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Ricardo Torres’ recent story in The Journal Times helpfully brought the research in “How the GOP Rigs Elections”, to the attention of your readers. Unfortunately, the piece contained several insulting and untrue quotes about me from State Senator Van Wanggaard.

I very much enjoyed my 17 years in the Legislature and prided myself at working hard to stay in touch with all my constituents. To even suggest that I did not regularly travel the entire 21st Senate District or remain fully accessible to all citizens through listening sessions and meeting/event attendance or campaign visits is just preposterous prevarication.

Similarly, Representative Vos and Senator Wanggaard both falsely assert that the current legislative voting districts — created in secret by the Republicans in 2011 — are fair. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Currently under review in the federal courts, our legislative districts are nothing but “classic partisan line-drawing” according to political analyst Craig Gilbert. Republicans drew the maps to greatly favor themselves.

For example, the old 21st district went for Walker by 9 points in 2010. The redrawn District, stretching from a tiny section of Racine around Wanggaard’s house in West Racine to Twin Lakes in Western Kenosha County voted for Walker by a whopping 23 percent in 2010. That’s gerrymandering. That’s a guy getting a district drawn unfairly for himself by his friends.

And while our state as a whole is split right down the middle politically — Trump won by a slim 0.76 percent — the 2001 legislative gerrymandering “fixed” the process so 63 out of 99 Assembly seats and 23 out of 33 State Senate seats are now GOP. That’s simply political theft — not the result of better candidates, better campaigns or some special political appeal.

We need fair elections so Republicans and Democrats can keep a close eye on one another and then have an even chance of getting their candidates elected if the other side isn’t well serving their constituents. The current Republican tactics of voter suppression, gerrymandering and easy use of dark money work against the the checking power of the other party. Any democracy is harmed by the plethora of “safe seats.” But even worse, today, due to Republican gerrymandering, our Madison Capitol is little more than a right-wing echo chamber.

Remember what it could be like? In the old 21st State Senate District control swung back and forth regularly between parties! We had Joe Strohl, D-Racine, then George Petak, R-Racine, Kim Plache, D-Racine, in a recall, Cathy Stepp, R-Yorkville, John Lehman, D-Racine, and Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and then Wanggaard recalled in a close one. It was a highly competitive 50-50 district. Those close races were tough on candidates but wonderful for citizens whose party always had an even chance to change things. And that climate keeps incumbents on their toes. Fair districts make for issue-filled campaigns and then drive the newly elected toward sensible, more moderate action in Madison, encouraging the legislator to always keep his or her ears open to all sides. Hopefully the Supreme Court will order a clean up of Wisconsin’s legislative districts this spring.

If not, the next time you see Rep. Vos or Senator Wanggaard encourage them to consider bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting after the 2020 census. A fairer, more reasonable, more representative democracy demands it.

John Lehman is a former state senator and was the Democratic Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2014.


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