The parties cannot be trusted to serve the people’s interest.
POLITICAL JUNKIES know what the general public often overlooks, that the 2020 election—and, really, every decade-ending vote —holds a larger significance.
That’s because the stakes include the constitutionally mandated decennial national census, which is the basis for drawing new legislative districts in the states. The redistricting process usually falls under the control of the political party holding a majority in state legislatures and, particularly in more recent conditions, has been used to all but lock in election results.
That’s called “gerrymandering,” and it has been around for generations. But with the precision offered by computerized analysis modeling, gerrymandering has been taken to new heights.
CRITICS OF the gerrymandering process say it allows politicians to pick their voters instead of voters picking their politicians. That’s somewhat of an oversimplification, but it’s largely true.
Both parties do it. Since the 2010 election Republicans mostly have controlled the levers of power in Wisconsin and did everything they could to cement their majority in the redistricting process. In Illinois, Democrats have used gerrymandering to turn Republican legislators into potted plants.
Nobody in the political class has clean hands. The hypocrisy is embarrassingly obvious—if, that is, partisans were capable of being embarrassed. The side in power claims all is well and the side out of power whines about it being unfair. Democrat. Republican. Doesn’t matter. If gerrymandering works in one’s favor, they love it. If not, they hate it. Whether it’s good and fair for citizens is beside the point.
WE HAVE LONG advocated for Wisconsin to change the redistricting process to adopt a nonpartisan model. The Iowa system often is cited in such situations and has worked well for the neighboring state.
But majority Republicans want nothing to do with change because the current system has been working great for them. Remember, too, before the 2010 election Democrats controlled the legislature and the governor’s office. Democrats could have switched to a nonpartisan system then but didn’t, because they wanted to do to Republicans what Republicans ended up doing to them after winning big in 2010.
So what can citizens, who are tired of being whipsawed for partisan reasons, do to change the equation?
THE BEST HOPE, right now, is to maintain the status quo this November with a Democrat governor and a Republican legislature that lacks veto-proof majorities in the Assembly and Senate.
Continuing that situation all but guarantees if Republicans draw legislative maps that are ridiculously slanted their way, Gov. Tony Evers will issue a veto. And if Republican majorities are not large enough—a two-thirds majority is required—to overturn a veto then the two sides might have to do the unthinkable. They might have to work toward a compromise. Or, failing that, the courts could draw the boundaries, likely in a fairer way.
It would not take much to tip the legislature toward a veto-proof majority, because Republicans have been so successful with gerrymandering. If that were to happen Wisconsin would get another 10 years of thoroughly slanted boundaries. Make no mistake. The parties have established their targets with just that outcome in mind.
A STALEMATE, FOLLOWED by a compromise or court-drawn districts, might jump-start discussions in Wisconsin of switching to a nonpartisan model. That should be the ultimate goal.
Evers has issued an executive order for a commission to propose change. That’s going nowhere.
Bills routinely are proposed in the legislature by Democrats. That’s going nowhere.
Neither side can be trusted, because both sides have histories of acting with self-interest.
For voters, only divided government—for now—stands a chance of forcing the partisan zealots to deal with each other. Wisconsin should vote accordingly, because neither side has earned the benefit of the doubt.
A FINAL WORD: We continue to believe some form of initiative and referendum is the tool citizens need to break the partisan stranglehold on government. Only when citizens have a way to go over politicians’ heads can they hope to reclaim the government that is supposed to belong to them. Getting there will require a bottom-up process, building a grassroots movement capable of shaking the two parties from the only thing upon which they agree: Both want to keep control all to themselves, and away from the nuisance of the people.