By Andrea Kaminski
Who are the Wisconsin citizens who asked for more big money in our elections? Who called for a law giving politicians immunity to the John Doe investigations that can still target other people? Who wants partisan political appointees running our elections, and why would anyone want to do away with open government? I have not heard a public outcry for these proposals, yet they seem to be what is occupying our state legislature.
The leadership of the majority party is pushing major overhauls in how our state government operates at a dizzying pace and with minimal transparency. What is transparent, however, is that these proposals are written to serve the political interests of the lawmakers pushing them, not of the people they are supposed to serve.
This is not governing. Rather, it is a shameful abuse of power. Former Assembly Representative Fred Clark likened this destructive pattern to “vandals in a museum with baseball bats.” The checks and balances designed to limit corruption in our state government reflect more than a century of thoughtful policy development. They protect us from government overreach. Now they are under attack.
If you wonder why this is happening, you need look no further than our voting maps. With single-party control in the State Capitol in 2011, the maps were drawn in secret and fast-tracked into law. The resulting districts are among the most gerrymandered in the nation.
Lawmakers elected to a “safe seat” do not have to pay attention to constituents who disagree with them. They do, however, have to follow the dictates of their caucus leadership. If they don’t tow the party line, they are likely to be targeted in the next Primary election.
Even in these difficult times, citizens hold considerable power to help shape policy, blunt the influence of money in politics and hold the bullies accountable. Here are a few tips on how to do it.
Talk to your representatives. Give them credit when they do the right thing. If they don’t, tell them you expect them to serve the people, not waste tax dollars concocting self-serving laws. Just this year public outcry stopped an effort to change the University of Wisconsin mission with a simple deletion of a phrase in the 1,500-page state budget bill. Public dissent also thwarted a sneaky budget amendment on a holiday weekend which would have decimated Wisconsin’s open records laws.
When you contact your legislators, insist on a response whether they agree with you or not. If you don’t get one, keep that in mind when they run for re-election.
Vote in every election. In gerrymandered districts, the real contest takes place in the Primary Election, because the outcome of the general election is almost assured. So be sure to vote in the Primary. In Wisconsin any eligible citizen may vote in a Primary, and you are free to choose which party’s ballot you will use.
Seek information from unbiased sources and be skeptical of anything you hear in a 30-second spot. Pay attention to who sponsors an ad. Why are they willing to pay millions of dollars to support or defeat a candidate? Is the outcome of the election important to their core mission, or do they have a financial stake? The League of Women Voters and certain other nonpartisan groups are trustworthy sources.
New laws make it easier for special interests to influence our elections and harder for private citizens to register and vote. That is all the more reason to seek reliable information and vote in every election.
Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. Membership is open to women and men of all ages. With 17 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. Find the League of Women Voters on Facebook.