In an era of scandal and indictments at the national and state levels of politics, it would be nice to imagine that sheer embarrassment might lead legislators to clean up the political process.
But, for the most part, these jokers are beyond shame.
Thus, reformers are forced to come up with new and creative ways to get the "time for a change" message delivered.
Back in 2000, at a time when campaign finance reform at the federal level was stalled, a 90-year-old woman hit on an idea that would capture the imagination of the American people and build momentum for passage of the McCain-Feingold bill that represents the only significant campaign finance reform measure to be enacted at the federal level in recent years.
Doris "Granny D" Haddock challenged preconceptions not just about age but about the depth of citizen commitment to the reform movement by making a 14-month, 3,200-mile walk across the country to draw attention to the need to fight corruption of the political process by cleaning up the way election campaigns are financed. Her grandmotherly advice to the nation was as simple as it was brilliant: "We have a duty to look after each other. If we lose control of our government, then we lose our ability to disperse justice and human kindness. Our first priority today, then, is to defeat utterly those forces of greed and corruption that have come between us and our self-governance."
Six years after she walked across the country, Granny D is still going strong, still marching down what she refers to as the "Democracy Road." Tomorrow her journey will bring her to Wisconsin. She is arriving just in the nick of time.
In Wisconsin, the forces of greed were once held in check - not merely by rules and regulations but by a progressive movement that organized citizens to beat back the forces of corruption. But no more. At a time when former legislators are regularly being convicted of abusing their offices, when one of the leading Republican gubernatorial candidates is linked financially to the sleaziest operators in Washington, and federal, state and local authorities are investigating whether the governor's administration engaged in pay-to-play politics, it is pretty clear that Wisconsin's campaigning and governing processes are no longer pristine.
The saving grace is that Wisconsinites, unlike citizens in so many other states, can still remember - and still long for - a better, cleaner politics. The passion for reform runs deep. According to a new St. Norbert's College survey on challenges facing the state, Wisconsin voters are more likely to rank concerns about corruption ahead of health care, crime, poverty and the environment.
Unfortunately, Gov. Doyle and members of the Legislature are not listening to the cry for change. But when the People's Legislature convenes at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the State Capitol's GAR Hearing Room (417 North), Granny D will be listening as citizens speak up for reform. Unlike the "hearings" that are usually conducted at the Capitol, this will be a "telling." Wisconsinites are coming to Madison to tell the governor and the Legislature that the time to act is now - before the 2006 campaign begins.
If the politicians who should be present for the telling are not listening, Granny D is. And she, too, will be doing some telling - reminding us that the Democracy Road runs through our state, that it is time to get on that road, and to stay on it until the forces of greed and corruption are not just utterly defeated but banished forever from the politics and the government of Wisconsin.
John Nichols is the editor of the editorial page of the Capital Times. He is also Washington correspondent for The Nation. He has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
© 2006 Madison Capital Times