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Partisan gerrymandering threatens our republic.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag . . . AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS.” One cannot faithfully recite the pledge of allegiance while being OK with partisan gerrymandering.
The republic for which the flag stands is based upon government with the consent of the governed. In other words, a representative democracy. Government, as Lincoln described it, “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The republic’s constitutional system includes three branches, including an elected legislature. The three branches are intended to serve as checks and balances on each other. Wisconsin’s constitution also adopts this system.
Partisan gerrymandering largely removes the people from electing the legislature. Elections are still held, but legislative districts are engineered by politicians so that there is no doubt about which political party will control the legislature for the next ten years.
Wisconsin’s 2011 partisan gerrymander allowed one party to control the state legislature for a full decade. That gerrymander was so extreme that the gerrymandering party has held about 60% of state assembly seats regardless of whether it won a corresponding portion of votes statewide in assembly elections. In 2018, for example, the gerrymandering party won only 45% of statewide votes cast for assembly candidates yet it retained 63 assembly seats in the 99-member state Assembly. Minority rule is incompatible with a republic.
The damaging effects of Wisconsin’s extreme partisan gerrymander to representative democracy have been apparent. Legislators ignore what Wisconsin citizens clearly favor by large majorities. That includes legislation to adopt non-partisan redistricting. Rather than address the issues favored by the public, legislators feel free, in their safe, gerrymandered districts, to play partisan power games, obstructing and stripping power from a governor of the other party. Those legislators feel they have more to fear from their party bosses than they do from frustrated voters.
The judicial branch has made it clear it will not act to prevent partisan gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the states must deal with this issue on their own. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has now said that when the governor and the legislature cannot agree on redistricting, it will simply use updated census information to replicate the gerrymander for another decade.
The people of Wisconsin don’t have to accept this anti-democracy result. We can demand good government. The solution of non-partisan redistricting has been in place in neighboring Iowa for decades. Legislation to adopt it here has been proposed in each session of the state legislature since 2011, but legislative leaders refuse even to hold hearings on it.
Legislators take an oath to support the constitution, which establishes a republic based on representative democracy. Perpetuating partisan gerrymandering is inconsistent with that oath.
The stakes are high. Our ability to participate in our own government has been seriously damaged. We must care at least as much about our republic as we do about the symbol of the flag for which it stands. We can and must demand that our legislators adopt non-partisan redistricting. Let your legislators know this is important to you, both now and during campaign time next year.
Calvin R. Dexter, Wausau