There are no political honeymoons in today’s polarized society. Just days after Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan as his VP pick, a progressive advocacy group known as MoveOn.org began dialing through their membership rolls to find disgruntled constituents in Ryan’s congressional district.
They are now lauding the story of Maria Morales, a grandma from Racine bound by misfortune and armed with a spate of criticism. With a recent appendectomy and a diagnosis of “three clogged brain arteries,” Morales’ medical bills are piling up. She depends on her unemployment insurance to survive; but those benefits expire in December raising a specter of uncertainty and doubt.
Here is a short excerpt of Morales’ story on MoveOn.org’s website, which they entitled, “When Paul Ryan called the police on a 67 year old grandma.”
“Maria Morales, a 67-year-old grandmother from Racine, simply wanted to speak with Paul Ryan about his vote to cut off her unemployment insurance. She waited more than a year and couldn't even get a phone call—and when she went to his office, Paul Ryan's staff called the police.”
Kevin Seifert, Press Secretary for Congressman Ryan, disputes Morales’s claim. Last December, Morales made an unscheduled visit to their D.C. office as a part of an Occupy Wall Street protest. Morales and other protesters tried to camp out at Ryan’s office to force a meeting through what is known as a “sit in.” Although the Capitol Police intervened, Ryan’s office maintains they didn’t make the call.
“Given Congressman Ryan’s commitments and hectic schedule, we ask that constituents who are hoping to meet with him arrange these meetings in advance. This ensures Congressman Ryan is able to talk with as many district residents as possible on a given day,” Seifert said. “Showing up without an appointment and demanding to see the congressman is the same as cutting to the front of the line."
Seifert reiterated that Congressman Ryan would be happy to meet with Morales – and has met with her in the past – but she needs to follow the same procedures as everyone else.
Morales met with Ryan last August, but she viewed it more as a town hall event that she “snuck into.” As with other constituents, Ryan’s staffers tried to get Morales’ contact information, but she wouldn’t provide it. Without her information, no meeting could be scheduled.
In a phone interview, Morales said that Ryan doesn’t make himself readily available. She pointed to her disabled son who’s on BadgerCare, saying that Ryan doesn’t do anything for him.
When I asked if she had recently tried to schedule a meeting with Ryan. She replied,
“Not recently. I did go last week. I went on other business. My passport was denied. If I had been someone else, I probably wouldn’t have gotten in; but because I know his worker pretty well - she knows me - she had the courtesy to open the door and see what I wanted.”
Just a few days before Morales circulated a national petition with MoveOne.org complaining about Ryan’s inaccessibility, she received special constituent services she had presumed others would not have received. Yet, she received them despite her long history with Ryan’s office.
MORALES: A SEASONED PROTESTER
MoveOn.org omitted parts of Morales’ storyline that are exceedingly relevant to the public. During the 1980s, Morales was the first Latina president of the AFL-CIO’s Labor Council of Racine County. From 2003 to 2011, she worked as the Racine Coordinator for Voces de la Frontera (VDLF), an aggressive immigrants rights group with a penchant for protesting Republicans.
Voces has been on the front lines of major litigation battles over statewide redistricting and Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law. Their national boycott of Palermo’s Pizza embroiled the retailer into a showdown with major labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers.
As a Coordinator for VDLF, Morales engineered dozens of protests and rallies, many of which targeted Congressman Ryan. Morales has been ticketed, fined, and arrested multiple times in Wisconsin and Illinois over issues of immigration.
In October of 2009, Morales protested at Ryan’s office in Racine over a radio interview he conducted, hosted by FAIR (Federation of American Immigration Reform).
In April of 2010, Morales coordinated an effort to deliver 600 empty milk cartons to Ryan’s office to symbolize the impact immigrants have on Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
In May of 2010, Morales protested at Ryan’s office due to his support of beefing up border control and ICE enforcement.
In November of 2010, Morales and two other members of VDLF were arrested for trespassing at Ryan’s Racine office. Voces later claimed they had planned to be arrested and touted it as the first act of civil disobedience in Ryan’s district in over 50 years. Voces used the incident as an organizational fundraiser.
In August of 2011, Morales protested Ryan’s Kenosha and Racine offices over jobs and livable wages.
In January of 2012, Morales and sixteen others were ticketed and fined for protesting at a private fundraiser for State Rep. Robin Vos (same Wisconsin Legislator who had beer poured over his head by a protester). Ryan was a featured speaker at the fundraiser.
I asked Morales whether she should have disclosed her personal history with Ryan to MoveOn members. She said that people in southeastern Wisconsin already knew she was an activist.
That’s true, but the rest of the country deserves to know the truth - that Maria Morales, a poster child for MoveOn.org, is a professional, seasoned activist more interested in protesting Ryan than speaking with him.