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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

July 2, 2019

The Journal Times of Racine, July 1

Gov. Evers should approve the budget

Over the four months since Gov. Tony Evers presented his 2019-21 biennial budget, there have been countless meetings throughout the state, and a lot of debate.

Much of his budget did change. That is bound to happen when there is there a Democratic governor and Republican-majority Legislature.

That said, the budget does keep many of the priorities that Evers initially outlined. Because of that, Evers should sign this budget into law.

The budget doesn’t include as much of a spending increase on K-12 education as Evers had initially proposed, but it does include a per-student increase over the biennium.

According to figures provided by the office Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester: “The education budget also doubles the current funding for student mental health programs and increases special education funding by more than 20 percent.”

In talking to the Journal Times Editorial Board, Vos said he took Evers’ proposals on the budget and put money toward improving infrastructure, education, health care and keeping taxes low.

Granted, it’s a disappointment to Democrats that Medicaid expansion was not included in the budget. But the budget isn’t the only way policy change can happen — and it shouldn’t be the only way laws are changed.

Some Democrats call the budget a “missed opportunity,” but it doesn’t have to be. Important discussions need to continue in the fall, and they can be separate from the budget.

For example, Evers’ proposal to legalize marijuana was taken from the budget. But that is not the end of it: On Friday, Vos said he is open to having discussions about legalizing medical marijuana in the fall.

Additional discussion on transportation funding will also need to take place in the fall.

It’s worth noting that while the budget now in the governor’s hands is the work largely of Republican legislators, it’s not a budget that all Republicans like.

State Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, whose district includes the Village of Waterford, was one of the few Republicans to vote against the budget. He didn’t think it was conservative enough.

“My constituents did not send me to Madison to substantially increase the size of government. Unfortunately, that is what this budget does,” Craig said in a statement after the Senate approved the budget on Thursday.

Republicans could have made more cuts. But they recognized, and funded, many of the priorities that Evers presented. That is why this budget should be approved.

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Wisconsin State Journal, June 30

Iowa model still the best fix for fair maps

The nation’s highest court isn’t going to rescue Wisconsin or any other states from gerrymandered voting districts.

Citizens are going to have to fix this themselves.

And a renewed push to approve Assembly Bill 303 starts now. Call or write your representative and senator and tell them to get behind this fair process for drawing legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 census.

Back when they controlled the statehouse in 2010, Democrats failed to pass this bill, which mirrors Iowa’s proven model for nonpartisan redistricting. Republicans took power in 2011, rigged the maps for their benefit, and have resisted a good-government process ever since.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have even refused to allow a public hearing on the question, knowing their excuses for gerrymandering are embarrassingly weak.

The 5-4 decision Thursday from conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled claims of partisan gerrymandering are inherently political questions the federal judiciary cannot address.

Forty-nine of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed resolutions opposing partisan redistricting, and voters in eight counties have endorsed a nonpartisan process such as Iowa’s.

The public understands the current partisan process protects many incumbents of both political parties, limits competition on election ballots, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in legal bills.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in refusing to stop gerrymandering by Democrats in Maryland and by Republicans in North Carolina last week, said “excessive partisanship in districting” is “incompatible with democratic principles.” Yet in writing for a 5-4 majority, he contended the U.S. Supreme Court has no authority or legal standards to limit it.

That was disappointing. If gerrymandering is “unjust,” as Roberts suggested, then a justice of the highest court would seem an appropriate person to address the harm to democracy, as prohibited by the Constitution.

Nonetheless, a court decision was never going to force the Wisconsin Legislature to abide by a neutral system the way the Iowa model would. The ultimate solution is AB 303, approved with bipartisan support. The Iowa model turns over the task of redrawing voting districts following each major census to a nonpartisan state agency insulated from politics. The agency must draw districts that reflect changes in population and are as contiguous as possible while following the boundaries of communities. The agency is forbidden from considering the impact of the lines on politics.

In Iowa, the Legislature still approves the agency’s maps but can’t amend them. And if lawmakers want revisions, they must state in writing their concerns.

To their credit, Reps. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, have joined Democratic lawmakers in sponsoring AB 303. Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, said last week he supports the bill, too, and will vote for it. Other Republicans have expressed interest.

With split government at the statehouse, the Legislature has more reason than ever to compromise on a fair process. Lawmakers should send AB 303 to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

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Beloit Daily News, July 1

Citizens, you need referendum option

Court’s message: Voters are on their own to change partisan stranglehold.

It’s just a fact: Republicans have played smarter than Democrats, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in a challenge to partisan gerrymandering ought to prove it for everyone.

For years it has been a top Republican priority to gain majorities over key courts. Here, it has been the Wisconsin Supreme Court; nationally, it has been the U.S. Supreme Court. Both have been accomplished skillfully, with a 5-2 conservative majority in Wisconsin and a 5-4 conservative majority — with the decisive last two appointments made by President Trump — in Washington.

The result in Wisconsin has been a high court in lockstep with measures adopted during the era when Scott Walker was governor and Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature.

The result in Washington was starkly on display in the gerrymandering case.

The case involved two states. In Maryland, Democrats had drawn districts to disadvantage Republican voters and assure control. In North Carolina, Republicans had done the drawing and made sure Democrat voters couldn’t elect enough representatives to take control.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts plainly acknowledged, ”(the redistricting plans) are highly partisan by any measure.”

Then, essentially, the court majority said that’s fine with them.

The federal courts, the majority ruling states, have no role to play in policing politicized districts drawn for partisan purposes.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”

This is now the law of the land, with the 5-4 majority instructing the federal courts to stay out of partisan redistricting issues.

Read another way, the law of the land now sends a clear message to whichever political party is in control of a state following the 2020 census to double-down and make gerrymandered districts even more extreme. After all, the courts have now fully taken a pass. To partisans everywhere, that undoubtedly translates to “do whatever you want.”

The court’s reasoning — that it’s up to voters to change things if they’re upset — is absurd. The whole purpose of partisan gerrymandering is to make sure voters can’t do that, by establishing legislative and congressional districts that lock in a preordained outcome.

After the 2010 census Wisconsin’s legislature, fully controlled by Republicans with a Republican in the governor’s office, drew maps that lopsidedly favored their party. Today, Wisconsin voters could be mad as hell — and polling consistently suggests they are — over excessively gerrymandered districts, but without the option of judicial relief those voters are thoroughly impotent to change the lines that lock in results.

Lest anyone think only Republicans know how to cheat through gerrymandering, controlling Democrats followed the same playbook in Illinois.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Wisconsin desperately needs what’s called initiative-and-referendum. That’s a process that allows ordinary citizens to gather enough signatures to force a binding vote onto the statewide ballot. It’s the only way to go over the heads of elected representatives if they are not playing fair. Polls show strong majorities would support things like nonpartisan redistricting —and term limits for politicians.

That’s where the fight must move now that the courts have retired from the field. Empower citizens.

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