The Legislature holds public hearings on such minutiae as naming highways and honoring the cream puff.
Surely it can hold a public hearing at the Capitol on the most important good-government proposal this session — a bipartisan bill to reform the rigged redistricting process.
Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163 would adopt Iowa’s efficient and fair model for drawing congressional and legislative districts after each major census. Instead of the politicians drawing the maps to their favor, Iowa assigns the task to a nonpartisan state agency. The result is compact and more competitive districts without expensive lawsuits or incumbent protection.
Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, and Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, lead the committees where AB 185 and SB 163 are being ignored. The two lawmakers say they oppose reform and have no plans to even schedule public hearings.
What are they afraid of? That upon hearing all the facts and arguments they might be convinced to do the right thing? Or that more citizens will demand change? All of Wisconsin deserves a full debate.
Today or early this week, the State Journal and seven other newspapers across Wisconsin as well as WISC-TV (Ch. 3) in Madison plan to restate their support for nonpartisan redistricting. The editorial boards of these media outlets often disagree on politics, priorities and endorsements. But all nine have joined to publish or broadcast editorials on this issue at the same time in hopes of prompting action.
This isn’t a partisan argument. The politicians can’t be trusted to draw fair maps regardless of which party is in control.
Following the 2010 census, Republicans controlled the process. Mostly in secret and using computers to analyze voting patterns, they surgically shaped the most competitive districts to their advantage. In the process, they also packed more Democratic-leaning communities into those seats long held by Democrats, figuring they couldn’t win those anyway.
The result: Republicans won significant majorities in both houses even though they collected fewer votes statewide. And more incumbents from both major political parties now have safer seats.
The Democrats would have done the same thing had they been in charge. And in past decades, with split control of the Legislature, incumbents agreed to protect incumbents.
Wisconsin didn’t have a single competitive congressional race last fall. And fewer legislative races were close. That contributes to polarization in Madison and Washington.
Lazich argues partisan redistricting is best in a column on page E3 of today’s Sunday Opinion. August echoed a similar view through his staff.
They ignore that the Legislature still would have to approve the maps, as the Constitution requires. What would change is the politicians wouldn’t draw the lines. The highly respected and nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau would do that task, with strict guidelines for making districts compact.
If August and Lazich disagree, let’s hear more from them and others. Let’s hold a public hearing so everyone can get better informed before making a decision.