Sunday, October 9, 2011

Only so angry

By Bill Kraus

What are the "angry" voters going to do about Congress? Not much.

One thing is clear. The polls are unanimous. The Congress is below unpopular on the way to being disdained, which is a step away from being despised. The conversations on the street confirm the polls.

The protests spreading across the country, however, are about banks and other brigands. The Congress is mentioned obliquely for not punishing the bad guys who ruined the country and are being protested against.

The protests are not going to overthrow the Congress.

It’s up to the voters. Will the voters do what the voters are supposed to do when the people they elect don’t perform up to the voters’ expectations?

This is possible but unlikely. It is also difficult.

The reason it is difficult is because several decades of subtle and not-so-subtle bipartisan bartering has created--to cite a local example--eight demographically biased one-party congressional districts in Wisconsin. Ours is not an isolated case.

So if the voters would really rebel and decide to throw the “rascals” out they would have to do so by finding some new rascals with the same party affiliations as those they want gone.

Statistically all eight congressional districts in Wisconsin are what political pundits regard as “safe.”

Statistics do not always hold up. A tidal wave comparable to those of 2008 and 2010 could make a Democrat vulnerable in the 3rd District or Republicans vulnerable in the 7th and 8th districts, but only incumbents pulling a Weiner-like faux pas or neglecting to campaign (surprisingly this happens, as the beloved Robert LaFollette, Jr. and even more beloved Gaylord Nelson learned to their sorrow) would go at risk in any election.

In the normal course of events no Republican, no matter how worthy, is going to unseat Gwen Moore in the 4th District or whichever Democrat replaces Tammy Baldwin in the 2nd District. Nor is any Democrat going to beat Paul Ryan in the 1st District, Tom Petri in the 6th District, or Jim Sensenbrenner in the 5th District.

The redistricting gods have so decreed.

Putting aside voters' fundamental inconsistency--we hate the Congress, love our congressional representatives--if the voters do decide to remove incumbents to punish the Congress itself they will have to do so in primary elections.

Another problem.

Very few voters turn out for primary elections. Those who do are overwhelmingly one-issue ideologues in the mold of the Wausau voter who told a reporter “I’m all about concealed carry” or yellow dog Democrats or Republicans, commonly referred to as “the base.” They will not turn against the incumbents they put in on their criteria because some pollster says they will. One thing is for sure, they will vote, and, thanks to bipartisan gerrymandering, their votes will determine most winners of the November elections. September is the new battleground.

It is possible to increase the September turnout enough to upset the gerrymanders’ apple cart and to outvote the primary voting base, but the chances are right up there with the Cubs winning the World Series.

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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