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By Roger Utnehmer
I speak as a more than 20-year member of the board of Common Cause Wisconsin, as a recently-retired radio broadcaster who has owned stations in Antigo, Eagle River, Park Falls and Door County, and as a long-time advocate of restoring civility to our civic discourse.
While a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the good fortune of working for a Wisconsin political legend, State Senator Tiny Krueger of Merrill.
Working for Tiny Krueger gave me an insight into Wisconsin government at its best, an era when politicians were elected on the strength of their ideas, not the gerrymandering of their districts. Those were better times.
Fair maps is a good news-bad news story.
The bad news is that Wisconsin elections are rigged, rigged because of how legislative district maps are drawn to protect incumbents and the party in power.
Proof that Wisconsin elections are rigged: Democratic candidates for legislative seats in 2020 received 47% of the votes and only 38% of the seats. In 2018, Democrats received 53% of the vote and 36% of the seats. In 2016, 48% of total votes were cast for Democrats yet Democrats won only 35% of the seats.
That is simply not fair.
Elections in Wisconsin are rigged because elected officials are selecting their voters rather than allowing voters to select their elected officials.
Additional proof of rigged elections is the distorted, disjointed, and confusing legislative district maps that require a voter to have a Ph.D. in cartography to figure out in which district to vote.
It is also bad news that Wisconsin taxpayers are spending millions of dollars on attorney fees drafting and defending one-party-protecting maps. More than $4 million was spent related to the 2011 reapportionment alone.
There is good news. We only have to look to our neighbors in Iowa for a fair, effective, respected and inexpensive manner to draw legislative district maps. Although our friends in Iowa may consider a telephone pole to be their state tree, Iowa is a national model on how to draw legislative district boundaries.
Iowa adopts maps in a non-partisan process. Districts are contiguous. General elections are competitive and the cost is near nothing.
Components include having the Iowa equivalent of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau draw maps, not politicians concerned with perpetuating their power.
Iowa’s model precludes the drawing of district maps to benefit one political party or protect a specific incumbent.
Iowa provides us with a process that has worked since 1981 with bipartisan support.
Common Cause Wisconsin endorses the Iowa model. I encourage the People’s Map Commission to recommend it and Wisconsin legislators to adopt it. Iowa may not have many trees but they sure get the process of drafting legislative maps right.
Please google “Common Cause Wisconsin” to learn more. Consider joining us and being part of the solution.
It’s time for Wisconsin to follow Iowa’s model and once again we will elect candidates on the strength of their ideas rather than the gerrymandering of their districts.
Utnehmer lives in Wausau and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org