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Gov. Evers Correct, Redistricting Reform Needed Now

January 22, 2020

We all can agree on one thing.  The political temperature over the past decade in Wisconsin has ratcheted up.  It has created rifts and divisions within our families, to how friendships have been altered and strained under the statehouse dome.  If one were to look at what is to blame for much of the discord it would become apparent that serious structural issues are central to our splintered politics.

Wednesday night Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers did his part to address one of the causes of our current frothy political climate.  He made it clear in his State of the State speech that he will use the power of his office to work at addressing the problems with our present system for drawing non-partisan political maps in the state.  We all are aware of the problems that result from heavily gerrymandered districts across the state. 

I applauded Evers when he made it clear that he will use the power of his office in the manner of an executive order to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission that will draw political maps and present them to the Legislature.  Evers surely caught the attention of the viewing public when he rightly noted that his commission will not include elected officials, lobbyists, or consultants.

The reason Evers is correct about this mission, and the reason the Wisconsin State Journal has editorialized continuously about the need for redistricting reform, is due to the central role it plays for sound governing.  If you shake your head in derision when our state legislature balks at even the most lukewarm gun control measures or the lack of common-sense funding strategies for our transportation systems chalk it up to the way district lines are designed.  Redistricting reform may appear ‘boring’ at first glance, but it is central to much of the discord in the state today.  When we do not have political boundaries that represent the diversity of the electorate or are crafted for the sole purpose of party control than the essential art of governing is reduced for merely partisan gain.

In 2013 newspapers around the state agreed to editorialize about the need for this reform.  Perhaps the most concise writing that summed up the mood then–and now–came from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Competition among political ideas is good for democracy. But the opposite also is true. When districts aren’t competitive in general elections, the real election occurs in the primary, which typically is dominated by partisans.

The result: Candidates play to the partisans — to the wings of their parties — and the debate moves away from the center, where the real work used to get done in Madison and Washington.

Evers knows from conversations that most voters from Ashland to Beloit believe that redistricting should not be partisan, but rather what is best for the process of governing.  Why does Speaker Vos not desire such a process, too?

Republicans surely will be dismissive of this reform idea as it came from the Democratic camp.  But they should not be scornful of the folks across the state who are tired of being the pawns of partisan-hungry lawmakers.  Wisconsin voters are tolerant of a great deal.  But when they come to understand the redistricting process has been used against their interests for decades from the way districts have been drawn there will be a price to be paid at the polls.

That is why this move from Evers is bound to be very popular around the state.  People who understand the problems with the current system want redistricting reform. 

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