Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 6
Let’s terminate partisan gerrymandering
Anthony Kennedy: The Terminator.
It’s not a new hit movie. It’s what must happen for Democrats to prevail in a closely watched case out of Wisconsin that could affect elections across the U.S. for years to come.
Republicans did Wisconsin wrong when they gerrymandered the state in 2011. The GOP gave itself a lasting advantage, especially in the state Assembly, by carving up districts to dilute the power of Democratic voters and boost the power of Republicans.
The question of whether that gerrymander was so bad it was unconstitutional — and we think it was — came before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.
Wisconsin Democratic voters sued in 2015, arguing that the rights of its voters had been violated when Republicans, who were in the majority, drew deeply partisan election maps as part of the decennial chore of accounting for shifts in population. The Founders knew that boundaries would need to be adjusted regularly to ensure the principle of “one man, one vote.” Wisconsin Republicans laughed at that idea all the way to the election booth.
Whether the highest court does anything about their handiwork may come down to one man, Justice Anthony Kennedy. There were deep divisions on the court during oral arguments last week, with the usual sides — conservative and liberal — lining up. Kennedy staked out his usual spot in between.
In the past, Kennedy has written that partisan gerrymandering could, at least in theory, violate the Constitution. But he also said that the court didn’t have a credible way to measure how much voters had been harmed, and the court has never struck down a map on those grounds. Based on what justices said during oral arguments, it’s clear the debate over whether such a standard is possible continues.
A test proposed by the plaintiffs — the “efficiency gap” — measures “wasted votes,” or votes beyond what is needed to elect a candidate. When they carved up Wisconsin, Republicans “cracked” districts so that Republicans would have an advantage and “packed” Democrats into other districts to dilute their vote. The result was among the most one-sided set of maps in the U.S.
In 2012, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, easily won the state and Democrats received 52 percent of all the votes in state Assembly races. Yet, due to the GOP gerrymander, they only claimed 39 of 99 seats. In 2016, there was a similar outcome: President Donald Trump won the state narrowly over Hillary Clinton but Republicans won 64 Assembly seats.
This is not democracy — not even close.
Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center told the court: “Politicians are never going to fix gerrymandering. They like gerrymandering.”
Indeed they do, but some moderate Republicans are breaking ranks. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have sided with Democrats in this case.
Outside the court, Schwarzenegger mused: “I say it is time to say hasta la vista to gerrymandering, and it is time to terminate gerrymandering.”
If that happens, it will be Anthony Kennedy who does the deed. Anthony Kennedy: Terminator. That’s one remake we’d love to see.
Wisconsin State Journal, Oct. 8
Counties where Trump and Walker won want to end gerrymandering, too
More voices are joining the fight for fair voting districts, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week on Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps.
The Wisconsin Counties Association, representing every corner of the state, overwhelmingly passed a resolution at its annual conference in Wisconsin Dells recently, urging the Legislature to adopt a nonpartisan process for drawing legislative and congressional districts, similar to Iowa’s proven model.
Iowa assigns a nonpartisan state agency to redraw its voting districts after each major census. In sharp contrast, Wisconsin and other states let top politicians shape districts to their partisan advantage, using voter data and computer formulas to calculate the most advantageous district lines.
A panel of federal judges ruled Wisconsin’s state Assembly maps unconstitutional in a case now before the nation’s highest court. Regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, expected by next summer, Wisconsin should adopt a neutral process that doesn’t favor either political party.
Wisconsin’s current system “puts the desires of politicians ahead of the electoral prerogative of the people,” the Counties Association resolution states.
“Redistricting to achieve partisan gains is improper, whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats.”
A federal panel of judges last year ruled Wisconsin’s maps unconstitutional because they so heavily favored majority Republicans. In continuing to defend the rigged maps, top GOP lawmakers have wasted more than $2.1 million of taxpayer money on lawyers’ fees.
“The state and congressional districts belong to the citizens of Wisconsin and not to any legislator, interest group or political party,” the Counties Association resolution states.
The resolution is impressive and helpful. Moreover, its solution for fair maps following the 2020 census should be embraced by all citizens who favor good government. After all, the rigged maps protect many of the incumbents of both political parties, making them less accountable to voters of all stripes.
The counties endorsed a nonpartisan process that would prohibit “the consideration of voting patterns, party information and incumbents’ residence information” when maps are drawn.
It’s not just Democratic strongholds such as Dane County that want reform. Lots of counties that have supported President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker in recent elections voted for the resolution, too.
And in Washington, prominent Republicans such as former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona are speaking out against gerrymandering.
Closer to home, Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has pushed for a nonpartisan process. In his state, it’s Democratic lawmakers who have unfairly drawn the maps to help keep Democrats in power.
“This vote by the Wisconsin Counties Association sends a powerful message, loud and clear, to the lawmakers in Madison that local officials and our constituents are sick and tired of the partisan hanky-panky,” said Hans Breitenmoser, a Lincoln County Board member who promoted the resolution. “We want fair maps and a transparent process.”
Yes, we absolutely do.
The Journal Times of Racine, Oct. 8
SCOTUS must end ‘packing and cracking’
In what could lead to a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court last week heard arguments in a Wisconsin case that challenges the despicable practice of political parties drawing up legislative and congressional districts to lock in their power and disenfranchise voters.
It’s called “packing and cracking,” a two-edged sword that maximizes the political clout of a political party in power — in Wisconsin’s case, Republicans — to pack voters who have historically voted Democratic into a district in order to keep those voters from influencing the results in a neighboring area that might be more competitive and cracking by drawing the lines of a district to spread voters who favor Democrats over a wide area to dilute their vote.
Racine had a front row seat in this process when state Republicans drew up the district maps after the 2010 Census to pack the cities of Racine and Kenosha into one district. The effect was to lessen the competitiveness of area districts and lessen the power of voters to switch back and forth from Republicans to Democrats and vice versa from election to election.
In the far western part of the state, La Crosse was gerrymandered into a far-reaching district that ran up through the central part of the state in an effort to closet Democratic voters in a single district — again to lessen voters’ chances of affecting other neighboring districts.
In a politically divided Wisconsin, it played out like this: In 2012, when state voters supported Democrat President Barack Obama and Democratic candidates got nearly 52 percent of the vote in races for the state Assembly, they won only 39 of the 99 contested Assembly seats and Republicans won 60.
Four years later, when President Donald Trump took the state by a narrow margin, Republicans took a 64-35 Assembly majority.
But the impact goes far beyond Wisconsin — it impacts every state in the nation as politicians from both parties have gotten more aggressive about gerrymandering districts.
In other states where Democrats have wielded the redrawing pens, the impact has been just as stark, with Democrats solidifying their hold on legislative and congressional seats by gerrymandering voters into districts that give politicians the most political power.
In essence, the politicians — of both parties — are picking their voters to grasp political advantage. That is backward. It is voters who should be picking their political representatives and they have a right under the Constitution to do so without being “packed” into a district and having their vote diminished.
For years, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that such gerrymandering to diminish the power of voters based on race is illegal under the Constitution. In the Wisconsin case, it has a chance to extend that concept and rule that redistricting solely for the purpose of partisan political gain is also against the country’s best interest and a violation of our citizens’ constitutional rights.
Unless the high court — which is closely split on this issue — puts up a roadblock and affirms the value of a citizen’s vote, the political parties will only become more brazen in their gerrymandered maps that disenfranchise voters everywhere.
Voters deserve a choice. Elections should be competitive and not decided in secret by politicians with self-serving interests.