Despite being on "vacation" the past couple of days, I was still able to catch the Winnebago County Board meeting debate over whether to place two non-binding referenda on the November ballot. Bleeding hearts on the Board wanted to ask people if they support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and if they think Governor Scott Walker should take money from Washington to expand the BadgerCare program. Both of the measures were eventually tabled--meaning they will almost certainly not appear on ballot. But the fervor with which the Supervisors argued over the topic reminded me of people who get worked up about pre-season NFL games--it's all much ado about nothing.
Non-binding referenda are nothing more than publicly-funded surveys. They used to be common on the local level, where wishy-washy politicians didn't know how to gauge public sentiment--so they would put issues like "Should dogs be allowed in city parks?" or "Should we build a new high school?" on the April ballot. But now, advocacy groups are trying to use the ballot to advance their talking points with questions about the minimum wage and the Medicaid funding.
And make no doubt that these "advisory" questions will be misrepresented to the public in order to boost Democratic turnout. In the age of the Low-Information Voter any referendum--whether it counts for anything or not--can be used to their advantage. The accurate statement "Vote 'Yes' on November 4th to let Madison know that you think the minimum wage should be raised" will not be used in pre-election rhetoric. Instead, the slogan will be "Vote 'Yes' November 4th to raise the minimum wage!". It doesn't matter that a 100% 'Yes' vote will in no way affect the minimum wage--because how many voters actually know what "non-binding" means anyway? As long as they think their vote will actually do it--that is all that counts. Oh and while you are there, why don't you vote for Mary Burke and Mark Harris on the Democratic ticket--even though you don't know who they are.
And speaking of Mary Burke....those Supervisors pushing for the referendum questions made the argument that the Board should "give the people a voice" conveniently forget that the very issues they wanted placed on the ballot seperately are more than being addressed at the top of the ticket in the Governor's race. Burke is very clear that she would take the Medicaid money and commit the state to all future costs for BadgerCare expansion--and Governor Walker has already declined that. Mary Burke also supports raising the minimum wage--although she hasn't committed to the $10.10 figure just yet--while Governor Walker thinks Wisconsin should retain the national wage. If you believe that washing dishes in a restaurant three nights a week or stocking shelves in the grocery store on weekends is worth 40% more than current rates--and if you believe that low-income health care should be paid for with the money you send to the IRS on April 15th instead of the money you send to the State Treasury on April 15th--then you can "make your voice heard clearly" by voting for Mary Burke.....in an election that actually counts!!
President Obama likes to say all the time that "Elections have consequences". They must not have had a lot of non-binding referenda cluttering up the ballots when he was running for office in Illinois.