Wisconsin State Legislature Wins Black Hole Award


When I saw that the Wisconsin legislature had won a black hole award I immediately thought, “Oh goody! A delightful piece of satire.”

I was mistaken. The Society of Professional Journalists has really bestowed this designation upon Wisconsin’s legislature.

According to their site they do so to “highlight the most heinous violations of the public’s right to know. By exposing examples of unnecessary and harmful secrecy, we hope to educate the public to their rights and hold government accountable”. 

This year Wisconsin’s legislature had to share the “award” with 2 other dwellers in darkness: a Kentucky agency that hid records of abuse of a child and the legislature of Georgia which hid $125 million dollars in scholarship money.

The Society found the Wisconsin government body lowly enough to receive its annual award after reviewing

* the illegal March 9th meeting to pass Wisconsin Act 10,

*the secretive process of redistricting,

*a law that keeps Wisconsin police in the dark about who is concealing weapons,

*the legislatures crack down on use of cameras by citizens in the assembly gallery.

 The Society is missing out on a few things such as the black plastic that now covers the door windows leading into the Assembly gallery that can now keep citizens from filming legislators who make votes for their absent colleagues. And the Society misses out on the fact that the credentialed journalists on the floor of the Assembly are informed they could lose their papers for filming citizens in the gallery. There’s also the matter of the arrest of a videographer for merely having his camera with him in the gallery. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the right wing legislator Steve Nass’ recent vendetta against first protest art and then a labor cartoonist who made a spoof press release about the Assemlyman.  

Ultimately I have mixed feelings about this sad award. On the one hand the importance of this award is diminished when set against the backdrop of Capitol occupations, citizen arrests, recalls, a daily protest singing group, etc.  On the other, I welcome some acknowledgement from the greater world that I am not stark raving mad: My state government really does have some serious problems. Thus, I won’t bite the hand that feeds my legislature their black hole. Instead, I’ll shake it.

Thank you Society of Professional Journalists.

A big hat tip to Giles Goat Boy who wrote about this tonight.

Read on for the original text from the society and its mission:

“The Wisconsin State Legislature ignored the state’s open meetings law in hastily passing a collective bargaining bill in March 2011, then successfully urged the state supreme court to exempt it from this law.

Additionally, tasked with redrawing voter boundaries based on the 2010 Census, the legislature’s Republican leadership hammered out new maps behind closed doors, even having their members sign secrecy agreements. The maps were unveiled less than a week before the only public hearing on the bills, which promptly passed. Afterward, the leaders fought court orders to release records showing what they had done, drawing an uncommonly sharp rebuke from a federal judge.

The Wisconsin legislature also passed a law barring even police from knowing who may be carrying concealed weapons. And while opening the state capitol to these weapons, it cracked down on the use of cameras by citizens in the state assembly.”

Below is the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists from their web page:

The Society of Professional Journalists is dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press as the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty.

To ensure that the concept of self-government outlined by the U.S. Constitution remains a reality into future centuries, the American people must be well informed in order to make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities.

It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner.

It is the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists:

— To promote this flow of information.
— To maintain constant vigilance in protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.
— To stimulate high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism.
— To foster excellence among journalists.
— To inspire successive generations of talented individuals to become dedicated journalists.
— To encourage diversity in journalism.
— To be the pre-eminent, broad-based membership organization for journalists.
— To encourage a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely.