Former speakers lobbying for vouchers

2013-01-22T10:00:00Z 2013-01-22T13:32:04Z Former speakers lobbying for vouchersThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 22, 2013 10:00 am  • 

MADISON — Advocates for expanding school vouchers in Wisconsin have hired three former Republican speakers of the state Assembly to help make their case, a sign of political firepower on a contentious issue that has renewed calls to ban the increasingly common practice of moving directly from the Legislature to lobbying.

Jeff Fitzgerald registered earlier this month to lobby for School Choice Wisconsin, just days after his term in the Assembly ended. Another former Republican Assembly speaker, John Gard, also is registered as a lobbyist for the school choice group. The president of School Choice Wisconsin is Jim Bender, a former legislative staffer who worked for Fitzgerald.

A third Republican former speaker, Scott Jensen, is a registered lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, another group that supports expanding vouchers.

The proliferation of former Assembly speakers on the school choice issue shows how advocates for expanding vouchers plan to focus on this year’s legislative session to push for changes. Gov. Scott Walker already supports vouchers and has pledged to expand the program, but he hasn’t said yet exactly what he will propose.

Fitzgerald’s decision to become a lobbyist, after serving 12 years in the Legislature including the past two as speaker, led to renewed calls by Common Cause Wisconsin for a ban on lobbying by lawmakers immediately after they leave office.

Common Cause supports a one-year “cooling off” period between when a legislator leaves office and decides to begin lobbying. But the government watchdog group hasn’t been able to find a lawmaker to introduce such a bill since 2005.

“I think this is a problem that just feeds cynicism to citizens and makes them feel as if legislators are using public service as a stepping stone,” said Common Cause Wisconsin director Jay Heck.

Heck said it was “pretty amazing” that three former speakers are now lobbying on school choice issues.

“I’ve never seen that,” Heck said. “I wonder if the three of them will get together on a conference call and plot strategy.”

Fitzgerald was a central figure in getting passed Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers. He also ran for U.S. Senate last year, after deciding not to seek re-election in the Senate, but came in fourth in the Republican primary.

Fitzgerald, who identifies himself as president of Fitzgerald Consulting, is also registered to lobby for Alliant Energy and American Traffic Solutions.

He did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Fitzgerald, Gard and Jensen served as speakers 11 of the past 15 years in the Assembly. Republican Mike Huebsch was speaker in 2007 and 2008 and joined Walker’s administration in 2011 as head of the Department of Administration. Democrat Mike Sheridan, who was speaker in 2009 and 2010, registered as a lobbyist for the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO in September but has not yet registered this year.

The fight over expanding school choice beyond Milwaukee and Racine is expected to be one of the most hotly debated topics in the Legislature this year.

Last week Republican Senate President Mike Ellis and Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said they would oppose automatic expansion of vouchers without residents in the affected school districts first approving them through a referendum vote.

Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the Senate, but losing two Republican senators would make it more difficult to get any measure passed there. Walker is expected to propose voucher expansion in his budget, which would make it easier to pass as part of a larger spending package instead of on its own.

Democrats have historically objected to vouchers because they argue it siphons money away from public schools and is part of a broader agenda to defund public education. Supporters say it provides an alternative for parents of children in failing schools.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 23, 2013 4:41 pm
    Who is a "crook"? The tax collector forcing everyone to pay for the miserable government schools even though they send their children somewhere else?
  2. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 23, 2013 4:39 pm
    I don't think they want to take over the public schools. They simply want market forces involved in education.
  3. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 23, 2013 4:38 pm
    MELLO do you understand how vouchers work? The taxpayer themselves wants to get a voucher to spend somewhere other than the miserable gubmint schools. It's their money, how can you be opposed to "CHOICE"? I thought all you libs were "PRO CHOICE".
  4. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 23, 2013 4:37 pm
    Wait, "moochers"? "Your tax dollars"? These people simply want to spend THEIR OWN money on the school of their choice. Why are you so afraid of churches? You maybe have something to feel guilty about?
  5. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - January 23, 2013 4:35 pm
    Aren't you missing the fact that the money in question actually belongs to the taxpayer? If they want to spend it differently to educate their child you find that immoral somehow?

    You guys really get hysterical when someone wants to make you accountable for your performance huh? :-)
  6. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - January 22, 2013 7:18 pm
    I love how vouchers are supposed to give people a chance to get their kids out of failing schools. Except, there is no requirement that the kid have ever actually attended a failing school. So, in his budget Walker wants to give everyone a $200 tax break, and give his wealthy donor friends, whose kids do, have always, and always will, attend private schools, a $5 - $7 thousand tax break, by taking that money out of public schools.

    If you don't believe me (FUBAR, LAXTEABAG, Nestor, etc.) check out the blog of Diane Ravitch. She was the architect of vouchers in Wisconsin, and has seen how corrupt this idea has become. The public funds for education are the last, biggest source of gov't money that the private sector is trying to raid, for obscene profits. Take the 15 minutes to read an article on her blog: dianeravitch.net
  7. LesTrafik
    Report Abuse
    LesTrafik - January 22, 2013 5:14 pm
    Moochers Seeking Vouchers: a religious right's pipe-dream to enhance the already tax-exempt status of religious institutions. More of your taxes to their private churches.

    These “tickets to nowhere” skim the cream then leave most kids struggling to stay afloat.
  8. MELLO
    Report Abuse
    MELLO - January 22, 2013 1:41 pm
    These Takers will take money from taxpayers anyway they can get it. Thieves the bunch of them...
  9. Napoleon
    Report Abuse
    Napoleon - January 22, 2013 10:43 am
    Vouchers: a Trojan horse for religionist takeover of the public schools.

    Bad plan.
  10. lookout
    Report Abuse
    lookout - January 22, 2013 10:19 am
    Once a crook always a crook.
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