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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

December 3, 2018

Beloit Daily News, Nov. 26

County clerks got this right

Shifting an election for the sake of partisan advantage is wasteful, and corrupt.

From a standpoint of principle and political philosophy, it’s clearly wrong that outgoing Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature would even consider trying to move the 2020 presidential primary in order to gain advantage for their chosen Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate.

The leadership has floated the idea of moving that 2020 election date during a planned lame duck session before Gov.-elect Tony Evers takes office. The motive is obvious. If the Supreme Court election and the presidential primary both take place in April 2020, voter turnout will be much higher and that could be a disadvantage for the likely conservative candidate for justice, Daniel Kelly.

Only in partisan politics would high voter turnout be considered a bad thing.

For those who may be inclined to think in partisan terms, though, there also are strong practical reasons not to move the 2020 presidential primary to March.

Wisconsin county clerks quickly came out against the proposal. Already, there’s a February primary for the court to be followed by the April regular elections. Throw in a shifted presidential primary from April to March and the clerks say it would be nearly impossible to get all three done effectively.

For taxpayers, it also would be expensive to run another election piled on top of the other two.

There’s nothing wrong with the regularly scheduled election calendar. Turning it on its head, all for the sake of some perceived political advantage, shows just how far the system is drifting from commitment to fair play for all.

The county clerks have it right. This is a bad idea, hatched for all the wrong reasons. Don’t do it.

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The Capital Times, Nov. 26

Our Constitution says Muslim women may wear hijab in Congress

Ilhan Omar, who as a child fled Somalia and lived for a number of years in a refugee camp before coming to America, greeted her election to Congress with the most inspired victory statement of 2018: “Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants, we send them to Washington.”

It was a testament to the voters of Minneapolis and surrounding communities, who elected Omar with 78 percent of the vote, and to what is best about an American experiment that is inspired by immigration and the pursuit of religious freedom.

The American experience of religious freedom is constantly evolving as new Americans arrive and help us to recognize our potential. That is something to celebrate, and to embrace. And Omar will give Congress an opportunity to do just that.

“I stand here before you tonight, as your congresswoman-elect, with many firsts behind my name,” she declared on election night. “The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first refugee ever elected to Congress, and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.” (Another Muslim Democrat, Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, was elected on the same day from Michigan.)

That final “first” makes a very American demand on the House because Omar wears a hijab, a traditional head covering favored by many though not all Muslim women.

For 181 years, the House has barred the wearing of hats by members on the floor of the chamber. Omar noted the rule and announced shortly after her election: “No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice — one protected by the First Amendment. And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.”

The incoming Democratic leadership of the House plans to change the rule out of respect for Omar and the value of religious expression. That is appropriate. But it should be understood that, no matter what the rules may say at any particular moment in history, Omar has a right to wear a hijab in the House.

One of the most vital declarations of the U.S. Constitution is the clause within Article VI, Clause 3, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Americans surely have a First Amendment right to wear religious garb. But the rejection of religious tests for officeholders is a necessary expression of the separation of church and state. It should always have been understood as a guarantee that elected officials wearing a yarmulke, dastaar or hijab have a place in a Congress that must represent all Americans. And, from now on, it will be so understood — thanks to the determination of Ilhan Omar to invite us to embrace the full promise of the American experiment.

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The Janesville Gazette, Nov.26

Elections aren’t playthings for political parties

Thirty Wisconsin county clerks have spoken, and Republican legislators should listen: Holding a presidential primary separate from the spring 2020 general election would be an impractical and costly gambit.

The motive for seeking a new election is so blatantly partisan that Republican leaders have struggled to devise a credible pretext. The best they’ve been able to muster is that holding a partisan and nonpartisan election on the same day would create a “disconnect.” Their solution in search of a problem is to move the presidential primary to March, forcing voters to go to the polls twice to accomplish what can be done in a single poll visit.

The notion that we need to separate partisan and nonpartisan races is absurd if you recognize — and most voters do — there’s no such thing as a “nonpartisan” Supreme Court race. Candidates don’t run under party labels, but one of the worst-kept secrets in state elections is that Democrats and Republicans treat the Supreme Court race as a partisan contest. So, whom are Republicans trying to kid? They’re certainly not fooling the voters.

The real reason Republicans are considering this move is to help Justice Daniel Kelly, the likely candidate favored by Republicans in the April 2020 election for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Republicans expect high voter turnout in the Democratic presidential primary and worry the turnout could doom Kelly. They want to move the presidential primary to March to lower Democratic turnout in the April election.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan called it when he said, “You don’t change elections because you may not like the outcome, right? How much more ... third-world country can you get?”

Just imagine if a Democratic-controlled government tried to move an election out of fear a Democratic candidate might lose. Republicans would turn apoplectic, and rightly so.

Public policy cannot escape partisanship, but there should be at least a modicum of utility in policy making. Thirty county clerks — Republican and Democratic alike — signed a letter opposing a new election in March for many reasons, including the extra cost to taxpayers.

Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson, who signed the letter, estimated a new election would cost the county $45,000 and towns, cities and villages in Rock County $75,000.

But her biggest concern, she said, is possible voter confusion, especially in submitting absentee ballots.

Adding a third election to a busy spring election calendar would create a logistical nightmare for county and municipal clerks alike.

“There is simply not enough time to interject another election between the already-short timeline between the February primary and the April election,” noted the clerk’s letter.

The absence of any practical benefit truly makes this a “third-world country” proposal.

Wisconsin can’t allow elections to become playthings for political parties. Elections are among the most sacred aspects of democracy, and altering them requires a better reason than, “I don’t want my candidate to lose.”

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