Our Views: Let public air thoughts in proposed reform of Wisconsin redistricting

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dear Sen. Mary Lazich and Rep. Tyler August:

What are you and your Republican leaders afraid of? You chair committees assigned to review identical Senate and Assembly bills that would create a reasonable process for drawing legislative and congressional districts, yet you won't even schedule public hearings.

You’ve both stated your opposition publicly, and we get why. Every 10 years, whichever party is in power—Democrats and Republicans alike—has adjusted boundaries to its advantage so its members have better odds of keeping their jobs and continuing their reign. So these bills have about as much chance of passing this Legislature as snow falling on Dane County between now and Labor Day. That doesn’t mean Wisconsinites don’t deserve a chance to voice their views in hearings.

After all, no reasonable person can look at what Republicans did in 2011 and consider it fair and objective. Your party paid about $2 million in tax dollars to lawyers who secretly examined election trends by computer and chopped up municipalities so competitive districts had more Republican voters and more Democratic voters were shoved into districts where Democrats had heavy support anyhow. Even Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, a Republican appointee, called the process anything but open and fair.

You realize, of course, that supporters of Senate Bill 163 and Assembly Bill 185 want Wisconsin's redistricting to be similar to Iowa's model process. Iowa has had smooth and inexpensive redistricting the past four go-rounds. Wisconsin's proposal would let the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau draw compact, contiguous and “strictly nonpartisan” maps that consider municipal and county boundaries as much as possible.

As you know, newspapers across the state are joining the call this week for hearings. And Sen. Lazich, the column you had printed in Wisconsin's two largest newspapers ignored the fact that our elected representatives in the Legislature would still vote for and approve the maps or they would return to the bureau for more work.

Sure, partisans could still meddle in the process because the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization appoints the chief of the Legislative Reference Bureau, who hires bureau staffers, and that committee now has six Republicans and only four Democrats. Yet the bureau has had just two leaders the past 25 or more years, and both parties respect the chief and bureau and its staff. These folks are about as nonpartisan as they come in today's highly charged political atmosphere.

Sen. Lazich, you further claimed that removing politics from political decisions erodes both citizen interest and our democracy. Nonsense. Instead, polarized politics that result from decisions such as the 2011 redistricting are what turn off voters. Good government and decisions usually come from the middle, and the redistricting encouraged candidates to play to partisan wings of their parties.

After this latest redistricting, not one of Wisconsin's congressional races was competitive last fall. And—no surprise—few legislative races were hotly contested. This lack of competition discourages voters, as well.

So, Sen. Lazich and Rep. August, today we join our newspaper colleagues and call for you to bring these bills to a hearing now, before the 2021 redistricting draws too near. And we're asking our readers to rise up and contact both of you and their own legislators to urge just that.

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