Tag Archives: wisconsin senate

Common Cause calls for public action to stop Republicans’ latest voter-suppression bill

On Feb. 9, the Wisconsin Senate passed, along partisan lines, hyper-partisan legislation — Senate Bill 295 — which eliminates the ability of organizations like the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Voces de la Frontera and even city and municipal clerks to be able to conduct effective voter registration drives. The measure also stipulates that mailed absentee ballots not received by Election Day will not be counted. Currently, absentee ballots that have a postmark on Election Day are counted. So that means thousands of absentee ballots will be disqualified! 

While SB 295 does provide for some online voter registration — a positive thing — the obvious hyper-partisan voter suppression provisions (added in secret and without a public hearing) render this legislation utterly unsupportable. Both state Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), the primary author of this abomination, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau,) were both incapable of being able to defend the legislation during the floor debate last week and simply called for partisan votes to defeat Democratic amendments that would have improved the bill. A number of Democratic state senators were outstanding in their determined assault on this measure: Julie Lassa of Stevens Point, Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, Mark Miller of Monona, Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, Fred Risser of Madison, Chris Larson of Milwaukee, Janet Bewley of Ashland and Dave Hansen of Green Bay. 

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 295 tomorrow, Tuesday — Feb. 16 — and it is vitally important that you contact your State Representatives and inform them of your opposition to this legislation in its current form. One critical reason to do so is to build the public record in opposition to this and other anti-democratic legislation, as was done last fall when the GOP destroyed the non-partisan Government Accountability Board and transformed Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws into among the very weakest and most susceptible to corruption in the nation. Real citizens do not support this stuff — special interest-controlled politicians do. If you do not know who your state representative is, go here.

To find out more about this measure and why CC/WI does not support it — and why you need to oppose it, too, go here, here, here, here and here.  

Run, Tammy, run!

Herb Kohl’s retirement from the U.S. Senate at the end of his fourth term opens the way for a rush of candidates to the wide-open race in 2012.

I’d love to see U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin make a run for the seat. She’s great on all the bread-and-butter issues – LGBT and women’s rights, healthcare, labor, Social Security, agriculture, clean energy, consumer rights and peace.

Plus, she’d be a refreshing alternative to the boring old usual suspects, such as Tom Barrett, whom Democratic Party bigwigs probably will promote. Having a woman and an open lesbian run for the Senate would infuse new energy into the race and attract lots of young campaign workers.

Baldwin is a great fundraiser and a vigorous campaigner. She would provide a real contrast to whatever corporate shill or wing-nut the GOP puts forward. She knows how to connect with people and frames the issues well. She’s smart and ambitious and, despite whatever anti-gay crud the opposition would throw at her, I’m convinced she could overcome it and win.

I have never been a big fan of Herb Kohl, who is often described as “beloved” by the state’s mainstream media. His personal fortune and name recognition, due to his family’s history in the retail trade and his ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks, have fueled his success as a candidate. It certainly hasn’t been his charisma or, for me, his stands on the issues. As a senator, Kohl voted for NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq war, and he’s been a real Herbie-come-lately to LGBT rights.

In 1993, Kohl voted for “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the Armed Forces as long as they shut up (or lied) about who they were. In 1996, he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman and declared that no jurisdiction would be required to honor the marriage rights of any same sex couple.

Kohl belatedly had a change of heart on both issues. He voted last year to repeal “don’t ask” and recently signed on to support S598, the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal DOMA. S598 faces stiff opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, so it’s just the beginning of a long fight.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Kohl though. He did provide me with one of the most satisfying moments in my career as a journalist and activist. I attended a State AFL-CIO Women’s Conference in Manitowoc in 1993 at which Kohl appeared. It was shortly after his vote for “don’t ask,” and some of the women there really let him have it, questioning him aggressively about his alleged commitment to civil rights. They loudly scolded him and told him he should be ashamed of himself.

I asked Kohl whether he thought the anger over his vote could be due to the perception that he might be part of our “community.”

“You mean, am I gay or lesbian?” he asked. I nodded, and he shook his head and said, “No.”

More important than my little coup in getting Kohl to address the long-time speculation about his sexual orientation, I will never forget how fierce those union women were in speaking truth to power and demanding accountability. The attack on unions today is designed to quash forever that type of principled opposition and it must be met with equally fierce resistance.

Dems. choose pro-LGBT candidates

In an election season when upset victories by fringe-right candidates have dominated the news, Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson bucked the trend by mounting a successful challenge from the left. An outspoken progressive, Larson took 61 percent of the vote on Sept. 14 against moderate incumbent Jeff Plale in an expensive, nasty and closely watched Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s 7th Senate District.

Larson now faces Republican Jeff Ripp at the polls on Nov. 2 in a district that consistently votes Democratic. The district includes the East Side and Bay View neighborhoods of Milwaukee, which are believed to have the heaviest concentrations of gay residents in the state. In some East Side precincts, Larson outpolled Plale by five to one.

The Larson-Plale race split the LGBT community, with Fair Wisconsin and HRL-PAC endorsing Plale based on his past cooperation on legislative issues. Doug Nelson, executive director of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, also endorsed Plale, who was instrumental in securing a $1.8 million grant for ARCW.

Wisconsin Gazette backed Larson.

“It’s important to Fair Wisconsin that we support the people who have been in the Legislature and have taken the tough votes time and again,” said Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger. “We were proud to support Sen. Plale, who has done just that. We look forward to working with Chris Larson, who is fantastic on LGBT issues and will continue to fight for fairness.”

Plale became a pariah to progressive voters when he killed the Clean Energy Act by refusing to bring it up for a vote. In retaliation, he was assailed by a barrage of negative mailers that charged he was hostage to Big Oil and other anti-environmental interests. The Potawatomi tribe reportedly provided heavy financial support for the mailers.

“We’ve got a pretty good shot of having a state senator who’s independent of corporate lobbyists and big polluters,” Larson told a cheering crowd during his victory party at Bay View’s Bold Yet Original Studio, 2246 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

In the Democratic primary for Milwaukee sheriff, incumbent Dave Clarke beat back a strong challenge from MPD Lt. Chris Moews, who was endorsed by the Milwaukee County Democratic Party, WiG and other progressive interests and labor organizations. Fewer than 4,000 votes separated the unknown Moews from the high-profile Clarke, who tallied 53 percent of the vote.

Throughout Wisconsin, as in other states, voter turnout was much higher in Republican than in Democratic races, signaling possible trouble ahead for Democrats in November. A total of 614,321 Republican votes were cast in the top race on the ticket – the race for governor – compared with 233,119 Democratic gubernatorial votes.

One factor affecting turnout in that race was the hotly contested primary on the Republican side. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett faced only nominal opposition in his Democratic gubernatorial primary but on the Republican side, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was locked in a sometimes-fierce battle with former congressman Mark Neumann.

Barrett, who is pro-equality, received 80 percent of the vote, while Walker racked up a commanding 59-percent victory over Neumann. Both Walker and Neumann are strongly opposed to LGBT rights.

Democratic strategists tried to paint Walker as badly wounded by his primary battle, but his victory margin was higher than expected and political observers expect the gubernatorial race to be both bruising and close. LGBT voters could prove pivotal in the contest.

In a victory that was applauded by the state’s Democratic leadership, primary voters chose Assembly Leader Tom Nelson, who represents Appleton, as Barrett’s running mate. Party leaders said Nelson brings to the ticket both geographic balance and successful campaign experience in a Republican district.

Nelson, who was endorsed by WiG, received an impressive 52 percent of the vote in a four-way race that included pro-LGBT candidates Henry Sanders and state Sen. Spencer Coggs. Fair Wisconsin and HRL-PAC declined to make an endorsement in the contest. In an opinion piece that appeared in WiG, openly gay state Rep. Mark Pocan urged LGBT voters not to support Nelson.

Tea Party-backed multi-millionaire Ron Johnson easily secured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and is expected to outspend Democratic pro-equality incumbent U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold by four-to-one in the general election.

“TV ads shouldn’t decide this election,” Feingold said in a statement following Johnson’s victory. “The people of Wisconsin should decide this election, so let’s give them the debates they deserve.”

Feingold has accepted invitations to participate in six debates against Johnson, who dodged 12 debates during his primary race, according to Democrats.

Pro-equality state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, took 85 percent of the vote in her primary race in the state’s 7th Congressional District. Lassa will face Sean Duffy, a former star of MTV’s “The Real World,” for the seat being vacated by Democrat David Obey. Duffy was the first candidate in the 2010 election cycle to receive Sarah Palin’s endorsement.

None of the Republican candidates running on Sept. 14 reached out to the state’s LGBT voters or expressed support for any of the issues important to them. But Belanger said that overall Wisconsin had elected a strong slate of pro-equality Democrats going into the Nov. 2 general election.

“We’re going to be redoubling our efforts to make sure that we maintain our pro-fairness majorities and elect a pro-equality governor so we can keep taking steps forward,” Belanger said. “We have an opportunity to not only protect but expand our fairness majority. The LGBT community has so much at stake in this election that it’s important that everybody get out and vote for pro-fairness candidates.”