Wis. Towns Put Iraq Troop Withdrawal Referendums on Ballots

Peace activist Jill Bussiere wants the United States to bring its troops home from Iraq immediately, so she went door-to-door in this community in the hopes of getting others to join her cause.

Bussiere helped organize a petition drive that resulted in a referendum on Iraq being put on the ballot during Kewaunee's upcoming spring election. It asks whether the city's leaders should urge the U.S. to begin an immediate withdrawal of its troops, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves.

"Is it ever practical to try and stop a war?" asked Bussiere, 51. "But isn't it the right thing to do? Isn't it our duty?"

Kewaunee, a city of 3,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, is one of 22 cities, villages and towns in Wisconsin that have an Iraq referendum on their April 4 ballots — elections usually dominated by local races for mayors, city councils and school boards. Fifty troops from Wisconsin have died in Iraq since the invasion nearly three years ago.

The effort in Wisconsin — in tiny villages like Frederic and Ephraim and the larger cities of Madison and La Crosse — is designed to influence later races for Congress, said coordinator Steve Burns at the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice in Madison.

Organizers, mostly associated with Wisconsin's Green Party, gathered enough signatures on petitions to put the issue before voters. Supporters do not expect to get the attention of President Bush, who has rejected calls for a troop withdrawal date.

"The plan is to win these referendums in diverse areas of the state so they are not just coming from liberal Madison," said Burns, a Green Party activist. "We all remember the 2004 presidential election when they spent more time talking about the Vietnam War than they did talking about the Iraq war. We don't want that to happen again."

City councils in other communities around the nation have approved measures opposing the war or calling for troops to come home.

Harlem Township in northern Illinois authorized a Nov. 1 troop withdrawal question for the March 21 ballot. In Burlington, Vt., anti-war activists gathered enough signatures on petitions to ask voters to urge the city to work to prevent overseas deployments of the Vermont Air National Guard. Last March, at dozens of annual town meetings in Vermont, communities voted on the war, mostly backing resolutions critical of it.

Seven of the Wisconsin votes are scheduled in the northeastern part of the state, in Kewaunee and Door counties. Bush won both in his re-election.

In La Crosse, a divided city council forwarded the issue to the ballot, but also voted 13-3 to oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Tom Sweeney, a town alderman, said the referendum was misguided.

"We don't win our wars when we don't let the generals run them," said Sweeney, a businessman who spent 25 years in the Navy or the Navy Reserves. "This is going to have about as much weight as that pebble I am looking at in my driveway. No matter which way it goes, it is going to be irrelevant."

In Watertown, troops who served in Iraq told city council they opposed putting the issue on the ballot and spoke passionately about how their work was important. The council ultimately decided the issue wasn't proper, but a judge later ordered it to put the measure on the ballot or adopt it. The referendum will appear on the April 4 ballot.

"I don't know how it is going to turn out," said Hiroshi Kanno, clerk of Newport, which has about 250 eligible voters near the tourist mecca of Wisconsin Dells. "We are a relatively conservative area. Maybe it will gin up the election a bit."