If you’re a musician or actor, you would surely be thrilled to be mentioned prominently in Rolling Stone magazine.
We’re confident state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, was not quite so pleased at his name turning up there.
In an article headlined “How the GOP Rigs Elections,” the lead paragraph of the Jan. 24, 2018 report describes Wanggaard’s home and the street on which it sits.
“Two houses to the south, Wanggaard’s state Senate district – the 21st – abruptly cuts off to exclude the rest of the largely Democratic neighborhood,” correspondent Ari Berman writes. “This used to be one of the state’s most competitive Senate districts, encompassing all of rectangular-shaped Racine County, a 50/50 mix of urban and rural communities in southeast Wisconsin. But since the GOP gained control of the state’s government in 2010, and redrew the legislative maps, the district is now shaped like a horseshoe, pulling in the Republican countryside of Racine and Kenosha counties while excluding heavily Democratic areas – except for the block where Wanggaard lives.”
“It’s a prime example of how a party in power chose a district for their guy,” the article quotes John Lehman, correctly identifying him as the Democrat who represented the 21st before Wanggaard.
You can dismiss Lehman’s comment as sour grapes if you like. But the facts are these: Lehman defeated Wanggaard in a recall election in 2012; that was before the redrawn districts, including the new horseshoe shape for the 21st District, took effect. That transformed the 21st from a 50/50 district to one that favored Republicans by 16 percentage points. Lehman opted to run for lieutenant governor in 2014 instead of for re-election in the 21st. Wanggaard won the seat by 23 points.
It’s called gerrymandering, the process of drawing legislative districts to the benefit of the party in power, which has the effect of keeping that party in power.
While we have initially singled out the Wisconsin Republicans because their example is present in our state, we know the Democrats don’t have clean hands when it comes to gerrymandering.
Take a look at Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, which resembles two horribly misshapen door keys running from east to west … which are then joined inexplicably by a couple north-south miles of the Tri-State Tollway. (Apparently the locals have nicknamed the district’s shape “earmuffs,” but we’re not seeing it.)
Gerrymandering is wrong. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it.
So what’s the solution? Is it impossible, as some have suggested, to remove partisanship from the drawing of legislative district borders?
We don’t think it is. We’re tired of the shamelessly partisan nature of most district-drawing, and we want to see an effort made to draw nonpartisan maps.
We’re not alone: A Marquette University Law School poll released Jan. 24 found that 72 percent of those polled favored legislative- and congressional-district boundaries being drawn by a nonpartisan commission.
We’d be more than happy to see Wisconsin adopt the Iowa model: Three bureaucrats sequester themselves for 45 days every decade after census data is released, the Boston Globe reported. Their task: Redraw the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries.
The mapmakers are not allowed to consider previous election results, voter registration, or even the addresses of incumbent members of Congress. No politician — not the governor, the House speaker, or Senate majority leader — is allowed to weigh in, or get a sneak preview.
Instead of drawing lines that favor a single political party, the Iowa mapmakers abide by nonpartisan metrics that all sides agree are fair.
You may ask: “Who appoints the bureaucrats?” There’s certainly an opportunity for partisanship to seep into that process.
But in Iowa, the nonpartisan, independent Legislative Services Agency handles it. (Hmm, that name sounds a lot like that of Wisconsin’s existing, nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.)
Gerrymandering leads to districts that are considered “safely Democratic” or “safely Republican,” which is a disservice to the Republican voters in the safely Democratic districts and to the Democrat voters in the safely Republican districts.
If you are a legislator in a “safe” district, aren’t you less likely to work in a bipartisan manner?
If you are a Republican legislator in a “safe” district, aren’t you more likely to fear a primary challenge from someone to the right of you politically? Likewise, if you’re a “safe” Democrat aren’t you more fearful of a primary challenge from someone more left-leaning than you?
We think any process that is even one step removed from legislators drawing the districts themselves has to be an improvement.
“This puts the voter as the primary consideration,” said Ed Cook, at the time the Iowa agency’s legal counsel and the leader of the mapmaking team that includes two geographers, told the Globe. “The basic concept is if it’s a blind process, the result will be fair.”
We’re more than ready to give something like that a try here in Wisconsin.