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Dane County Proving Good Government Still Possible

November 1, 2015

As of late it has been simply appalling for good government types in Wisconsin.  There is no way not to read the newspapers and wonder if an alternate universe opened and Wisconsin slipped into darkness.

From the destruction of the Government Accountability Board, restructuring civil service employment, allowing for dark money to further infect our election system, and removing the ability of prosecutors to root out corruption with John Doe probes has alerted all that Republicans are undoing in just weeks the machinery designed to make Wisconsin a place of clean government.  They are gleeful in their work, not grasping the damage that will follow.

So what harbor of good government does a concerned voter seek as a place where all if not lost?  Is there someplace that still exists where there is a desire to strengthen the foundations of how we elect our leaders and ensure the needs of the citizenry are best heard?

Yes, there is.  That place is Dane County.

I will be honest in telling my readers the column I read in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal written by County Board Supervisor Jenni Dye brought a smile to my face.  A much needed one after the past weeks of stories from the statehouse.   I was reading outside in the sunshine–and that was certainly a reason to be content–but the words I read were a real tonic for my political soul.

There has long a discussion around the state about the need for an independent and non-partisan commission to draw our voting districts.  That feeling was very much in evidence in Dane County when in 2012 voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum question asking if such a process should be used to draw voting maps at the state and congressional level.

As Dye noted “while the state has not taken action to adopt a nonpartisan process, Dane County can do so for our own districts”.

The redistricting committee has put together a list of possible criteria to get the conversation started, but we want to hear from you on what Dane County should or shouldn’t consider when drawing our voting maps. 

After we consider your feedback, the committee will put together a draft of what independent redistricting might look like. On Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m., the committee will hold a public hearing on these draft ideas. The ideas and public feedback will eventually be turned into a draft ordinance amendment, which can be adopted by the full County Board early next year.

I absolutely agree that Dane County must step up and demonstrate we know how to walk the talk.  Whereas the Republican leaders at the statehouse are fearful of even holding a hearing on the matter of a commission the local county board can work to actually implement a system that will bring a fair and even-handed drawing of boundaries.

Will it make a board that has more conservatives?  I suspect it will.

As a liberal does that concern me?  No, not at all.  In fact just the opposite.

Before I am concerned about the merits of any policy or issue I am first concerned about the process that plays out which brings our elected officials to the table.  If that can be done in a fair and transparent way I am most confident of the outcome being one that is representative of the people.

I encourage voters in Dane County to push their board member to support this idea and bring to Dane County what is lacking in the legislature.

That would be hope that government can still function in the way that best represents who we are as a people.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2015 11:02 PM


    I had every intention of allowing you the last word–comment–here. But tonight as I am going through some news from Tuesday I need to add what Ohio did regarding this matter.

    Yesterday Ohio voters approved by a margin of 71% to 29% a constitutional amendment that will greatly reduce, or even eliminate, the gerrymandering of state legislative districts beginning in 2021.

    Attention now turns to reforms that would establish a fair redistricting process for Ohio’s US congressional seats as well.

    I merely add this to further the hope for change.

  2. tom permalink
    November 4, 2015 8:16 PM

    I am not familiar with the iowa 2012 process. I will try to look it up and get back to you. I will note that the current political climate in Wisconsin, filled as it is with hostility and partisanship on both sides, informs my skepticism.

  3. November 4, 2015 12:47 PM


    Thanks for your comment.

    I want to add that does not Iowa provide you the need to review your claims about partisanship over such commissions? What part of their process still leaves you unsettled–I truly wish to know. If it is only this view that all commissions at the end of the day are partisan–then I want to make the following thought as part of this back and forth.

    We all are partisans in one way of another. From the places we worship or which places we eat or do not–etc we all have ways to either push or pull others to think as we do. But we also know that mature adults often work in a collaborative fashion to meet higher needs and goals both local and national. Why would we not look at the way the constitution was founded as an example of that–men of varying walks of life and and divergent in views–making a grand bargain.

    The lack of having something other than the partisan boundaries we now have is the root cause of the dysfunction we now have in government. Is that problem not so large and worthy of correcting that we might consider a change in the process? Might that not warrant making your view of a commission less troubling?

    Finally when I speak of blow-back I am speaking from a public re-action as well as a political one. The public accepts this as fair, as do the elected officials–again I use Iowa as my point of reference.

  4. tom permalink
    November 4, 2015 10:51 AM

    Perhaps I am not being clear. I completely understand your reasoning about why non- partisan districting is a sound idea, and that this idea would not meet with blow-back from the community. But I’ve had my fill of the lie that there are “non-partisan” commissions (OF ANY SORT)–that is just BS and needless deception of the public. The more they pretend to be non-partisan, the more skeptical I am. The current partisan model–while not perfect–is at least obvious and blatant.

    Look at it this way: just as you are not upset that democrats used to non-partisan elements of government to persecute Walker and the conservatives in Wisconsin, so too am I not upset that the Benghazi hearings, which I’m sure you will reject as non-partisan, target that liar and fraudster, Clinton. Both of these are supposed to be “nonpartisan.” While my comments might be somewhat clouded by emotion, I think it is reasonable to apply deep cynicism to any issue which is disguised as “nonpartisan.” If there is no blowback from politicians, it is because it fits their idea of the status quo.

  5. November 3, 2015 11:15 AM

    No, Tom, you can not find any evidence where a non-partisan commission that has been set up to create boundaries has been met with blow-back. Such commissions have found broad public support.

    You are right that the party in power play to their strengths and drawing lines is one way to do it. I very much chided my party when they did not take the path to a commission when they had the ability to do so. You should do the same.

    In many districts elections are not close as they often do not even have opposition as the lines are drawn in such a way to make it not possible for a moderate of either party to prevail.

    And therein lies my point I made in a previous comment. Such boundaries as now drawn make sure there is a more highly partisan nature to the legislative body in question. We narrow the moderates who would need to seek the middle path where most of the electorate resides.

    I sincerely think if you ponder this over and read more about it the logic will arrive. This is one of those topics that both sides of the aisle should be able to agree.

  6. tom permalink
    November 3, 2015 10:43 AM

    I’m just more skeptical. Politicians do nothing except that which is in the calculated party or self-interest. A simple review of the evidence confirms this. Who gives a crap about how much flowery rhetoric you wrap something in?

    When the democrats last controlled the redistricting process, they took what advantages they could. When the parties split power, the incumbents did. When the republicans did, they used their advantages. During all this time, elections have been very tight. Issues have been hotly debated. Why change rules everyone is familiar with?

  7. November 3, 2015 9:18 AM

    In 2012 the Iowa House approved their new maps from a mon-partisan commission on a 90-7 vote, and the Senate weighed in with a vote in favor, 48-1. Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican I might note, enthusiastically supported the maps. He acknowledged that the new maps allow for a healthy competitiveness between the two parties.

    And that is the part you seem to miss.

    Voters deserve competitive elections and in far too many cases from Congress on down the parties have shaped the boundaries that never allow for elections that might be fought on ideas. This lack of having real electoral contests in so many places is one of the foundational problems in our country.

    I can understand why Republicans fear elections that they need to compete in with ideas and therefore desire partisan hacks to draw the lines, but a more thoughtful approach would be much better for the state/county and there is no rational way to pretend otherwise. It makes the GOP look weaker when they hide behind any old way to win an election. I think ideas matter.

    As to Dane County there would be more conservatives elected if there were different people drawing the lines more fairly. As a process democrat I welcome that. As a liberal I know we can compete for ideas constructively with such a process and do not fear it.

  8. tom permalink
    November 3, 2015 8:35 AM

    I do prefer the partisan method. Whatever method they choose will be partisan–let it be open. The only reason Dane Co. considers this is because they have such a tight hold on the county: If you believe otherwise, you must be in denial.

  9. November 2, 2015 9:52 AM


    I have repeatedly called for a commission of this type in Wisconsin. I have called attention time and again as to they this matter is most important, and also called out my party for the failure of taking action when they had the power to do so.

    Your phrase ‘when it costs you nothing’ seems to imply that you know the state system is rigged in how we now design political districts and that should fairness be applied through a commission the GOP would lose seats.

    So are you saying that you prefer the partisan nature of drawing boundaries?

  10. tom permalink
    November 2, 2015 7:56 AM

    Lol! look at the voting results in Dane. It is easy to take the high horse when it costs you nothing.

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