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Power for Power’s Sake

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, 14 February 2024 in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveSen. Smith writes about how Republicans are using constitutional changes to get around the Governor’s veto pen.


MADISON - The best way for anyone in power to hold onto power is to change laws and limit public participation. We have seen that strategy played out many times for over a decade in Wisconsin.

Maybe the most obvious was when Tony Evers was elected as Governor, defeating the incumbent Scott Walker, and Josh Kaul was elected Attorney General. Both Evers and Kaul are Democrats and the gerrymandered Republican majority in the legislature went right to work to limit their powers. They called a lame duck session of the legislature in December of 2018 before Governor Evers and Attorney General Kaul were sworn in to weaken their powers through law changes. This set the stage for an uneasy relationship between the governor and the legislature which has not served anyone well.

assembly-wi-robin-vos-pressVoters in Wisconsin have had only one option to try and stop this continual power consolidation. Voters have shown up and elected Democrats in almost every statewide election over that timeframe since. The result may not always show in legislation, but it sure does show in the jittery behavior of the Republicans who still control the legislature.

I’m sure you have heard the news about the Wisconsin Supreme Court that ruled the current legislative districts are unconstitutional and ordered new maps to be drawn. That ruling has Republicans frantically trying to do everything possible to hold onto power despite voters continually rejecting their agenda. They are using every trick up their sleeves to maintain their gerrymandered majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

I’m sure by the time you read this there will have been even more shenanigans attempted since I submitted this column. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the schemes and angles Republicans have come up with almost daily.

While desperately clinging to gerrymandered maps, Republicans have found another way to stop voters from toppling their nearly 30 year control of the legislature. They are taking aim at our state’s constitution. Constitutional changes are introduced as resolutions to bypass the Governor’s veto pen. Once a resolution passes twice by both houses over the course of two consecutive sessions, it goes directly to voters in a referendum. It’s a cynical way to govern by changing our constitution for short-term political maneuvers.

While you will see several of these constitutional questions on your ballot over the course of this year, there is one I still hope we can stop. It is an attempt to permanently and effectively limit the way we conduct elections in Wisconsin.

Republicans are advancing a resolution to ban ranked choice voting in our constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 94 (SJR 94) was heard at a public hearing in the Senate Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection committee last week. It is a direct response to a bill I have championed for two sessions called Final Five Voting (FFV).

jeff-smithKeep in mind that if we were to adopt a change like FFV it would be in statutes which can easily be amended or even removed through future legislation if it doesn’t provide the improvements to our elections we hope it would. Republicans are so afraid of losing power they will go to great lengths to protect the status quo. You know, the status quo that has resulted in a Congress that can’t pass a budget or get anything meaningful done.

During the public hearing, SJR 94 attracted a lobbyist to come from Texas to testify that Wisconsin should change our constitution to their liking. I asked why lobbyists from other states should be so interested in interfering with how we vote in Wisconsin. We didn’t get a satisfactory answer, only that they think it’s a bad idea. Gee thanks for your concerns, Texas.

Everyone should be alarmed by political leaders actively attempting to derail any chance for change. We don’t need to agree on everything, and we shouldn’t, but we should all stand together against schemes that entrench power and limit our choices through misguided constitutional changes.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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