Monday, January 7, 2013

The lonely crusade for rational redistricting


By Bill Kraus

Everybody who has been paying attention knows that decades of gerrymandering via maps and mathematics have inevitably created two sets of elections with two sets of winners beholden to two very different constituencies. Or, in a word, a gridlock democracy.

A gridlock, no compromise between executive and legislative branches world is hardly what the founding fathers had in mind and sets a course for governing futility.

I, along with many others, thought that those with the power to do so would move quickly to repair the damage gerrymandering has done by changing the way legislative districts are fashioned before permanent, irremediable hardening of the arteries sets in.

I was wrong.

The first clue came from three presentations I made to three very different groups about the results of and remedies for legislative redistricting by incumbents and partisans.

All three audiences agreed that most of us have lost a real choice of who is to represent us by the time of the November election, that this was not desirable, and that someone should probably do something about this.

I asked the lefties who Midge Miller left behind to join an embryonic effort to do that something. They all indicated they would do that in hopes that I would change the subject to something more interesting. I have heard nothing from any of them since.

The golden oldies were more engaged by the subject, and pitched in with ideas of their own on the fix: the California solution which diminishes already-weak party alliances even further, even a variation on the British government by parliament, were suggested. No one volunteered to ask their representatives to do anything.

A more typical middling eating club’s members showed their boredom with the subject by asking questions which were totally irrelevant to the subject--like voter ID. They have not signed on to the feeble and faltering redistricting fix movement either.

These three experiences indicate that the whole subject is boring.

The sponsors of the legislation to move the responsibility for districting from the Legislature to a less tendentious bureau akin to what Iowa did a long time ago figured that if this change was to take place after the 2020 census the current legislators would find it much less threatening and more appealing. These sponsors are reporting that this is not happening. People whose vision rarely goes beyond the next election are reluctant to tamper with the status quo of which they are unlikely to be a part some eight or nine years in the future.

That was clue number two.

The most recent challenge to the paralyzing process was posed by a group of newspaper people in an interview with the new speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and his leadership team. This confrontation showed that the men whose hands are on the levers of power in Wisconsin think the Iowa system didn’t work as promised, that the elected representatives with their natural biases are more subject to voter rejection if they redistrict badly (see clue one, above), and that the results of the recent redistricting were not distorted by partisan mapping and partisan loading.

The newspaper people, to their credit, have taken a strong editorial position in favor of dispassionate redistricting generally, a solution not unlike that used in Iowa specifically.

They didn’t, however, seem to know that Iowa acted quickly and almost unanimously after the recent census and didn’t challenge the speaker’s misinformation on this subject. Nor did they ask how the Assembly of a state that is at worse evenly split and voted for a Democratic president and U.S. senator could produce an almost 2-to-1 majority for the Republican candidates for the state Assembly without some serious manipulation.

The game isn’t over, but gridlock has at least a three-touchdown lead in the early going.

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