Saturday, December 22, 2012

Domestic Partner Registry Upheld, With A Twist Of Walkergate

In 2006, Wisconsin brought shame to itself by allowing bigotry to become a constitutional right when they passed the ban on gay marriage.

In 2009, Governor Jim Doyle passed a law establishing a domestic partner registry, giving the LGBT community at least a modicum of human dignity if not quite equal status as the rest of the citizenry.

This made the conservatives apoplectic at the thought that someone different from them might be treated the same.

So a right wing front group improperly named Wisconsin Family Action (WFA) filed a lawsuit, claiming that the registry allowed gays to be treated with too much respect.

The court ruled against their complaint, so WFA appealed. Their appeal was also denied:
In affirming a lower court decision that the law does not violate the state's constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, the court stated: " would 'take pages' to list the rights and obligations that go with marriages but not domestic partnerships...It is not necessary to list that many here to demonstrate that...the rights and obligations of marriage are not substantially similar to the rights and obligations of domestic partnerships."

In June 2009, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed domestic partnerships into law, granting limited but important legal protections to same-sex couples, including hospital visitation and the ability to take a family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner. Wisconsin Family Action brought a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court arguing that the domestic partnership law is a violation of Wisconsin's constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Shortly thereafter, Lambda Legal successfully moved to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and five same-sex couples.

"The court has affirmed what we have maintained all along - it is ridiculous to suggest that a domestic partnership law could be considered anything closely resembling a marriage for purposes of state law," said Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office. "In fact, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs' arguments as 'nonsense.' We fought off this ugly attack against the rights and protections currently available to same-sex couples and their families in Wisconsin - a sweet holiday present to loving couples and families."
WFA is promising to take it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which at the moment has a majority of justices which believe that the Constitution and the law are merely advisory things that can be dismissed when it so suits them.

Obviously, the ruling is a good thing, but not good enough. The amendment which legalizes bigotry must be appealed before their is any justice.

But as with all things in Fitzwalkerstan, there is more. There is always more.

WFA's rationale for their lawsuit is utter hogwash. As the impeccable Emily Mills pointed out at the time (which was also supported in the appellate ruling), there is very little resemblance between the rights allowed in the registry and those given by law to a married couple. WFA is complaining that the apples are too much like oranges.

It should also be noted that when the lawsuit was originally filed, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to do his job in defending the registry. This forced Doyle to spend taxpayer money to do what Van Hollen was charged with doing.

Within months of taking office, Scott Walker fired the private attorneys.

In return, WFA was able to provide Walker and his allies with an inordinate amount of help during the recalls, as reported by the Wisconsin Gazette:
Wisconsin Family Action has spent at least $304,000 in recent weeks on broadcast ads smearing the Democratic opponents of two right-wing state senators. That’s a remarkable level of spending for the small evangelical group, according to political observers.

Although WFA is not required by law to disclose individual donors, contributors are likely to be some of the same out-of-state groups that are shoveling cash into Wisconsin senate races at levels never before seen in the state. WFA executive director Julaine Appling refuses to discuss the source of the group’s sudden windfall.
The Gazette goes on to also show another peculiarity about this group:
In a story that’s notable for its layers of oddity, Appling is a never-married single woman who’s lived for many years with Diane Westphall, another never-married single woman. The two currently share a home they own together in Watertown, and they also work side by side at WFA.
Now, while that might be a bit peculiar, there is something that the Gazette missed which I believe should send off a lot of red flags and Walkergate alerts.

(This is where the "always more" part comes in. Cue dramatic music!)

Also on the board of WFA, and who is named in the lawsuit to prevent gay people from being treated semi-equally is a gentleman named Jaren E. Hiller.

A quick Google shows that Mr. Hiller is a real estate broker with an agency called Hiller Realty Inc.

Now, as it just so happens to be, Hiller Realty Inc is owned and operated by Jaren's brother, John Hiller.

And, as the gentle reader might remember, John Hiller was Walker's campaign treasurer for 18 years, until he was suddenly dismissed right after Walkergate exploded. Hiller was also on Walker's transition team after being elected.

It would not be a stretch to think he was distancing himself from Walker and his campaign, especially considering Hiller might have had a hand in some of the pay for play and bid rigging going on while Walker was running for governor.

So let's recap this.

While Walker was running for governor, the brother of Walker's campaign treasurer (who has a sordid history himself), who was part of a right wing front group as well as worked with his brother in their realty agency, filed a lawsuit in order to make Doyle look bad (this was before Doyle chose not to run).

Gee, do you think that there just might have been some collusion between WFA and Walker's campaign?  Just a little, maybe?

Perhaps we need to put John Hiller on the list of names to watch in 2013 as the next wave of Walkergate sweeps the state.

And can't the right wing do anything openly and honestly? Do they have a code against that or something?


  1. Also on the Board of Wisconsin Family Action and the affiliated Wisconsin Family Council Inc: Brian Sikma.

    Then there was that "Absentee Ballot Processing Center" issue back in 2011.

  2. Sikma too, eh? I did not know this. That only adds to the collusion.

  3. The 2011 IRS 990 for Wisconsin Family Action Inc reports total revenues that year of $1,009,616 and expenses of $1,092,725. The largest expense is reported as $723,064 to "Nonbox" at 5307 South 92 Street Hales Corners WI for "Issue Advocacy Media".

    Coincidentally that is the same Nonbox mentioned here by the Washington Post.

    Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R) ran for and won the gubernatorial primary against former Rep. Mark Neumann (R) by emphasizing his average Joe-ness. No ad better captured that "voice of the people" sensibility than this one where Walker is driving around the state in his beat-up 1998 Saturn. (The obvious homage to the Scott Brown truck ad also gets points.) Walker gets extra points for hiring a local consultant -- Hales Corners, Wisconsin-based Nonbox -- to do the ads. Youtube Link to that commercial for the sake of completeness:

    Nonbox and Scott Walker Have a long history. One account of the relationship:

    Neumann’s Republican primary opponent, Scott Walker, is working with Bill Eisner’s Nonbox advertising, Hales Corners, which has run numerous Republican and conservative issue campaigns the past dozen years. Eisner represented Neumann in his unsuccessful 1998 challenge of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, but has worked for Walker since Walker’s 2002 run for Milwaukee County executive.

    Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes said he is unfamiliar with Avicom Marketing Communications. He said Walker and Eisner have developed a very good working relationship and the Walker team likes Eisner’s creative talent. So far, the Walker ad campaign has been built around Eisner’s idea of Walker as an everyday guy who brings a ham sandwich to work in a brown bag.

    “When you find the right people that work good with your candidate, you stick with them,” Gilkes said.

    1. Correction to the above. First paragraph should be:

      The 2011 IRS 990 for Wisconsin Family Action Inc reports total revenues that year of $1,116,154 and expenses of $1,092,725. The largest expense is reported as $723,064 to "Nonbox" at 5307 South 92 Street Hales Corners WI for "Issue Advocacy Media".