By Audrey Korte
La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, November 9, 2022
In July, the legislative committee of Dunn County approved a referendum question that is unprecedented in rural America. The question asked Congress and the U.S. president to nationalize health care.
Generally, attempts such as these come from large, urban areas. They might come with a left-leaning agenda. But the Dunn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to add this question to the November ballot despite the fact that many of them are conservative.
The referendum passed on Tuesday with 9,049 voting yes — 51% of county voters; 8,564 people, or 49%, voted against it.
“My first reaction when they came in at 51% to 49% was initially, a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t more (favorable) but when I started digging into the numbers more specifically, I understood how big of a win this actually is,” said Monica Berrier, a Dunn County supervisor.
“This was the most important issue on the ballot. When you look at the total number of votes that were cast in this race, the referendum issue had more votes cast, total, than any other race (in the county),” she said.
The referendum had about 34% more votes cast in Dunn County than the governor’s race and Senate race, Berrier said. That means that people showed up to vote on the health care issue alone.
John Calabrese, who’s spent months working to support the effort in the hopes that the referendum would pass, said he finds the numbers from yesterday’s race “fascinating.”
Voting for national health care fared better than voting for Democratic candidates, numbers show.
“When you consider that the referendum got 51.4% approval, and Governor Evers got 39% in Dunn County, and Mandela Barnes got 36% — it just says to me that this is not a partisan issue, which is the main point of why we were pushing it. Because we don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” Calabrese said.
The results were encouraging, Berrier said. They demonstrate that the issue of national health insurance is not a single-party issue.
“It wasn’t the case that the left-leaning city of Menomonie carried this. There was significant support in the rural areas as well,” Berrier said.
“When you compare the number of votes that we got for the referendum compared to the votes that we got for Tony Evers, the referendum had more yes votes than Evers by 12% points. So that suggests that there are quite a few conservatives who voted for (Tim) Michels who also voted for this referendum. That was really encouraging.”
Results of this referendum could make waves in Wisconsin. Other counties are considering putting the same question to voters in the spring.
“What I hope is that this discussion in Dunn County will inspire other counties to do the same. And I think that if other counties across Wisconsin, and even into other states start doing that, I think that the federal legislators are really going to have to start to pay attention,” Berrier said.
There also are people in Minnesota, California, Texas, Massachusetts and Kentucky that are paying close attention to this referendum. They hope to be able to replicate what’s happening in Dunn County in their states.
For now, Berrier and Calabrese want to make sure this referendum has meaning, that it can be replicated across the state.
“I think we need to continue to take it to other counties and try to replicate the formula and remember what works,” Calabrese said. “There’s a tendency among people who are involved to want to, you know, reach out to county board supervisors and other counties and I think that’s important, but a key part of why this was put on the ballot was the input from actual citizens of Dunn County, imploring their county board to put it on the ballot. So there needs to be a groundswell localized in each county.”
Passing the referendum won’t immediately affect national policy. However, it does tell the state and federal governments that residents of Dunn County want new national health care options.
“I think it’s really exciting that Dunn County is breaking ground here and being the first county in the state to do this,” said Berrier. “And I think it’s really important for us, and the local government, to give the people a voice on national issues as much as we can.”