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Capitol Punishments: Consult the supercomputer

Republicans escalate their election freak show and still find time to try to kick more people off BadgerCare.

Republicans escalate their election freak show and still find time to try to kick more people off BadgerCare.

Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our new recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

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Proof? Why would you want that?

In the latest update in the 2020 election “investigation,” Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the chair of the Assembly’s Campaigns and Elections committee, allowed a man convicted of fraud in 2009 to testify for almost two hours on Wednesday about his own so-called investigation. 

Peter Bernegger was convicted of fraud in 2009 after he and his business partners kept telling investors how great their two start-ups were doing, even though, as one federal judge wrote during the appeals process, they “were never able to manufacture a sellable product.” Bernegger’s companies “purported to make gelatin out of catfish waste,” among other things.

Yet this man, who has no discernible employer, no election expertise, and isn’t even a lawyer, spent almost two hours telling lawmakers that he has access to a “supercomputer” that allowed him to crunch the data and prove there was voter fraud.

Could he disclose his methods? Nope. What about documentation for the cases he presented? Nope. Any affidavits? Also no.

And of course Bernegger is consulting with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s inept and opaque “investigation” of the 2022 election. The phrase “dumpster fire” doesn’t even come close.

The pinnacle of Bernegger’s absurd claims is that an unidentified Black man from Illinois was hiding in a secret room during the day and changing votes at night. If you think that’s a dog whistle, you’re giving him too much credit for subtlety. 

Punishing the poor

Wisconsin’s already-low unemployment rate continues to decline—it is now at an absurdly-low 2.8%—and our labor force participation rate is at 66%, meaning that two-thirds of Wisconsinites who are 16 or older, and not incarcerated or in the military, are either working or looking for work. But business owners continue to complain about a worker shortage. 

Logically, if we take this claim at face value, this tells us there’s not enough workers in our state. So, maybe we should try making Wisconsin more attractive to workers by, say, addressing our child care and elder care crisis, investing in affordable housing, making healthcare more affordable, and raising wages.

Instead, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership decided it was time to punish the poor, even though experts have pointed out the measures they’ve proposed won’t have any impact on the worker shortage.

One of the bills discussed in the Senate’s Economic and Workforce Development committee on Wednesday would cut off BadgerCare recipients if they turned down additional hours or a raise in order to stay on BadgerCare, a scenario Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says he has personally experienced with his own employees.

But there’s no guarantee that those additional hours and dollars will come with healthcare. Yes, workers kicked off BadgerCare could apply on the exchange but with premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, the change would make healthcare inaccessible. Remember that the income cutoff for BadgerCare is only $13,590 for an individual, $27,750 for a family of four.

Another solution, which Gov. Tony Evers, statehouse Democrats, and small business advocates have been pushing for years, would be to expand BadgerCare. Workers would be able to take on more hours and, when they do exceed the income limit, it’s not such a sudden financial shock that they’re cut off from health care.

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The whole package of GOP bills, which the committee will vote on next week, is so focused on the imaginary problem of people choosing government benefits over supposedly good jobs that it completely misses the actual issues in Wisconsin’s workforce.

How many staffers can Robin Vos throw under a bus?

Did you know that Wisconsin is one of the few states where legislators are allowed to destroy official documents unless they’ve received an official records request?

How convenient that Vos claims to rarely look at his official email. And isn’t it convenient that Vos’ office attorney, Steven Fawcett, waited 13 days to let staff know about liberal watchdog group American Oversight’s requests for records related to the Gableman investigation? 

After all, if you don’t know a record request has come in, you can’t be held accountable for destroying that record, right?

American Oversight submitted three records requests to Vos’ office, then took his office to court over apparently missing documents. 

Vos fought long and hard not to give a deposition, even appealing to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was ultimately compelled to give a deposition that could be summarized with a shrug emoji—he doesn’t look at his email, he doesn’t know his Twitter password, and he only communicates with Gableman and former President Donald Trump on the phone. So hands-off for the de facto political boss of an entire state.

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