Sunday, July 12, 2009

Redistricting with no benefits

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 12, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The way the system works now is that every 10 years the legislative leaders spend a lot of time and money cutting the state up into legislative districts. If they had their partisan way, the members of the majority party would create as many safe districts for their side as possible and let the minority party pick up what’s left. They can’t get by with this. So both sides make the map they want and then let the court decide which map is best or make a new map altogether. Very time consuming, contentious, and expensive.

What has evolved around this is a kind of win-win compromise. The winners being the legislative leaders who have to raise most of the money to fund increasingly expensive, majority-deciding races in competitive districts. The way to do that is to reduce the number of competitive races to the bare minimum.

The result of all this maneuvering is that about one-third of the races are so preordained that they are settled in July when candidates file their nomination papers. Only Dems file in some of that one-third, only Republicans in the rest. These candidates take the summer and fall off.

About another third of the races are settled in September in the primary election. If there are contests they are intra-party. Whoever wins the primary is unbeatable in the general election and gets token opposition or no opposition at all.

That should mean that a third of the legislative seats are decided in competitive races in the general election. Actually only about a third of that third are really competitive and draw most of the money.

This process decides two things:

1. The range of spending. In elections for state legislative offices this ranges from almost nothing in most up to ridiculous seven-digit levels for the handful that will decide which party will be in the majority. Being in the majority in these no-talk, no-listen, no-compromise times is inordinately important, which, of course, accounts for the obscene spending in those elections that will determine that status.

2. The other thing is who will win in 90 percent of the races. The voters are not really picking their candidates. Candidates are picking their voters. Almost all of the elections are rigged.

There are a few ideas kicking around under the dome that would change this. There are also a few redistricting models if we chose to follow examples in other states that would as well. The closest to being exemplary is also the closest geographically. Iowa has a dispassionate process that is worth looking at.

Nothing will come of any of this, of course, if redistricting reform is left in the hands of the beneficiaries of the current system who, alas, have the power to enact or ignore any ideas that threaten the status quo.

The only hope is that legislative deafness has not reached pandemic levels.

A change in the system is cheap, desirable, and possible if enough of us make enough noise to force a change in the usually indomitable status quo.

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