Sunday August 14, 2022

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It’s Our Democracy if We Choose to Keep It

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 05 January 2022
in Wisconsin

trump-insurrectionSen. Jeff Smith writes about challenges that have arisen threatening our rights as citizens in a democratic republic. As Americans, participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Abigail Adams once wrote, “May the foundation of our new constitution be Justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it.” These words are worth revisiting during times when the core idea of democracy is challenged. In her letter, Adams expressed concern that outside forces or forces from within could challenge our country’s founding principles that were granted by the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, we’ve experienced this concern in recent times.

trump-insurgentsOne year ago this week, on January 6, 2021, the nation was rocked by the vicious attack on the U.S. Capitol. American citizens, angered by the election result, decided democracy wasn’t working for them, so they chose violence in an attempt to overthrow our government. It seemed as if we were heading toward an autocratic government–a system in which one person or group holds all the power, without the participation, or sometimes even the consent, of the people. The 2020 Election results shook our fragile democratic republic to the core.

Participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy. There are plenty of examples throughout history showing the value and importance of voting. As Susan B. Anthony famously said, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Participation by casting your vote is the most powerful tool to a civilized society that rules itself. Participation by force of violence is not, in any reasonable thinking, how we achieve liberty and equality for all citizens.

Maybe democracy is just misunderstood by some. It’s really a simple premise: the majority of votes cast by its citizens determines who wins, like scoring points to win a game. When the all votes are counted, the person with the most wins. No question, no debate. No matter how disappointed someone may be that their favorite lost, we move on and prepare for the next contest. It may mean reconsidering our positions, the leader we trusted to deliver for us or it may even mean questioning our own beliefs. However losing affects you, be grateful we live where we’re free to have a voice and can have open debate that can change minds and hearts including our own. Then the next opportunity we have at the ballot box, we can learn and grow from the last election—because we still have free elections.

voter-us-electionsThe 2020 election was conducted fairly, safely and securely thanks to the hard work of Wisconsin’s election officials, National Guard members and poll workers. As a former town official myself, I learned how elections work. Each polling place is managed by clerks, election officials and trained volunteers who are serious about their election responsibilities. Even after the 2020 election, votes were recounted and audits conducted and the results were still the same.

So much has happened since January 6th to help our country move forward, but feelings of bitterness and resentment still remain. The misinformation out there has only intensified these feelings. This is hurting Americans’ faith in our democratic process, and our country as a whole.

jeff-smithThe Senate Committee on Elections I serve on is chaired by someone who spent twelve years as a county clerk overseeing Wisconsin elections. Senator Kathy Bernier (R–Chippewa Falls) has pushed back on the conspiracy theories that have been perpetuated by those who think they may benefit from doubting elections. Senator Bernier said recently, "We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating."

The danger of sowing distrust in elections was demonstrated on January 6, 2021. I fear for the future of our government—one that is by the people and for the people—if something doesn’t change, especially in the important year ahead. Our republic was founded on the premise it will only continue as long as the people keep democracy alive. Benjamin Franklin was asked "What kind of a government have you given us?" he replied, "A democracy, if you can keep it." It’s our job as Americans to do just that.

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What a New Year Brings

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 29 December 2021
in Wisconsin

new-year-happySen, Jeff Smith writes about what he's looking forward to accomplishing in the upcoming New Year.


BRUNSWICK, WI - I don’t know about you, but as one year comes to a close it’s too easy to think about how it went by too fast. With a new year approaching it’s also nice to think about future possibilities—what can be done. Imagine how much can change.

In reality, the last day of one year just becomes the first day of the New Year, just as any day dawns. But a new year gives us a mental charge, and can be so much more than any other day. Many people set new goals and resolutions thinking how they can do better and be better.

Wouldn’t it be great if the world of politics would do the same? Typically, there isn’t much happening the last couple weeks of the year in the Capitol. A new year brings us back together for hearings and floor sessions and a chance to accomplish what needs to be done. In an odd numbered year, the start of the New Year initiates a new session; we develop a budget and establish priorities for the next two years. When an even numbered year begins, the session is coming to an end and we must consider what needs to be done before the campaign season takes over.

Looking ahead to 2022, the top issue for most of us is likely COVID-19. While we’ve learned to cope with the virus, we’re ready to put this pandemic behind us. 2022 should be the year we can set aside differences and agree that ending the pandemic is more important than politics. Find the mask that makes you comfortable, or even fashionable. Make sure you and your loved ones get vaccinated. By making our communities safer, we can set more of our attention on other policy priorities.

There’s always more we can do in Madison as policymakers: strengthen Wisconsin’s infrastructure, improve healthcare access, invest in our public schools. Times change and we know that we must change with it.

One thing we must prioritize this year is broadband expansion. Nearly every aspect of our lives requires a reliable internet connection. We must expand broadband in Wisconsin through good public policy—it starts by investing in fiber to every home and business in Wisconsin. Access to the Internet is essential. Students need it to learn and communicate; businesses need it to connect to customers and vendors; families need it to access their health clinic, relatives, entertainment and everyday needs like groceries and medicine. The pandemic highlighted our need to be connected so we can access the world even when we’re confined to our home.

Climate change is accelerating and impacting our communities as we witnessed recently with tornadoes, flooding and other extreme weather events. We can, as legislators, step it up with policies and investments to move us toward a more resilient and energy-efficient state. We must act today to give our future generations a productive life.

jeff-smithPolitics certainly can be ugly and seems to have taken a turn for the worse in our country. When that happens nothing good gets done. Being at a standstill is unacceptable.

Access to healthcare is a prime example of how politics gets in the way. Nobody should be in a position of choosing whether to pay rent or see a doctor. Accessing insulin isn’t an option for many Americans, it’s an absolute necessity. We introduced legislation this past year to make medication more affordable; in 2022, let’s pass these bills. Let’s make sure insulin, life-saving medication and health care are affordable and accessible. We can do that.

Public education is another priority that politics has interfered with. We’ve known for a long time that access to a quality education is key to a strong economy and strong nation. Making public education a pawn of politics is only hurting our state. Let’s make 2022 the year we invest in our schools and uplift teachers and students.

The New Year is the best time to make these goals to do better. Let’s make 2022 the year we all listen and come to a consensus that we want a better and more compassionate world.

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Reflecting on 2021: A Year of Action

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 22 December 2021
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Jeff Smith reflects on all he has accomplished in 2021.


MADISON - The year is coming to a close. Like other years, it seems like I was just getting used to writing “2021,” and soon I will have to start writing “2022.” Time is flying by; it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since we’ve been under the weight of a global pandemic. We’ve certainly learned a lot about how to adapt.

This is the time of year to reflect on what went right, what went wrong and what we accomplished. It can be too easy to hang on to the things that went wrong or felt negative. So, for my own mental well-being, I find it helpful to remind myself that good things have happened and I’ve come across really good people along the way.

One of my favorite things is hearing stories from strangers and friends about their lives and how they’re affected by current events. I can connect with people in many different ways, but my favorite way is through my Stop and Talks. The pandemic has made it difficult to connect this way, but with the vaccine and safety measures in place, I’ve been able to revive my Stop and Talks.

You may have seen my old red farm truck with a sign by the side of the road all across the district. It hasn’t always been easy to get around (including a couple months when my 1999 Dodge needed extensive work), but I hosted my mobile listening sessions in areas like Black River Falls, Alma Center, Prescott, Eau Claire, Fountain City, Whitehall, Independence, Arcadia, Galesville and Ellsworth. Watch for me and my truck in 2022 and stop to share your thoughts, concerns and needs.

jeff-smithWhile the pandemic hindered many opportunities to get together, I still managed to put 5,115 miles on my vehicles in 2021 to attend meetings and events throughout the district. I’m even surprised at that number since so many meetings happened virtually.

If you’re reading this column you may be aware that I pen something each week in an attempt to keep you informed. I wrote fifty-two columns over the course of the year, writing weekly about a wide range of topics that are grabbing the headlines or bills that might be flying under the radar that you should know about. This year I wrote about elections, PFAS, schools, climate change, agriculture, broadband expansion and much more. If you’ve missed any musings from me, you can find all of them on my website (legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/31/smith) and you can sign up for weekly e-updates.

It’s also been a busy year in my office. I’ve received 5,269 contacts this year from 3,722 constituents in the 31st Senate District along with another 1,303 contacts from 2,143 citizens outside the 31st Senate District. That can be a staggering number for any office and I give all the credit to a stellar staff in my office for helping me answer all those contacts with professional and thoughtful demeanor. We may not always have the answers folks are looking for but we will always do our best to find the help needed.

During this past year I was busy working with my colleagues to introduce legislation to solve problems for people like you. I introduced twenty-eight bills as the lead author, including legislation to establish a non-partisan redistricting reform, address CWD and support Wisconsin students pursuing a higher education.

This year, I also served as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, the State Tribal Relations Board and the Jackson County Childcare Task Force. I am thankful for these opportunities to learn and better myself as your representative.

Reflecting on the past year is more than just what we see in the headlines. Reflection can be invigorating and can recharge the batteries for the upcoming year. I hope you can reflect and appreciate all that you’ve done in 2021 while looking forward to 2022.

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The Final Five: How Would You Rank Them?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 December 2021
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-joe-bidenSen. Jeff smith writes about Final-Five Voting, a type of reform that will encourage more civil and constructive campaigns and a discourse of diverse ideas.


MADISON - Americans are skeptical about our political system, and I can’t blame them. Having been elected to the Wisconsin State Senate eight years after leaving the Assembly in 2010, I personally see how politics have changed. Americans recognize this dysfunction and they’ve grown frustrated from it.

I hear this frustration when I’m listening to the people of western Wisconsin. My constituents see lawmakers with little appetite for bipartisan compromise; they don’t feel like their elected leaders are looking out for their best interests. When Wisconsinites feel disconnected from their leaders, they become disengaged from the political process altogether. This must change.

We have an opportunity to restore faith in our leaders and optimism that our democratic republic works. How, do you ask? It starts with Final-Five Voting.

vote-47-mb1Our current process is broken.  Oftentimes the most important election for Congressional districts are the primaries. With that being the case, it pushes a candidate or the representative further to the right or left to appease their base, rather than what’s best for the general public, and they’re unwilling to compromise.

Final-Five Voting for U.S. Senate and Congressional elections will help change that. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation with Sen. Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), Rep. Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Rep. Riemer (D-Milwaukee) to establish this process. There are two key changes, and here’s how it works: first, all Congressional candidates run on a single ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Currently, in a primary election, a voter must choose to only vote on a Republican or Democratic portion of his or her ballot. Under the Final-Five model, all candidates are listed together. Voters then select their favorite candidate. When the votes are tallied, the top-five candidates advance to the general election, no matter which party they represent.

The second key change happens during the general election, when voters are asked to rank their choices of the top-five. Voters pick their favorite, just like always. If they want to, they can pick their second choice, third choice, and so on using a ranked-choice voting ballot. The first-place votes are then counted. If one candidate gets 50% of the vote, the election is over and that candidate wins.

If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the votes are counted again once the last-place candidate is eliminated. If your first-choice candidate was eliminated in the first round, your single vote is transferred to your second-choice. This method repeats until one candidate gets over 50%, which could happen in the second round or after four rounds.

Using the top-five primary and ranked choice general election is a proven method that encourages participation by both voters and candidates. While Final-Five is a new initiative, Alaska has already adopted a similar version of this concept; Maine and many municipalities have begun implementing ranked choice voting on a smaller scale.

Final-Five Voting is about making our government more effective. With change like this, candidates must be more responsive to voters from the start. During a primary and even the general election with the Final Five model, candidates can’t afford to spend their resources bashing other candidates or their ideas because they may need to be their rival supporters’ second or third choice.

jeff-smithThis type of reform will encourage more civil and constructive campaigns and a discourse of diverse ideas, while being less about pushing the most divisive agendas. In addition, those who are elected must still work hard with their colleagues to produce results for their constituents. While voters get more engaged, decent citizens may even feel more compelled to put their name on the ballot.

People just want to be heard. I do my best to get out and meet people where they’re at, so I can listen and learn from them. I wish more elected officials did this, but that’s why I think Final-Five will help. The candidates–and the elected representative–will focus on you, the citizen, instead of their political party and special interests. After all is said and done, the winners really will be the voters.

***

There will be a public hearing Thursday on this legislation that would establish a Final-Five voting process; this hearing will be streamed on WisconsinEye.

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Celebrating all Traditions this Holiday Season

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 December 2021
in Wisconsin

capitol-xmas-treeSen. Smith writes about the holidays celebrated and traditions observed during this time of year. It is truly a time of reflection for many reasons—the end of another calendar year and the cross section of cultural beliefs.


MADISON - For most of us, this time of year is for celebrating. Once we hit the final week of November, we’re in the holiday season—Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas before the New Year celebrations.

As much meaning that Christmas has for most of us, there can be no arguing that exchanging gifts has overshadowed the religious significance of the holiday. After all, Black Friday is aptly named as the day when retail outlets make their greatest profits from consumers buying Christmas gifts.

Yet, this season raises our spirits in so many ways. It’s a time when we can forget our differences and reflect on what could be.

I was raised in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic school. As a child, I was taught in catechism with the expectation that it was all I needed to know about religion. But I was always curious and even disappointed that I didn’t know more about the many other cultures and religious beliefs around me—and there are so many. I do know that if I knew more about other beliefs I’d almost certainly better understand people who are different than me. With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to learn how others celebrate and honor their beliefs.

Throughout the year there are religious holidays with so much meaning to their followers. Trying to learn and understand other beliefs or cultures can be challenging, but it’s also interesting and surprising. What we learn from other religions isn’t really so different from the religious beliefs and values so many of us hold so dear.

lacrosse-xmas-lightsChristmas is the culmination of what we consider our traditional year, but other religions follow their own calendar. Knowing when important religious holidays happen can tell us a lot about each other. I learned a lot just from looking back on the 2021 calendar.

Christians celebrated Epiphany on January 6th, commemorating the arrival of the three kings to honor the birth of Jesus. On January 14th the celebration of Makar Sankranti happened, which is a time of peace and prosperity in the Hindu religion. On January 17th, the Baha’i celebrated World Religion Day. Those are just three important days in January that reminded me we share so much with others in what we value and hope for.

Continuing to look back through the 2021 calendar, I found other important and historical dates. While most of our attention was on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, Jews celebrated Purim, the survival of ancient Persian Jews. March was also when the Jewish faith began the seven-day Passover commemorating the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egypt.

Religions remain abound in similarities. For instance, there is Lailat al Miraj, the Muslim holiday observing Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to Jerusalem where he ascended into heaven. In 2021 that was celebrated on March 11th, less than a month before Easter which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For an entire month, between April 12th and May 12th, Muslims celebrated Ramadan—a full month of fasting and prayer. Of course, Christians might understand Ramadan for the same reasons they recognize Lent before Easter.

jeff-smithLast week, the Wisconsin State Capitol Holiday Tree was lit. Wisconsinites of all backgrounds came together during the tree lighting ceremony to share diverse stories and traditions. This memorable time together showed just how important cultural traditions are to all Wisconsinites. We all celebrate the desire for justice, peace and good for all. The desire to get along and the way in which we should treat each other is reflected in nearly all religious holidays throughout the year.

I’d recommend taking time to reflect on the major religious holidays observed around the world to begin to understand how close we really are. This time of year is truly a time of reflection for many reasons—the end of another calendar year and the cross section of cultural beliefs. Whatever your beliefs, I wish you the greatest of joys to your family and friends while we endure the hardships in this world together.

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