Ask around the State Capitol about State Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, and the words you are most likely to hear are “kind,” “compassionate,” “friend” and “fighter.” Anderson has served the 47th Assembly District since 2016, continually fighting for his constituents while also making friends on both sides of the political aisle.

What may not be well known about Anderson is that he is paralyzed from the neck down because of a car crash. Anderson, his parents and younger brother were driving to celebrate his birthday when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and smashed into Anderson’s car. His parents and brother were killed instantly and Anderson became paralyzed from the neck down.

While many would have given up on their ambitions and goals, Anderson fought through and persevered. Due to his disability, Anderson has repeatedly asked the Republican-controlled Assembly for various accommodations, such as the ability to phone into meetings and get advanced notice of meeting dates and times to perform his duties as a representative, ensure his availability and better represent his constituents. Republicans continually deny his requests.

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In order to represent his constituents during last year’s lame-duck session, Anderson was forced to sit in his wheelchair for hours during the special session, causing him to develop sores and ulcers that had to be surgically removed. In turn, Anderson and other Democrats pushed for new rules that would make sessions more accessible.

Recently, Anderson again asked for the Assembly to grant him certain accommodations. Unfortunately, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, used Anderson’s disabilities as a bargaining chip to permit yet another Republican power grab, leading Anderson to vote against his own legislation.

October 10, Vos called the Assembly to session to vote on a number of measures, including Assembly Resolution 12. AR-12, likely the most important pieces of legislation on the agenda, would allow, “appearance at committee meetings by telephone or other means of telecommunication or electronic communication.” Because of his disability, Anderson was forced to miss committee hearings and meetings, lobbyist visits and votes on the floor. Finally, it seemed, Anderson would be granted his accommodations, though not as extensive as he would have liked. He would be allowed to phone into meetings and get advanced notice of session dates and times, so he can properly serve his constituents without furthering sacrificing his physical health. 

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Sadly, Republicans politicized this issue and added various poison pills to AR-12. Republicans grouped together 10 Assembly rules changes, such as the expansion of the number of times the (Republican-controlled) Assembly can vote to override vetoes and change the amount of time for debates. Essentially, for Anderson to receive his accommodations, he and the Democratic caucus would have to vote yes on yet another Republican power grab. 

The day of the session, Anderson gave an impassioned speech — going to deep detail of his family’s accident, the death of his family, and what his daily routine looks like. In order to make the 10 a.m. session, Anderson had to wake up at 4:30 a.m., ask that his nurse be able to come in early to help, and spend nearly five hours getting ready just to give one speech — which advocated Democrats and Republicans to vote against AR-12, his own accommodations. Rather than coming together as one Assembly to pass a stand-alone resolution to help their colleague and his constituents, Republicans split the Assembly along party lines and rammed AR-12 through on a simple majority, 61-35. 

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Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin cannot even allow a devoted, bipartisan, respected representative to properly perform his duties without attempting to add poison pill provisions. It is sickening that Republican lawmakers would politicize a disability and use it for their own gain. Forcing Anderson to vote against his own accommodation is wrong, plain and simple. This shows the new low that Wisconsin Republicans will stoop to in order to maintain their grip on power. 

William Keenan ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science.