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Manitowish Waters compromises on referendum questions

January 21, 2020 by Brian Jopek

The Manitowish Waters Town Board made a compromise of sorts at its meeting last week. 

At the December meeting, the town board, as have many others in the Lakeland area and around the state, was approached by representatives with the organizations United To Amend and The Fair Elections Project. 

The Fair Elections Project, as it’s been explained to different town boards in the area, is a non-partisan effort to see how the people feel about how election maps are currently drawn up, something handled by a state legislature.

For Manitowish Waters, the proposed question read as follows:

“Shall the town of Manitowish Waters resolve that we the people of Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, insist upon creation of a non-partisan procedure for the preparation of Congressional and Legislative redistricting plans and further resolve that the process promotes more accountability and transparency and prohibits the consideration of voting patterns, party information and incumbents’ residency information and/or demographic information to draw up maps except as necessary to ensure minority participation by the U.S. Constitution. Yes or no.” 

As for United To Amend, that effort, according to those involved, is geared toward reducing the corporate “footprint” in the election process with regard to how much money they can contribute to political campaigns. 

At the December meeting, town supervisor Bob Becker said he’d read information about what it is the Fair Elections Project said its goal is and didn’t disagree with it, although he wondered about the “non-partisan” claim.

He also wondered how it would work. 

Arguing the point items like this are handled at the legislative level, Becker essentially said he could probably go along with it — if he saw something from the legislature. 

The referendum matter for the Fair Elections question — along with that of United To Amend — was tabled until the Jan. 14 meeting to give representatives of the groups, including Manitowish Waters resident Bob Kovar, an opportunity to return with more information. 

‘That I would support’

There was more discussion at last week’s meeting as Kovar supplied the town board with a handout that included information from Wisconsin State Representative Jeff Mursau of Crivitz, a Republican from the state’s 36th District, which included an item about legislation introduced “that would create a new redistricting procedure that would be used after every federal census.”

According to Mursau, the bill, “at its core,” would require maps drawn by the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) addressing six criteria.

Those are: 

1. The plan must be based on population requirements and cannot take into consideration other things such as political party, race, color or language. 

2. Districts must satisfy equal population standards set out in the Constitution of Wisconsin. 

3. District boundaries must coincide with municipal ward boundaries as much as possible, with wards divided among as few assembly districts as possible. 

4. Districts must be composed of neighboring territory and be as compact as possible. 

5. In preparing the plan, the LRB must be strictly non-partisan, with no district drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party or legislator.

6. There must be between 54 and 100 Assembly districts, each Senate district must contain only whole Assembly districts and each Congressional district must contain only whole Senate districts. 

“The legislation has been introduced, the points here, and that I would support,” Becker said. 

Town chairman John Hanson asked those in the audience if there would be a problem with incorporating the six points into a redistricting question and after hearing no response, made a motion to have it be on the April ballot. Becker made the second and it passed. 



Another compromise

The town board also approved a referendum question pertaining to United To Amend. 

However, it, like the redistricting question, will be worded differently. 

Hanson began the discussion by reading the proposed question.

“The other item is ‘Resolved that we, the people of Manitowish Waters, seek to reclaim democracy from the expansion of corporate personhood rights and the corrupting influence of unlimited political contributions and spending,’” he read. “‘We stand with communities across the country to support passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights, not corporations, unions, non-profits or other artificial entities and money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting speech. Yes or no.’”

Hanson said he felt what needed to be done was, basically, “clean that up a bit.”

“Because what you’re doing is lobbying,” he said. “You’ve got to put language in there that is not doing any lobbying so you’re presenting a question to the people.”

He said he wanted to present something that wasn’t influenced by wording in the resolution. 

“You’re making an argument instead of a referendum question,” Becker said. 

Hanson a few minutes later, again after checking with the audience, made a motion to have the United To Amend referendum in the town of Manitowish Waters appear on the April ballot in this manner:

“Resolved, that we the people of the town of Manitowish Waters support passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating

1. Only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights, not corporations, unions, non-profits or other artificial entities and 

2. Money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting speech. Yes or no.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected].

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