The Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, Jay Heck, spoke on gerrymandering, specifically in Wisconsin, and its main issues on Tuesday in the Reeve Union Theater.
Heck discussed the issues of gerrymandering of legislative districts in Wisconsin and how they favored the Republican Party. Heck also discussed how the U.S. Supreme Court is addressing this issue and will release a decision on whether or not limits can be placed on partisan gerrymandering, which could potentially affect other states, not just Wisconsin.
Heck said it was great speaking at UW Oshkosh and that UWO has always been a good place to come because there always seems to be a student interest in public issues.
“Students have a lot of power,” Heck said. “It’s important that they register to vote because it’s more difficult now for a college student to vote in Wisconsin than it used to be. So they have to make sure that their student ID is okay to vote with.”
Heck also said students should become involved in contacting their legislator.
“The dirty little secret is not many people contact their legislators, and the ones that do are the ones that are heard, and those are the ones that get attention,” Heck said.
Chair of the UWO American Democracy Project Anthony Palmeri, along with the ADP Executive Board, organized the event.
“The ADP likes to schedule at least one public policy lecture per year,” Palmeri said. “Because the Supreme Court of the United States will soon decide if Wisconsin’s method of gerrymandering legislative districts is constitutional, we thought it would be a good idea to educate the UW Oshkosh campus and community about the key issues before the court.”
Palmeri said Heck has followed the court case very closely and they agreed he’d be a great speaker.
“I have seen Jay Heck speak several times,” Palmeri said. “What’s brilliant about his style is that he is able to take complex topics and make them understandable for everyone without over-simplifying. He’s like every student’s favorite professor—challenging but fun to listen to.”
Palmeri said some students don’t vote or get involved in civic activities because they feel the American political system is rigged.
“Jay does a good job of showing students how they can change that system and make it work for all of us instead of just the privileged few,” Palmeri said.
Palmeri said due to extreme gerrymandering, Wisconsin has some of the least competitive legislative districts in the nation.
“In part, that means that it is almost impossible to boot out of office entrenched incumbents in Madison who are not taking student issues seriously,” Palmeri said. “That means issues like excessive student debt, job opportunities for graduates, climate change and many other issues of concern to students never get the full attention they deserve.”
Palmeri said he believes democracy works best when voters get to choose their representatives in competitive districts where the candidate with the best ideas has a good chance to win if he or she works hard to earn votes.
“In Wisconsin, because of extreme partisan gerrymandering, we have it upside down: the politicians are choosing their voters,” Palmeri said. “The results are a political system that responds to the needs of political insiders and wealthy special interests instead of the population at-large. That’s wrong.”
Junior Mike Markham said he thought the event was very interesting and he didn’t realize the issues with gerrymandering were so bad in Wisconsin.
“The idea that everything was kind of this whole secret idea concocted by the Republicans to basically give them all power for ten years: it’s ridiculous,” Markham said. “And you know after this I really hope that things start to change and the Supreme Court votes in favor of changing how things are.”