The time for Wisconsin to adopt a nonpartisan method of legislative redistricting has come. Every 10 years, following the U.S. census, the state legislature must draw new legislative district lines. That time has come again. Rather than allowing politicians to draw those lines to favor their political party, we have the chance to join other states, like Iowa, and adopt legislation for a non-partisan commission method of redistricting. The time is now to demand that your legislators support Senate Bill 389 and Assembly Bill 395, which would establish nonpartisan redistricting.
This is a pro-democracy, good government proposal. Those who oppose it have identified no positive public policy that supports their position.
Some who resist this reform have misleadingly suggested that only the legislature could draw new district maps. Of course, the legislature is responsible for adopting a redistricting law. But the constitution does not prohibit the legislature from getting the assistance of a nonpartisan commission to assist it in that responsibility. It is well documented that the Wisconsin legislature did not draw the district maps that it adopted in 2011. Instead, at taxpayer expense, legislative leaders hired a private law firm and computer technicians to draw the most partisan maps that the available technology could produce. Note also that a Republican government in Iowa, which has a constitution that treats redistricting the same as Wisconsin’s, adopted a redistricting law that uses a nonpartisan commission to draw their legislative maps, which are then considered for approval by the legislature.
Some have suggested that no changes are needed in the redistricting process because the courts are available to modify partisan excesses committed by the legislature. That position favors an abdication of the legislature’s responsibility. The people are not well served by a legislature that relies on the courts to let it know how much it can get away with in terms of a partisan gerrymander. After the 2011 gerrymander, Wisconsin taxpayers paid millions of dollars for redistricting litigation. Iowa’s nonpartisan method protects that state’s people from these costs. The public should not have to pay for partisan litigation when a good government alternative is so clearly available.
Some who oppose nonpartisan redistricting argue that no commission could truly be nonpartisan. That argument ignores the fact that the Wisconsin legislature has for over a century relied upon the Legislative Reference Bureau for nonpartisan assistance in drafting and analysis of legislative proposals. It also ignores the 40 years of experience Iowa has with nonpartisan redistricting.
Unlike 2011, it is now abundantly clear that the people of this state – both Republicans and Democrats – favor nonpartisan redistricting by a wide margin. Statewide polls, county board and municipal resolutions, advisory ballots all show widespread support for this reform. However, the current controlling legislative leadership has so far refused even to hold public hearings on the proposal. The fact that some legislators feel they can ignore the will of the people is strong evidence of the anti-democracy effect of partisan gerrymandering. That’s why we must let our legislators know how important this is to us. If we don’t, some legislators will feel free to continue to put their partisan political interests ahead of the public good.
Calvin Dexter of Wausau
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