Over 200 individuals attended a political forum last Monday in The Dreyfus University Center.
“This was outstanding,” said Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin, the non-partisan, non-profit organization that hosted the question and answer session. “We touched on some issues that people are finally beginning to understand and that need to be solved.”
Additionally, former Congressman David Obey, State Senator Julie Lassa, State Representative Katrina Shankland, and former staffer for Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, Bill Krause, were also in attendance to discuss a slew of problems currently plaguing our state’s government.
Of the multiple topics covered, the influence of big money and district reform were two that consistently roused discussion.
“I think that the topic that bubbled up to the surface most often was districting reform, and how inadequate the current law is, and why it would be so much better to have a non-partisan, outside commission draw the line,” Lassa said.
Obey agreed, saying, “the process of government often determines the outcome in terms of policy.”
“Average people are being screened out of the political process. The supreme court has made decisions on campaign finance that marginalize the ability of regular people to have a say in their government,” Obey said. “We need to have districting reform so politicians can’t insulate themselves from public opinion.”
Heck also believes that districtreform is necessary and went on to say that the party in power has control over the map.
“I think this turnout indicates that the issues we are talking about are important,” Krause said. “All our subjects are complicated and boring,so for something like this, it was a revelation that this many people would come knowing what the agenda was.”
Shankland was equally as pleased with Monday’s forum.
“I think this went excellently; I heard that there were over 200 people in attendance,” Shankland said. “That is a testament to the strong support that people have for clean, open and transparent government.”
“I think one of the things the public are beginning to realize is thatf we had districts that were more competitive, that their legislators would be more responsive,” Heck said.
Shankland explained that, despite garnering a fair amount of public support, the proposal for redistrictinghad yet to make any significant progress in Madison.
“Non-partisan redistricting reform was introduced earlier this year, and we’ve seen editorial boards, and media across the state declare their support for it,” Shankland said. “We’ve also seen lots of public support.”
In addition, Obey also noted that district reform will have little to no effect on the current state of government if corrupt officials are continually allowed to hold office.“The most important thing we can do is get some presidents in the next ten years or more who will appoint people to the Supreme Court who won’t marginalize average working people,” Obey said.
Again, Heck maintained a similar point of view.
“I think people see all of the money that’s being spent in the gubernatorial race and in state legislative races as being something that really doesn’t affect them in the sense that they’re not able and not the people contributing that money,” Heck said. “That’s money from special interest groups, and so I think people are beginning to realize that we’ve got to change the way we elect people.”
Heck added that both parties have failed to incite meaningful campaign finance reform in recent terms.
A number of students were also in attendance, including a group of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College Republicans, who were upset over the lack of right-wing representation on the panel.
“There’s always two sides to a coin, and always two flavors to a twist cone, so unless both sides are being represented and talked about, I would hardly consider it a fair argument, let alone a common cause,” said Harley Peterson, a UWSP junior. “I also took issue with the title, ‘What’s Wrong With Wisconsin Government?’, and that implies that there’s something wrong, when in actuality we have a surplus in our budget and are doing a lot better than four years ago.”
In light of the claims, Heck was adamant that Republican Representative Scott Krug was also invited to attend the forum, but was unavailable.