Monday, February 28, 2011

Gerrymandering: The Next Protest

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
February 28, 2011

By Bill Kraus

The next protest will be about the two thirds (or more) of the state’s voters who are, have been, and will be ideologically disenfranchised by gerrymandered redistricting.

The facts, roughly, are that two senior members of the congressional delegation have reduced the number of congressional districts where a candidate from either party has a real chance to be elected to one.

The state Legislature is less orderly about reducing the numbers of Senate and Assembly districts where the voters pick their representatives than vice versa, but their messy process has produced the same kind of pre-ordination. The results there are that one-third of the Legislature is elected in July when only one candidate files nomination papers for the job.

Another one-third are elected in September when more than one candidate from the gerrymander-favored party dukes it out for that party’s nomination and a sure victory in the November finals.

That leaves one-third of the voters who get to pick a Republican or Democrat to represent them. Actually, it’s really more like one-third of this one-third who live in a district where there will be a real contest for those few seats.

It’s easy to tell if you’re in that last one-third of the one-third. You will have a TV commercial every minute for the entire election and will see big spending in every way and every medium by the candidates themselves and by outsiders who are seeking advantage where advantage can be bought, they hope.

This, of course, is why the contested elections are reduced to this smaller number. There is only so much money to go around. The more safe seats there are where strenuous electioneering and big spending is needed the less the desired disenfranchisement. Reduce the battleground elections and save money.

There is, of course, no way to make every state legislative race competitive. If you don’t believe this I invite you to frustrate yourself, try running a Republican for the state Assembly in Portage County or a Democrat in Green Lake County.

The fact is though that we could get much more competition into these races than we currently have.

It would be cheap and easy. All that needs to be done is to take the drawing of legislative district lines out of the hands of the Legislature.

Iowa did this decades ago.

They have many more competitive races, many fewer places where the fix is in.

Thanks to our neighbors to the west we don’t even have to re-invent the wheel. All we have to do is adopt the Iowa plan.

If we do this, we will take one more divisive issue off the legislative agenda. We will also save the state money that otherwise will be spent to get experts to carve us up into docile districts that favor whichever party that happens to be in the majority at the end of each census taking decade.

More importantly we will free legislators’ time to deal with the problems that affect us--the voters--instead of just the problems that affect them.

Ready to protest yet?

If so, start painting signs and telling the good government groups to do something beyond wailing and gnashing their teeth about the Supreme Court’s indifference to the collateral damage of their recent decisions about money in politics. The Supreme Court is not going to change its mind about money and is not involved in redistricting legislation.

This is something your legislators can do. It is unlikely that they will, however, unless large numbers of us make it clear that we would like our franchise back. We would prefer to pick our legislators instead of having them pick us.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Not quite open for business

By Bill Kraus

Tom Still has abandoned journalism, where he once starred, and now runs an organization called The Tech Council which is the best hope for a prosperous, innovative, new economy in Wisconsin.

In a lucid and well written (what else would you expect from a journalist?) column in the February 20 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal Still reminds us that the 2010 campaign for governor was about jobs, jobs, jobs.

My own take on this initiative from my peculiar, and lonely, vantage point in the “reform” camp was that Wisconsin, because it has a reputation of having a government that works, has an asset that businesses that create jobs value: a clean, stalemate-free, uncorrupt state government.

In an earlier blog post I suggested that we might adopt a non-partisan, disinterested redistricting plan to show the world that we--unlike initiative and referendum hogtied California, New York where parochial warfare is fierce and nonstop, and Illinois where the government is broke and jailhouse bound---are a less afflicted place to do business.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Illinois redux

By Bill Kraus

Not too many years ago there was a Supreme Court election in Illinois which attracted the participation of two outside groups.

One of the group’s agenda was to cap, contain, control, reduce the amount that could be awarded in personal injury cases. The other group was presumably composed of lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in personal injury cases and did not like capping, containing, controlling, or reducing the amounts granted by juries to their clients.

The lack of disclosure being what it is there was no way to be sure who belonged or contributed to these two groups. A problem. Actually, a correctible problem which is not being corrected in Wisconsin for sure and elsewhere probably.

Monday, February 7, 2011

This is a test

By Bill Kraus

The upcoming state Supreme Court election has more twists and turns and sets more precedents than any previous contest for this high office.

For a very long time incumbents on the court ran unopposed for re-election. Until recently only one incumbent failed to hold the seat in a contested election. Incumbents ran on their records and, to prove their bi-or-non-partisanship, recruited a prominent Democrat and a prominent Republican to head their campaign committees and coasted home.

Turnouts were light. There were no issues and was little vitriol, even in contests for an open seat where there was no incumbent to be ousted.

All of this changed in the last couple of decades. Incumbents were challenged, attack ads made their way into these polite precincts, and, considering the sedate history of these elections, all hell kind of broke loose.