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Good Government Demands Redistricting Reform

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 15 January 2020
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSen. Smith writes about measures we can take for fair maps in Wisconsin, including the passage of Senate Bill 288/Assembly Bill 303 and the constitutional amendment he recently introduced.

MADISON, WI - Every new year is an opportunity to reflect on what we can do better moving forward. When the New Year is the first of a new decade we think even bigger. What can we do in this new decade to become the sibling, parent, neighbor, colleague or citizen we’re expected to be?

While being a parent may arguably be the most important role many of us take on, being a good citizen is a close second. You may already say you never miss voting during an election, and that’s a good thing. But can we do better?

As we prepare for the next decade, we must commit ourselves to be the best citizen we can be. There are many opportunities to be a better citizen: participate in the census, call your elected officials and demand nonpartisan redistricting reform. Every day in my role, I work to ensure each vote counts – it’s a responsibility I take seriously, and I hope you do too.

Every ten years, citizens are required to complete the U.S. Census by providing information about themselves for officials to identify demographic shifts in our country. Data collected in a census year is then used to draw legislative districts.

wi-dist-maps-currentRedrawing political lines can be very controversial. Currently, Wisconsin statutes allow legislators to draw their own lines, which can be easily manipulated for political advantage, known as gerrymandering. Consequently, if Wisconsin has uncompetitive maps, legislators are far less likely to make decisions reflecting the will of their constituents.

In 2011, Republican leaders paid a private law firm to draw the lines, according to their specifications. The attorneys forced legislators to sign a document agreeing they wouldn’t disclose how the redistricting occurred.

Advocates challenged this undemocratic process all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Millions of our tax dollars were paid to the law firm that drew the lines and to defend their actions in court. The Supreme Court took no action other than to suggest each state should handle this problem in their own way.

Before this happened, most citizens didn’t pay much attention to legislative redistricting. Now, it’s clear we need a better system to protect our vote.

With the start of a new decade, the Legislature can change the way legislative districts are determined. All we need to do is pass a bill. In October, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Representative Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) introduced legislation to create a fair process for nonpartisan redistricting reform.

This legislation makes the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) responsible for re-drawing Wisconsin’s legislative districts. The LRB is the full-time, nonpartisan agency made up of lawyers we already rely on to turn your ideas into law. With no outside political pressure or affiliations, this is the agency perfectly suited to handle this important task. As legislators, we should approve fair maps, not draw favorable maps for our own protection.

jeff-smithSince Senate Bill 288 and Assembly Bill 303 were introduced, the Republican Committee Chairs haven’t held a public hearing. Public hearings allow legislators an opportunity to learn more about an issue and listen to Wisconsinites. In 2009, as the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, I held a public hearing on similar legislation to establish a process for nonpartisan redistricting reform.

This session, it’s important, if not more than in 2009, that legislators in the Majority hold a public hearing to create fair maps. That’s why legislators sent a letter today to the Senate Committee Chair requesting a public hearing. Make sure you know where your legislator stands and advocate for a public hearing.

Last week we also took steps to prevent gerrymandering in future redistricting efforts. I introduced legislation with Representative Hesselbein to create a constitutional amendment for nonpartisan redistricting reform, modeled after SB 288/AB 303.

We can’t move these proposals forward without the support from more legislators. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: contact your elected officials and urge their pledge of support for nonpartisan redistricting reform. While you have your own personal intentions for 2020, let’s all commit to be better citizens to make every vote count and restore trust in government.

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Senator Dave Hansen Announces Retirement

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Thursday, 09 January 2020
in Wisconsin

dave-hansen-jane-gbAfter 40 years of public service, popular local leader, 72, retiring from the State Senate at the end of the current term.

GREEN BAY - After much thought, reflection and discussion with my wife Jane and my family, I have decided not to seek re-election to the State Senate and retire at the conclusion of my current term.

I have been blessed in so many ways: meeting Jane and her agreeing to marry me, the birth of our three daughters Kathy, Cari and Christy; the addition of our three sons-in-law who together with our daughters have further blessed Jane and me with eleven terrific grandkids and also being given the privilege to serve on the Brown County Board and in the Wisconsin State Senate.

I am proud to have led a life of public service for more than forty years. First as a teacher and coach at Annunciation Catholic School in Green Bay, as a truck driver for the city of Green Bay, as a member of the Brown County Board and finally as a state senator. I’ve always tried to do my best and I hope the people I have had the privilege to serve believe I have had their best interests at heart and that I have done well by them.

dave-hansen-jane-victoryOn December 18th I turned 72. And as much as it has become a cliché in politics, I truly am retiring to spend more time with my family. I have no fears about my chances for reelection having survived an attempted recall in 2011 and winning handily in a district that Republicans told me they gerrymandered specifically to defeat me. I believe had I chosen to run again I would win.

But as anyone who knows me will tell you, Jane and my family are the most important people in the world to me and it is important to me that I spend more time with them at this stage of our lives.

dave-hansen-seniorcareI will miss the many friends I have made in the Legislature and state government just as I look forward to continuing the many friendships I have made back home as a state senator. It truly has been a privilege to represent what I consider to be the best place in the world, with the best people, to live and raise a family. It is an honor I will always carry with me.

I will also miss the opportunity being a state senator has given me to meet so many people who I otherwise wouldn’t have and to learn about them, their families, their accomplishments, hopes, dreams and concerns. I have especially enjoyed doing what I can to support our young people by visiting their classrooms, meeting with them during school tours of the Capitol, and helping them celebrate important achievements like attaining Eagle Scout, succeeding in their academic and athletic endeavors and more.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time in the State Senate, however, after what will be 40 years of public service I am looking forward to January 2021 and beginning a the next chapter in my life with Jane and my family.

To all the people of the 30th District thank you for the honor and privilege to serve you.

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Let's Finish What We Started

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 08 January 2020
in Wisconsin

capitol-crowd-wiSen. Smith writes about issues to prioritize going forward, including Medicaid expansion and gun safety reform. In 2019, we saw a glimpse of what compromise looks like and he's hopeful we can all come to the table to finish what we started.

BRUNSWICK, WI - During this time of year, we’re surrounded by reminders to set goals for the next twelve months and fulfill our New Year’s resolutions. As the weeks pass by, we typically find ourselves falling back into our old habits and routines. Once we slip up, it may seem like our resolutions are hopeless and we push off our goals to next year.

While preparing to head back to Madison, I thought about small, yet realistic intentions to continually motivate me in this New Year. Step by step, I’m hopeful these intentions will guide me to put differences aside and finish what we started in 2019.

To begin, I’m determined to stay away from holding grudges and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

Of course, we won’t suddenly lock arms and sing “Kumbaya.” After all, I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn their back on their own personal values or beliefs. The basic principle of our political system brings two separate parties with at least two ideas to the table to solve any problem. That’s the standard most citizens expect and hope for from their elected officials.

jeff-smithI intend to follow through on this expectation while advocating for policies to support all Wisconsinites. In the last year, I heard from constituents over and over about the necessity and urgency of expanding Medicaid to improve healthcare affordability for Wisconsinites. Medicaid expansion will also save our state more than $300 million to later re-invest back into essential health programs. With 62% of Wisconsinites supporting this proposal, Medicaid expansion must be a top priority.

I’ll continue advocating for commonsense gun safety measures. Last year, my Democratic colleagues introduced legislation to implement universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders to remove firearms from individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness and present a danger to themselves or others. These lifesaving proposals, supported by more than 80% of Wisconsinites, still haven’t moved forward, even though Governor Evers called a special session to debate and vote on the bills.

I intend to find common ground so we can have a civil discussion to find solutions we can agree on. Considering the overwhelming support from Wisconsin residents on these ideas, I hope my colleagues can come to the table and do the right thing.

The effort to gather together isn’t futile – there’s hope for more compromise in 2020. Last year, there were signs that legislators could find themselves in agreement, in principle, on some major issues. I was pleased and surprised to see legislation introduced by Republicans mirroring bills that had previously been introduced by Democrats. The most prominent examples that jumped out included contraception accessibility and medical marijuana legalization.

Earlier in the year, Republicans introduced Senate Bill 286, which would allow pharmacists to sell contraceptives to customers over the age of 18 without a doctor’s prescription. I was impressed to hear one Republican author identify the hurdles that existed for women to access contraceptives as a primary reason for introducing this legislation. This may be one area we can finally break through and have a civil conversation about women’s health and access to birth control.

Recently, two Republican legislators introduced a version of a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Though it was quickly criticized by their own leaders, it gave many hope that the conversation could be resurrected and not take a partisan stance like it’s been in the past. I applaud this effort and others that give us a glimpse at what might be.

In 2020, I will keep fighting for the issues that matter most to Wisconsinites. My Republican colleagues have begun to show they’re capable of recognizing the challenges Wisconsinites face. Now we need them to act on Medicaid expansion and gun safety reform. Let’s all hope that 2020 brings us closer to the type of shared governance that most of us wish for and expect so we can finish what we started.

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Every Conversation Sparks a New Idea

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 01 January 2020
in Wisconsin

tom-sieber-peopleThis week’s column describes how the discussions in western Wisconsin help Sen. Smith craft new legislation to help all of the state. This is the second of three columns detailing reflections from 2019 and what the Senator is looking forward to in 2020.

BRUNSWICK, WI - The past year pushed me to learn and grow as a leader. As I spent time with my family over the holiday season, I reflected on the value of collaboration, a lesson learned in 2019. I thought about all the conversations I had with others, and how accomplishments were possible from the time spent learning from others.

We’ve collaborated with Democrats, Republicans, local leaders, industry experts and others to introduce 24 new bills. However, I don’t use this number as a measuring stick for our progress through the year, it is a reflection of the discussions I’ve had with folks throughout the district.

Every conversation sparks a new idea. The best ideas come from advocates understanding a certain issue or professionals who have expertise in a specific field.

jeff-smithI appreciate hearing from constituents who contact my office directly, but I also want to meet people where they’re at, whether that’s coming home from work or heading to a community event. In the last year, I routinely parked my pickup truck along roads throughout the district and invited folks to “Stop ‘N Talk” about the issues they’re facing or things they’d like to see changed.

After Governor Tony Evers introduced his 2019-21 budget, I held 8 budget town halls from Black River Falls to Ellsworth and Alma to Eau Claire to discuss Wisconsin’s priorities. Folks consistently said they wanted to properly fund our public schools, fix our roads and expand Medicaid, which would provide healthcare coverage to more than 3,000 individuals in counties throughout the 31st Senate District.

As the year progressed, I prioritized meeting with constituents of diverse backgrounds, including farmers, teachers, students, town leaders, county board members, tribal members and many more. These meetings resulted in new ideas, innovative investments and inspired much of the legislation I introduced.

This fall, I had the chance to speak with local farmers on a milk hauler route ride along. The challenges farmers face are just as diverse as the solutions needed to help. These conversations with local farmers provided me with valuable insight for offering new bills to support small family farms, farm succession planning or help with sustainable agricultural practices.

Throughout the year, I visited local school districts, meeting teachers, reading children’s books with elementary students and participating in a high school civics classes. These visits remind me of the valuable role our schools have in preparing children for Wisconsin’s future workforce and ensuring our schools and teachers are well supported. As a result of these visits, I introduced legislation to make it easier for rural school districts to hire trained, qualified teachers by allowing retired teachers come back to the classroom.

In 2019, I also introduced two bills to address Wisconsin’s healthcare workforce shortage. Earlier in the year, I toured Gundersen Tri-County Hospital in Whitehall and learned about the consequences of the nursing shortage and how it affects the quality of care in rural communities.

Over the summer, I joined commuters on City of Eau Claire bus routes to listen to the issues that matter most. This experience motivated me to introduce legislation to recreate the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority.

As Wisconsinites prepared for hunting season, I introduced legislation with my Democratic colleagues to allocate funding for CWD research, testing and carcass disposal sites.

During the gun hunting season, I toured CWD testing kiosks with Senator Schachtner and met hunters and scientists concerned about the growing spread of CWD. These conversations reinforced the need for these preventative measures to stop the spread of CWD and preserve Wisconsin’s hunting heritage.

I’m looking forward to meeting more advocates and introducing new bills to support Wisconsinites in 2020. However, we won’t be able to address the most critical issues or have meaningful accomplishments without non-partisan redistricting reform. Next week, I’ll be writing about my 2020 priorities and the need for fair maps.

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Senator Jeff Smith: Lessons Learned in 2019

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Thursday, 26 December 2019
in Wisconsin

new-year-happyThe Senator from western Wisconsin shares lessons learned in 2019 and his hope for cooperative shared government. He’ll be writing about 2019 reflections and his hopes for 2020 for the next three weeks.

BRUNSWICK, WI - This time of year offers an important opportunity to reflect and be grateful for the experiences we’ve earned. It’s been an honor serving as your state senator this year. As I returned from my last Madison trip of 2019, I had so much to think about, including the lessons learned, accomplishments made and what to look forward to in 2020.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about my 2019 reflections and what drives me to serve the 31st Senate District. This past year created so many opportunities to learn from advocates, constituents and my legislative colleagues.

When this year began, I knew this would be a year of learning for myself and the entire legislature. After all, this was the first year Wisconsin had shared government since the 2007-2008 session, when Republicans controlled the Assembly, Democrats controlled the Senate and there was a Democratic governor.

I cringe when people call shared government divided government. Democracy is supposed to be messy, it’s supposed to be deliberate. Putting aside our ambitions and doing our part in the democratic process isn’t about division, it’s about finding unity.

In 2018, before officially taking office, I attended a legislative forum with area leaders. During the forum, I explained the reality of the situation: to get a committee hearing scheduled or a bill passed, I’d need support from Republicans, like the senator I was sitting next to. The Republican senator quickly replied, letting me know my help would be needed to prevent their bills from being vetoed. This optimistic conversation gave me hope of a cooperative environment within the Capitol.

jeff-smithHowever, my initial expectations fell far short of what happened this year. Stripping the Governor and Attorney General of power during the Lame Duck Session set a bad precedent and an uncooperative tone. The state senate only met 9 times in 2019, without bringing up important policy proposals, including Medicaid expansion or closing the dark store loophole. Less Senate floor sessions isn’t a bad thing if committees are thoroughly vetting policy and producing quality legislation. But this hasn’t been the case.

This year, I became the Ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Financial Institutions and Revenue, a responsibility I take very seriously.

During the final Committee hearing of the year, we were scheduled to debate and vote on three bills relating to labeling dairy and meat products. These bills stem from farmers’ concerns for consumers not understanding the labeling for plant-based foods and imitation animal products. I understand we aren’t saving lives or farms with such legislation, but it’s something we can agree on that may help famers know we care about protecting Wisconsin’s proud agricultural legacy.

Under these bills, a grocer could be imprisoned if they sell products that are labeled as milk, cheese or meat if they aren’t produced by a mammal or come from an animal. Before we voted on these bills, I introduced amendments to remove the bill’s imprisonment penalty. Typically, in committee, we discuss and vote on the amendments and pass the bills with or without the amendments. Instead of following this procedure, the Republican Committee Chair ruled he wouldn’t even consider a vote on the amendments.

Even a member from his own party spoke against this process. Additionally, Senator Risser, the longest serving legislator in the nation, stated “I can safely say that if it has happened, it is a rare occurrence. The Chairman’s failure to allow deliberation of amendments perverts the very nature of committee meetings, to scrutinize legislation before it is sent to the full Senate for final review.”

This entire session, I’ve tried to say we have shared government to acknowledge the need for bipartisanship, but it feels more like divided government. Despite setbacks in 2019, I will renew my optimism for the good government concept of cooperation in 2020.

I’ve met advocates who have inspired my hope and lifelong endeavor to continue learning. My office has become my classroom where I learn from people of all backgrounds and identities. In next week’s column, I’ll share how conversations with others and lessons learned resulted in accomplishments over the last year.

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