The Arbor Vitae Town Board last week dipped into state and national politics as it was approached about holding two non-binding referendums during the April, 2020 election.
After nearly an hour of presentation and discussion, it decided to go with one of them.
Most of the 17 people who attended the meeting were there for the agenda item, which was “Request for April advisory referendum.”
Retired teacher Yolan Mistele of Arbor Vitae addressed the town board first about a referendum regarding gerrymandering and redistricting of the state.
Also there to speak to the board was Dave Burton, who made a brief presentation regarding an effort to get an amendment to the United States Constitution regarding campaign financing.
Mistele said she and Burton were there representing two organizations, one being the state-based “Fair Elections Project and the other the national “United To Amend.”
“Both organizations have a grass roots approach to advancing their agendas,” she said. “We would like the general public have their say about the issues the organizations are advocating for.”
Mistele said issues the two organizations respectively address “impact all of us, but we don’t have any control over what happens with them.”
She said the Fair Elections Project — currently co-chaired by a former Democratic state senator and a former Republican state senator — is intended to address partisan gerrymandering.
“The dictionary definition for gerrymandering is ‘The process for dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage,’” Mistele said. “We all know both parties do it, Democrat and Republican and they will continue to do it unless something changes.”
She said once the 2020 census is completed, the Wisconsin legislature will draw up the maps for voting districts.
“The Fair Elections Project is interested in having a non-legislative process that is open to the public,” Mistele said.
Town chairman Frank Bauers asked Mistele who asked her to become involved.
“I have been getting emails from the Fair Elections Project so I know about what their agenda is,” Mistele said. “They’ve asked people from different communities to go out and talk to their towns and their cities to get this advisory referendum available to the public. So, I volunteered to do that.”
“Where do you think we could get a non-partisan group in this state?” Bauers asked.
Mistele said the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is hired to do independent research for the legislature.
“That’s one body in our state that’s already in existence that can do that,” she said.
“You know, even if the lines get redrawn, the governor can veto them,” Bauers said.
“That’s true,” Mistele responded.
“You’re still coming back to one person,” Bauers said. “Currently, our governor is a Democrat.”
“Right,” Mistle said. “But the legislature can override his veto.”
“By two thirds,” Bauers said.
Supervisor Jeff Hunter said he’s done some research.
“Do you know the DLCC?” he asked Mistele. “The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.”
Hunter said he found the DLCC website and typed in “redistricting.”
“They have a plan to do nationally what you’re asking to do,” he told Mistele. “In eight different states ... their plan is to make it so, you know, nobody will have any gerrymandering.”
According to the DLCC website, Hunter said, if that happens, there will never be another nationally elected Republican representative, meaning the President of the United States.
“That came from a Democratic committee,” he said.
“That’s what they are saying,” Mistele said.
“Yeah, I know,” Hunter told her. “It’s kinda scary, isn’t it?”
“Republicans probably are saying the same thing,” Mistele said.
“I don’t see where that’s fair,” Hunter said.
Mistele said she was an independent voter.
“What I’m recommending ... I guess what I’m for is independent districts where there can be competitive races. That’s why when the legislature is controlled by one party or another, they get to control what the districts are.”
Ultimately, the town board voted unanimously to allow the Fair Elections Project non-binding referendum item on the spring election ballot.
The United To Amend resolution, presented by Burton, didn’t seem to be one the town board had issues with other than an item in the wording, which Hunter once again pointed to.
The resolution centers around the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which ruled the recently passed McCain-Feingold bill, which essentially regulated campaign contributions to candidates by corporations, was unconstitutional.
“We’re proposing to the board that a resolution for a United States constitutional amendment declaring that one, only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights, not corporations, unions, non-profits or other entities,” he said. “And two, money is not speech and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”
A couple of town board members indicated issues with some of the wording of the United To Amend resolution.
“It says ‘only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights,’” Hunter said. “That I agree with. But, what I think it should say is ‘United States citizens.’ It should specify American citizen ... that would take out the problem with the corporations or the unions or the non-profits. Just the American citizen.”
That resolution was eventually rejected by the town board on a 4 to 1 vote as its wording couldn’t be changed as Hunter had specified.
Supervisor Ashley Roach was the dissenter.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she said of the United To Amend resolution. “I like it.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]