RACINE — A Racine City Council committee on Tuesday recommended adding an advisory referendum to April’s ballot that centers on a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions.
The referendum — which would ask voters whether they support a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 high-court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission — passed by an 8-4 vote Tuesday, but remains subject to a vote from the full City Council on Jan. 17. The Citizens United decision prevents limiting corporate spending on elections.
The referendum proposal was brought to the City Council by volunteers for United to Amend, a state and national organization dedicated to passing the constitutional amendment. United to Amend representative George Penn addressed the council before the vote.
“The question that I get sometimes is ‘Why does the city council or town board need to be involved in this?’ “ Penn said. “The reality is that the function of a republic requires the citizens be involved in this.”
Third District Alderman Michael Shields made the motion to add the referendum to the ballot. He said the referendum gives Racinians a chance to have a voice on a national issue.
“All we’re doing is giving the people of Racine the right to voice their opinions,” he said. “What we’re doing is allowing the residents of Racine to make a choice.”
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Ninth District Alderman Terry McCarthy led the opposition to the referendum proposal. He said such a nationally focused issue didn’t fall under the council’s jurisdiction.
“It has been the practice of this council, in the time that I’ve been on it, to limit ourselves to dealing with items that have some effect in our jurisdiction,” he said.
McCarthy spoke multiple times against the referendum, suggesting that a petition was possibly a better way to gauge Racine’s feeling on the potential amendment. Supporting McCarthy, 15th District Alderman Melissa Lemke also didn’t think the referendum was the council’s responsibility.
“I fully, fully support what you folks are trying to do,” Lemke said. “To me, it seems a little not in our lane. I think I’d rather stay in our lane.”
However, 14th District Alderman Jason Meekma said he views the council as being part of “something bigger.”
“We are a part of something bigger than ourselves,” he said. “We are a city in a county. We are a county in a state.”
Ultimately, McCarthy, Lemke, 13th District Alderman James Morgenroth and 12th District Alderman Henry Perez voted against the referendum proposal.
According to City Attorney Scott Letteney, the referendum proposal will need to be approved at the Jan. 17 meeting in order to appear on April’s ballot, since there is a 70-day pre-election deadline for ballot items.
"We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are a city in a county. We are a county in a state."
— 14th District Alderman Jason Meekma