Lawrence hosts public forum to discuss Wisconsin politics

Maggie Brickner

Common Cause in Wisconsin hosted a public forum last Monday, Oct. 24 at the Warch Campus Center to bring to light some of the weaknesses of Wisconsin’s election process. The event was titled “What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin? And How Should We Fix It?” and was sponsored by the government department, College Republicans and additional community groups.
Associate Professor of Economics David Gerard mediated the forum. Panelists included Andrea Kaminski from the League of Women’s Voters, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, and state representatives Penny Bernard Schaber – a Democrat from Appleton – and Dean Kaufert, a Republican from Neenah. During the two-hour forum, the speakers addressed a number of relevant topics and took questions from the audience.
A major topic of discussion was the large amount of money that is now going into candidates’ campaigns. This is especially relevant to Lawrentians because this year’s race in the eighth congressional district is projected to be the most expensive district campaign in Wisconsin’s history.
The panelists agreed that this is partially caused by a recent Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that corporations were able to contribute large sums of money to fund candidates.
Some of the same corporations have been sponsoring negative advertisements against their candidates’ opponents in elections. Kaufert stated, “Most candidates believe that negative advertisements work.”
Kaufert believes that this becomes problematic once candidates who have just been through a race where “nothing is off limits,” are then “supposed to work together on legislation.”
Another issue addressed was the redistricting that will take place next year. Kaminski noted that redistricting is “a process that is traditionally done behind closed doors,” and panelists agreed that this often results in gerrymandering. In fact, the only currently competitive district in Wisconsin is the eighth congressional district.
All speakers agreed with Kaminski when he said that this process needs to be changed in order to have “strong, competitive, fair elections” in which voters “have a meaningful list of candidates when they go to poll.”
In his parting words, Heck mentioned that often it only takes several purposeful letters, or a meeting with a single concerned constituent “to let elected representatives know that these things matter.” Representatives Bernard Schaber and Kaufert also pointed out that suggestions to solutions are always more effective than simply complaining about problems.
Although there were approximately 40 people in attendance, only about 10 of these were students. Some students noted that they attended because they were getting credit for a class. Regardless of reasons for attendance, Heck stressed the fact that attending small forums like these can make a difference.
Heck acknowledged that student voting would be significantly down from the 2008 presidential election, but he also noted that student participation in next week’s election is expected to be up from the comparable election in 2006.
In explanation Heck stated, “2008 was an incredible year. The problem is that students are busy and it [the 2010 election] seems like a negative election. the 2008 election was about hope; hope always excites people more than fear does.