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Plain Talk: GOP's Reid Ribble understands redistricting farce

Plain Talk: GOP's Reid Ribble understands redistricting farce

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There are lots of issues that divide progressives and Wisconsin's 8th District congressman, Reid Ribble.

But the need to overhaul the corrupt way congressional and legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years isn't one of them. Ribble told a National Public Radio audience earlier this week that the time has come to take the job of redistricting out of the hands of the politicians. 

The Wisconsin congressman was responding to a question that asked why, if people are so fed up with the workings of Congress, they keep re-electing them.

"That speaks to the gerrymandering of districts," he replied. "I mean, you talk about political dysfunction. If you're coming from a district that's 80 percent Repubican or 80 percent Democrat, your big problem is whether you're going to be primaried or not.

"The very nature pushes you to the perimeter of the political spectrum, just by virtue of the people you're giving voice to," he said. "I think the American people have a misperception of elections. We're at a place now in this country where voters are not picking their representatives anymore. Representatives, through the gerrymandering process and redistricting, are picking their voters." 

Ribble is right on.

The after-census redistricting that's been taking place in states like Wisconsin has made a mockery of democracy. This decade, for example, the Republicans, because they won the 2010 elections, have been able to secure their majority in the Legislature even though they receive thousands of fewer votes overall. Unless the Democrats can pull some major surprises by the next redistricting, 2020, the GOP will hold onto its edge for another 10 years.

To be fair, the Democrats have attempted to do the same thing when they've been in power, although they didn't have the power of sophisticated computers that now can quickly change boundary lines to benefit one side over the other.

It's time to take this power to thwart fair democratic elections away from politicians and put the redistricting function in the hands of an independent body.

Two bills currently pending in the Legislature — Senate Bill 163 and Assembly Bill 185 — would do just that. Modeled after the successful law in Iowa, the bills would place redistricting in the hands of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. If districts are fairly drawn, politicians would have to appeal to all the people, not just a partisan fringe, as Ribble correctly points out is now the case.

While Ribble gets the problem, two key Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, don't. They oppose the two pending bills and would rather continue the current corrupt system because it guarantees they will stay in office. Never mind the corrosive effect it has on democracy.

Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin has praised Ribble for his candor and his willingness to consider alternatives. We join him in urging voters to write or call your legislators.

"This is the most important political reform needed for Wisconsin and the nation at this time," Heck said. "Let's make this happen!"

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com

 

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