July 15, 2013 By Peggy Porter Koeing
[What follows are written comments submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Administration as part of the public input process on the promulgation of emergency administrative rules. – Editors]
When I was seven years old, my father took me to the Wisconsin State Capitol. My memories of that day are those of a child: lots and lots of steps, the echo of voices through the building, looking up and up and up, a story about an eagle and a fire.
What I remember most clearly from that day was my father’s reverence for the Capitol.
The things he told me reflected a belief that was constantly reinforced throughout my childhood: he and I, like the generations of our Wisconsin family that went before us, were blessed to live in not only the best country in the world, but in the best state in that country. We lived in the United States of America, which, unlike many countries in the world, allowed its citizens participation in their government.
And Wisconsin was superior to the other states, not only because of its beauty and cheese and Bucky Badger, but because of the very Capitol building we were standing in. The Capitol was a place where the people who ran the state worked and where the people of the state could come and help them by telling them what they needed.
I now have an adult’s language and understanding of the Wisconsin State Capitol. The language comes from the Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, Section 4: “the right of the people to peaceably assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged”. And I now understand why the Wisconsin State Capitol held such significance for my father. Unlike the capitol buildings of many other states, our Capitol was specifically designed to encourage citizens to come in and give voice to their ideas so that those ideas might be shared with their fellow citizens, and so that the citizens might support and inform their legislators.
As you consider potential changes to the Administrative Rule, I urge you to remember the intent of those who wrote our State Constitution and those who designed our State Capitol. Those who wrote the State Constitution realized that a threat to free speech was a threat to democracy itself. Those who designed the Wisconsin State Capitol did not try to imitate other state capitols, which were designed only as workplaces for those who create laws. They took it a step further and designed our Capitol to encourage free speech within its walls. And both the Constitution and that which establishes free access to the Capitol were intended to withstand the whims of individual administrations and be a constant in lives of the people of Wisconsin. In honoring both the Wisconsin State Constitution and the unique design of the Wisconsin State Capitol you will honor Wisconsin citizens who have passed, like my father, and the citizens of today, like me. And you will preserve Wisconsin ideals for the citizens of the future.