn’t so much to hit a magic number as much as it was, in the four years before I took office, when I was campaigning, I saw that we lost over 133,000 jobs in the state. I said, ‘it’s really not about jobs, it’s about real people, real jobs like those here, and more importantly, affecting real families all across the state,’” Walker said.
Emphases added.

In other words, Walker is re-writing history, and he’s hoping your memory is short enough not to notice it.

He didn’t stop there, though. Walker also made it clear he felt that it STILL wasn’t his fault that jobs were slowing down.

Having previously blamed Obamacare, the debt ceiling, protesters, the recall, rain (yes, really, the rain), the presidential election, and unskilled workers, Gov. Walker is now implying that the unrest in Syria is the latest thing he can blame when it comes to slower job growth in Wisconsin.

That’s right: it's Syria's fault for our unremarkable job numbers now.
“The President, working with other leaders on a global basis, can try and put some pressure on to get things under control in the Middle East and provide stability there, because that will help our economy and if they don’t it has an impact,” Gov. Walker said. “We can do all the good possible, we can get the state back on the right track, but if there’s instability around the world it will inevitably have an impact.”
Emphases added.

Walker is spinning whatever news headlines he can find hoping to apply them to Wisconsin’s jobs -- so long as he can use those headlines to divert blame away from him. But we shouldn’t buy it, and Democratic Rep. Peter Barca said it best  in a tweet he made earlier today:

Indeed, as Barca states so eloquently (in under 140 characters, mind you), the national rate at which jobs are growing is much stronger than the Wisconsin rate under Gov. Walker. In fact, Walker’s rate of growth, in both of the two years where data is available, is slower than his predecessor’s last year in office.

Gov. Scott Walker is showing his true colors when he places blame elsewhere. A real leader knows when to accept blame and when outside events are actually influencing the situation at hand. Walker, however, fails to accept any accountability, choosing instead to blame everything he can in order to save face.

Don’t be surprised if the kitchen sink is the next item on his list...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Latest job numbers show slower growth in first quarter for Wisconsin

Walker administration tries to spin the numbers, but can't hide behind what's in plain sight

The Department of Workforce Development released its latest numbers on jobs in the state, using the frequently-touted quarterly census of employment that the Gov. Walker administration favors.

But even though the numbers came from the survey Walker likes best, the numbers do little to inspire confidence in his performance as a job creator.

From March 2012 to March 2013, Wisconsin gained a dismal 24,124 private sector jobs. That amounts to just a little over 2,000 per month, far short of what Walker needs to get on average in order to reach his pledge of 250,000 jobs in his first term.

To put it in perspective: in 2011, Wisconsin’s first quarter had a yearly gain (from March 2010 to March 2011) of 41,350 private sector jobs. The following year, the March 2011 to March 2012 growth was 39,757 jobs.

From that 2011 figure to the preliminary numbers released by the Walker administration last week, job growth has slowed by nearly 40 percent. In other words, for every five jobs created in the March 2010-11 timeframe, Walker could only create three jobs during the March 2012-13 period.

The numbers are important to view for another reason: the first two years mentioned above, though occurring while Walker was in office, aren’t years where Walker’s initiatives were the sole factors on job creation. Indeed, with the March 2010-11 timeframe, Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget was the only one “in play” during that time. The March 2011-12 job gains also occurred under a portion Doyle’s last budget.

So when we look at these numbers, it’s important to point out that the lowest March-to-March yearly gain occurred during a year where ONLY Gov. Walker’s budget was in power. The other two years, with significantly more job growth, had involved part of Doyle’s budget in some way.

Despite these dismal numbers, DWD Secretary Reggie Newson still tried to paint a better picture than what people could clearly see in front of them:
”With actual job counts showing Wisconsin added over 62,000 private sector jobs in 2011-12 following the loss of 134,000 private sector jobs during the previous four years, early numbers for 2013 show the momentum of job gains is continuing, which is great news for working families,” Secretary Newson said.
That “loss of 134,000 jobs” was not the fault of any policy of Walker’s predecessor, but rather the result of a global economic recession -- a fact the administration rarely, if ever, makes mention of as a contributing factor for the exodus of jobs in the state.

While the administration may try to spin these and other numbers as positively as they can, the media are starting to take note of what should have been known all along: Walker’s record on jobs is lackluster.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What would Wisconsin Dems do? Part 2 of 5: equal pay for equal work

Women deserve equal pay for equal work, but under Walker Wisconsin has gone backwards

If Democrats were to take back political control of the state of Wisconsin, what would they do?

Wisconsinites aren’t happy with Gov. Scott Walker -- his approval ratings, which have recently dipped below 50 percent, convey that the people are starting to see his agenda doesn’t match their wants or needs.

But where do Democrats stand? What would they do differently if given the chance, if they were successful in booting Walker out and taking back the legislature in 2014? A lot of people ask that question, but far too often they can’t come up with a concrete answer.

That’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed.

In part one of my five part series, “What would Wisconsin Dems do?”, I examined the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s views on the minimum wage. Today, I’d like to look at another item the DPW addressed at their state convention this year, which has a direct impact on women: reinstating the Equal Pay Enforcement Act.

Democrats pass Equal Pay Enforcement Act -- and Walker repeals it

In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law a bill passed by a Democratic-led legislature. Intended to curb abuse by state employers, the Equal Pay Enforcement Act empowered women who were discriminated through unequal pay for the same work by allowing them to sue their employers in the state court system.

That meant that women could litigate against discriminatory practices, if they had reason to assume they were paid less for the same work, in any county in the state. The law also allowed for punitive damages to be rewarded if a company was found out.

Those punitive damages were meant to deter discrimination in the first place -- it incentivized paying women equally because getting caught could mean losing more money, rather than just being forced to pay back-pay (or, in other words, the earnings women workers were meant to get anyway).

At the time the law was signed by Gov. Doyle, Wisconsin ranked 36th in the country in terms of the gender wage-gap (meaning 35 other states had paid their women more equally). By 2012, we improved our ranking for women by 12 spots, to 24th best.

But when Walker and Republicans took over, they decided that the law needed to go. In 2012, the Republican-led legislature passed, and Walker signed, the repeal of the law. It took away a woman’s ability to sue in state court -- only federal courts in Milwaukee and Madison can hear cases now, which means three-quarters of women in the state have to travel a far distance to have their day in court.

What’s more, the provision allowing for punitive damages was removed completely. Employers caught paying women less in Wisconsin only have to pay back pay, which almost incentivizes paying women less if you think about it...because hey, if the punishment is only paying women for what they were owed in the first place, then why pay them equally if there’s a possibility of getting away with it?

Democrats would restore protections

The resolution passed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin regarding equal pay for women reads:
WHEREAS, the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act empowered working women of Wisconsin to sue employers paying them less than men for equal work;
WHEREAS, the 2011 repeal of that act by the Republican controlled state legislature diminished the rights of women and adversely affected their lawful interests; and,
WHEREAS, providing equal protection under the law for all employees would improve Wisconsin’s employment climate;
THEREFORE, RESOLVED, that the DPW initiate and support immediate reinstatement of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act of 2009.
There’s no doubt that Democrats, if elected, would once more try to pass a similar law aiding women of Wisconsin toward the pursuit of equal pay.

It obviously wouldn’t be the end of the struggle for women. Even when the law was in place there remained a significant wage gap. But it would be an important first step towards limiting the ability for employers to get away with shorting their women workers, incentivizing equality of pay for equality of work performed.

We know this much for sure: Democrats care about women, and believe for the work they perform. Meanwhile, Republicans have shown disdain for women by eliminating these protections for them.

Scott Walker himself tried to sign the law with as little fanfare as possible, hoping to avoid the subject and not let-on that he was enacting such legislation.

That alone should convince women across the state that Walker and his Republican allies don’t have in mind what’s best for women in our state.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What would Wisconsin Dems do? Part 1 of 5: the minimum wage

Bolstering the minimum wage an easy way to fix Wisconsin's economic worries

If Democrats were to take back political control of Wisconsin, what would they do?

The question is perplexing to many across the Badger state. The Democratic Party too often comes across as simply “anti-Scott Walker,” as nothing more than an oppositional party to a governor who has a clear vision of what he wants to do.

While it’s true that the party is trying its hardest to diffuse the disaster that is the “Gov. Walker era” by opposing his most egregious of policies, it’s inaccurate to say that the Democrats don’t have a platform of their own to stand on.

In order to dispel the errant belief that the Dems have nothing to offer, I offer for your reading pleasure five important ideas the Wisconsin Democrats are proposing, based off of the resolutions they passed at their last convention this summer. These ideas are beneficial for the average Wisconsinite, creating a more hospitable state for our citizens to live in, and creating a better state for everyone to take pride in over the long run.

Part one of this five-part blog post looks at an important topic that’s taking hold of the nation’s attention as well as our state’s...that of the minimum wage, and the benefits that come from putting more cash in the hands of a much-needed consumer base.

Increasing the minimum wage
Shortly after his re-election, President Barack Obama came out strongly for raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour. Such a move would “restore the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage back to where it was in 1981.”

Raising the wage that the poorest of workers earn to $9 per hour would increase monthly paychecks by about $260 -- enough to send a family of four out for another trip to the grocery store each month (plus maybe a chance to fill-up their car’s gas tank).

Conservatives frequently oppose the minimum wage, citing the costs that will come with doing so as too burdensome for the average “job creator” to handle. Either job creation will suffer, or products will cost more, contend Republicans.

Yet those assessments don’t match up with reality. Study after study details how job growth isn’t negatively affected by increasing the minimum wage, but looking at a specific example overseas might help shed some light on the matter as well.

One might take a look across hemispheres to the island continent-country of Australia to see what effects a higher wage might bring. There, where the minimum wage is $16 per hour (about $14.50 in American dollars), the unemployment rate stands around five-to-six percent -- numbers that are enviable across the globe, including in our neck of the woods.

Which begs the question: if the minimum wage hurts job growth, how can it be that a nation with nearly double our wage rate has substantially lower unemployment?

Economics 101
How can a higher minimum wage bring about economic improvement? To answer that, a brief lesson in economics is necessary.

Jobs are created when companies are able to pay salaries, but also when those jobs are needed due to demand for a product or service.

Conservatives argue for tax cuts to provide capital for companies so that “job creators” can pay for jobs. But that’s only half of the equation -- indeed, why would companies spend money to hire more if there’s no incentive to do so? Demand is much more important than capital alone because demand creates a reason for hiring (to create more of a product or provide more of a service).

What’s more, if demand rises, capital is flowing into the coffers of the company anyway. Tax cuts for companies create revenues, but they don’t create jobs. Demand for products create both jobs and revenues, which is why it’s a win-win situation for employers and potential workers.

Now, how does one grow demand? Again, it isn’t with tax cuts to the rich or to corporations directly. A strong consumer base is needed in order for demand to grow. When consumers -- the majority of which are working class families -- make purchases, they create a higher demand for the products they buy. With profits growing and evidence of a product gaining popularity, employers become willing to pay for more workers.

The minimum wage and Wisconsin
That would be the case in Wisconsin, too, if the minimum wage went up. Consumers in our state would be able to purchase more goods and services from Wisconsin retailers, who would see a rise in demand and profit, and grow jobs as a result.

It’s clear that the naysayers will disregard the tenets of capitalism and make outrageous claims about the dangers of raising the minimum wage. But raising the wages of workers won’t skyrocket the costs of goods. Even Henry Ford recognized the importance of paying his own workers a decent wage, so that they could afford to buy his own product.

Wisconsin desperately needs job growth. The poorest workers in our state also need help generating a livable income. The minimum wage would help both of those situations, growing incomes for lower-wage workers while building a stronger consumer base for Wisconsin businesses, creating jobs in the process.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin gets this. And should they take control of the statehouse again, they undoubtedly would work to strengthen the consumer base, through raising the minimum wage and through other initiatives as well.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A primary for Democrats could be beneficial

Earned media from primary election could create a positive narrative

I’ve previously spoken on the idea that the Wisconsin Democratic Party doesn’t need a candidate to run against Gov. Scott Walker quite yet.

What I wrote in June -- which was just one full year after the gubernatorial recall election of 2012 -- was simple:
[T]here’s something more important that Democrats need to consider, before even picking a candidate...and that’s their message.

What do Democrats stand for? What do they want the people of Wisconsin to think of when they hear the party’s name?


Wisconsin Democrats need to hone their message. They need to point out why Walker’s plans will hurt the people overall, but at the same time explain what they’d do different.

When that message is crafted and perfected, then a candidate who espouses that message should be considered.
I stand by that sentiment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk strategy. We can talk openly about who the candidate should be, why this person is better than that person, and so forth. People should even feel free to announce their intention to win the nomination of the party if they want to.

But having to know who the candidate is right now is less important than focusing on what the candidate will stand for if selected.

The newest concern for Democrats is whether there should be a contested primary for challenging the governor. On the one hand, party members worry that a primary process may muddle the chances of replacing Scott Walker in 2014. If a candidate isn’t “known” by the time the primary election happens -- just a couple of months before the general election -- it may hurt his or her chances of getting real name recognition.

On the other hand, having the party endorse a candidate several months prior to the primary may hurt in the long run as well. Without the base having a say in the selection process, many may not turn out, opting to sit on their hands to show dissatisfaction with the party “bosses” over their limiting participation of the party faithful.

Both ideas have merits, and both ideas have their problems. Which is the best solution?

That ultimately depends on who is running. If a clear front-runner throws their hat into the primary, and it’s shown that they have the support of most Democrats, then it ought to be a non-contested primary. There’s no need to dig up dirt on someone when it’s obvious they’re going to be the party’s nominee.

That could only happen, however, if a big-name Democrat announces themselves a candidate. The only two to possibly be able to do that at this time, in my book, are Ron Kind and Russ Feingold, both who have announced they do not intend to run against Walker in 2014.

What’s much more likely is that a bunch of other candidates, who don’t necessarily have that name power but are contenders in their own right, will contest one another in order to get the coveted title of nominee in late fall of next year.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s not a messy primary process. If mud is thrown, if people’s names are soiled, it will give fodder to the Republican Party. But if candidates focus solely on political differences, without hurting the brand of the party, then it can result in some very positive outcomes.

One of those positive outcomes? The very mission that the party has to focus on in the first place: getting its message to the people. With several candidates debating the issues (if done positively), the party will end up the winner.

Candidates will talk about their differences, but they’ll also address issues on which they agree on -- and more importantly, where Scott Walker is wrong. It will also draw attention away from the Republican Party while the narrative in the media will be, “Who will be the Democratic nominee?”

The answer will be clear after the primary. What’s more, the message that the party will want to emanate will be more transparent to a citizenry who will be focused on that media narrative, rather than a narrative that puts more focus on Scott Walker.

Earned media is much harder to create when it’s a single candidate running. Think back to 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were campaigning against one another for the presidential ticket. John McCain, who had won primary challenges himself, was the clear candidate they would eventually run against.

But no one was focusing on McCain -- the media attention was on Obama and Clinton, and who the party would choose in the end. Though things got tense in the lead-up to the nomination, the ultimate winner (Obama) got much more media attention than his ideological opponent (McCain).

More people knew where Obama stood, and more people tied McCain to the failures of the Bush administration, whether he deserved it or not.

We already know who the candidate for the Republicans in the statewide gubernatorial election will be. And, with things going the way they are, the people of Wisconsin will start to take note of his failures and improper governing style over the course of the next year (Walker’s approval rating has already dipped below 50 percent).

If Democrats choose a candidate to get behind too soon, the narrative the media will focus on will be “Walker vs. Candidate X.” That narrative will be important, too, but it may be more beneficial if the narrative were “Candidate X, Y, and Z: who will the Democrats pick?” for a time before the actual election.

That narrative will create a buzz for people to discuss issues from an angle the Democrats want -- and it will give more attention to the Democrats in the waning months of the campaign. Who wouldn’t want that?

Yes, a primary campaign can be tedious, stressful, and even downright dirty. But if managed properly, if the candidates can keep their egos in line, the benefits may outweigh the problems in a big way. Walker won’t have someone to focus on specifically, and the Democrats will be getting some much-needed attention from the media.

The primary shouldn’t be seen as a problem for the left. Putting up a candidate too soon could cause much more misery than having a few candidates in mind who could all take Walker head-on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Crackdown in the Capitol shifts to observers of the Sing Along

Police begin to target those who document and watch events of the rotunda

The latest developments from the saga at the Capitol rotunda has the police there making new threats to observers of the sing along, a step that’s designed to thwart not just those who take part, but also those who have watched as well as the police cuffed peaceful demonstrators at the command of the Walker administration.

People who have no connection to the event are being treated as though they are part of it. For instance, this video shows a young woman, who is above the singers, recording them on her own electronic device, being told by Capitol police that she, too, was subject to arrest:

Casual observers weren’t the only ones given this sort of treatment -- indeed, Assemblywoman Sondy Pope, a Democrat from Middleton, was also told that she was considered a participant of the sing along by Capitol police, even though she was observing quietly two floors above the singers:
Officer Andrew Hyatt was circling the upper level of the Rotunda on Tuesday, warning observers that the chief of police considered the sing-along an unlawful gathering and therefore spectators were subject to arrest.

"Whether singing or observing, everyone is subject to arrest," he told one observer. When asked to define the parameters in which observers were subject to arrest, Hyatt said "in this area."

Capitol Police Chief David Erwin maintains that participants in the Solidarity Sing Along need a permit to gather in the Capitol Rotunda.

[Rep. Sondy] Pope said she didn't say anything to the Capitol Police officer who threatened her with arrest, but she did leave her spot by the banister. "As a legislator I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I think what [the police] are doing is unconstitutional. How can you arrest me for observing?

"I have a duty to observe what is happening to my constituents who are expressing their discontent," Pope added. "How can I be arrested for that?"


Pope said she worries about the impression those visitors will take away of Wisconsin.

"I know there are tourists here. What must they think of this state?"
Emphases added.

The precedent being set by Capitol police, who are acting through the dictates of Department of Administration (and thus Gov. Walker himself), is troubling indeed. At what point is an observer a member of the group? That distinction is never made.

Certainly some have come to document the mistreatment and unfair punishment of a group that is merely exercising its right to address its state lawmakers. To that end, observers may be seen as sympathizers to the participants of the Solidarity Sing Along.

But sympathy to a group doesn’t make you a member of it. And if Capitol police are going to arrest people who are there as mere observers to an event, then the situation at the rotunda is even graver than once imagined.


If you want to help the Solidarity Singers, you can visit to donate to the First Amendment fund. With all of the citations being handed to them, they’re going to need all the help they can get. Please consider giving!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Capitol permitting policy too restrictive for a "public forum"

Groups of people frequenting the Capitol building shouldn't have to justify their presence there

In the week and a half since Solidarity Sing Along participants have witnessed the beefed-up enforcement of the Capitol building’s unfair permitting rules, a lot of people have asked the question: why don’t they just get a permit?

It would seem to be an easy solution. No one has said they would be denied permission to use the grounds for their sing alongs, and they could protest the Scott Walker administration in a legal, permissible way.

But should the freedom to speak your mind, to express your grievances, and to address your representatives really come with the requirement of asking for permission to do so first?

The rules for the Capitol building are far too restrictive, and much worse extremely vague. For instance, if an “unlawful assembly” takes place, Capitol police have the right to arrest citizens who aren’t taking part in the demonstration at all, who may be there as observers. Indeed, members of the local media have been taken into custody during the Solidarity Sing Along, their mere presence the basis for their detention.

Beyond that, there is an underlying question that needs to be addressed: where does the line stop? At what point do we need to “regulate” free speech, and at what point does regulation become an infringement?

If the Department of Administration can declare an “unlawful assembly” inside the Capitol, can they declare one outside as well? It isn’t part of their rules yet, but that scenario could become a real possibility, being established on the same standards the current indoor policy stands upon.

The Wisconsin State Capitol is considered a special place not just in our state, but in our nation as well. The rotunda itself is likened to a public square, and “functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim,” according to the official nomination of the Capitol to the list of National Historic Landmarks.

Understandably, there is a need for people to clear the space if others have asked permission to use it for private functions; the singers, for their part, have respected this concept, removing themselves without incident when events are taking place indoors, and have taken their singing outdoors, at times doing so in the cold winter winds.

But if no one has reserved the space, if a public area is open and MEANT to be free, what right does the DOA have in requiring people to seek permission to be there, no matter what their numbers may be? If a peaceful, yet determined group decides to utilize a taxpayer-funded forum that is meant to be accessible to everyone, don’t they share the right to use it themselves, as either individuals or as an assembly?

So there’s a very simple reason why the singers don’t get a permit: they shouldn’t have to get one. What’s more, obtaining a permit merely legitimizes the Department of Administration’s self-created powers to accept or deny people’s rights to be in the rotunda. The people, however, don’t need to ask permission -- they are the legitimate owners of the forum, and as such deserve to be granted the space when it serves their purpose.

That comes with a few caveats, for sure. People in the rotunda cannot be obscene, cannot restrict or infringe upon others’ rights, and cannot interfere with the business of the Capitol building. But with those conditions being met, it behooves the government to provide a legitimate reason why they need this permitting policy in place, beyond their own conveniences or preferences.

Up until this point, the DOA has yet to provide such a reasonable justification, and it seems unlikely that they will find one in the future.