Thursday, March 21, 2019

Upcoming Supreme Court Cases Could Force Fair Voting Maps for Wisconsin in 2020



For Release: Thursday - March 21, 2019


Note: This piece appeared as a guest editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 19th.

If there is one thing Wisconsinites can agree on, it is that our right to vote is a fundamental American principle. When we vote, we are voicing our view about how we want to shape the future for our families and communities. But unfortunately, far too many Wisconsin voters live in noncompetitive districts where their voice is silenced by partisan gerrymandering and wealthy special interests. Before the redrawing of the new voting maps in 2021, we have a window to make important changes to this process both here in Wisconsin and nationally as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to hear two historic challenges to the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.

For years, Common Cause in Wisconsin and its allies have been organizing citizens across the state in support of redistricting reform. Our organizing efforts are based on a very simple idea: voters should get to pick their politicians, not the other way around. Yet, here in Wisconsin, when the Republican-controlled legislature drew the current congressional and state legislative voting maps in 2011, they had only one thing in mind: keeping and expanding their power, regardless of the decision and will of Wisconsin voters at election time.

Wisconsin’s voting maps are among the most gerrymandered in the country. Nine of ten voters have no real choice at the polls, as the maps were drawn by partisan politicians to guarantee a certain election outcome. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. That’s why Wisconsin needs to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting process, where the lines are drawn fairly and districts reflect the communities they serve without partisan considerations. We do not have to look any further than to our neighbors in Iowa where this type of reform has worked to ensure impartial voting maps. All in all, 17 states impose greater checks and balances on redistricting and Wisconsin should become the 18th.

Wisconsinites also need a national standard and voters should not have to wait another three years to be able to have fair maps. That’s why two current cases at the U.S. Supreme Court are so important.

On March 26th, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause, which challenges Republican gerrymandering in North Carolina, and Lamone v. Benisek, which challenges Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland. By taking up both cases, the Court is showing that the fight for fair maps is not partisan and that both parties participate in this bad process.

Both cases are similar to a Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, which the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to a lower federal court last year on the issue of standing. However, the North Carolina and Maryland cases are unlikely to suffer from the same standing issues as the Wisconsin case since they focus on a district-specific analysis versus a statewide analysis.

This is an historic opportunity for the Supreme Court to stop discrimination based on political expression through partisan gerrymandering. The high court should strike down gerrymandering and declare the practice illegal and unconstitutional nationwide. A definitive decision will accelerate people-powered movements to put mapping in the hands of impartial citizens rather than self-serving politicians.

Politicians will not simply give up their power to gerrymander without a fight. As the Supreme Court hears these two important cases and other litigation continues, your elected officials in Madison need to hear from you. It is going to take all of us to unrig the unfair practice of partisan gerrymandering. We need tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to contact both their state senator and their state representative and urge them to support nonpartisan redistricting reform, specifically the Iowa model legislation.

Both the Wisconsin Legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court have a clear opportunity in front of them. They can make a definitive, revolutionary change we need to so that Wisconsinites, and all Americans, can hold elected officials accountable on Election Day and have genuine representation in their state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now is the time for the people, rather than the politicians, to decide who represents them.

# # #


Jay Heck has been the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin since 1996. Tim Cullen is the Chair of the State Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin and served as a State Senator from 1975 to 1987 (Majority Leader, 1981-1987) and again, from 2011 to 2015.





CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)





Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

La Crosse Town Hall Meeting March 25th: Recusal Rules & Voter Turnout in WI Supreme Court Election



For Release: Tuesday - March 19, 2019

La Crosse Town Hall Meeting - Monday, March 25th

The issue of whether or not Wisconsin needs stronger recusal rules for judges who receive sizable campaign contributions or benefit from "outside" so-called independent special interest group spending has emerged as a major issue in the last weeks before the April 2nd state supreme court election. The result of this contest will determine the successor to retiring former State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, after 43 years on the state's highest bench.

Wisconsin currently has the 4th weakest judicial recusal rules in the nation and that issue, as well as the importance of voter turnout in Spring non-partisan elections, will be explored at an upcoming town hall meeting, which is free and open to the public, on Monday evening, March 25th from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.

All of the details for the event are here, on the printable flyer.

The recusal issue came to light recently when the Wisconsin Realtors Association withdrew their support for Judge Brian Hagedorn for the state supreme court election and demanded that their $18,000 contribution to him be returned. Another special interest group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), announced they would not be supporting Hagedorn. Interestingly, Hagedorn has not expressed support for stronger recusal rules regarding campaign contributions and outside spending. The current rules were, ironically, written by WMC and the Realtors, and adopted verbatim by the 4 to 3 conservative majority on the Court in 2010.

Currently, judges may decide for themselves whether or not to recuse themselves – a standard that has led to serious conflicts of interest on the state's highest court and the erosion of public trust and confidence in the judiciary at all levels in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer is being supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars from an outside group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Neubauer has requested the group not get involved in the election and has said she would recuse herself in any case that came before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in which Holder's group was a party.

For more on all of this, go here.

We are looking forward to seeing you in La Crosse next Monday evening!

And please be sure to make your voice heard at your polling place, on or before April 2nd.

# # #




CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)





Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Monday, March 11, 2019

Judicial Recusal & Voter Turnout – Critical Issues in WI Supreme Court Election



For Release: Monday - March 11, 2019

La Crosse Town Hall Meeting March 25th

On April 2nd, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls to elect a successor to retiring State Supreme Court Justice (Chief Justice from 1996 to 2015), Shirley Abrahamson. Spring, non-partisan elections always see a much lower voter turnout than November, partisan elections; in past Spring elections, turnout hovered at about 10 percent. However, last Spring, voter turnout for the state supreme court election, won by Rebecca Dallet over Michael Screnock, saw a vast increase in voter turnout to about 20 percent.

In addition to increased pubic attention on the election, the issue of Wisconsin's notoriously weak recusal rules for judicial candidates receiving either direct campaign contributions, or benefiting from election spending by "outside" special interest groups, became an important issue in that contest. Dallet favored stronger judicial recusal rules, Screnock opposed them.

Wisconsin currently ranks 47th of the 50 states in the strength of our judicial recusal rules Even Illinois does a better job than Wisconsin in preventing the obvious conflict of interest that allows in our state judges to rule in cases where they have been the beneficiaries of substantial campaign contributions from, or election spending by a party before that judge in a trial.

Wisconsin's current recusal rule was written by two of Wisconsin's biggest special interest groups – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Relators Association – in 2010 and it was adopted verbatim by the 5 to 2 conservative majority of the court. The rule said that judges themselves can decide to recuse themselves or not, with no threshold or standard to abide by.

This issue is just as important in 2019 as it was last year.

Many prominent retired Wisconsin jurists, including two former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices (Janine Geske, an appointment of Gov. Tommy Thompson, and Louis Butler, appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle) have called for stronger recusal rules for judges at all levels in Wisconsin. A 2017 petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court signed by Geske, Butler and 52 other retired jurists calling for stronger rules was rejected 5 to 2 by the conservative majority and, furthermore, the petitioners were denied even a public hearing on their proposal to the state's highest court.

The need for stronger judicial recusal rules is beginning to percolate as a significant issue in the three weeks before the upcoming April 2nd election. Both of the candidates for the state supreme court this year, Chief Judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals Lisa Neubauer, and Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn addressed this issue and other relevant matters in responding to the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin candidate questionnaire – enter your address on the League's Vote411 website here to view their answers.

For why stronger judicial recusal rules and voter turnout are so important in this election and beyond for Wisconsin read this recent Wisconsin State Journal guest editorial written by CC/WI Director Jay Heck and LWVWI Director Erin Grunze.

These issues will be highlighted and discussed at an upcoming town hall meeting in La Crosse on Monday evening, March 25th at the UW-La Crosse. A panel of distinguished former judges will be joined by an academic ethics expert and by Erin Grunze and Jay Heck.

Here are the details on how to attend this meeting that is free and open to the public.

Finally, for your information, here are links to the three excellent videos that explain the issue and make the case for strong judicial recusal rules for Wisconsin:

(Click on each image to watch the video on YouTube.)










CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)





Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Friday, March 1, 2019

Kristin Hansen of Waukesha Elected to CC/WI State Governing Board



For Release: Friday - March 1, 2019

Waukesha Community Leader Elected to
Common Cause in Wisconsin Board

Waukesha County community leader Kristin Hansen was elected to the Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) State Governing Board at its most recent meeting. CC/WI is the state's largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organization with more than 10,000 members and activists.

"Kristin's many years as an active and involved community and political leader in Waukesha County will greatly strengthen CC/WI's efforts to educate and inspire Wisconsinites to become actively involved in our non-partisan political reform and government ethics work," said Jay Heck, the longtime executive director of CC/WI.

Last month, Hansen helped organize an event in Waukesha attended by more than 100 citizens on the need for non-partisan redistricting reform in Wisconsin.

After working in development and non-profit management for arts and culture organizations for 20 years, Hansen returned to college and earned a degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from Carroll University in 2012. That degree led to a position at the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, where she developed key relationships around the state and an understanding of the legal and political environment around social justice and civil rights. She is currently working as a consultant to non-profit organizations, teaching fundraising ethics at UW-Parkside, and starting an issue advocacy organization for Waukesha County.

Hansen served as the chair of the 5th Congressional District for Democratic Party of Wisconsin for four years and on the administrative committee for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for six years. She has also served on the boards of arts alliances and music organizations, the Kiwanis Club of Waukesha, on committees of the Waukesha Business Improvement District, and blogged for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“It seems that we are overwhelmed with information but much of it is not the information we need to be informed voters and advocates. Newspaper staffs have been decimated, and much of the “news” on social media is not reliable. Thank goodness for organizations like CC/WI who study the issues, break through the noise, and tell us what’s really going on,” Hansen said.

"I am excited about the prospect of helping to restore Wisconsin to its once proud position as a national leader in embracing non-partisan political reform with bipartisan support and cooperation," she added.




CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)





Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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