LAKE MILLS — The Rock River Affiliate of Move To Amend sponsored a “public discussion” Friday that featured state Sen. Dale Schultz and Wisconsin Business Alliance founder Lori Compas.
The two-hour event at the L.D. Fargo Library in Lake Mills drew about 50 people.
The main topics of the eve ning were the Move to Amend initiative and Senate Bill 163, which would create a nonpartisan body to oversee redistricting in Wisconsin. Compas, of Fort Atkinson, and Schultz, R-Richland Center, each spoke individually and then answered questions from the audience for about 75 minutes. Rock River Affiliate member Dan Fary, of the Town of Oakland, answered questions, as well.
Move to Amend is a national organization that has the goal to amend the U.S. Constitution to rescind the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It granted Constitutional status to corporations, and by doing so, rolled back previous legal spending limits on political campaigns.
In common parlance, this is the ruling that led to the “corporations are people” and “money is speech” concepts. The Citizens United decision allowed unions and corporations to spend unlimited money during election campaigns.
For the upcoming April 1 ballot, the City of Lake Mills and the Town of Waterloo both have a chance to vote on the proposed amendment.
In the April, 2013 election, the Rock River Affiliate gathered enough petitions to place a Move to Amend referendum on the ballots in Fort Atkinson and Whitewater. The referendum passed in Fort Atkinson with 77 percent (1,312-382) of the votes and in Whitewater with 84 percent (1,013-198) of the votes.
The local movement gained more momentum in July 2013 when the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors supported a Move to Amend resolution at the county level on a 23-5 vote.
Schultz, along with state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, introduced Senate Bill 163 late last year. In short, it calls for the state to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting agency similar to the model that has been in use for the past 40 years in Iowa. For Wisconsin, the responsibility of drawing state and federal electoral boundaries would be done by the Legislative Reference Bureau, thus removing the power to redraw districts from partisan state lawmakers.
The most recent round of redistricting, completed in 2010, has led to accusations of gerrymandering. Schultz’s bill would make the act of gerrymandering nearly impossible to accomplish, and he said, would lead to more competitive elections that ultimately would bring electors closer together rather than drive them apart. He also said it would be cheaper for taxpayers.
The next round of redistricting would not happen until 2020, which is one reason Schultz said he felt the bill should be passed.
“Seventy-five percent of the elected legislators will not be in office at that time, so it won’t affect most of them,” he said.
The bill has not been brought forth for a public committee hearing in the Legislature yet, even though it was introduced in November 2013.
While the two issues — Move to Amend and Bill 163 — started out as separate subjects, both speakers and audience members ultimately were able to connect the two together.
Compas began her comments by quoting Henry David Thoreau’s famous axiom, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
“We have all these problem in our state right now, but I think the root of those problems is money in politics,” she said. “We have to get at that root. Time and again, we see our elected officials passing laws that do not seem to be in the vast interest of Wisconsinites. People who are not paying attention do not understand the full impact of those laws, until, say, they live in small quiet town in western Wisconsin and suddenly they have 50 sand trucks going through per hour. That is actually happening right now.”
She said another problem is people do not want to become involved in politics.
“As someone who tries to organize small business owners, I hear that all the time,” Compas said. “I see it as my job to tell people that, ‘you may not want to get involved, but there are other people involved, and they are spending a tremendous amount of money on these issues. It is important for us to stand up for what we believe in.’”
Another category, “and I would put myself in this category a few years ago,” Compas said, is that “you know there are problems, and you wish there was something you could do, but you just assume that there are people who are smarter than you and you have it all under control.’ I have come to realize they do not have it under control.”
Compas herself was not involved in politics until a few years ago when she mounted a grassroots recall effort against state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and then ended up running against him on the Democratic ticket.
“Our system is really broken,” Compas said. “I firmly believe that money in politics is the root of the brokenness.”
She said she has seen that “brokenness” manifest in several ways, including the creation of a parallel, but unaccountable, private education system that uses taxpayer dollars and organizations such as Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce spending over $100,000 to revoke local control over mining regulations.
“I love local chambers of commerce; they do great things,” she continued. “Our Fort chamber had ‘Hawaii Day’ today. If you are a member of your local chamber, you should ask if part of your dues are given to the state chamber, which then uses that money to help pass laws that are not in our best interests. It is important that you should talk about that, to let local chamber members know that these laws harm their local communities.”
One of the solutions to these problems, Compas said, was Move to Amend.
Citing last year’s referendum, “This is not Berkeley, this is Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin — people of all political persuasions are saying we don’t like money in politics and what it is doing,” Compas concluded.
Schultz was introduced by Lake Mills resident Kirk Lund, who is a candidate for District 14 of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors.
“Lori is a Democrat, and I am a Republican, and some of you here are probably Independent, and that does not matter,” Schultz said. “What is important here today is that we have all come together because we care about the system of government that we think ought to be propped up, reformed and improved because it is a wonderful thing; it’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful thing.”
Lund said he has been traveling around the state and everywhere he goes, people are concerned how divisive the state has become.
“Yes, there were differences, but we all cared about our communities,” he said. “Wisconsin was a friendly place, and we wanted to move forward. I learned a long time ago that if I came to meeting like this and everyone was thinking the same thing, then there was no thinking going on. I like to think I can still learn things from others, and if you don’t expose yourself to those, you do not have a chance to grow.”
Schultz, who has served for 32 years in the Legislature, shared some personal experiences during his political career.
“These are the kinds of things I think people miss,” he said. “There are human beings in the Legislature that care about the process because the process is important, and we are the stewards of that.”
He said that, in regard to elections and districts, “People like you should choose people like me, rather than people like me choosing which one of you we want as constituents.”
The senator received a round of applause with that comment.
“The system has been abused by both parties,” he said. “We put together this bill looking toward the next census, with the hope that no one would know who had the advantage then. Our proposal does not include a partisan make-up in the process, which would be done quickly and openly, and subject to debate. In the Legislature, they have been drawn by lawyers across the street (from the Capitol) and it cost a lot of money. This last time around it costs about $3 million.
“We should not redraw districts just to make them more competitive,” Schultz continued. “We should try to preserve communities, and do it in an orderly way; local governments can draw their maps and we can build up from there.”
The speakers answered over a dozen questions from the audience.
In response to one question about the influence of money in politics, Schultz said he spent $10,000 in his first race in 1982, an amount that “left me aghast.” He then reported that during the 2011 recall, Sens. Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen’s campaigns costs more than $10.1 million and $7.2 million, respectively.
Schultz said that while he did not have any exact figures, he estimated that candidates actually only control about 15 percent to 20 percent of their campaign finances; the rest is from outside groups.
“I might be more sympathetic to businesses in some respects during elections than Lori, but I think we both appreciate businesses because she is trying to organize small businesses,” Schultz said. “I always thought that businesses did not have a significant voice and that their voices should be heard in the public square. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think businesses would buy the public square.”
At one point, the question-and-answer session veered off topic as the discussion of the amendment became a collective refresher course in the methodology of modifying the U.S. Constitution; and the issue of Common Core standards and last Thursday’s Senate committee hearing on the issue was broached. Schultz said he would be happy to return to the region to discuss that topic at a future date.
Both Compas and Schultz highlighted the fact that as more and more communities pass Move to Amend resolutions, it becomes more difficult for senators and Assemblypersons to ignore the issue, which adds pressure to have a statewide referendum. Schultz also warned that with 19 major newspaper editorial boards across the state calling for hearings on Bill 163, candidates should be wary of receiving endorsements this election cycle.
After the meeting, Compas and Schultz both said they were pleased by the gathering.
“It was a fantastic turnout, probably twice as many people I was hoping for,” Compas said. “I was really impressed with the range of questions.”
Schultz was asked to compare the Lake Mills gathering to others he has attended around the state.
“First of all, I thought this was a super crowd,” the senator said. “The people here are obviously thinking. We saw some examples when people did not agree with each other, but they remained civil; to me, that is the sort of thing that gives us hope for our county and system of governance.
“I would say, though, that tonight was typical in many respects in the kind of interest there is in our government around the state, and that is what gives me hope. I hope we can generate enough interest in these issues so that we can change our democracy,” he added.
Fary also expressed his pleasure with the turnout, but furthermore, he explained the importance of the Move to Amend resolution being on the Lake Mills and Waterloo ballots even though the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors lent its support in July.
“In Jefferson County, you had 28 supervisors who voted on the resolution,” he said. “Those are 28 representatives of the people. But, now, we are talking about getting 70- or 80 percent of the voters to support something in the community.
“That is a lot different; it shows a tremendously higher amount of support rather than just 28 people being for it,” Fary pointed out.
“We are trying to get as many communities as we can, particularly with referenda, we can show the support the people themselves have. It’s nice to have the county supervisors supporting us, but it’s even more powerful to have more citizens support us.”
The resolution on the ballots reads:
“Resolved, that ‘We the People’ of (city or town), Wisconsin, seek to reclaim democracy from the expansion of corporate personhood rights and the corrupting influence of unregulated political contributions and spending.
“We stand with the Move to Amend campaign and communities across the country to support passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating: 1. Only human beings — not corporations, limited liability companies, unions, nonprofit organizations or similar associations and corporate entities — are endowed with constitutional rights, and, 2. Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
“Be it further resolved, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.”