Sunday, July 24, 2011

Redistricting follies

By Bill Kraus

The Fantasy:

Once the disenfranchised majority learned that they were disenfranchised, they would rise up and demand reform.

The legislative leaders would want to give their endangered recallees something to talk about in these elections so they will be more winnable than a referendum on the governor might be.

The governor would like to get this contentious turf battle (all turf battles ultimately become both contentious and petty) off his agenda and desk.

A virtual organization in favor of the idea might not clutter the Capitol grounds but thousands of citizens would sign petitions in favor of taking the fox (the Legislature) out of the redistricting henhouse.

Legislators who have had a tough winter would flock to the cause and rush to sign on to the Iowa system bill to show they haven’t forgotten fairness and good government.

The press would jump on the issue as a news story and editorial issue and would cover every move every day to keep the attention and pressure levels high.

The Reality:

The disenfranchised majority either didn’t hear the wake up call or don’t mind being disenfranchised.

The legislative leaders not only are not interested in protecting their recalled sheep, they are asking them to take yet another tough vote on yet another issue that could play into these extraneous campaigns and further weaken the already diminished power of their incumbencies to hold their offices.

The governor proved to be focused on his own not-inconsequential agenda and not to be much interested in diversions on this issue or anything else for that matter.

The virtual organization which one would have expected to consist of the thousands of members of the several reform organizations at the very least finally consisted of less than 500 stalwarts for several unanticipated reasons including political sloth.

One Democratic freshman legislator was willing to introduce the Iowa plan bill at almost the last minute. No one in either party or either house joined him.

In the early going the “Make More Votes Count” organization sought widespread coverage of this obscure but important issue; the depleted press corps was otherwise engaged and overwhelmed by the other more urgent budgetary battles. The news holes were full to overflowing. No room was created for a drumbeat campaign calling daily attention to the impending gerrymandering which would further decrease the already low number of legislative districts where candidates from both parties have a chance to win. Several wonderful editorials and some great analytical news stories and columns plus pretty thorough coverage by public broadcasting proved insufficient to activate the “stop” button.

The It Ain't Over Till It's Over:

There are unsubstantiated and probably fanciful rumors that some of the items on the fantasy list are rattling a few cages and the redistricting bill is not really a done deal.

This would be attributable, if it’s true, to the effort of many people and many journalists to raise the profile of this inside-the-Capitol-Square issue and subject.

If this is not true, that same effort has spawned another route to redistricting. This can be categorized, for a lot of us, as planting a tree which will ever provide shade for us. The idea is to enact the dispassionate Iowa system now so it is in place for the next redistricting which will take place in 2021.

This has the virtue of being both farsighted and unthreatening to the current incumbents whose self interest would not be heavily engaged because few of them really expect to be around in 10 years.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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