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Effort to pull Sauk County advisory referendums comes up short

August 29, 2018

A last-ditch effort to remove advisory referendums on non-partisan redistricting, money in politics and medical marijuana from Sauk County ballots this November has failed.

Thursday evening, a petition was circulated among the Sauk County Board calling for a special meeting to rescind the three ballot questions that supervisors have approved in recent months.

By the Friday afternoon deadline, 13 of the board’s 31 members had signed. That was three short of the 16 signatures required to schedule the meeting.

The petition was proposed by Supervisor Wally Czuprynko of Lake Delton, who is among a group of board members who believe counties should not authorize non-binding advisory referendums on state and national issues.

Supervisor Carl Gruber of Baraboo, who signed the petition, said he’s fed up with the partisan disputes that have consumed the board in recent months. He wants to wipe the slate clean.

“I decided to sign it because I always felt that the referendums needed to be something that the county could act on,” Gruber said. “I want to get to county business and I want to get past the partisan stuff. I just think if we can’t act upon it, we’re wasting resources.”

He said the board’s chairman, Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo, has widened an already bitter divide between two competing factions, and it will be up to Vedro to steer supervisors down a more harmonious path.

After the board approved referendums sponsored by Vedro on gerrymandering and corporate influence in elections, conservatives countered with ballot questions on abortion, the illegal sale of baby parts, and gun rights.

The board’s Executive and Legislative Committee ultimately rejected those proposals, arguing they included hyperpartisan language and presented false choices. That has irked supporters, who say the committee has applied an ideological double standard.

Committee member Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac said from his perspective, the referendum asking whether voters favor non-partisan means of redistricting was not ideologically driven.

“There’s nothing liberal or conservative about your right to vote,” he said. “Politicians have no right to choose their constituents. Constituents have a right to choose their politicians.”

Wenzel said he was less enthusiastic about the two additional referendums the panel and board approved, but ultimately decided they were fairly worded and important to voters. He said if the wording of the gun rights and abortion referendums had been less inflammatory, he would have supported them.

“When I saw this was not a sincere effort, but was only an effort to create a splash, to create an issue, to create a 30 or 40-person presence at (Executive and Legislative Committee meetings), that was it for me,” Wenzel said.

Sauk County Clerk Becky Evert said the petition for a special meeting was the last possible mechanism to alter the November ballot. Her filing deadline was 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The political battles have led to a proposed resolution setting in-house rules for Sauk County advisory referendums. The proposal would limit the number of questions on any ballot to three, and require that they be submitted 120 days before an election.

During last week’s monthly meeting, the board sent that resolution back to committee for further tweaking after some said it should include a requirement that referendum questions have a direct fiscal impact on county taxpayers.

A state law allows county boards to run advisory referendums, and the Wisconsin Counties Association supports a county’s ability to do so on any issue it deems appropriate. Other county boards in Wisconsin have approved advisory referendums on state and national issues.

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