Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. February 4, 2022.
Editorial: Nonpartisan redistricting still needed in Wisconsin
Back in 1953, East German poet Bertolt Brecht wrote “Die Lösung,” a poem satirizing the government’s response to an uprising earlier that year. In it, he noted government leaflets said the people had forfeited the government’s confidence and must work to win it back.
Brecht’s final lines were pointed: “Would it not in that case be simpler / for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”
He could almost have been talking about how states redraw legislative maps after the U.S. Census.
There’s no reason the United State should be in the middle of a multi-state fight over redistricting. We’re aware of lawsuits filed in at least 14 states challenging various maps and plans, and in every single case there’s a better option.
When politicians shrug their shoulders and say “This is just the way it goes,” they’re avoiding two uncomfortable realities. First, no this isn’t the way it has to be. There are redistricting plans that avoid senseless bickering and interminable lawsuits. Second, it’s this way because the people in state government want it to be this way. This is, to crib from Brecht, how government elects a people.
The current suits run the gamut. Several cite the Voting Rights Act. While most are partisan, seeking to negate an advantage drawn up by one party or the other, others question whether districts meet state requirements for compact districts or even, in the case of a North Carolina suit, free speech grounds. The Wisconsin suit listed in one database comes with the note that the federal suit is on hold, pending the outcome of separate litigation.
Simple systems that don’t allow for political machinations and Machiavellian schemes aren’t to most politicians’ advantage. They don’t guarantee a stranglehold on power. They don’t make life easier by tilting the playing field.
What those systems do accomplish is a legislative map that doesn’t come with millions of additional dollars in litigation fees. They create districts that people actually have to serve in order to return to office.
And there is a clear model for how to create new maps without descending into a bottomless pit of partisan rancor. We’ve written about it several times. Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal did, too.
Republicans control both sides of the Iowa Legislature, as well as the governor’s office. That put them in position to alter the state’s districts, which are widely viewed as some of the least-gerrymandered in the country. They resisted the temptation, allowing the state’s Legislative Services Agency to create the maps. The LSA maps, which are drawn up based on population and geography by a nonpartisan board, were then adopted by the state.
The approach isn’t new for Iowa. This was the fifth redistricting that relied on the approach. And, just like the previous decades, this one was almost without drama. The 48-1 vote by the Iowa Senate in favor of the districts was as close to unanimous as you’re likely to see these days. Iowa’s House wasn’t much more divided, approving the maps 93-2.
Contrast that, if you will, to Wisconsin and ask which approach better serves the people. Lawsuits began here before the maps were even drawn. They’re going to continue for the foreseeable future. It’s expensive, and it’s not acceptable.
Calling for nonpartisan redistricting isn’t a partisan step, either. More than three-quarters of Wisconsin’s counties have backed a nonpartisan approach. It takes only a quick glance at a map of the 2020 presidential election to see that kind of backing isn’t possible in Wisconsin with only one party’s supporters pushing the measure.
We simply cannot see how reducing partisanship harms the state and people of Wisconsin. It is impossible to plausibly argue that turning down the temperature will result in more disruption or undermine faith in government.
Nor, it is clear, can Wisconsin’s legislative leadership plausibly claim that it has no option but to make a new power grab once every 10 years. Options exist, and only willful blindness can deny it.
It is past time for Wisconsin to set aside the needless acrimony the current redistricting approach causes and to begin the process of adopting a nonpartisan approach. It is time to remember that people select the government, not the other way around.
Wisconsin State Journal. February 8, 2022.
Editorial: GOP for weed? Medical marijuana deserves swift passage
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu says he doesn’t want Wisconsin to become a “rogue state” by legalizing medical marijuana before the federal government does.
Thirty-seven states — including Mississippi, whose Republican governor signed a medical marijuana bill into law last week — allow patients struggling with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other terrible diseases to use cannabis.
If anything, Wisconsin is being deviant by refusing to allow medical marijuana. Wisconsin is quickly becoming one of the last states to stand between doctors and their patients who might benefit from the drug. Marijuana can be a more natural way to ease patients’ nausea and help them relax in the face of life-threatening afflictions.
LeMahieu and the Republicans who control the Senate don’t need to take our word for it. They can just ask Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, who recently unveiled a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin. Felzkowski wishes she could have legally used cannabis to fight breast cancer instead of having to take a “daily cocktail of lab-produced, heavy grade pharmaceuticals,” which can be “extremely debilitating.”
That’s why Felzkowski is sponsoring bipartisan legislation to allow medical marijuana in Wisconsin as a “compassionate option for those who need relief.”
The bill deserves swift bipartisan passage.
LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, says he wants to wait for the federal government to approve medical marijuana. But given unreasonable Food and Drug Administration limits on marijuana research, that’s unlikely to happen soon. Moreover, federal law has prohibited the U.S. Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with states that implement medical cannabis. So in effect, the federal government is allowing medical marijuana by default.
To his credit, LeMahieu will at least allow a public hearing on Felzkowski’s bill, Felzkowski said. That should help bring out the facts and urgency for granting sick people this plant-based option for doctor-prescribed treatment.
Several Republican lawmakers stood behind Felzkowski in support of her bill at a recent press conference. Most if not all Democratic lawmakers back medical pot. So does Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
That means medical marijuana is likely to pass — if only LeMahieu would allow a Senate vote. A Marquette Law School poll of registered voters in 2019 found 83% of respondents across the state were supportive.
Democrats are right that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Wisconsin should legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, too, as 18 other states have. Billboards in Wisconsin already beckon residents to drive to Illinois and Upper Michigan for legal marijuana. Wisconsin estimates it is losing $167 million in tax revenue a year by forcing its residents to drive across the border to buy legal pot there.
But Democratic Party idealists shouldn’t stand in the way of incremental progress. With Felzkowski as a powerful advocate for patient rights, the GOP is moving closer to approving medical marijuana, something Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would sign into law.
The Legislature should get this done in bipartisan fashion so desperate patients have access to this helpful drug. Wisconsin allows opioids to be prescribed by doctors. Opioids have led to terrible addiction. By comparison, cannabis is mild and far less risky, especially when regulated for quality in limited amounts.
Felzkowski’s bill would create a medical commission to oversee the dispensing of medical marijuana through qualified primary care providers. The drug could be dispensed in liquid, oil, pill, texture or topical forms, though not inhalants.
Wisconsin should finally get this done before it’s the last state in the nation unwilling to grant sick people this small dose of mercy.
Racine Journal Times. February 4, 2022.
Editorial: Evers should sign fentanyl test strip bill
Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled state Legislature don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we hope the recently passed legislation to ramp up defenses against fentanyl overdoses is one where they can agree.
On Evers’ desk is a bill to allow the use of test strips to check for the presence of fentanyl – a cheap, man-made synthetic that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Illegal drug manufacturers have increasingly cut other drugs like cocaine, MDMA and oxycodone with the cheaper and deadlier fentanyl.
Unsuspecting drug buyers have no way to test the counterfeit drugs they’re buying, because fentanyl strip tests are illegal – they’re classified as drug paraphernalia.
That has led to predictable results. In December, an analysis of government data by Families Against Fentanyl, an opioid awareness organization, concluded that the synthetic drug has become the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 – surpassing deaths from suicide, COVID-19 and car accidents for that demographic. The organization’s study said 79,000 people in that age range died from fentanyl overdoses in 2020 and 2021.
Last year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency issued a public safety alert after finding that 10% of the counterfeit drugs seized in 2017 contained lethal doses of fentanyl.
Small wonder then, that state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill on testing strips, said: “It is becoming an epidemic. People are dying because they don’t know there’s fentanyl in it (what they’re using).”
Wanggaard said if someone wants to make the “bad decision” to buy black market oxycodone, it should not be illegal for them to find out if a much more dangerous drug is mixed in with what they bought.
We hope the governor does, too, and puts his signature on this bill.