9/22/09: First lobby day raises profile of "Bring the Guard Home" bill

WNPJ's first lobby day at the state Capitol helped to raise awareness among state representatives and their staffs about AB 203, a bill requiring the Governor to review all Federal orders for deployment of the Wisconsin Guard, and to refuse any Guard deployments determined to be illegal. Rep. Spencer Black, author of AB 203, addressed participants at the start of the day, saying that decisions about when and where our men and women in the armed forces are sent to fight is the most important power given to Congress under the constitution,

and that this power has eroded in recent years as Presidents have assumed greater and greater power over deployments of the military. "AB 203 sets up a process to review Presidential requests for Guard troops, and that process is open, transparent and public," Rep. Black said.

Throughout the day, participants hurried from one meeting to the next, talking to Representatives, Senators and their staffs about the need for greater democracy and public oversight in the use of our Wisconsin Guard. "We owe it to Guard members to make sure that the law is followed if they are deployed - and not illegally, as in Iraq," said Don Wyeth, of Argyle, Wisconsin.

Some of the citizen-lobbyists learned first-hand of the challenges in moving a bill through the legislature. "One staffer told us that a thousand pieces of legislation are introduced every session, and the vast majority never become law," said Chris Conrad, a student from Lawrence University in Appleton, who drove to Madison with a friend so they could both make their voices heard. Jim Draeger, Wisconsin Coordinator for "Bring the Guard Home - It's the Law!" responded: "But how many of those bills have constituents roaming the halls of the Capitol, talking to their representatives?" Draeger noted that "Guard Home" citizen lobbyists were the first constituents to visit one Senator's office in more than two months. "You could tell that the staffer was amazed to see us there, and he hurried off to find the Senator."

Legislators and their staffs shared suggestions for moving AB 203 through the legislature. "I was told that we would have a better chance of success if there was a companion bill in the Senate, so I'm going to get to work on my Senator to get him to introduce that bill," said Steve Books of Mt. Horeb. Legislative staff also emphasized the importance of turning out constituents of the Representatives on the Assembly's Veterans and Military Affairs committee, where the bill currently resides. "Bring the Guard Home" organizers will be doing just that, increasing their outreach to citzens and allied organizations in those key districts.

As at all WNPJ events, informal networking on many issues was a feature. Dennis Bergren of Madison and Kathleen Hart of Greendale found that they had a common interest in reform of our state's bloated prison system, Dennis through "Books to Prisoners", and Kathleen through Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, an organization that advocates for reducing imprisonment and providing opportunities for rehabilitation for those who have been in prison. In between their meetings, Dennis and Kathleen shared their common frustration with the Department of Corrections and its resistance to change.

The second "Bring the Guard Home - It's the Law!" Citizens' Lobby Day will be on Tuesday, October 20th. Please call (608) 250-9240 or email outreach@wnpj.org to reserve your place.

Photo: Chris and Chuck, students at Lawrence University in Appleton, meet with their Representative, Penny Bernard Schaber, outside the Assembly chamber.