GOP shows no intention of giving up one-party rule

Republicans have turned a deaf ear toward calls for a public hearing on changing the once-every-decade redrawing of legislative district boundary lines.

An impressive chorus of editorials has been asking for a public hearing on bills that would adopt a nonpartisan commission approach similar to Iowa. Republicans who control both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature are opposed to even a hearing.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, says it is “nonsense” to think that boundary lines drawn by a commission would create more competitive districts and increase the integrity of the system.

She argues the best approach to reapportionment which is done once every 10 years following the federal census “is to leave the process in the hands of the people and the people’s elected representatives.” In other words, the status quo.

In the 2012 elections, as a whole Republicans got 269,596 fewer votes than all Democrats in Assembly races, but the GOP won more than 60 percent of the districts. Little wonder then that the GOP majorities are reluctant to defend their actions.

Newspaper editorials across the state call for hearings on the Iowa plan. Among the newspapers calling for public hearings on the issue are the Green Bay Press Gazette, the Appleton Post Crescent, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the La Crosse Tribune, the Wausau Daily Herald, the Beloit Daily News, the Chippewa Herald, the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, the Janesville Gazette, and the Kenosha News.

Some headlines said, “Take First Step on Redistricting Reform” (Appleton), Public Hearings Needed on Redistricting Reform Legislation” (Milwaukee) and “Force the Issue on Redistricting” (Beloit).

In an era not long ago that impressive list of newspapers would have forced legislators to at least conduct public hearings on the issue. But perhaps Wisconsin has become a one-party state.

Republicans seem confident that editorials and voter reaction won’t affect their solid lock on Wisconsin. They hold the governor’s chair and solid majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

In addition, conservative justices control the State Supreme Court. That’s important because the high court in the next few months will be reviewing the Republican-passed law to require photo IDs or other identification to vote in elections.

That is expected to reduce the voting by the poor and disabled who lack a driver license photo ID. It ought to reduce the Democratic vote.

One-party government provides plenty of new opportunities for Republicans. Late last month the Department of Natural Resources awarded a $500,000 contract to the United Sportsman group to increase the number of people who hunt and fish. Those numbers have been declining in recent years.

United Sportsmen of Wisconsin is affiliated with the National Rifle Association and has strong ties to Republican politicians. Critics charged that the organization, which was just incorporated earlier this year, has no record of providing training for trappers or others for outdoor sports.

The idea of using $500,000 of taxpayer money was tucked into the state budget on June 3, late in the legislative consideration. United Sportsman was the only group which applied for the grant, according to news reports.

Natural Resource Secretary Cathy Stepp, a former Republican legislator, said language will be inserted in the contract “to ensure that desired outcomes are met in an efficient and transparent manner with ample opportunity for public scrutiny.”

Whether that allows it to pass the smell test remains to be seen.

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