Members of Polk Burnett Indivisible (PBI) were busy this past week contacting their representatives to urge them to vote against the nominees for Attorney General and head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite overwhelming opposition in calls to his office, Senator Ron Johnson voted to approve Jeff Sessions for AG and Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, both of whom were ultimately confirmed.
The Pruitt vote was particularly galling to members of the group, coming on the eve of an unprecedented February heat wave with record-setting highs for six consecutive days across the state. “Pruitt is a climate change denier who has actively opposed the agency he will now lead,” said PBI spokesperson Jon Bjork. “His plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature effort at combating climate change, is a huge setback in the effort to stave off the most dire effects of a warming climate.” The group called on Senator Johnson to explain his recent votes in a face-to-face meeting during the congressional recess this week, but the senator’s office made it clear that there were no public meetings scheduled for northwestern Wisconsin any time soon.
The reluctance of Senator Johnson and Representative Sean Duffy to schedule town hall meetings in Polk and Burnett counties, and around their districts, during this recess seemed at least partly related to a coordinated national effort by the Republican party to keep legislators out of the public eye after some were met by overflow crowds of raucous protesters earlier this month in several locations across the country. Last month’s vote to set the repeal of Obamacare in motion without any plan to replace it has triggered a wave of concern nationwide. Recent polling shows clear majorities of American’s favoring most provisions of the law, and a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 75% of respondents want Congress to leave the law alone or repeal it only when a suitable replacement can be found.
Meanwhile, PBI members are waiting to hear directly from Representative Duffy just what the Republican replacement plan might look like. While maintaining that Obamacare should stay in effect until a suitable alternative is in place, the representative has voted more than once to repeal with no replacement and back in 2013, in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, indicated a willingness shut down the federal government indefinitely unless the law was overturned. It is becoming increasingly apparent to observers that there never really was a Republican plan.
Members would also like to hear Duffy clarify his callous remark in a recent CNN interview when he chirped that “good things came from” the murder of nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina back in 2015. In that same interview, he labeled the individual who shot Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords “a Marxist” and “a leftist guy,” then used this mischaracterization to try to link the shooting to protests against Donald Trump. The representative’s loose-lipped ways continued this past Saturday at the Lincoln Day dinner in Somerset, when he labeled the peaceful demonstrators outside, all local PBI members, “communists.” Duffy’s remark is a part of a disturbing trend of vilifying civic engagement – calling citizens paid protesters and insinuating that destruction and violence is a common part of protesting. PBI spokesperson Martha Kaempffer responded, saying, “I’ve been a part of many marches and protests and they are not violent or destructive, they’re largely peaceful and empowering. It is important not to adhere to the limited narrative of a 24-hour cable news cycle. Depend on personal accounts and local stories, like ours.”
While it doesn’t seem likely that Sean Duffy or Ron Johnson will show up to face the people any time soon, PBI will continue to oppose their efforts to undo the progress of the last eight years. If you want to be part of this grass-roots movement to resist the excesses of the new administration in an organized, powerful way, you can reach the group at PolkBurnettIndivisible@gmail.com. You’ll be placed on the e-mail list and contacted about future actions and meetings.