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LWV WI Calls On Lawmakers To End Gerrymandering

Posted by League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-primariesWisconsin legislature should establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa says nonpartisan political organization.

MADISON, WI - With a legacy going back almost a century and a presence in all 50 states, the League of Women Voters takes the long view on how voting district maps are drawn. In Wisconsin the League has been active on apportionment and redistricting since the 1930s. Through the decades our stance has sometimes lined up with that of one major political party or the other, but that is not because we have changed our minds about where we stand.

The Wisconsin League adopted a position in the 1970s favoring voting maps drawn by a nonpartisan entity, rather than by the legislators who might want to ensure their own job security by creating “safe” districts. It’s the voters who should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Currently we support having a nonpartisan legislative agency draw the maps, a plan that has worked well in Iowa since 1980. Over the years our position has not sat well with the party in power.

In a 1989 letter to the League, Assembly Speaker Dave Travis, a liberal Democrat, blasted the League for our position favoring an independent commission. He said the League “allowed itself to be used for partisan political purposes on behalf of the Republican Party of Wisconsin during the 1980s redistricting process.”

That was then. Now it’s the Republican legislators who oppose nonpartisan redistricting. That party’s leaders have refused to even hold a public hearing for the “Iowa Plan” bill which was introduced in each of the past four sessions. The Democrats, on the other hand, may be wishing they had followed the League’s advice in the 1980s or in the 2009 legislative session, when their party controlled both houses of the legislature and governor’s office.

wi-dist-maps-currentWhat has changed between the 1980s and today? Not the League’s position. All that has changed is which party is in power. The party in power got there through the current system and is often reluctant to make any changes. This is happening in both red states and blue states around the country. In Maryland and New Jersey, the League has recently fought against gerrymandering by the Democrats.

This battle really is between the party leaders, much more than the public. The latest Marquette University Law School Poll found that 72 percent of likely voters, including 63 percent of Republican leaners and 83 percent of Democratic leaners, say they would prefer to have district maps drawn by a nonpartisan commission.

It is expected that a new bill will be introduced soon in the Wisconsin legislature to establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa. If enacted, this would result in fair districts for voters rather than safe districts for politicians. It would cost taxpayers well under $100,000 every ten years, with most of that spent on public hearings held around the state to get public input. Compare that to the $3 million and counting that has already been spent or committed to have a private law firm draw the voting maps back in 2011 and then have the state defend the gerrymandered districts in the courts.

When this legislation is introduced it should have a public hearing and a vote in both houses of the state legislature, and then Governor Evers should sign it into law. In addition, nonpartisan redistricting should be incorporated into the biennial state budget, which will be in effect through June of 2020. Given that the nonpartisan process will be less expensive than what we have had in the past, it will free up needed tax dollars for better pursuits than rigged districts.


Andrea Kaminski is the Legislative Coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is a nonpartisan political organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. There are 20 local Leagues throughout Wisconsin. More information at lwvwi.org

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Sen. Larson Leads on Campaign Finance Reform

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Thursday, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

chris_larsonSen. Larson’s bills would limit the role of the super wealthy and corporations, and bring some more transparency to our politics.

MADISON - Sen. Chris Larson, Democrat from Milwaukee, is taking the lead in the Wisconsin State Senate on the urgent issue of campaign finance reform.

He is introducing what he calls the “2019-2020 Campaign Integrity Package,” which consists of nine bills. These bills would go a long way toward rectifying the damage that was done when the GOP leadership disastrously rewrote our campaign finance law back in 2015.

“Powerful special interest groups and wealthy corporations continue to have an overwhelming and growing effect on elections across Wisconsin and nationwide,” Sen. Larson says. These bills “address our most damaging campaign finance problems.”

mta-milwaukeeOne of the bills, which is entitled the “No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act,” would ban corporations, labor unions, tribes, and other groups from donating to political parties and legislative campaign committees. In the last session, such donations amounted to $1.7 million. For more than 100 years prior to the 2015 rewrite of our campaign finance law, corporations and other groups were not allowed to make such donations. (The Legislative Reference Bureau draft number for this bill is LRB-1094. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jonathan Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Another bill, the “Communications Transparency Act,” would lift the lid on the dark money that has flooded into Wisconsin elections. It would require so-called “issue advocacy” groups to disclose the names of any donors who gave them $100 or more in the preceding 12 months. Now we’d know who is paying for the mud that’s splattering on our screens at election time. The bill would also require the reporting, within 48 hours, of any mass communication that costs more than $500 and is made within 60 days of an election. (Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate.)

Another important bill, the “Coordination Control Act,” would prohibit unlimited donations to “issue advocacy” groups that are coordinating with candidates. Instead, those donations would not be able to exceed the limits on direct contributions to candidates. Under the 2015 law, a candidate may coordinate with these outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from their donors, thus making a mockery of the limits on direct contributions to candidates. The bill also redefines “coordination” to mean that the candidate or candidate’s agent “exercises control over or engages in substantial discussions or negotiations” with the outside electioneering group. The 2015 law made it almost impossible to convict someone of illegal coordination because it defined coordination much more narrowly. (This bill is LRB-1093. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jimmy Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Four bills would lower donation limits.

One of them, “The Sensible Limits Act,” would place a $10,000 ceiling on donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees. The 2015 law let rich people give unlimited amounts to these groups, which may then turn around and give that money to the candidates. (This bill is LRB-1088. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Melissa Sargent is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

A similar bill, the “Stop Unlimited Contributions Act,” would also limit the transfer of funds between political parties and legislative campaign committees. (This bill is LRB-1319. Lead sponsors of the bill are Rep. Sargent in the Assembly and Sen. Larson in the Senate.)

The “Restoring Reasonable Limits Act” would lower the individual donation limit to $10,000 for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state. The 2015 law had raised it to $20,000. (This bill is LRB-1089. The lead sponsors are Sen. Larson and Rep. Sargent.)

The “Special Interests Limitation Act” would also cut in half the amount that the political action committees may contribute to candidates. (This bill is LRB-1090. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Christine Sinicki is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

The last two bills would eliminate defects that the 2015 law introduced.

The “Closing the PAC Loophole Act” would require any group that spends more than $1,000 on express advocacy to register as a political action committee in Wisconsin. The 2015 law allowed national PACs to avoid registering unless they spend more than half their money in Wisconsin, and most don’t. (This bill is LRB-1091. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

And the “Contribution Sunshine Act” would require campaign committees to identify the employer of any donor who gives more than $100. The 2015 law took this requirement away, and by so doing, obscures the influence that a company may be exercising. (This bill is LRB-1095. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Sen. Larson and the other lead sponsors of these bills are doing a great service to our democracy here in Wisconsin.

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Erpenbach on the Republican Tax Plan

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Thursday, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateDemocratic leader says GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit.

MADISON - While I am glad that Republicans are taking steps to support Governor Evers’ vision for a tax cut for the middle-class, today’s public hearing on their alternative proposal makes it clear that their spending plan is shortsighted and irresponsible. Once again, Republicans are playing politics, instead of fighting for what is best for Wisconsin, and in doing so, they are putting taxpayers on the hook for a tax cut with no way to pay for it in the future.

jon-erpenbachThe GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit. It leaves no room for Governor Evers or the legislature to work on the priorities of Wisconsinites and to reach across the aisle to find common ground on what matters most to our communities.

The people of Wisconsin have made it clear that they want Governor Evers to expand opportunities, including investing in our schools, rebuilding infrastructure and improving health care. Due to the lack of school aids under Republicans, taxpayers have already had to pass $1.46 billion in local referendums to assist their schools, forcing local communities to approve $300 million in 2018 alone. It is important that we reduce the burden on property taxpayers by properly funding education and making smart investments in our communities.

Governor Evers has a plan that works for Wisconsin’s hardworking families without increasing Wisconsin’s budget deficit. I urge Republicans to work with Governor Evers’ on his proposal that would provide sustainable tax relief and would put the people of Wisconsin first, not support a plan they cannot pay for.

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Part One: Water is Life

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 Tuesday, 05 February 2019
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreFirst of three columns about clean water in Wisconsin, the importance of clean water for our biology as humans, and how our dependence on good quality drinking water warrants our greatest care.

MADISON - We take a lot of things for granted in life. Our car will always start, our dogs will always love us and the water we drink will always be clean. Like all these assumptions, nothing is guaranteed. Much like the adoration of our pets or the dependability of our vehicles, the quality of our water critically depends on the care we take for protecting the things we love and depend on the most.

When we turn on the faucet to fill a glass of water or sip from a drinking fountain, we have a reasonable expectation the water is safe. This blind trust is mostly due to the protections we have in place and the oversight of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

clean-drinking-waterGovernor Tony Evers declared the year of 2019 as the “year of clean drinking water” in his State of the State speech on January 22nd. I can’t agree more with the Governor -- that’s why, for the next three weeks, I will be writing about how water is life, prosperity and our most precious resource.

Water is life. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the United States Geological Survey cited that “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” Overall, our body consists of 60% water. It’s recommended that we drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day to stay hydrated.

Water is critically important to our biology. Unfortunately, it is much easier to contaminate our drinking water than it is to clean it up. Each time our drinking water becomes polluted, we become less concerned about polluting it in the future because we troubleshoot the problem and then adjust our expectations. It’s like the boiling frog theory: if a frog jumps into a pot of boiling water it jumps out immediately, but if the frog is in the pot while the water slowly boils it remains.

jeff-smithThere are many countries that did not prioritize clean, accessible water until it was too late. Right here in North America, nearly three-quarters of people in Mexico drink packaged water, and they consume more bottled water per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Wisconsin is not immune to the emergency of contaminated drinking water. In Kewaunee County, samples from a recent study showed 60% of private well systems were contaminated with excess nitrates from human and animal waste. Even with protections in place, we cannot take clean water for granted. Going forward, we must work with professionals to enforce fact-based, scientific approaches to protect the public’s drinking water.

Water is life. We must count on our elected leaders in Madison and our best scientists to protect our fragile drinking water supply. When we start our cars during the next polar vortex, come home to our pets after a long day at work or take a cool drink of life-giving water; those are all reminders we must give the greatest care to the things we depend on the most.

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Lawmakers Need to Walk the Talk for Bipartisanship

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, 30 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsinThe legislature is considering a middle class tax cut for Wisconsin. Sen. Jeff Smith writes about how a new legislative session can turn the page for bipartisanship and his goals for cultivating good ideas and building trust across the aisle.

MADISON - I’ve said it. Governor Evers said it. Republican leaders said it - “We need to work together.”

A number of clichés come to mind as we talk about working together. “It’s easier said than done” or “Talk is cheap.” I prefer “walk the talk.”

When I flipped on the TV to watch the local news two weeks ago, I was surprised to see local Republicans lined up supporting Governor Evers’ idea to offer a middle class tax cut. Oddly, there were no Democrats involved in the press conference.

It’s common for the Majority Party not to include the Minority Party for press activities. It doesn’t have to be like this, but deep political divides still exist for many Wisconsin lawmakers.

During the last 8 years, the Majority Party ignored the wants and needs of the Minority Party. Harsh political fights over collective bargaining rights, redistricting, voting rights and many other issues left legislators very little appetite for bipartisanship. In fact, only 22% of all legislators currently serving in the Assembly or Senate know what it was like before 2011.

There are still some legislators (myself included) that do remember what it was like. Don’t get me wrong, there were still intense political disagreements, but we also discussed the merits of bills during public hearings and while meeting in the halls of the Capitol. The power of a good idea pulled Republicans and Democrats together.

We saw a glimmer of that power during Governor Tony Evers’ State of the State Speech last week. There was one moment when the Senate and Assembly Republicans joined Democrats for a standing ovation -- it was the Governor’s idea to offer a middle class tax cut.

We all agree a middle class tax cut is a good idea, but there will be disagreements about how to pay for it. Democrats want to pay for the tax cut by recovering funds from ill-conceived tax credits. Republicans want to do it only one time. Despite the differences on how to get there, we’ve found some common ground.

Imagine if Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder advocating for a middle class tax cut at a press conference. Imagine if the Majority Party invited the Minority Party to the table to discuss how to accomplish our shared goal. The final product would be more representative of the needs of ALL Wisconsinites.

Unfortunately, there’s still some reluctance in really working together or perhaps there’s uncertainty as to where we start. I have a few ideas on what we can do first.

jeff-smithAs Senators and Representatives we bring our unique experiences and differing opinions to the job. Every new session offers us an opportunity to start a productive dialogue to learn from each other. We can’t let our own bias and partisanship get in the way of doing what’s right.

Beginning this term as a new Senator, I made a commitment with my team to meet with Democrat and Republican legislators in the Assembly and the Senate. I’ll take this time to introduce myself, listen to their ideas and learn more about the communities they represent.

Having these conversations to acknowledge our differences and similarities is the first step for establishing mutual respect. These relationships can build trust so we can, again, make the right decisions for the future of our state.

Team success begins and ends with trust in each other. As a lifelong sports fan and former high school sports participant, (can’t honestly say I was a star athlete, but I tried) I know how much further we get when we work as a team.

I’ve observed Republicans finding Democrats who might add their name next to theirs as co-authors of their bills. That’s a good step, but adding names is not enough; it’s about adding good ideas too. As legislators, we need to prioritize cooperative input and let the power of a good idea take root in our Legislature.

We have an opportunity to turn the page and heal the political divisions. Progress will happen once we put away the political scorecards and “walk the talk” for bipartisanship.

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