Monday, May 30, 2011

How power gets made

By Bill Kraus

Most of the coverage of the current Wisconsin legislative leaders has focused on the fact that the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate are brothers, which is interesting. What is overlooked is the more obscure phenomenon that the jobs they hold have become more and more powerful over time.

Legislative leaders were always powerful, and usually attracted the best and the brightest from the elected members even though the main talent on view and needed was akin to herding cats in a venue where the cats had large egos and demanding constituencies.

The cats, for the most part, came to them courtesy of the recruiting, slating, funding and campaigning of the political parties.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A problem and an opportunity

By Bill Kraus

Every indication is that the flurry of recall elections coming this summer will be referendums on Governor Walker.

They will not necessarily be about what he has done or proposes to do but on him....personally.

The bumper strips “Recall Walker” say it all.

The pro- and anti- interests that have dogs in this fight will weigh in with their money and their ads which will oversimplify, stretch, and/or distort the truths about the things they like or dislike.

Disagreement will be displaced by demonization. Adversaries will become enemies. Irrespective of the winners of these elections the effect will be to deepen the partisan divide.

The losers will be compromise, civility and mutual respect for the trade and the people who ply it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Instant recall

By Bill Kraus

Power is an uncertain, unreliable, often volatile, mistress.

Newt had it in the '90s. It began to erode when he let Jim Sensenbrenner’s judicial committee abuse the impeachment process. The fact that Clinton was slowly sinking and the Democrats were doing nothing to impede his trip to the bottom was quickly reversed by the push from the power-overplaying Republicans.

Newt finished off his run by deciding to shut down the government. He’s back, of course, but hardly at full strength, and everybody now knows he didn’t know how to handle power when he had it.

Even the late, great FDR wounded the progress of the New Deal agenda by thinking he was bigger than the Supreme Court. The odd, historically important fallout from this diversion was that the next item on the New Deal agenda, health care reform, never made it to enactment. Delayed by the power play against the Supreme Court. Bumped aside by WWII.

Power comes with a caveat. Don’t overreach. There will be a recoil. Nobody likes a bully.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hot button bungle

By Bill Kraus

The legislative leaders plan to fast track the not-yet-enacted and may-have-to-be-reenacted proposals on their short agenda makes it a sure thing that all the upcoming replacement and recall elections will be what those already decided have been: a referendum on Governor Walker.

This worked out well only in a couple of Assembly districts that were safely Republican. Not so well for the Republican who hoped to succeed Mike Huebsch.

It was almost catastrophic for the heavily favored Supreme Court Justice David Prosser when he failed to dump the campaign aide who implied that David would be a rubber stamp for the governor. But for the unexplained and unexpected weak support for her in Milwaukee the Supreme Court election would have propelled the virtually unknown Joanne Kloppenburg to a seat on that court.

So what are the mostly moderate Republican senators being recalled to do in the face of these realities?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

To gerrymander or not to gerrymander

By Bill Kraus

What the responses to my last blog post about de-partisanizing redistricting reminded me of is how far below the radar this whole subject is.

This is not what you would call a high-profile item. A good half of the people who contacted me or who didn’t respond to my contact urging them to join a movement to turn the every decade legislative district map-making over to people who don’t have a dog in the fight seemed wary of my motives.

Imagine that.

What had been made clear is that the present system puts competitiveness into the criteria mix. Negatively. As long as the map-making is in the hands of the legislators who occupy these districts, they will favor making fewer districts and the elections for those districts less competitive. So far so good.

The next assumption among the doubters was that the Iowa system, which I admire, tries to make more districts and elections more competitive. This may or may not be the result of disinterested redistricting, but it is not the objective of it. The genius of the Iowa system is that it simply takes competitiveness out of the list of criteria.

The criteria that remain and which I like are:

1. Where counties or major municipalities have the population to be about one Assembly seat or two or three or more, districts should be drawn within those bounds to yield that number.

2. No counties or municipalities should be divided among districts unless that is necessary to assure approximately one person one vote. And then the districts should be defensible, have natural boundaries like rivers or city thoroughfares or media markets, other political boundaries like school districts, or ethnic conclaves.

3. No wards should be cut.

4. Districts should be as compact as possible. No long fingers or squiggles. Square is a good shape.

5. Population equality is a goal not an absolute. Over the course of the 10 years these districts are in effect a lot of population shifts are going to happen. So getting close to population is good, getting too perfect is probably impossible and not necessary.

6. If within these rules, incumbents can be placed in one district and putting two incumbents into one district can be avoided, that’s okay. Contorting districts to make sure there are no incumbent vs. incumbent contests isn’t justifiable.

No red and blue criteria are recommended.

The idea is to make defensible, almost-population-equal districts and let the voting chips fall where they may.

It seems to me that maps drawn by a dispassionate public agency which has a few geography majors on staff can do this without setting off an epidemic of paranoia: the incumbents’ occupational disease.

And, if what they come up with is at or near what has happened in Iowa, for example, the incumbents will vote for it overwhelmingly, there will be fewer gerrymanders, and more voters votes will count right through the November elections.

How scary is that?

The opportunity to put this idea on everybody’s short agenda at this moment in time and space arrives because there are going to be eight or nine elections in a wholly unanticipated summer season this year. It is my hope that everyone who runs in these elections will be asked to support this un-radical, unthreatening, voter-power enhancing idea.

I would think that none of them would say no thanks, that they prefer gerrymandering.

This is the last chance to make this good thing happen until 2021.

Let’s do it.

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