A Firsthand Account of the League of Women Voters State Issues Briefing

October 10, 2014

Have you ever told yourself a lie so often that you started to believe it? Members of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin espouse this group’s nonpartisan status and many of them truly believe they are nonpartisan. However, what I observed firsthand Saturday in Madison at their Issues Briefing shows otherwise.

When I attended the League’s Annual State Issues Briefing this past weekend, Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director for the State League, kicked off the program stressing that the group’s goal is to make democracy work and emphatically stated that the group is “strictly nonpartisan.” She did say that while the group doesn’t support or oppose candidates, they do “study and research the issues” and their membership decides their policy agenda that they advocate.

Based on their speakers and the discussion on October 4 – their priorities are to repeal Voter ID, increase voter turnout from primarily Democratic constituencies, increasing the minimum wage and preventing a mine from being built in Northern Wisconsin – these are hardly bipartisan in nature.

The first presentation was from Sara Finger from the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. Ms. Finger is leading a coalition of groups advocating the Ask. Learn. Vote! Program. This program encourages women to vote and provides women an “educational” website outlining prospective questions to ask candidates and legislators. Example questions fall into the typical liberal camp of mandatory sick time, Medicaid expansion, birth control, student debt and gun control.

Ms. Finger then talked about elections and the impact of women voters on elections. Finger noted that during the last several elections women have turned out at greater rate than men but that in the 2010 midyear elections women broke for Republicans. Audible gasps of disappointment were uttered by the majority of 75 attendees.

Finger than went on to say that in 2010, 22 million eligible female voters didn’t vote that year and wistfully mentioned, “If only . . .”

Finger finished by criticizing specific policies of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature without mentioning any elected official by name.

“We fell asleep at the wheel,” Finger stated.

The next presenter was Dane County Executive and former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Parisi. Parisi’s talk was called “All Politics Are Local: Challenges for County Government in Wisconsin.” Parisi toed the Democratic line that Wisconsin is going to down a problematic path and counties are hurting due to revenue caps and cuts to state aide. Parisi believes we are lucky to have his great leadership at the County level and that’s why Dane County is afloat “for now.”

“Nonpartisan” Parisi of course had a few putdowns for Gov. Walker. He mocked Walker’s tax cuts, “What are you going to do with your $11 tax return?” and bashed the Governor for taking short trips via airplane from Madison to Milwaukee. Parisi did not mention that these short trips were part of larger statewide tours and that former Gov. Jim Doyle took similar flights.

“It would be one thing if Walker’s policies worked, but the ship has not been righted. His approach to state government doesn’t work,” Parisi stated.

He also had time to rail against Voter ID, claiming it would cost Dane County $45,000 in additional costs this election to educate poll workers about the new requirements.

“This is the ultimate fixing a problem that doesn’t exist,” Parisi concluded.

Next up was Bad River Tribe Chairman Mike Wiggins. Chairman Wiggins took a freewheeling approach to his remarks, weaving a tapestry of nonsense through Native American folklore, stories of his childhood and faulty economics.

He began by telling of his grandmothers and how one of them would encourage him to use his imagination or as she liked to say “Magic Nation.” After a nice story where his Grandma challenged him to use his Magic Nation, he said he knows he is going to “use his Magic Nation to stop this mine!” referring to his tribe’s attempts to prevent mining in Iron County.

He told a Native American story of Wendigos- spirits that have unquenchable hunger and greed- and likened them to corporations and Bill Williams of GTAC, the company looking to building the northern Wisconsin mine.

To wrap up his remarks, Wiggins discussed his ideas for how to literally grow jobs in Northern Wisconsin by encouraging the community to produce their own food locally, and he believes this would create 700 jobs.

“If we just put our heads together and through renewables, biomass, broadband access and local food production, we could create more jobs than GTAC ever could,” he posited.

State Superintendent Tony Evers spoke next about how Wisconsin’s educational system is making strides by using new report card systems and educator evaluations. He did note, “We have legislators who are hell-bent on making a second system (of education) when we can’t afford the first system,” referring to the School Choice program.

While Gov. Walker has asked that state agencies to try to stay within inflation for the next biennial budget and the majority of school districts have declining enrollments, Evers told the League that he is fighting for even more funding for the schools.

“There is a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots,” Evers stated. Evers believes more money is the answer to the achievement gap between white and non-white students. “We need to relate to and honor other cultures.”

Asked a question by a League member about the need to increase civics education, he complained of a lack of funds but mentioned that he and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley are working on a plan to address the problem. Justice Bradley and Superintendent Evers are planning some spring 2015 events with service clubs and local schools throughout the state to talk about the importance of civics education. This is very interesting timing considering Justice Bradley is up for re-election this spring.

Lastly Elisabeth MacNamara, the President of the National League of Women Voters, addressed the group. MacNamara said that the League opposes any infringement on the right to vote or rolling back of voter access to the polls.

According to MacNamara, an example of this is going on in North Carolina. For many years, people who showed up at the wrong polling location could still vote for national and statewide offices but not for items specific to that polling location. North Carolinians are trying to fix this problem through legislation but the League is opposing this change because it somehow “rolls back access.”

To close out the day, Ms. Kaminski spoke about the upcoming election and the status of the Voter ID law. The League currently has 160 people signed up to poll watch but they would like more volunteers. In 2012, the League had 330 poll watchers. Each poll watcher is asked to write a report after Election Day about what they observed. Kaminski stressed the importance of these reports, saying “we have data versus hateful stories.”

She also said the League along with the ACLU, NAACP and Voces de la Frontera are considering more legal action on Voter ID between now and the election to “stop this nasty law.”

Kaminski did admit to the group that they estimate 90% of Wisconsin voters will not be affected by the new law because they have proper identification.

At several points during the day I was approached by other attendees to discuss what I thought of the event and if I was planning to join. While the women I met were kind and well-intentioned folks, I can’t imagine being involved with an organization so deluded into thinking they are nonpartisan when they are essentially a Get Out the Vote Operation for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. While I did not agree with much of what I heard, I was glad I attended so I could witness firsthand just what this nonpartisan group is up to.

Editor’s Note: The author has requested anonymity, for obvious reasons. In this instance, MacIver has agreed with the request.