January 23, 2018
To: Marty Krueger, Sauk County Board Chair
Deb O’Rourke, Interim Sauk County Assistant Corporation Counsel
cc: All Sauk County Board Members
Becky Evert, Sauk County Clerk
Fr: Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition
Dear Chair Krueger and Counsel O’Rourke:
We write you today to voice our strong objection to what we see as misleading statements and incorrect advice you gave recently concerning the proposed advisory referendum on nonpartisan redistricting.
The Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition is made up of many good government groups across Wisconsin that are engaged in the effort to bring about a better, fairer, more honest, and nonpartisan way to draw our district maps.
We were dismayed to learn the citizens of Sauk County might be deprived of the opportunity to express their views on this urgent issue.
Counsel O’Rourke, we think your legal opinion about this referendum just three days before the Executive and Legislative Committee meeting on January 16 was incorrect. You wrote that Wis. Stat. 59.52(25) “does not authorize a county board to conduct a countywide referendum for advisory purposes on a matter over which they do not possess the authority to act.”
But that is absolutely not what the statute says. It says: “The board may conduct a countywide referendum for advisory purposes or for the purpose of ratifying or validating a resolution adopted or ordinance enacted by the board contingent upon approval in the referendum.”
There is simply nothing in that plain language that refers, in any way, to the subject matter of such a referendum or whether the board possesses the authority to act on that matter.
As Dane County Assistant Corporation Counsel David Gault has noted, “The authority to do a referendum for advisory purposes is not limited. They can do an advisory referendum on anything.”
In fact, the Dane County Board authorized just such a referendum in 2014, and Eau Claire County is getting ready to place such a referendum on the ballot this November. County boards including Kenosha, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Eau Claire and Wood have allowed their citizens to vote on referendums concerning other statewide issues.
Chair Krueger, you made a misleading statement that may have tilted the vote in committee. You said the Wisconsin Counties Association does not support the referendum and that it was concerned that it would “irritate” lawmakers. That’s false. The executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association, Mark O’Connell, told the Baraboo News Republic: “WCA does not support or oppose individual county decisions regarding placement of an advisory referendum on the ballot related to redistricting. WCA supports the ability of a county to have an advisory referendum on any issue.”
The citizens of Sauk County have the right to expect more from public officials than they got from either of you on this issue. It is baffling to us that you would oppose the right of the citizens of your county to be heard.
More than 30 counties across the state have passed resolutions clearly demanding that the legislature in Madison recognize that the days of rigging our maps should end. Those counties represent about 2/3 of the citizens of Wisconsin, and the majority of those counties voted for the Republican candidate for President in 2016. This is a bipartisan issue with strong grassroots support.
We live in a democracy. Let the people speak!
We call on you to apologize for your inaccurate and misleading statements.
And we urge the Executive and Legislative Committee to put the referendum back on the agenda in an atmosphere that has been cleared of these misrepresentations of the facts.
The Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, including:
ACLU of Wisconsin
Center for Media and Democracy
Citizen Action North Central Organizing Cooperative
Citizen Action Northeast Organizing Cooperative
Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative of Greater Milwaukee
Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative of Western Wisconsin
Common Cause in Wisconsin
Fair Elections Project—Wisconsin
Grassroots North Shore
Organizing for Action - Wisconsin
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign