The ideal of redistricting, the reality of gerrymandering

As I was finishing the script for last weekend’s Ripon Channel Report (which can be viewed on The Ripon Channel, channel 97 or 986 on Charter cable in the Ripon area, or seen on the Ripon Channel’s Facebook page), the Legislative Reference Bureau released the Legislature’s proposed Congressional and legislative redistricting maps.

This is the every-decade legislative exercise that follows the every-decade U.S. Census. (Which is why election years ending in zero are so important.) This is a new era for Wisconsin in a sense because this is the first time since 1951 that both houses of the Legislature have been controlled by the same party as the governor in a legislative session that will deal with reapportionment.

First, the Congressional redistricting proposal (the link goes to a Legislative Reference Bureau interactive map):

Next, the Assembly redistricting proposal:

Finally, the Senate redistricting proposal:

Redistricting has two goals, of course: (1) Reinforce the power of the majority, and (2) protect incumbents. Goal number two has been the primary focus of the previous five legislative reapportionments since neither R nor D dominated. (The state Supreme Court had to step in and create its own “temporary” redistricting plan for the 1964 elections due to lack of agreement between the Republican Legislature and the Democratic governor; said “temporary” plan was in force for the 1966, 1968 and 1970 elections too. The federal courts had to do the redistricting work after the 1990 and 2000 Censuses.)

Having the courts create redistricting plans is not ideal. For that matter, having legislative bodies decide their own districts’ boundaries isn’t ideal either. Since legislative boundaries are created as laws, Otto von Bismarck’s line about laws and sausages applies to redistricting plans too.

Kevin Binversie has a thoroughly cynical, and thus undoubtedly accurate, view of the whole thing:

1) – Of course it’s a gerrymander…and I don’t care.

As someone who’s heard of the rumored “Chvala Map” and it being in the hands of either former State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (Chuck Chvala’s wife was on his state Senate staff) or Madison’s Jon Erpenbach, you know these ideas have been kicked around for years, by both sides.

You’re a naive, bumbling fool to think it’s only one side with “Evil, diabolical plans for total state political control” when it comes to redistricting. …

3) – Action now sought by Democrats makes them look “A Day Late, and a Dollar Short.”

Wisconsin Democrats controlled the State Senate after the 2006 elections, they controlled the State Assembly after the 2008.  So any calls for any sort of “Redistricting Commission” right now are hollow.  Democrats had their chance to enact one when they ran Wisconsin government and they didn’t do it. …

4) – Movers and Realtors to Benefit.

Yeah, this happens often.  The question is now, do you want to fight it out in a primary or is moving just smarter to do.  I think Wigderson has a solid list of those who will be putting “Two Men and a Truck” on speed-dial.

That being said, the fact they redistricted [Democratic recall candidate Nancy] Nusbaum out of the 2nd State Senate District by mere blocks is pretty damn funny. …

6) – Amazing How Easily DPW Forgets Illinois.

You want to see a gerrymander, look to the Land of Lincoln.

This is how the law works in a number of states.  Screaming, holding ones breath, and jumping up and down won’t change it.  Win elections, then you get to draw the lines!

Binversie’s comment about movers and real estate agents is correct. When former Sen. Richard Kreul (R–Fennimore) retired in the early 1990s, the two Republicans who wanted his seat were Reps. David Brandemuehl (R–Fennimore) and Dale Schultz (R–Hillpoint), who came from the western and eastern reaches, respectively, of the 17th Senate District. After Schultz won the primary (a mistake by 17th Senate District voters, as we have come to see from his conversion from R to RINO) and general election, he moved to Richland Center to be more centrally located. Getting elected does not give you a guarantee that you won’t have to accommodate your constituents.

When the state lost one Congressional district after the 2000 Census, potentially pitting two Milwaukee Democratic Congressmen, Gerald Kleczka and Tom Barrett, against one Menomonee Falls Republican, James Sensenbrenner, the solution was for Milwaukee to be put into one Congressional district — now represented, if you want to call it that, by Rep. Gwen Moore (D–Milwaukee) — and to have the suburbs in either the First, to the south, or the Fifth, to the west and north, while Barrett ran unsuccessfully for governor and successfully for mayor.

Moreover, redistricting does not trump elections. After the redistricting following the 2000 Census, again done in the courts, Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007 and the Assembly in 2009 … and lost control of both after the Nov. 2 election.

I find personally interesting the proposed Ripon-area map:

After Rep. Red Fred Clark (D–Baraboo) loses the 14th Senate District recall election to Sen. Luther Olsen (R–Ripon), Clark will still have to wander around the Ripon area because the 42nd Assembly District’s boundaries (purple on this map) are as far north as the town immediately south of Ripon, Metomen. That’s after Clark moves back into the 42nd, because Clark’s house reportedly isn’t in this version of the 42nd Assembly District. Go one town to the east of Ripon (the Town of Rosendale), and you’re not in the 14th Senate District or the 42nd Assembly District, you’re in the 18th Senate District and the 53rd Assembly District (shown in pink).

Meanwhile, the proposed 41st Assembly District (shown in tan on both of these maps) will run from the Wisconsin River between Adams and Juneau counties east to Ripon …

… and the proposed 14th Senate District (shown in the medium of the three blues) continues to be the We Hope You Enjoy Driving district, from Clintonville to the northeast, to the Wisconsin River to the west, to the village of Dane to the south:

Regardless of which party does it, when redistricting is done to benefit either a party or incumbents, that does not benefit the voters. The interests of people who live on the North Shore north of Milwaukee are not necessarily the same interests of those who live in Wild Rose, but they will be in the same Congressional district if that map comes to pass. The fact that I will be able to stand at the top of the hill at Ripon College and look into three Assembly districts and two separate Senate districts seems odd, too.

The state of Iowa has a nonpartisan redistricting commission whose charge is first to draw up geographically contiguous districts. With Iowa losing one Congressional seat, the commission first came up with a redistricting map that put two Democratic Congressmen in the same district and two Republican Congressmen in the same district.

Something similar to Iowa’s redistricting process needs to be put into place in Wisconsin, and put into the state Constitution, not merely created for a future Legislature to dismantle. The redistricting process should be part of the state Constitution because spending and taxation limits need to be in the Constitution too. The U.S. Constitution was written to define and limit government’s power over the citizens. Creating Assembly and Senate district boundaries for the purpose of partisan advantage is the political equivalent of a pure democracy’s ability to imprison 49 percent of citizens based on the votes of 51 percent of citizens. Given the voters’ trend of quickly changing their minds (as shown in the swing between the 2008 and 2010 elections), Republicans eventually will fall on the wrong side of the redistricting process.

So how do we accommodate this idealistic view of redistricting and Binversie’s cynical observations on gerrymandering? Simple. After the Legislature passes redistricting, start the constitutional amendment process (which requires approvals of successive Legislatures and then voter approval) for a nonpartisan redistricting process to begin after the 2020 Census. As Binversie pointed out, that will only do what Democrats should have done when they last controlled the Legislature.


3 thoughts on “The ideal of redistricting, the reality of gerrymandering

  1. “Something similar to Iowa’s redistricting process needs to be put into place in Wisconsin, and put into the state Constitution, not merely created for a future Legislature to dismantle.”


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