Reform Redistricting

Lawrence N. Hansen: Midwest Democracy Network champion led ‘life of purpose’

From the sweltering Mississippi of 1964’s “Freedom Summer” to Washington’s marbled corridors of power to the rough-and-tumble of Illinois politics, Larry Hansen devoted his nearly 50-year career to making American democracy work better.

Hansen, vice president of the Joyce Foundation in Chicago since 1994 and former aide to both former Vice President Walter Mondale and U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, died of cancer at his home in River Forest, Illinois on November 15, 2010. He was 69.

As Program Officer of the Joyce Foundation’s Money and Politics Program, one of his signature achievements was to help create an infrastructure of campaign reform groups in the Midwest, the region in which the Foundation focuses its grant-making. Under Hansen’s leadership, the Money and Politics Program has also engaged scholars and practitioners in electoral reform from across the nation to help support the work of The Midwest Democracy Network, a coalition of state-based reform groups in Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota funded by Joyce.

“Larry Hansen did more than any other individual to nurture the development of new organizations, programs and activities dedicated to improving the integrity and effectiveness of American elections,” said Thomas Mann, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington and a national expert on political reform. “His rich experience in politics and government, deep understanding and appreciation of history, and signature wit and good humor made Larry an inspiring and beloved figure in American politics.”

Hansen focused most recently on reform of redistricting, the process by which state legislatures redraw political boundaries after each U.S. Census. But he saw redistricting reform as just one piece of a broader reform agenda that also included campaign financing, judicial elections, government transparency and accountability and other areas vital to a well-functioning democracy.

“Larry had a lively, sometimes puckish, but always generous intellect and an absolutely unshakable belief that we share a responsibility to make the world a better place,” said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, one of several state reform organizations funded by the Money and Politics Program at Joyce. “Of all his many contributions, I think his greatest is planting that same belief in all of the many people he mentored. He is always going to live on in the little bit of him he leaves with each of us.”

Hansen displayed that “puckish” sense of humor in a January 2010 memo to friends and colleagues notifying them that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his brain.

“A funny thing happened to me on the way to my 69th birthday celebration,” Hansen wrote, describing the symptoms that led him to his doctor’s office and the subsequent diagnosis. Referring to upcoming chemotherapy, he went on to say: “I have been assured on good authority that folks eager to see me without my familiar ‘comb-over’ will have a chance before long: I trust it will be becoming.”

Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, spoke of the notable personal and professional qualities that characterized Hansen’s approach to his work.

“Larry brought a great sense of humanity, leavened with humor, to every task. He was a joy to work with: kind, knowledgeable, opinionated and passionate. He was also a brilliant writer and editor, and a highly skilled and persuasive public speaker. His impact in the field of philanthropy was truly significant, ” Alberding said.

Before joining Joyce in 1994, Hansen served as Research Professor and Director of the Democracy Agenda Project at George Washington University’s Center for Communications studies, and as Vice President of the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies. Prior to that, he served as an assistant to Mondale and Stevenson and to former Illinois Superintendent of Public Education Michael Bakalis.

Hansen served as Mondale’s sole on-the-road companion, political advisor and general troubleshooter in 1982-83, in the months leading up to Mondale’s formal announcement that he would seek the presidency in 1984. During that time, the two attended hundreds of events and appearances in 46 states, Canada and Europe.

“We traveled the campaign trail together all over this country. We talked about everything. Larry was gifted, funny, wise and competitive. He also liked to order, on a daily basis, an adequate supply of sweet rolls,” Mondale said. “He had this gift of calming down matters that had gotten out of control. Everybody liked him. Larry was a blessing to all of us who loved people and politics. Joan and I send our prayers for the loss of this extraordinarily gifted and kind man.”

From 1974 to 1981, Hansen was special assistant and then administrative assistant to Sen. Stevenson. In the latter position, he supervised a 30-person staff in Washington, Chicago and Springfield.

Hansen equally enjoyed the intellectual challenge of issues and policy and the hand-to-hand combat that characterizes Illinois’ special brand of politics.

“Larry’s life was devoted to public service,” said Stevenson. “For Larry, public service was more than a citizen’s duty. It was also an intellectual challenge and occupation. Larry had a wry sense of humor, a capacious memory and a talent for articulation that made good use of his political experience for the amusement and edification of his many friends. He’ll be missed by his friends – and by a country that misses his kind.”

Bakalis described Hansen’s life as “a life of purpose.”

“Larry Hansen was one of those rare people who took issues, politics and history seriously and actually did something concrete to make things better. But he also kept everything in perspective with his great sense of humor. His was a life of purpose and he made a difference.”

Hansen’s career was also characterized by a desire to help the underdog – whether in the U.S. or in Peru, where he worked with fellow students to build the first modern sanitation facilities in two barrios of Lima in 1962.

Much to the consternation of his parents given the risks involved, Hansen drove to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to work with local civil rights activists and lawyers to register African Americans to vote. What became known as “Freedom Summer” was remembered for its historic achievements—but also for the brutal murders of three civil rights workers by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Hansen, who grew up in Elgin, earned a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from the University of Illinois.

After graduating from the U of I, where he served as Student Senate President, Hansen interned as a staff assistant in the Illinois General Assembly. It was there that he met Stevenson, who was elected with a distinguished group of other reformers in the now famous 1964 at-large election. When Stevenson decided to run for State Treasurer in 1966, he asked Larry to head up an ambitious and eminently successful youth operation, which played a prominent role in the campaign. Notwithstanding a Republican year that saw the defeat of legendary U.S. Senator Paul Douglas, Stevenson eked out a 40,000-vote margin over Harris Rowe to become State Treasurer.

It was in that ‘66 campaign that Hansen met his future wife, Margaret “Marge” Rybicki, to whom he was married for 41 years. Also during that campaign, he met his lifelong friend, public affairs executive Rick Jasculca.

“It would be difficult to overstate just how much Larry energized young people in an off-year election—for the office of State Treasurer, no less,” Jasculca recalled. “Larry was passionate, committed, charismatic, and his enthusiasm was contagious. It is not a reach to say categorically that he helped launch an entire generation of political activists, myself included.”

Hansen was also a Member of the Board of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois and of the Donors Forum, and Chair of the Advisory Board of Illinois Issues.

In addition to his wife, Hansen is survived by his mother, Jeanne Hansen; sisters Janis (David) Duewel and Candace; brother Lance (Sue); brother- and sister-in-law John and Patricia Brown; and many nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held on Thursday, November 18 from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Cumberland Chapels, 8300 West Lawrence, Norridge, IL.

A funeral mass will be celebrated Friday, November 19 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Thecla Catholic Church, 6725 West Devon Avenue, Chicago. The mass will be preceded by final viewing and prayers at Cumberland Chapels at 9:00 a.m. Internment will be private.

Memorials may be sent to: the University YMCA at the University of Illinois, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign, IL 61820, or to Illinois Issues, HRB 10, University of Illinois Springfield, One University Plaza, Springfield, IL 62703-5407.


Time to End Judicial Elections?

      The 2010 judicial elections, “awash in cash and blaring attack ads,” argue for ending the election of judges to the bench, a New York Times editorial declared.

The editorial, entitled “A Blow to the Courts,” cited Election Day outcomes in Iowa and Illinois as among the most troubling. It was one of three major commentaries on recent retention elections. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial also used the term “body blow” in discussing the Iowa vote, in which three justices were ousted, while a National Review commentary described the vote as an appropriate response to “judicial imperialism.”

Thanks to Gavel Grab for the summary.

In Iowa, outside groups including the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association bankrolled a “Vote No” campaign over a unanimous high-court ruling that permitted same-sex marriage. The ouster effort pumped in at least $1 million to dump the judges, while a group working to support them spent about $400,000.

In Illinois, Justice Thomas Kilbride raised about $2.5 million from labor interests, plaintiffs’ lawyers and other groups channeling funds through the Illinois Democratic Party in order to beat back a $650,000 ouster drive by business and insurance interests. The money-raising “from interests with regular business before the court has left a cloud around his tenure,” the editorial said.

Other news media voices have joined in ongoing debate. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, entitled “Targeting judges,” said:

“Iowa voters chipped away at a cornerstone of justice, which calls for judges to rule without fear or favor. If judges tailor their decisions to the popular will, rather than the law, the courts will become just another political area where the outcome is determined by the highest bidder.

“One hopeful result of the Iowa debacle could be that the legal community pushes back hard against politicizing the bench. For their part, voters in several states showed good sense by rejecting other one-issue campaigns targeting judges.”

In addition, the editorial suggested, the Iowa outcome could be used to defuse criticism of switching to merit-selection plans in Pennsylvania and other states. After all, it said, “no one can say that voters were denied their voice.”


Reprinted from the Midwest Democracy Network website at

2010 Judicial Elections Increase Pressure on Courts, Reform Groups Say

Election Day 2010 brought a new round of special interest money, nasty ads and wedge issue politics into America’s courtrooms, breaking several spending records and spreading costly, ideological hardball campaigns into new states. The roar of this year’s national politics—which favored populists and partisans, and tilted against incumbents and the establishment—played out in judicial elections and referenda in a number of states.
In Michigan, Supreme Court candidates were vastly outspent by political parties and an out-of-state group in a TV ad war whose cost was estimated at $5 million to $8 million. In Alabama, combined spending exceeded $3.2 million. Election costs remained modest in North Carolina, which offers public financing to qualifying appellate court candidates.

In Iowa, three Supreme Court justices were ousted after out-of-state interest groups spent nearly $700,000 to unseat them over their votes in a 2009 gay marriage case. But organized efforts to unseat high court justices failed in Illinois, Colorado, Alaska, Kansas and Florida. Non-candidate groups spent heavily on TV ads in Michigan and Ohio, while Iowa and Illinois set records for the most expensive retention elections ever in their states.

As they have done several times over the last decade, voters rejected efforts to change judicial selection systems. In Nevada, Question 1, which would have replaced competitive elections with judicial appointments and retention contests, was defeated. But in Kansas, voters in District 1 also defeated efforts to scrap a merit selection system and switch to competitive contests.

“Pressure on impartial justice is growing,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign. “Judges are facing more demands to be accountable to interest groups and political campaigns instead of the law and the constitution.”

Through Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, slightly more than $12 million was spent nationally on TV air time this year in state Supreme Court elections. Of that, nearly $5.1 million — 42% of total spending for the year — was spent in the week leading up to the election, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1.

Including $4.6 million spent on TV ads in 2009, the current total for the 2009-2010 election cycle is approximately $16.6 million, about the same amount spent on judicial television advertising in the last non-presidential election cycle, 2005-2006.

“As in past years, judicial election campaigns featured substantial numbers of hard-hitting, mud-slinging attack ads – many of which were as nasty as those seen in any political campaigns,” said Adam Skaggs, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Final estimates of TV ad spending, as recorded by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, are expected within a few days. Complete candidate fundraising data often are not fully available until weeks, and in some cases months, after the elections, meaning that total campaign cost totals tend to rise with time.

Three in four Americans believe that the special-interest money needed to finance such elections influences court decisions. From 2000 through 2009, fundraising by high-court candidates surged to $206.9 million, more than double the $83.3 million raised in the 1990s.

This year, heavy spending and angry TV ads spread to several states holding retention elections, which in 2000-2009 had accounted for barely 1 percent of spending in high court races. This year, high-court retention elections in Illinois, Iowa, Colorado and Alaska resulted in about $4.6 million in total costs—more than twice the $2.2 million raised for all retention elections nationally in 2000-2009.

In most of the 15 states where 37 justices stood in retention elections, however, campaign expenditures were far lower than in competitive election states.

Overall, 33 states held some type of election. In addition to the 15 states holding one-candidate retention elections, in which incumbents needed a “yes” vote to stay on the bench, 11 states held competitive elections for 18 seats. In seven other states, there were no challengers in elections that technically were competitive, granting automatic victory to the candidate on the ballot.

The following is a round-up of major trends in the 2009-10 judicial election campaign season, as identified by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the Brennan Center for Justice. Further information is available at the Judicial Elections 2010 web site.

TV Ad Data

Television ads ran this year in fourteen states with elections for the state supreme court: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

Michigan saw the highest overall spending on Supreme Court TV ads, with about $5.1 million spent on airtime, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG; Ohio is second with more than $1.9 million in airtime spending. In both of these states, four candidates competed for two Supreme Court seats. (An additional Ohio Justice, Paul Pfeifer, ran unopposed in a vote in which no TV advertising has aired.)

The highest level of spending in a single-candidate retention race was in Illinois, where incumbent Justice Thomas Kilbride spent more than $1.6 million on TV airtime through Nov. 1.

For the year, spending on television advertising in Supreme Court races was evenly split between judicial candidates and non-candidate groups. Through Nov. 1, candidates spent more than $6.1 million on television advertising, while non-candidate groups — including political parties and special interests — accounted for 49% of all television airtime, spending more than $5.9 million.

Four of the top five spenders on TV airtime in Supreme Court elections are non-candidate groups. The Michigan Republican Party ranked first overall in TV spending (just over $2 million).Kilbride ranked second ($1.6 million); the Michigan State Democratic Party ranked third ($1.4 million); the Partnership for Ohio’s Future ranked fourth (about $846,000); and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, which spent more than $780,000 in support of two Republican candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, ranked fifth.

“Many of the harshest ads were aired by political parties and special interest groups, which accounted for about 49% of all spending on television ads in state Supreme Court elections,” Skaggs said.

Through Nov. 1, spending on TV airtime in states holding single-candidate retention elections has totaled approximately $2.1 million — approximately 17.5% of all TV spending during that time. This level of spending in retention contests is the greatest since the Brennan Center for Justice began compiling judicial TV ad data in 2000.

Ohio, Alabama

Ohio and Alabama, the two most expensive states for the 2000-2009 decade, showed that high court campaigns can generate big numbers in even relatively quiet years.
Of the $3.2 million reportedly raised by Alabama candidates through Oct. 19, Republicans outraised Democrats four to one.

In Ohio, the most recent reports showed that candidates had raised $2.7 million, with the Republicans outraising the Democrats. In addition, the Chamber-related Partnership for Ohio’s Future spent more than $840,000, according to Brennan Center data.

( Excerpted from the Justice At Stake release at
November 3, 2010

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