Pressure lawmakers to end partisan gerrymandering

IT’S UP TO YOU. If you favor good government, tell the Legislature to put an end to partisan gerrymandering.

Don’t wait for the courts; take matters into your own hands.

The Supreme Court once again took a pass on reining in partisan gerrymandering. It punted both a Wisconsin case and a Maryland case back to lower courts for further proceedings. It’s possible the court will take up this important issue again very soon; the justices didn’t rule on the merits of the cases, both of which challenged partisan maps, one drawn by Republicans, the other by Democrats. There are other cases that might wind up before the high court, too, notably one from North Carolina.

But why wait for nine justices in Washington, D.C.?

Wisconsin voters should demand that legislators adopt nonpartisan reapportionment before the 2020 census. We favor legislation based on the process used in Iowa, where legislative and congressional maps are drawn by a nonpartisan arm of the General Assembly. It has worked effectively for Iowans since 1980.

It’s time to act.

In 2011, Republicans, who controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature, used that power to cement majorities through the redistricting process — the constitutionally required once-a-decade process to adjust electoral maps for changes in population.

The result: Even though Democrats won a majority of the votes in state Assembly races in 2012, Republicans won 60 of 99 seats.

Democracy is harmed when politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around. Gerrymandered districts make elections less competitive and contribute to polarization: When the only real race is in the primary, politicians only listen to one side.

In a concurring opinion in Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin case, Justice Elana Kagan recalled the words of the father of the Constitution, James Madison. When fighting for adoption of the Constitution, Madison was asked what would make the House of Representatives work.

Kagan wrote:

“The House must be structured, he answered, to instill in its members ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.’ Legislators must be ‘compelled to anticipate the moment’ when their ‘exercise of (power) is to be reviewed.’ When that moment does not come — when legislators can entrench themselves in office despite the people’s will — the foundation of effective democratic governance dissolves.’’

Dale Schultz, a retired Republican senator, voted for the 2011 redistricting bill but later regretted it. His epiphany came after he saw the results of the 2012 election.

“I was truly surprised when I saw the elections,” he said. “If you’re a fair-minded person, and you look at that, you say, ‘How can that happen?’”

It shouldn’t.

Elections should be decided on the strength of ideas rather than on the cleverness of a party’s maps. The Supreme Court had a chance to drive a stake through the heart of the gerrymander beast but chose not to do so. Citizens now must take up the spear.

Here’s how:

• Demand candidates for office support nonpartisan redistricting. We support the Iowa model but there are other ways to ensure a fair process. California and Arizona, for example, use independent citizen commissions.

• Demand that current legislators get behind efforts to change the system. During the last session of the Legislature, Democrats introduced bills that would have empowered the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to draw the maps in Wisconsin. The bills never received a hearing.

• Get involved. Schultz and Tim Cullen, a former Democratic state senator, are co-chairing the Fair Elections Project, which along with other groups including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, is lobbying for change.

One day, the Supreme Court may put an end to this toxic practice. But you don’t have to wait. Demand that Wisconsin’s legislators take action now. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 22


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