Monday, December 9, 2013

Bad answers, wrong questions

By Bill Kraus

When Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tells a credulous Rotary Club that the present system used for redistricting is working just fine and that the Iowa system being proposed to replace it doesn’t work and is unconstitutional to boot, it is time to reload and remind in case any of us ever gets a chance to refute and clarify.

The present system is working just fine in one way. It is working just fine for those incumbents who Speaker Vos favors.

Through a combination of collusion, artful mapmaking, and imaginative computer manipulation the system has produced eight sure-to-be-re-elected members of Congress and a solid majority of Republicans in the state Assembly in a state where the Democrats outpolled the Republicans by some 200,000 votes in the last statewide election.

With these results Wisconsin was a serious contender for the “most egregious gerrymandering” award until the Democrats in nearby Illinois did their number on the flatlander voters south of us.

In Illinois one officeholder is given a super safe district by connecting a pocket of surefire Democrats with another pocket of surefire Democrats by a long, unoccupied road. Their legislative leaders are no doubt telling their Rotary Clubs that their present redistricting system is working just fine as well.

What is working just fine is the Iowa system in Iowa. The reason it is working just fine is that it eliminates gerrymandering in all its guises.

The Iowa maps are a series of straightforward rectangles which do not carve up cities and counties or even wards for gerrymandering purposes. The mapmakers there, unlike the mapmakers here, make sure the “one person, one vote” rule is strictly followed. The mapmakers there do not consider where the incumbents reside as they make their maps, nor do they consider where the voters most likely to favor one party or the other live either.

Both of those criteria are important considerations in the mapmaking in both Wisconsin and Illinois. The distortions they create are vividly in play in Wisconsin in the congressional map where a finger from the mostly western 3rd congressional district reaches out to the mostly central 7th congressional district to bring the heavily Democratic south Wood and Portage counties from the 7th to the 3rd with the ever-so-obvious intention of making the 3rd district more friendly for the Dems and the 7th for the GOP.

The less obvious gerrymandering in Wisconsin is done by creating state legislative districts which are predestined to elect Democrats by margins as large as 90 percent to 10 percent. This is nice for the Dems who run in those districts. It is the side effect of this mathematical gerrymandering that is less nice. What this surefire vote packing does is dramatically reduce the number of Democratic voters available for the rest of the state. This is how a 50-50 state ends up with a 60-40 split in the Assembly.

That is how it’s done in Wisconsin and Illinois. That is how it is not done in Iowa.

The maps created by a reputable un-partisan state agency in Iowa are approved by the Iowa legislature and the governor. This meets the constitutional requirement.

This process has worked in Iowa, where it was enacted by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor more than 30 years ago.

The first step on the way to a redistricting system free of gerrymandering has been taken in Wisconsin. Bills to emulate the Iowa plan have been introduced.

The questions the Rotary Club members asked were whether the present system works in Wisconsin and whether the Iowa system would be constitutional in Wisconsin.

The answers Speaker Vos gave were “It does work” and “no.”

The more candid and correct answers were, “It works for gerrymandering” and “yes.”

The unasked and even more important question that needs to be asked whenever the subject comes up is, “Why have there been no hearings on the anti-gerrymandering bills?”

What voters everywhere must do is make sure the right questions are asked.

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