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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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform to be Included in the Governor's Budget



For Release: Tuesday - February 26, 2019


Gov. Evers Backs "Iowa Model"

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has indicated that he will be including non-partisan redistricting reform, based on the "Iowa Model" system of redistricting, in his 2019-2021 biennium budget. Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) has long supported the Iowa Model as the best process for Wisconsin to replace the current, hyper-partisan gerrymandering that produced among the most skewed, rigged legislative and congressional districts in the nation in 2011.

Since 1980, Iowa has utilized a redistricting process in which a non-partisan legislative agency draws the state legislative and congressional districts every ten years, after the decennial census, according to a strict set of criteria that requires that contiguity and compactness be prioritized and that past election results, or even the homes of incumbent legislators not be considered in the drawing of the voter maps – and that the Legislature may vote only up or down, with no amendments, for the maps drawn by the legislative agency. In Wisconsin, that entity would be the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB).

Unlike the single, one-day public hearing that was held in 2011 for the consideration of the gerrymandered voting maps, this reform measure calls for a public hearing to be held in each of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts so that the public will have ample opportunity to weigh in on the voting maps drawn by the non-partisan LRB.

CC/WI will carefully examine the redistricting reform legislation contained in the budget and seek opportunities to improve and strengthen it, if necessary.

We look forward to the participation of the citizens of Wisconsin in this process as we move towards building a stronger democracy in this state through the ending of partisan gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts.





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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Thursday, February 14, 2019

What You Need to Know About Voting in Next Tuesday's Primary



For Release: Thursday - February 14, 2018


Next Tuesday, February 19th, Wisconsin voters in some municipalities and school districts will have the opportunity to narrow the field of candidates for school board seats and other local offices on their April 2nd Spring Election ballot.

You can find out right now if you have a Spring primary election in your municipality by entering your address here on the MyVote Wisconsin website.

Why show up for a local election?

Because school and local government officials represent you and your neighbors – and the decisions they make can have a direct and profound impact on your local community.

If there is a primary in your area, don't miss this chance to make your voice heard at the ballot box! Take some time now to look over the information below to ensure you have what you need to vote next Tuesday.

When you vote, you will need to present one of the acceptable forms of photo ID for voting pictured left.

(Click to enlarge image)

If you already have a Wisconsin driver license or one of the other acceptable forms of ID for voting, then you're "ID ready." Just remember to bring it with you when you head to your polling place!

What if you don't have an acceptable ID for voting on Election Day?


You can ask for AND vote with a provisional ballot. But, for your ballot to be counted, you MUST either come back to your polling place with an acceptable form of ID before it closes at 8:00 pm on Tuesday OR bring your ID to your municipal clerk's office by 4:00 pm the Friday after the primary election (February 22nd).

For more information about voter photo ID – and how to get a free ID if you don't have an ID acceptable for voting – see our downloadable voter ID fact sheet. Or visit the Wisconsin Election Commission's voter photo ID website: Bring It to the Ballot.

If you do not have an acceptable ID for voting and need help getting one, contact this statewide Voter ID Hotline #s: 608/285-2141 or 414/882-8622.

Are you a college student planning to use your student ID for voting?


If you do not have one of the other forms of photo ID pictured above, and you are a college student hoping to use your student ID and a proof of enrollment document as your "voter ID," look up your school NOW on the appropriate list linked below to see if your current student ID is an acceptable form of ID for voting. If your student ID cannot be used for voting, you can find out if a separate school-issued "voter photo ID" is available and how to get one.

University of WI – 4-Year Schools
University of WI – 2-Year Schools
WI Private Universities & Colleges
WI Technical Colleges


Are you registered to vote?


Before you head out to the polls, check to see that you are registered to vote at your current address. If you are not, be sure to bring a proof of residence document (hard copy or electronic on your cell phone or tablet) when you go to the polls on Tuesday so that you can register there.

Where is your polling place?


To find out where to go to cast your ballot, visit the "Find My Polling Place" page on the Wisconsin Election Commission's My Vote Wisconsin website and type in your address.

What's on your ballot?


Visit the Wisconsin Election Commission's "What's on My Ballot" page and type in your address to see a sample ballot.

Remember: EVERY election is important. Don't miss this opportunity to have a say in who represents you at the local level!





Contact:


Sandra Miller
Director of Information Services & Outreach
608/658-2109
smiller@commoncause.org

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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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Stronger Voter Participation and Recusal Rules Can Transform Our Judiciary and Democracy



For Release: Thursday - February 7, 2019


Critical April 2nd State Supreme Court Election Merits a Large Voter Turnout

Note: This piece first appeared as a guest editorial in the January 27 Wisconsin State Journal

Last November’s elections in Wisconsin produced the largest voter turnout for a mid-term (non-presidential year) election in Wisconsin’s history – approximately 60 percent of the eligible voting age population. Turnout would have been even higher if this state did not have among the most extreme and restrictive voter suppression laws in the nation.

This unprecedented voter turnout demonstrates the power citizens have at the ballot box to effect change -- when they turn out to vote – and how their voices can still be heard, even when they are confronted with serious obstacles to democracy such as restrictive voter identification laws, rigged voter maps through partisan gerrymandering, and millions of dollars of outside special interest group dark money election spending that seeks to determine the outcome of elections instead of the voters.

It’s a lesson Wisconsinites need to take to heart and embrace for all elections.

This coming April 2nd – less than than two months away – Wisconsin voters will decide the outcome of a very critical Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Long-time Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is retiring and her seat on the court is up for grabs. Deep-pocketed special interest groups are preparing to spend millions of dollars to dictate the outcome of this election. And then, another critical Wisconsin Supreme Court election will be at stake in April of 2020 which could determine the ideological composition of the court and the direction Wisconsin will take for years to come.

Voter turnout is traditionally much lower in Spring elections than in those that take place in November. The approximately 20 percent voter turnout for the state supreme court election last April was considered unusually high. Most Spring elections garner a voter turnout in the 10 percent range statewide.

A significant issue in that election last April was whether or not Wisconsin judges at all levels should be forced to abide by reasonable recusal rules when they are the beneficiary of campaign contributions or outside spending by special interest groups. Wisconsin currently has the 47th weakest recusal rules in the nation. In 2018, the candidate favoring stronger recusal rules won election to the state high court.

The current recusal standard, which leaves it up to judges to decide whether they should recuse themselves or not, was written by one of Wisconsin’s biggest dark money special interest groups – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce – and was adopted as written by WMC, verbatim, by a narrow 4 to 3 majority in 2010. Even Illinois has stronger recusal rules than we do.

Two years ago, 54 retired jurists, including two former state supreme court justices, petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt some specific, sensible recusal standards but they were rebuffed and rejected by the majority on the court who further, denied even a public hearing on the matter. That is outrageous and an insult to all Wisconsinites.

It looks like it’s up to the voters to demand stronger recusal rules from the state’s highest court and support for these rules from all judicial candidates. The very integrity of our judges at all levels – from the state supreme court to municipal court judges is on the line. If a plaintiff or defendant before a judge has provided that judge a campaign contribution (or spent money in the judge’s behalf or against the judge’s opponent) above a certain, reasonable threshold, the judge should step aside. Fairness, impartiality and common sense demands it. As a citizen, you should too.

As the Spring election draws nearer, Wisconsinites should keep in mind that transformational change for the good is possible if they vote in spite of the obstacles that have been erected to make that basic citizen duty more difficult. And they should demand basic accountability and transparency by way of stronger recusal rules from their judiciary.

Don’t sit on the sidelines. Engage and participate. Your vote and voice make a difference.




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, January 28, 2019

The Path to Ending Partisan Gerrymandering in Wisconsin Starts Now



For Release: Monday - January 28, 2019


Put Speaker Robin Vos's $850 K Raid on Taxpayers to Work for Fair Maps

The 2018 "mid-term" election last November brought significant and even sweeping change to the political landscape of Wisconsin. Yet, despite the ouster of Scott Walker and Brad Schimel from the state's two highest constitutional offices, and Democrats now in control of all five of them, the will of the voters was very decidedly not reflected in the 2018 state legislative and congressional elections.

Only one incumbent in the entire Wisconsin Legislature lost in November – a Democratic State Senator, Caleb Frostman, who had won the 1st Senate District in a special election only five months before in a district that had been gerrymandered to vastly favor Republicans. And in the 99-seat Assembly, every incumbent won and only one seat changed partisan hands – in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. There, Democrat Robyn Vining won an open seat vacated by a Republican who ran and won in a gerrymandered State Senate seat – Dale Kooyenga.

Despite the fact that 54 percent of Wisconsin voters voted for Democratic candidates for the State Assembly, Democrats now hold only 36 of 99 seats. That disparity between votes cast and seats won may be the largest in the nation.

In our state's eight congressional districts, all incumbents were easily re-elected and not a single challenger came within ten percentage points of winning. Twenty years ago, six of nine Wisconsin congressional districts were considered competitive. Today, not one is competitive and hasn't been for the past eight years.

How is this incredible disparity between how Wisconsinites vote and who wins state legislative and congressional seats possible?

By now, virtually every Wisconsinite who pays any attention to politics and state government – and a great deal many more citizens know the answer. It's all due to the most partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts by any state in the county, and one of the five most partisan gerrymanders in the past 50 years: the Republican redistricting process in Wisconsin eight years ago.

The lack of fair voting maps in Wisconsin robs every citizen of a viable choice between two major party candidates for legislative and congressional seats and, adding insult to injury, costs taxpayers millions of dollars without their consent, as GOP legislative leaders hire costly, out-of-state lawyers to defend their rigged, gerrymandered districts in the courts.

Just last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was compelled to finally make public a secret contract he signed in December to pay a pricey Chicago law firm $850,000 of your money to defend those 2011 maps in a federal trial that will begin in about six months. This outrageous arrogance is expressed eloquently in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal editorial.

The total taxpayer burden for this misappropriation of scarce tax dollars is now approaching $4 million.

The overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites strongly support an end to partisan gerrymandering and favor the drawing of legislative and congressional district boundary lines by a non-partisan entity. In Wisconsin, the very best option for that would be the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau and it would do it in a way very much like our neighboring state of Iowa does. All reform organizations and all pro-reform legislators are united in support of the "Iowa Plan" legislation which will soon be introduced by State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Rep Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa).

Last week, a Marquette University Law School Poll was released detailing that overwhelming pubic support for non-partisan redistricting. Support for ending partisan gerrymandering was lopsided even among Republicans in Wisconsin. Here's what the poll analysis said:
"Seventy-two percent of voters say they prefer redistricting of legislative and congressional districts to be done by a nonpartisan commission, while 18 percent prefer redistricting be done by the legislature and governor. Majorities in each partisan group favor a nonpartisan commission for redistricting, with 63 percent of Republicans including leaners, 83 percent of Democrats including leaners, and 76 percent of independents favoring a nonpartisan commission. Less than 30 percent of each group preferred redistricting be done by the legislature and governor, with support for the current system coming from 27 percent of Republicans including leaners, 10 percent of Democrats including leaners, and 10 percent of independents."
So the only folks supporting Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) in their quest to deny the vast majority of Wisconsinites the ability to be able to vote in fair map districts are the very hard core partisans who would rather have a rigged system favoring one party over a fair system in which the voters decide.

What can citizens do now to advance fair maps and hasten the end of the most partisan gerrymandered process in the United States?

First encourage new Governor Tony Evers to use his "bully pulpit" to speak out in support of the Iowa model and to include funding in his upcoming 2019-2021 state budget for the Legislative Reference Bureau so they can begin to prepare for the 2021 redistricting process. The $850,000 Robin Vos wants to defend his indefensible, partisan 2011 voter maps would be a good initial source for this funding.

Call both your State Senator and State Representative and demand that they not only support and co-sponsor the forthcoming legislation to be introduced by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Vining, but that they make this issue a top priority for this legislative session. Make sure it is at the top of their "to do" list for 2019.

Sign this petition in support of the Iowa Model legislation, if you haven't yet done so yet. If you have, urge others to sign it. We would like to present the Legislature with 5,000 signatures from all over Wisconsin in the near future.

And finally. Never give up. When CC/WI started this concentrated effort six years ago, we knew it was going to take years of hard work to build public support for ending partisan gerrymandering in this state.

Now, the public overwhelmingly supports fair voting maps.

What we need to do next is to force our elected representatives to listen and to heed our will. We need all of you to make this happen.

On Wisconsin!




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, January 4, 2019

Janesville City Council Member Elected to State Government Watchdog Board



For Release: Friday - January 4, 2019


Sue Conley Joins Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board

Janesville City Council member and community activist Sue Conley was elected to the State Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI), the state's largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organization with more than 10,000 members and activists, at its last meeting during 2018.

Conley, a member of the Janesville City Council since 2017 and the long-time executive director of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin until she retired in 2014, was interested in becoming part of CC/WI because of her concern over the direction state government has taken, particularly over the past eight years.

"This state was once considered a national model for honest, clean, open and transparent state government and politics, but like so many other Wisconsinites, I am very concerned that we have lost our way, and lost the confidence of many Wisconsinites over the past eight years," she said. "CC/WI's good work and track record in the promotion of voting rights, ending partisan gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts, and in advocating for less money in politics, more transparency, better ethics and greater bipartisan cooperation is what is much needed in this state, and I am honored to have been elected to help lead in these efforts," Conley added.

Former State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville has been the Chair of the CC/WI for the past two years. "Sue Conley brings years of valuable experience and expertise to our quest to once again transform Wisconsin into a state its citizens can have confidence in and be proud of. She is a terrific and dynamic addition to our efforts," he said.

# # #




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, January 1, 2019

In the News - January 2019





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