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Committee sends medical marijuana referendum to Sauk County Board

With her mother by her side, 9-year-old Norah Lowe of Merrimac uses an eye-directed speaking device to address the Sauk County Board's Executive and Legislative Committee Tuesday. Lowe, who suffers from Rett Syndrome, encouraged the committee to support a proposed advisory referendum on medical marijuana.

A panel voted unanimously Tuesday to send a proposed November advisory referendum on medical marijuana to the Sauk County Board for final consideration next week.

But the board’s Executive and Legislative Committee opted to adjourn before considering additional referendums on gun rights and abortion, which also were on its agenda. The panel is expected to take up those matters next month.

All of the proposals under consideration Tuesday were drawn up by a handful of supervisors who opposed ballot questions on nonpartisan redistricting and campaign finance that the board recently approved.

They said the board shouldn’t authorize advisory referendums on state and national issues, as other Wisconsin counties and municipalities have done. But since the board already has gone down that road, the supervisors have said, equal consideration must be given to all issues voters are passionate about.

Supervisor Tim McCumber of Merrimac, one of the supervisors who put forth the new referendums on gun rights, abortion and medical marijuana, has said his true aim is to show that progressives have steered the board outside its purview. He wants the board to reject all of his proposals and rescind the two referendums it previously approved.

McCumber’s proposed ballot questions drew a crowd of interested citizens to Tuesday’s meeting, some who spoke to the committee during public comment. Most were not concerned about the political maneuvering among supervisors, and just wanted their issues on the ballot.

“I have friends with Rett Syndrome,” 9-year-old Norah Lowe of Merrimac said through an eye-directed speaking device as she sat in a wheelchair. “They use medicine that helps them. Why can’t I try this medicine? I want to see if it will help me.”

McCumber proposed the medical marijuana referendum at the request of the girl’s mother, who lives in his district. He also said he has a stepniece with Rett Syndrome in another state whose mother has vouched for the effectiveness of medical marijuana.

Several citizens in attendance spoke passionately about the right to bear arms and outlawing abortion.

“To dissect an unborn baby for another usage, we find despicable,” David Olson said.

Before the committee took up the newly proposed ballot questions, it discussed what the threshold should be for referendum issues. And after a nearly hourlong discussion, no agreement was reached.

Supervisors who proposed the new referendums said the board only should consider ballot questions on issues over which the county has authority to act.

One of those supervisors, Wally Czuprynko of Lake Delton, said since his fellow committee members already have approved referendums on gerrymandering and campaign finance, it would be unfair for them to reject the new ones he and McCumber have proposed.

“If we don’t want those, then we shouldn’t have any of them,” Czuprynko said.

Supervisor Bill Hambrecht of Prairie du Sac took issue with that position, saying referendum subject matter shouldn’t be limited. It’s up to elected board members to decide what should be on the ballot, he said, and allowing one referendum doesn’t mean the county is obligated to approve all others.

“To say that, ‘Well, we can’t stop it so we’ve just got to put on everything,’ that’s not logical,” Hambrecht said.

Board Chairman Peter Vedro of Baraboo said the issues under consideration Tuesday — including abortion, gun rights and medical marijuana — were secondary to “access to the ballot box,” which he deemed critical to a representative democracy. That should be the threshold for advisory referendums, he said.

Vedro then proposed that the board send a resolution to the Wisconsin Counties Association in support of medical marijuana legislation, rather than authorize an advisory referendum on the issue.

McCumber and Supervisor David Moore of Wisconsin Dells accused Vedro of lecturing those in attendance, stating his opinions as fact, and being intolerant of other viewpoints.

McCumber and Moore are conservatives who have run for the state Assembly as Republicans. Vedro is a progressive and one-time Democratic candidate for the Assembly. Vedro proposed the gerrymandering and the campaign finance referendums that the board has approved in recent months.

“This is not the Peter Vedro Board,” Moore said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This is the Sauk County Board.”

At another point in the meeting, after Vedro passed Moore over to call on another supervisor, Moore said, “The world according to Vedro. Unbelievable.”

In another back-and-forth about Vedro’s use of the word “consensus” in an opinion column, Moore suggested that the board chairman “buy a dictionary.”

That prompted a brief argument in which Vedro said Moore should refrain from personal attacks and Moore demanded that Vedro answer his questions.

As Moore and Vedro talked over each other, Josh Lowe, the father of the 9-year-old Rett Syndrome sufferer, stood up and said he was done listening.

Lowe accused both men of behaving childishly, and said Vedro was being hypocritical by not giving the same consideration to the medical marijuana referendum that he did to the gerrymandering issue.

Vedro later changed course, and ultimately supported a motion to send the medical marijuana referendum to the full board for consideration Tuesday night.

The panel also opted to pull back a proposed referendum on the so-called “dark store loophole,” which allows large retail chains to lower their property tax bills and shift the burden to residential homeowners. Instead of a referendum on that issue, the panel chose to send a resolution supporting new legislation to the full board.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.