U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for reelection in 2024, spoke to UW-Madison students on Friday. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin came to connect with University of Wisconsin-Madison student leaders on Friday as a part of Democrats’ weekend of “One Year to Win” events, a get-out-the-vote effort in the lead-up to the November 2024 elections.
Wisconsin Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, Secretary of State Sarah Godlewski and Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez, spent the weekend canvassing across the battleground state. Baldwin, who launched her reelection campaign in April, is running for her third term in the U.S. Senate.
Baldwin opened the event by describing the importance of the campus and student voters throughout her political career. In 1992, student voters were critical to Baldwin’s victory in her first run for state Assembly. In 1998, students helped make her the first woman from Wisconsin and first openly gay person elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. And they helped put her over the top again when she ran in 2012 against former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson for her seat in the U.S. Senate.
“It was turnout on this campus that made a critical difference in winning primary and winning federal elections,” Baldwin said.
Young voters have made a big impact in recent statewide elections and are anticipated to do the same in 2024. Record turnout on UW campuses in April 2023 made a difference in the election of liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, a win that flipped the ideological balance of the Court.
Baldwin praised students’ power in reelecting Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, who she said have been “pushing back against the Republican-dominated Legislature, which by the way has not been a friend to the University System.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Republicans are also seeking to make progress with young voters ahead of 2024, vowing to campaign harder in Democratic strongholds including UW campuses in Madison and Milwaukee.
Baldwin, who took questions from students during the roundtable event, said she wanted to hear their perspective on issues including climbing student debt, climate, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedoms.
One of the first questions focused on the best ways to encourage students to vote. Baldwin told students it’s important to engage new voters, including freshmen, and make sure that they get registered to vote.
“There’s lots we can do during the spring semester before people go away for summer break… to make sure that they’re prepared to get registered to vote as soon as they return,” Baldwin said. “The Wisconsin Legislature has passed all sorts of bills that make it harder for people to register to vote.”
Wisconsin’s voter identification laws prohibit the use of student ID unless they meet specific criteria, which many college IDs in the state do not. That has led some colleges and universities to issue separate IDs for voting. Students also face additional hurdles since their address can change from one year to the next.
Throughout the event, Baldwin and students who asked questions were repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who urged Baldwin to support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. Some of the protesters were not UW-Madison students.
One protestor asked Baldwin if she was “OK with Palestinian children being murdered.”
“I’m heartbroken with what’s happening. I can’t imagine there’s anyone in here who isn’t absolutely heartbroken,” Baldwin said. “I know people are not satisfied with the term ‘humanitarian pause’ but at minimum, the distribution of absolutely necessary food, medicine and water, we need to have that happen.”
Baldwin along with 33 senators have called on the Biden Administration to deliver emergency aid and address emergency needs in Gaza and the West Bank.
Protestors eventually left the event, after being asked to stop interrupting Baldwin and speaking over students, while chanting and holding signs that read “Ceasefire now.”
Despite the interruptions, Baldwin continued to take questions.
One student told Baldwin that a lot of students on the campus care a lot about environmental sustainability and climate change. The student said the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which included provisions to address climate change and push the country towards clean energy to reduce carbon emissions, was an “amazing” piece of legislation, but that the federal government is still approving oil pipelines and oil drilling. He asked Baldwin what more the federal government will do on the issue.
“You’re right to identify the [IRA] as one of the biggest, boldest things we’ve ever done on climate change — predicted to reduce our carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. Part of my job right now is to see that that measure is spatially implemented and additionally protected from repeal,” Baldwin said. “House Republicans are definitely looking at trying to repeal huge elements of the [IRA], particularly the climate change provisions… That’s just defending the progress we’ve made so far.”
Baldwin said there is more that can be done in the future across different sectors, including in the agricultural sector. She said ultimately that legislation needs to be passed that puts a price on carbon, whether it’s a carbon tax or another mechanism.
Student attendees said they appreciated Baldwin’s visit.
UW-Madison College Democrats Treasurer Sarah Kippes said Baldwin’s visit was exciting because it shows that she cares about student voices.
“When you see people so much older than you in office, it almost feels like you’re being underrepresented as a young person,” Kippes said. “[Baldwin] focused a lot on student voices and wanting to ask us questions on what we care about… It’s unheard of to have politicians reach out to students before they actually need to.”
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