Editorial cartoon (12/6/2017)

Kudos to Common Cause in Wisconsin's Jay Heck for taking a cue from my many columns that wonder why the Wisconsin Legislature is paid full-time salaries and benefits when it works but a few months a year.

Heck's complaint centered around the Legislature's failure to even hold a public hearing on bills that would take redistricting duties away from the politicians and give them to a nonpartisan commission.

These full-timers apparently can't find enough time to listen to the arguments.

The Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director noted that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have already declared that the Legislature is by and large finished with its agenda for 2017-18 and is expected to return for a brief session in mid-spring, when he said they will undoubtedly "concentrate on stockpiling special interest campaign cash for their campaigns" while drawing full-time salary and benefits.

"Great gig, if you can get it," mused Heck, who then added, "Keep in mind, Wisconsin is by far the smallest state in the nation, population-wise, that has a 'full-time' Legislature."

"For what?" he asked.

In other words, these Republicans who have had control of the Legislature for the past seven years should surely have enough time while drawing their pay and benefits to spend a few hours hearing arguments about why we need to change the system that results in gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts every 10 years.

Vos and Fitzgerald have bottled up any attempts to address the state's redistricting problems even as tens of thousands of voters, nearly all of the state's newspapers, and good government groups have begged them to do so. Not even court decisions that have held that the gerrymandered districts drawn by the 2011-12 Legislature are unconstitutional have moved them. The case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, yet Vos and Fitzgerald still oppose scheduling something as simple as a public hearing.

Heck's complaint spotlights the absurdity of Wisconsin paying its legislators enough salary, per diems for food and housing, and office and travel expenses so they can make a full-time job out of what is clearly a part-time position.

Both political parties have contributed to this nonsense, which has cost taxpayers untold amounts of money the past four decades. Not only do their pay and benefits hover around $75,000 per, they have padded their staffs with administrative aides and clerks and commandeered most of the space in the state Capitol, forcing departments that were once conveniently located there to lease expensive commercial offices in downtown Madison and beyond.

Meanwhile, legislators saw fit last year to raised their per diems because, after all, the cost of eating and sleeping in the capital city has gone up.

Yes, it certainly has, but that doesn't seem to bother legislators enough to take a look at the $7.25 per hour state minimum wage that has been in effect for going on a decade now.

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Heck's letter to Common Cause members noted that not only has Vos not been able to find time to schedule a hearing on redistricting legislation, he was able to go out of his way to criticize Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio for "having the audacity to support fair election maps and oppose hyper-partisan gerrymandering."

"How dare that Kasich side with citizens over political bosses!" exclaimed Heck.

He then issued a plea to Common Cause members to write and phone their legislators — again — to demand a hearing.

He might as well save his breath. These full-time politicians haven't the time to actually consider legislation that might make our government a bit more fair.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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