By Kari Kydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
SHOREWOOD, Wis., April 4 -- Voters in the majority of 32 Wisconsin towns with local referendums on the Iraq war voted Tuesday to bring the troops home.
A call to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year passed overwhelmingly in the liberal Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, while in conservative Watertown, where the City Council had opposed having the referendum, it was voted down by 75 percent.
Although the referendums are nonbinding, organizers with the Green Party and other antiwar groups said they hope they send a message to Washington.
"This sort of reminds me of Vietnam," said Nicole Bartelme, 22, a student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who voted in Shorewood. "I have some friends in Iraq, and I think we should bring them home. I don't know realistically if this will have any effect, but hopefully someone's listening."
Under a 1911 state law granting municipalities the right to "direct legislation," Wisconsin residents can place a referendum on a local ballot by collecting signatures equal to 15 percent of the number that voted for governor in the last election. Most of the referendums called for a withdrawal of troops immediately. In Evansville, there also was a referendum supporting President Bush.
The City Council in Watertown, a town of 23,000 that went strongly for Bush in the past two elections, tried to block the referendum from the ballot but was overruled by a judge after the Watertown Peace and Democracy Coalition filed a lawsuit.
The referendum passed in La Crosse, near the Minnesota border, where the City Council had been split over the issue. Council President Joe Ledvina said he was surprised by the vote.
"The council felt overwhelmingly that it wasn't our jurisdiction, that we don't want to send a message that we aren't behind our president and the troops," Ledvina said.
In Shorewood, retired government worker Rick Westphal said he opposed the war "like everyone else" but didn't know whether it was appropriate for a local ballot measure.
"Is this really the arena for this?" he asked. "People are just coming here to vote for the school board. I'd rather see this on the national ballot."
Shorewood resident Keith Schmitz, a 55-year-old public relations consultant, spent the weekend going door to door with literature about the town's referendum, which calls for a pullout by year's end.
"This is truly a grass-roots effort," he said. "None of us are James Carvilles; it's just do-it-yourself politics. We're just doing our best and seeing what happens."
Ruth Weill, co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party, which coordinated the statewide referendum drive, said she saw the movement as a victory regardless of the outcome.
"This is a true democratic exercise," Weill said. "I'm sure before this a lot of people didn't even know what a referendum was."