We reported in our last issue that Lawrence is divided into three electoral districts. This clearly lessens the importance of student and university interests in local politics, and also means that the student population cannot hold its elected officials accountable for their actions. This current arrangement is unacceptable, and what is needed to remedy it is a ballot initiative that, if approved, would place Lawrence entirely in one district.We must first realistically assess the situation. Despite assurances to the contrary from Wisconsin College Republican chairman Jon Horne, conservatives have a clear advantage in dividing the student vote. Lawrence is more liberal than the surrounding community, and in the seemingly zero-sum game of politics, what liberals would gain through a district that included a unified Lawrence would mean a conservative loss. By dividing the campus, no one alderman must be much more liberal or much more concerned with student or university interests than any other in the city, simply because he or she cannot be voted out due to a student outcry. While this makes for a more politically uniform city council, it also severely marginalizes the student voice.
The reason why this is so unacceptable is that students form a huge part of the Appleton community, and as such we should be properly recognized in public debates and decisions. Lawrentians patronize nearly every kind of business in Appleton, from restaurants, bars, and coffee shops to grocery stores, hair salons, and florists. Community members typically attend concerts at the conservatory, and people will come not only from Appleton, but from all over the Fox Valley to see the foremost speakers, writers, and musicians in the country. This is not to mention events like Octoberfest, or the recent visit of a presidential candidate.
The importance of Lawrence to the community merits redistricting to reflect that importance. Lawrence should have a single person with an interest in our affairs and in our well-being, someone who will hear our voice, and this will make a notable difference in how the community makes decisions that significantly impact student life (such as the College Avenue expansion). What is needed is a campaign to raise awareness of this problem so that, when the next election comes, both students and the community will be prepared to admit the student voice into local politics.