GOP Should Support Nonpartisan Redistricting
A former Republican legislator calls on party members to end gerrymandering, reform process.
Our state was, not so very long ago, heralded as a national model for clean, accountable legislative practices and very open government. Other states sought to emulate Wisconsin’s system of government.
We cannot say this today.
There are a number of reasons for this. But perhaps the current most notable reason is the unwillingness of our legislators to pass or even discuss reforming the process of redistricting of Wisconsin’s congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years after each federal decennial census.
There is an opportunity now for Republicans to join like-minded Democrats in support of an alternative method of redistricting following the 2020 Census. Iowa’s 36-year old law on redistricting is the model for Wisconsin.
Iowa does redistricting right and has since changing its system in 1981 to entrust the actual map-drawing of congressional and state legislative districts to its nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau. Iowa’s Legislative Services Bureau draws new district boundaries without regard to partisan political advantage.
If the redistricting legislation fails to pass in both houses of the Iowa Legislature without amendments two times, the lawmakers may then debate and amend the legislation as is done for any other legislation. So, the Legislature could conceivably ignore the maps drawn by the legislative bureau and draw partisan maps. But that has never happened in Iowa.
In the four redistricting processes since the Iowa law took effect in 1981, the Legislature has always passed the nonpartisan maps created by the bureau without ever having to take a third vote.
The cost to Iowa taxpayers is negligible. There are no attorneys involved and the most significant extra expense in 2011 was the cost of transporting Legislative Services Bureau members to three mandated public hearings in different locations for public inspection and comment. Wisconsin’s recent redistricting effort cost taxpayers over $2 million to pay a pricey law firm to draw rigged district maps and for a number of lawsuits and court challenges.
When the Democrats controlled the Wisconsin Legislature in the past, they drew the same type of rigged maps, just as the Democrats did in 2011 in Illinois. When partisan politicians of whatever political stripe are left to decide congressional and legislative boundaries, they cannot resist the temptation to draw the lines to their advantage.
Members of Congress and the Wisconsin Legislature now choose their voters. It is supposed to be the other way around. Voters have virtually no say who represents them in Madison and Washington, D.C.
We can do better.
Nonpartisan redistricting reform is supported by an overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters as shown by the results of several county referendums on the subject.
Republicans and Democrats should not again delay the enactment of new redistricting laws in Wisconsin. Reform legislation modeled after Iowa’s system has been introduced with bipartisan support every session since 2011. Similar legislation will very likely be introduced in early 2017.
Legislators of both political parties should join together and announce that support during this important election year.