March 18 forum at Beloit College to focus on political reform issues

Online Staff Report

BELOIT, Wis. — Critical political reform issues will be discussed at a public forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Monday, March 18, in the Beloit College Science Center Atrium, 801 Pleasant St., Beloit, Wis. Title of the forum is “What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin? And How Can We Fix It?”

Panelists will include State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville; former State Sen. Tim Weeden, R-Beloit; Bill Barth, editor of the Beloit Daily News; political science professor Georgia Duerst-Lahti of Beloit College; Executive Director Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin; and history professor Beatrice McKenzie of Beloit College as moderator.

Full details can be found at

Over the last two years, Wisconsin — a state the eminent American Jurist and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis characterized 100 years ago as the nation’s “laboratory of democracy” — has undergone tumultuous change in the way it conducts elections and considers public policy. As a result, the core political fabric of Wisconsin — once heralded as a national model — has been dramatically transformed.

Are these changes detrimental to our state’s political process, or were they needed and will they improve it?

In 2011, Wisconsin experienced the most secretive, partisan redistricting process the state has ever seen — resulting in dramatically less competitive voting districts for both the U.S. House of Representatives and for the Wisconsin Legislature. Should redistricting be taken out of the hands of partisan legislators and put into the hands of a non-partisan entity to draw congressional and legislative voting districts before the next redistricting process in 2021?

Tens of millions of dollars were spent by outside interest groups on advertising leading up to last fall’s general election. But the citizens of Wisconsin are still in the dark about who was really behind much of this avalanche of “outside” campaign cash and the constant barrage of interest group “phony issue ads” we saw during the election season. Is this lack of disclosure a protection of “free speech,” or is it a perversion of democracy? Do citizens have the right to know who is trying to influence their vote? Or, are these “anonymous” communications a form of protected speech?

And what about Wisconsin’s photo voter ID law — arguably the most extreme and restrictive such measure enacted into law in the nation in 2011? For now, it has been blocked by the courts. But is it needed? Is there really voter fraud, or is this a voter suppression measure?

Prior to 2011, public financing of statewide and legislative elections helped ensure our legislators and our state’s highest court were beholden to the public rather than private interests with deep pockets. Yet, in 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) opted to gut the state’s public financing system, while at the same time increasing the limit on individual campaign contributions to Supreme Court candidates from $1,000 to $10,000.

With so much outside money flowing into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court races, should we continue to elect or consider appointing our State Supreme Court Justices?

And finally, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed corporations, labor unions and other interest groups (and their “Super PACs”) to use unlimited money from their general treasury coffers to flood our airwaves with negative messages, giving them far greater influence on the outcome of elections. How has the Citizens United decision affected Wisconsin, and does it matter?

These vital political reform issues will be the focus of the March 18 discussion at Beloit College. The forum is one in a series of “reform forums” held across the state by Common Cause in Wisconsin.

Posted March 14, 2013

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