Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A good week for bad government... mostly

By Bill Kraus

In a week that the legislative-led state government added to its “protect the majority and the incumbents” proposals, a lawsuit about gerrymandering took a step toward a hoped for Supreme Court appearance.

The legislature completed it’s defanging of the Government Accountability Board by bringing partisan management in and getting Kevin Kennedy out of election and ethics oversight and investigation.

Another pro-incumbent move was to open another tap for the flow of money to power.

Gerrymandering, which is the machete of incumbent protection, wasn’t discussed.

There will be no movement on the issue by the legislative leaders who are now fully in charge of running state government. The governor’s role is secondary and docile. He doesn’t have to initiate. He will sign whatever he is sent.

But over in the federal courthouse, a lawsuit had a hearing before three federal judges who were asked by the 7th District Court of Appeals to rule on a motion by the state of Wisconsin to dismiss a plan which would make gerrymandering, like racially motivated discrimination, a sin.

At the hearing one of the participants commented that gerrymandering, not unlike pornography, is something that we recognize when we see it, but we have trouble defining it.

The aggrieved plaintiffs offer a plan which proves that the redistricting process has the effect of denying representation to large numbers of voters and suggests a formula that shows when gerrymandering exists, how it wastes votes, how many voters are made irrelevant because of it.

So far so good. But our tendency to cluster economically, racially, chronologically can also be politically as well. We gerrymander ourselves. We make our own votes for legislators irrelevant.

This is hard to overcome without gerrymandering in reverse. I, for one, have lived in three places where I never cast a vote for a member of any Assembly who shared my political views and biases who had a prayer of being elected.

That was my fault and my choice.

What computer-driven packing and cracking gerrymandering does is extend my fate to places where it didn’t exist. Kenosha and Racine are the best current examples. When those counties were also Assembly districts, they were politically competitive. What gerrymandering did was make the cities of Kenosha and Racine an Assembly district and the rural parts of those counties another. A Democrat was sure to win one of those districts, a Republican the other.


What has been added to the mix statewide is another kind of gerrymandering where in a large minority of Assembly districts the Democratic candidates will get as much as 90% of the vote and the majority of the Assembly elections will go to Republicans by smaller but convincing margins.

The winners are not chosen by the voters on either side. The candidates chose their districts and their voters.

This can be undone. But only, say the courts, if there are criteria legislated that the courts can use to mandate the undoing.

The plaintiffs offer up a way to measure gerrymandering. The state says there is no constitutional basis for what the plaintiffs offer and are asking the court to dismiss the suit.

My hope is that the process itself will bring judicial attention and ideas to the subject and to the fact that letting legislators make districting decisions is akin to letting convicted felons decide on their own punishments.

Perhaps common sense will raise its ugly head and the judiciary will take notice of the collateral damage that excessive gerrymandering is doing to too many voters rights.

The legislators and their hyper-empowered leaders are not going to do this. The courts are the last, best, maybe only hope.

A decision by the panel will be forthcoming. If they dismiss the suit, an appeal to the Supreme Court will be made. If they reject the state’s request for a dismissal, a trial on the merits will ensue. This, too, will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

It has been suggested that the Supreme Court is hoping for a case meritorious enough to allow them to act.

This could be it.

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