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Common Cause Wisconsin panel draws crowd in Stevens Point


STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) - About 225 people showed up for a question and answer session with past and present lawmakers discussing what is wrong with government today.

Common Cause Wisconsin hosted the forum at UW Stevens Point, with former Congressman David Obey, former Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus staffer Bill Kraus, State Senator Julie Lassa, and State Representative Katrina Shankland.

Common Cause Wisconsin’s Jay Heck says this was the best attended meeting in a couple of years. He says the panel was three-to-one Democratic, but they did reach out to other Republicans. “As we do these around the state, we do try to reach out to opposing sides, and we’re not always successful in doing them because quite frankly, the stand that we’ve taken on some of these issues is different than some Republicans would have on these issues, but nevertheless we think it’s important for the public to hear both sides, and when we can do that, we try to.”

A group of UW Stevens Point college Republicans criticized the lack of political balance on the panel. Heck says they invited Republican Representative Scott Krug, who was unavailable.

The big topics were how big money influences campaigns and the current push to change how Congressional districts are mapped.

Heck believes expensive campaigns with special interest contributions limits how well average citizens are represented. “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. 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.”

During the discussion, Heck said both parties have been guilty of failing to bring about meaningful campaign finance reform.

The most recent changes to Congressional district boundaries may have brought out the crowd. Portage County was moved from the 7th District to the 3rd, and both Wood and Juneau Counties were cut in half.

Heck says the party in power controls the map, and he believes people are more receptive to changing the way redistricting is done. “I think one of the things they’re beginning to realize is that if we had districts that were more competitive, that their legislators would be more responsive.”

State Representative Katrina Shankland says the proposal for redistricting is gaining public support, but isn’t moving very fast at the capitol. “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. We’ve also seen lots of public support. I would urge people to contact (Senator) Mary Lazich who is in the Senate and controls that Senate committee, and she could decide whether or not that bill got a hearing.”

Campaign finance reform will be more challenging according to Shankland, who says reversing the Citizens United decision won’t be easy. “As far as campaign finance reform, that needs to happen on a federal level first in order to repeal Citizens United (v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling) so I would say on a state level, lots of different communities are organizing and doing petitions. We also have a bill in the Legislature, and I would encourage people to contact their legislator about Citizens United and urge them to support repealing it.”

(You can listen to two interviews by clicking these hyperlinks for Jay Heck and Katrina Shankland in our Newsmaker's Interview podcast section of this website.)