Our Democracy 2020

Mike Wilder announces the launch of Our Democracy 2020 at the state Capitol on Jan. 28. PHOTO BY JESSIE OPOIEN

A group of Wisconsin pro-democracy and good government organizations has formed a coalition aimed at establishing government and election reforms by the year 2020.

Our Democracy 2020 announced its launch on Wednesday, with a focus on four areas: voting rights, redistricting reform, voter re-enfranchisement for ex-felony offenders and campaign finance reform.

"The assault on voters rights, the assault on individual citizens and their ability to obtain the right to vote has been well documented both in this state and around the nation," said former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. "It is wonderful to see a group as diverse as this one come together in a single mission, and that is to promote democracy by recognizing that individuals through their voices, not the rich and the powerful through money, ought to be the way in which our democracy takes place and gives rise."

Groups involved in the coalition include Common Cause Wisconsin, Wisconsin Voices, People for the American Way, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, One Wisconsin Institute, 9to5 Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and WISPIRG.

The coalition will back several policy initiatives, including a push for redistricting reform. Common Cause Wisconsin executive director Jay Heck quipped that Gov. Scott Walker — a likely 2016 presidential candidate — should follow the lead of Iowa lawmakers and support nonpartisan redistricting reform. 

Heck said competitive districts make lawmakers more responsive to their constituents, noting that the number of competitive districts for the state Legislature and Congress dwindled significantly in Wisconsin after the 2011 maps were drawn. The next redistricting process will be done in 2021.

"Voters (in Iowa) have confidence in the system," Heck said. "That's something we don't have." 

Another legislative priority for the group is an effort to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations and unions to make political campaign contributions. Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, will introduce a resolution calling for a statewide advisory referendum on a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

In the same spirit, the coalition will advocate for legislation to require more disclosure for so-called issue ads.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Matt Rothschild said the last four years have brought a "systematic," "methodical" and "devious" assault on democracy in the state.

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Protecting and expanding voting rights is another priority for the coalition. A representative from Clean Slate Wisconsin, a group that works with non-violent past offenders, talked about the importance of being given another chance to participate in government. 

Analiese Eicher, program and development director for One Wisconsin Now, said the coalition's focus on the right to vote aligns closely with the OWN's priorities.

The coalition will fight against efforts to roll back same-day registration, but will also propose more innovative solutions to expand access to the ballot, Eicher said.

Those approaches include online registration or automatic registration for 18-year-olds.

"Before we can fix things as we would like them fixed … we have to recognize that collectively we have to come together in order to preserve our democracy," Lautenschlager said." This is a tough hill to climb — more than a mountain, I would say, given what has been happening to our democracy in the past decade. But I think when you look at these groups, the commitment to come together, the work they’ve already done and will do, it’s a proud day for Wisconsin and those of us who care that individuals citizens and their voices be put above the voices of the moneyed few."