A Conversation with Law Forward, Gov. Tony Evers, and Sen. Cory Booker

On Nov. 16, Law Forward’s Jeff Mandell and Nicole Safar, joined by Governor Tony Evers and United States Senator Cory Booker, discussed the fight to protect and expand our democracy here in Wisconsin.

Sen. Booker spoke about the national fight to protect and expand the freedom to vote – because we, the people, choose our leaders. 

Gov. Evers spoke about our “self-actualized democracy” and how we have to work together for fair maps and to protect freedoms. Our democracy won’t stay healthy if its constituents sit on the sidelines because we know there is a coordinated and well-funded effort to undermine it.

Jeff Mandell noted that on Nov. 8, we congratulated ourselves on holding a free election – and that is a bit depressing, because a free election should be the baseline. It shows how deep the anti-democracy hole Wisconsin has gotten into the past few years.

The reality remains that, under Wisconsin’s extreme gerrymander, we do not have fair elections in Wisconsin. 

So what can we do? We must move beyond defending democracy to advancing our democracy. We must affirmatively take the steps necessary to build our democracy. 

That includes impact litigation tactics that Law Forward is working on, like protecting the freedom to vote from those who seek to take those rights away from anyone who does not look like them.

It also means voting. Because whether it is an issue of gerrymandering or ballot access, on almost any democracy issue these days, when we go to the federal courts primarily what we hear is that we should look to state courts.

We’ve talked about before how the Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s 2021-22 term systemically weakened our democracy, but the right for Wisconsinites to decide who governs us and how remains unchanged.

Our state constitution – unlike the federal constitution – expressly guarantees every eligible Wisconsinite a right to vote. It also provides a remedy against partisan gerrymandering and upholds the separation of powers. But it only works if the State Supreme Court fulfills the promises in it.

For a century, Wisconsin was the model laboratory of democracy in the United States. From unemployment insurance and Social Security to government transparency and healthcare reform, Wisconsin has been a place where those with different views and thoughts worked together to move forward. We’ve lost that in the last 12 years.

We need to get back to democracy and away from entrenched rightwing power. 

As Sen. Booker noted, democracy is not a spectator sport – and it is fragile, perhaps more fragile than many of us thought. Democracy must not only live in the founding documents of our state and country, but in the hearts of every person.