Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Three Things Wisconsin Needs to Change to Improve Our Elections

By Cal Potter

I read with interest the first in a series of articles in some Gannett papers aimed at describing political changes in our state. As one who served in the legislature for a number of years, and has been a political activist since the 1960's, let me suggest several major subjects for inclusion in that series.

The first of these recommended items is the major political "coup" that has occurred in this state and nation in recent years which is gerrymandered safe legislative districts. This well-orchestrated and financed takeover goes to the heart of the power of the extreme right, and the reality of creating today's non-responsive and non-working government. Here in Wisconsin, in several decades prior to 2010, the federal courts did a reasonable job of drawing legislative districts, necessitated by a party divided government.

All that has changed.

The unpopularity of Congress and many politicians today does not seem to influence those in office, because the reality is that public opinion doesn't matter; legislative districts are mostly non-competitive and officeholders are now largely bought and paid for by big special interest campaign contributions, and then become lapdogs for interest-group agendas.

The second point that needs to be mentioned when analyzing political changes is the Citizens United decision, allowing a few affluent interests to literally buy elections. Issues considered by legislative bodies and what statements emanate from politicians today are determined by this funding system.

Thirdly, the dominance of one-issue voters today makes campaigning very difficult for challengers who see the many problems facing our pluralistic society, and are sincere in wishing to see them addressed. Guns, abortion, etc. single-issues voters are pandered to, and when added together, too often found in the victor's vote column. There is little hope for an educated, thoughtful, and intelligent candidate to compete in the world of the above mentioned. You need not look any farther than the Harris/Grothmann race for an example.

I mention the above as important influences because they determine why candidates do what they do, and how elections turn out. Too few voters and media persons ever mention the above as important, when in fact little else matters if the above tragedies are not changed.

Calvin Potter, of Sheboygan Falls, served in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1975 to 1991 and in the Wisconsin State Senate from 1991 to 1999. He currently serves on the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board.

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