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Activists scout anti-war referendum
State Green Party officials hope to put question on local ballots
By GRAEME ZIELINSKI
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
As President Bush encourages support for the Iraq war, Wisconsin activists and elected officials are in the midst of their own efforts to hasten the withdrawal of American troops there, in opposition to administration policy and in the face of continuing bloodshed.
The state Green Party and allied peace groups have begun a campaign to have the question of the Iraq war placed as an advisory referendum on local ballots in spring elections.
At its convention June 11 in Oshkosh, the state Democratic Party became the second state party nationally to call for the impeachment of the president and Vice President Cheney because of what the party views as mishandling of the war.
And U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), in a "sense of the Senate" resolution introduced in June, became the first member of his chamber to call for a timetable that would lead to withdrawal of troops.
All of this comes as national opinion polls show a sharp decline in support for both the Iraq invasion and the president's handling of the occupation.
There are no comparable Wisconsin numbers, but Feingold said last week, having just completed his 900th "listening session" in the state, "I'm certain there's a shift in the feeling of the people in the state about how the war is going."
Feingold, who voted against the initial resolution authorizing the war but voted for a later appropriations bill providing materiel for the effort, noted that six more Wisconsin troops died during the recent Senate recess. He postulated that the reason for the decline in support did not mean a lack of support for the military but a feeling that the administration's positive public pronouncements "did not square" with the strength of the resistance to the occupation and the U.S.-backed government.
Other activists were more blunt.
"I think that eventually people inevitably get weary of war and tired of seeing our sons and daughters come home either in boxes or missing arms and legs, especially for a cause that is questionable at best," said Jeff Peterson, a Luck, Wis., teacher who is organizing the Green Party drive to get the Iraq question on the spring ballot.
The coalition is seeking to have the question placed on local ballots because of the unlikelihood that the Republican-controlled Legislature would allow it statewide, Peterson said. (Spokesmen for top GOP leaders confirmed this sense.)
He said the goal is to have at least half the state's voters face the question on their ballots.
"We think it's important, especially given all this talk about how the Iraqi people deserve democracy," Peterson said. "This is an example of bringing it home and making it real here in the state."
Supervisor would support
Milwaukee County Supervisor Roger Quindel, a veteran of the Army and of efforts to put advisory questions on ballots, said he has not yet been approached but that he would offer his support.
"If elected officials have the courage of their convictions, then they should allow it," Quindel said. "It will allow both sides to wage the educational battle with the public to get them to understand the issue and also to mobilize them to come out."
Quindel already has rattled some of his constituents by sending a letter over the winter that voiced his opposition to the continuing occupation, though he said the response since then had been positive.
One of the strongest actions yet in opposition to Bush policy has been the call by state Democrats to have Bush and Cheney impeached.
Activist says public misled
Democratic activist Leslie "Buzz" Davis of Stoughton, a retired state employee and former Army officer, was one of the organizers to have the resolution passed at the state convention, saying the public was deliberately "misled" about connections between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Iraq.
"The growing feeling of the public is that this war was illegal," he said, citing the contents of the so-called Downing Street memo, actually a series of reportedly internal and top-secret communications among British officials.
Resolution called unpatriotic
Christine Mangi, communications director for the state Republican Party, called the Democratic resolution "unpatriotic."
"I'm saying that doing something that's as out of line as calling for the impeachment of the president during wartime is unpatriotic," she said.
Mangi disputed national polling and said the party's internal polling showed strong support for the war and the occupation. "We're in complete support of the president," she said.
From the July 3, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel