Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bluer and redder than ever

By Bill Kraus

Craig Gilbert’s brilliant analysis of how Wisconsin votes (it's the first of three chapters in the May 4 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ) is not a death sentence for redistricting reform, but does warn us of the limitations of this still worthy effort.

It also raises some questions and conundrums.

It is obvious, and has been for a long time, that we tend to cluster and that there is more to this clustering than geography. It is racial, with Milwaukee being the most dramatic example. It is economic, with whole counties in and around Milwaukee and suburbs everywhere generally being examples. It is hereditary, with ethnic roots in places like Portage County and other areas that are creatures of history and long ago immigrations. It is more and more political.

The political clustering is exacerbated by the gerrymandering and vote packing that majority party incumbents can be expected to permanize and expand until and unless the map making responsibility on which redistricting is based is put in the hands of the dispassionate and disinterested. Before 2021 one hopes.

The conundrum that remains and that is puzzling is that the predictability and party loyalty is intensifying in an era when the parties themselves are less important than they were in history, excluding George Washington’s first term when they didn’t exist.

The parties were done in by the Watergate reforms which were designed to curtail the excesses of the 1972 fundraising by Republicans who were twisting arms to make sure that the Republican coffers were filled to overflowing to assure the re-election of Richard Nixon. Talk about a solution in search of a problem. Nixon’s re-election was never in doubt and was made more of a sure thing by the missteps of the admirable but inept George McGovern and his campaign advisers. It was almost as much of a sure thing as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 victory, which only Lyndon himself doubted in a astounding display of candidate paranoia, but I digress.

What the Watergate reforms did was remove the parties from their historic role of picking candidates and funding the picked candidates’ campaigns.

They cut the money loose, and those with money no longer had to deal with the party finance committees and chairs who collected and dispersed most of the campaign money before 1974. This led to the rise of direct donations, third-party campaigns, and other atrocities. It devolved into a system of entrepreneurial candidacies which, in turn, has led to legislative leaders assuming the parties former roles and candidates doing their own fundraising by the universally disliked process called dialing for dollars.

The Republican Party itself has pretty much been turned over to its formerly marginalized extremists. I do not know who is really running what remains of the Democratic Party.

So who are the voters in these bluer than blue and redder than red areas loyal to? What are they voting for?

It is pretty certain that they are not voting for the kind of moderates who attracted the decreasingly important swing or undecided voters who were 20 percent of the electorate and are now 5 percent or 6 percent in most elections. Except when they are not. Like the Walker recall election, which was decided in his favor by a large number of Democrats who surprisingly disliked the recall itself more than they disliked Walker himself.

Maybe Gilbert’s next two chapters will provide the answer to my question. His great introductory article gives me hope.

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