Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding God


By Bill Kraus

In an August primary, we elected 90 percent of the candidates for the state Legislature and the entire congressional delegation.

That left the 10 percent of the seriously contested state legislative races, the U.S. Senate contest, and Obama vs. Romney to be decided in November.

This election configuration has been crafted over the years by a long series of legislative incumbents who worship the god Gerry Mander.

They did this by obeying the constitutional mandate to reconfigure all the legislative districts in the wake of the every 10-year census.

When one party has been in total control, this is done to favor their incumbents and make sure they survive the next 10 years’ elections. When we have split government, this is done by mutual agreement. You show me your favorites and I’ll show you mine.

This would be all well and good but for the need to govern.

In practice this means that the executives who are elected with a statewide mandate contributed little or nothing to the legislators who will have to vote for the things included in that mandate. When they look behind themselves, they don’t see any coat tails. Their legislatures are beholden to the small number of ardent partisans who dominate primary elections. Legislative incumbents have nothing to fear unless they stray far enough from those voters’ wishes to end up with a more conformist opponent in their next election. In the present splits, safe Republicans have to worry about the righteous righties and safe Democrats about the loony lefties.

They do not have to worry about what the governor (or the president) wants. Those winners won with the votes of a whole different constituency, typically one that accepts the need for the kind of compromises that the primary participants disdain.

Bi-polarism suborns gridlock even within each party. One of the reasons Jeff Fitzgerald may have decided on his whimsical run for the U.S. Senate was to get away from the miscreants in his caucus. The same reason John Boehner gets my sympathy. These cats don’t herd.

So this can be fixed. All we have to do is take the redistricting that creates this overwhelming majority of “safe” districts out of the hands of the legislature and its leaders.

There’s a small problem. They are the ones who did this to us. They like it.

The legislative leaders have assumed the role that the parties and the citizen politicians who ran them when parties were worth running used to have. The legislative leaders and their campaign committees now recruit, slate, and fund most candidates.

Their objective is a majority, as docile and affordable as possible. Their worst nightmare is spirited contests for all 132 legislative (and eight congressional) seats.

They are sleeping peacefully.

The trouble is that a system dominated by hyper-partisans who are deaf to voters’ pleas for civility and compromise is also loath to rally behind the governors’ and president’s agendas.

If there is a cure for bi-polarism, it isn’t going to come from the inside. This is the insiders’ baby.

I was part of a failed attempt to put the cure for this deadly disease on the public agenda some 18 months ago. It went nowhere. But it isn’t dead. A few incumbent legislators who can see beyond the end of their own noses are proposing a districting plan which will do for Wisconsin what Iowa’s legislature did for Iowa 30 years ago, which may not have cured bi-polarism but certainly ameliorated it.

We could do that. But only if we make it known to the candidates before they become sure things (which they do to a large extent on filing day in July, and substantially on primary day) that this is on our agenda, and we will go to the trouble to vote in August and will vote for people who don’t worship the god Gerry Mander.

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