Thursday, November 03, 2011

Media Rants: An Interview With Jay Heck

On Monday November 7th from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at UW Oshkosh Reeve Union Ballroom 227C Common Cause in Wisconsin will sponsor a FREE public forum on “Whatever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin?” I’ll be participating along with newly elected Democratic Senator Jessica King, Republican Representative Richard Spanbauer, WOSH News Director Jonathan Krause, UW Oshkosh Political Science Professor Jim Simmons, and Common Cause Executive Director Jay Heck.Oshkosh Northwestern Managing Editor Jim Fitzhenry will serve as moderator.

My November Media Rants column for The SCENE features an interview with Jay Heck. Here it is:
Jay Heck has served as Executive Director of CC/WI since 1995. He’s an outspoken advocate for “small d” democratic reforms that will empower citizens and make elected leaders accountable to the public interest. Always available to the media, Jay graciously answered a few questions for this column. Want to hear more from Jay? Come to the forum on November 7th!

Media Rants: Has the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision already had an impact on Wisconsin politics?
Jay Heck: The Supreme Court, in January of 2010, narrowly voted 5 to 4 to reverse over 100 years of precedent and settled law in order to open the flood gates and allow unlimited corporate, union and wealthy individual money to be utilized by outside, “independent” groups and organizations to influence elections at the federal and state level. Previously, there had been some restraints on this money. No longer. In Wisconsin it has meant an explosion in outside spending in our elections. This unlimited and largely undisclosed money overwhelmingly dominated the Wisconsin Supreme Court election earlier this year as well as the State Senate recall elections. Outside special interest group campaign spending was 4 or 5 times more than was spent by the candidates themselves.
Media Rants: What do you expect to see happen to Wisconsin elections as a result of the new Voter ID law?
Jay Heck: Wisconsin was once one of the easiest states in the nation in which to cast a ballot and was typically second only to Minnesota in voter turnout. We are now saddled with the most restrictive voter ID law in thenation. It will be easier to vote in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia than it will be in Wisconsin. The elderly, racial minorities, citizen with special needs and college students are the groups most severely affected by this new law because they are the groups least likely to possess the very narrow range of the forms of ID permitted. Voter turnout will most certainly fall across the state.
Media Rants: Our state Supreme Court has become a national joke, with justices involved literally in physical altercations with each other. Currently SC judges are elected for 10 year terms. Is it time to think about appointing them?
Jay Heck: Walker and the Republican majority in the Legislature repealed the “Impartial Justice” Law that was enacted into law less than two years ago. It provided full public financing to state Supreme Court candidates who agreed to abide by spending limits of $400,000 for their campaigns. Now, special interest campaign contributions will flow into the campaign coffers of court candidates and outside spending will blanket the airwaves with negative attack ads in even greater amounts than the $6 million that was spent in 2007, 2008 and 2011. We need to at least explore the possibility of whether or not a different system is better. It may be that merit selection of Supreme Court justices is not the way to go. But the current system in the aftermath of the repeal of the Impartial Justice law is clearly headed toward disaster. One thing is certain: the status quo cannot stand.

Media Rants: What's wrong with the way we redistrict legislative seats in Wisconsin? What would be a better way?

Jay Heck: Wisconsin’s current redistricting process is one of the most partisan and secretive in the nation. New congressional and legislative districts were drawn this year behind closed doors, with virtually no public input or inspection, and paid for with hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds to create new congressional districts less competitive and more partisan than ever before. Instead of allowing politicians to pick their voters we ought to do what Iowa does.  There, a nonpartisan state entity draws the new district boundaries every ten years (after the Census). The result is that there are many more competitive elections at the legislative and congressional level in Iowa than here and it costs taxpayers a fraction of what is spent in Wisconsin to make elections as noncompetitive and inconsequential as possible. 

Media Rants: Lots of citizens no longer recognize our state; they feel our politics are broken almost beyond repair. What advice to you have for them?
Jay Heck: The worst thing that any citizen can do is to disengage, throw up their hands and say it’s all hopeless. That is precisely what many special interest groups and politicians hope and work to make happen. That way they, and not the people, control the government. The better course of action is to get mad and get even! Engage, get involved, challenge those in power, create a fuss, make others uncomfortable, raise hell and make your voices heard. Loudly.  Citizens greatly underestimate their power. You have it. Use it. And you can start by attending the forum at UW-Oshkosh on November 7th.  See you there!