Politicians choosing voters sets up strange dynamics

State Sen. John Lehman, DRacine, recently announced he won’t seek re-election to the Legislature in 2014. He is expected to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor at least in part because the Republican-dominated Legislature carved up the senate district that had predominately voted for Democrats since the 1950s.

Lehman’s decision is no surprise. The Republican-dominated Legislature created new legislative boundary lines that will carry through the 2020 elections. Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, signed the bill creating the new districts.

The new boundary lines created a “safe” State Senate seat for Republicans in Racine County by combining the Democrat-leaning City of Racine urban area with the staunchly Democrat Kenosha urban area. Thus, Democrat voters were consolidated into the existing Senate District 22 bastion represented by long-time legislator Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, and District 21 - competitive since 1990 - became unquestionably Republican-leaning.

So Republican-leaning areas of rural Racine and Kenosha Counties now comprise the new Senate District 21.

Three Assembly districts comprise each of the 33 State Senate districts. Under the old boundary lines, two of the three Assembly seats in District 21 were held by Democrats. Under the new boundary lines used for the first time in 2012, all three Assembly seats were won by Republicans.

The new boundary lines were effective for Republicans, seeming to assure they will control the Legislature for at least the next eight years. They got 46 percent of the total votes cast in Assembly races across Wisconsin, but they won more than 60 of 99 seats, or just over 60 percent.

Good-government folks and the media have howled at the gerrymander. Newspaper editorials across the state have urged hearings on a bill to let an independent commission create boundary lines for legislative districts. Republicans have given even that idea a cold shoulder.

Veteran Democrats seem to understand what is ahead for the next eight years. State Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, have indicated they won’t seek re-election next year.

Lehman first won a seat in the State Senate in 2006. Then in 2010 he was defeated by Republican Van Wanggaard of Racine. But Lehman regained the seat in a recall election conducted under the old boundary lines.

Republicans asked the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to conduct the legislative recall elections under their newly created boundary lines. The board, composed of six former judges, refused, saying the senators facing recall elections should be subject to the same voters that had elected them.

Republicans were furious. Wanggaard vowed he would be back. Knowing the GOP efforts to gerrymander the Legislature, political insiders thought he was correct.

Some Republicans huffed and puffed about the treatment they had received from the Government Accountability Board. The resentment may still be lingering in the GOP Senate caucus.

Earlier this year Gov. Walker had renominated retired Appeals Court Judge David Deininger for a GAB term. Later Walker ruefully withdrew the nomination, saying he didn’t have the votes in the State Senate.

Deininger, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, had served as a Republican member of the Assembly, and then served as a Green County judge before Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him to the Appeal Court. Deininger twice won re-election to that post.

Walker’s new choice for the GAB slot is former Republican Assembly speaker and one-term U.S. Congressman Harold Froehlich of Appleton. Gov. Lee Dreyfus appointed him a circuit judge in 1981 and he retired in 2011.

Froehlich knows all about angry Republican folks. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he voted for one of the articles of impeachment against President Nixon. He was not re-elected, and Froehlich told friends how during that election he had tried to see a prominent backer, but was left sitting ignored in the man’s office for hours.

Politics takes unexpected twists. In Wisconsin, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a two-person ticket. Walker’s bid to be either president or vice president of the United States could focus more attention on his running mate - the person who would become governor if Walker’s ambition is fulfilled.

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