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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2016

    Your State Bar
    Now Is When They Need You

    Lawyers have unique contributions to make to the legislative process, both by educating legislators generally about the effects of statutes and by working with specific candidates running for office.

    George C. Brown

    Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature have adjourned the 2015-17 session. Except for an extraordinary reason that no one can now foresee, they will not be in session until January 2017. Intervening, of course, are the fall primaries and the November general election.

    George C. BrownGeorge C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    In those elections, all 99 Wisconsin Assembly seats and the even-numbered of the 33 Wisconsin Senate seats are up for election. While most people assume the legislature is dominated by lawyers, of the 132 state legislators, only 14 are lawyers; two in the Senate and 12 in the Assembly. Both senators are Democrats and are from even-numbered districts. Therefore, every lawyer in the state legislature is up for reelection except for two who already have announced they are not running.

    If this election follows past patterns, many incumbents will be reelected, a few who are considered to be from marginal districts (that is, the voters tend to be relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats) might lose, and there will be a surprise or two. In addition, voter turnout probably will be much higher than usual because this is a presidential election year, which may affect several seats.

    So here is where you come in. By the time you read this, all petitions to run for office have been submitted, so unless there is no one on the ballot and you want to run as a write-in candidate with any hope of winning, running for office is out of the question for this election cycle. However, you can still actively participate in the election process. And legislators love lawyers at this time of the year, especially lawyers who know election law.

    Why get involved? The most obvious answer is that, as a lawyer, part of your responsibility is to be engaged in the civil discourse. Every practicing lawyer makes a living because of the statutes. Legislators are responsible for creating, vetting, and approving those statutes. But legislators, although they might focus in a particular area of legislation, are generalists. They need help fulfilling their responsibilities.

    Legislators, although they might focus in a particular area of legislation, are generalists. They need help fulfilling their responsibilities.

    Certainly, they have staff, both personal and through nonpartisan legislative agencies, to help them. There are lawyers, accountants, and public administrators to help with fiscal matters through the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and Legislative Audit Bureau; there are lawyers to draft legislation through the Legislative Reference Bureau. And they are very good.

    But it is unlikely they are from your community or have the level of understanding you have about how a particular piece of legislation will affect your community. You can help your legislators understand that effect. But, first, they need to know who you are. The best way to do that is by helping them in their campaigns, even if you already know them because you belong to the same church or club or went to school together.

    You can help in many ways. Volunteer to serve as campaign treasurer, host fundraisers and “friendraisers,” help create position papers, create and distribute campaign literature, put up yard signs.

    So get involved. If your candidate wins, you will be in a better position to make sure that the statutes are workable and in the best interests of Wisconsin.

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