Monday, November 4, 2013

Favoring the indefensible


By Bill Kraus

The leaders of the majority party in both houses of the state Legislature have made a couple of things very clear:

They do not want to give up their right to gerrymander, which includes the right to protect their favorite incumbents in all years and their right to manufacture unbeatable majorities in the years they have majorities in both houses and a compatriot in the governor’s office.

The other thing they have made clear is they are not interested in having hearings in either house on the bills that would end gerrymandering on the obvious but unstated grounds that hearings would require them to defend the indefensible and answer the hard-to-avoid question: “Do you favor gerrymandering?”

The majority leader has accomplished this in his domain by extracting a pledge from most members of his caucus which prohibits them from breaking ranks on this question whenever and wherever it might arise.

The speaker of the Assembly took a more direct route. Instead of assigning the anti-gerrymandering bill to the elections committee whose chair had publicly promised to give it a hearing he sent it to what is now Chad Weininger’s committee which has a history of conducting burials instead of hearings.

These actions are totally understandable given the fact that the obligation to fund and run their party’s expensive, competitive races has fallen to the legislative leaders. The fewer of these the better for them.

What is not so easily explained is why the governor has sat silently on the sidelines as the legislative leaders make their lives easier.

The primary victims of the kind of egregious gerrymandering that is going on in Wisconsin and Illinois for sure and probably elsewhere as well are the voters who are the partially disenfranchised voters in the many “safe” districts gerrymandering produces. Their votes mean something only in the party primaries.

I am familiar with this phenomenon. For many years I cast votes in Wisconsin’s Portage County before I moved to Dane County and spent some time in Manhattan in New York City. No matter where I lived I never had an opportunity to vote for a candidate for the Assembly with whom I shared a party affiliation who had a prayer of being elected.

I was a victim of being in a political minority in a society that tends to cluster.

Gerrymandering takes my unavoidable fate a giant step further by creating unbeatable partisan clusters where none exist naturally.

The other victims of gerrymandering are the presidents and governors who must deal with gerrymandered legislatures whose loyalties lie elsewhere.

As a wise longtime politician once told me, “Dealing with legislators is like raising children. You do it with bribes and threats.”

A legislature that is gerrymandered into safe, invincible districts is susceptible to neither bribery or intimidation.

Stalemate is inevitable. This nightmare is on view in Washington. It also reaches to the presumably manageable precincts of Wisconsin where a popular governor couldn’t get a job creating proposal funded at the level he wanted through a recalcitrant Assembly controlled by his own party.

I don’t know which of the four estates the executives occupy is, but it seems to me it is the duty of any governor or aspiring president to protect the authority of executive offices everywhere by taking a stand against the kind of gerrymandering that diminishes their power to govern.

The redistricting reform ball is in your court, Governor Walker. Are you going to hit it back or let it lie there?

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