Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform as an Election Year Issue

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update
Tuesday - June 17, 2014

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

1. Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform as an Election Year Issue
2. 37th and Final CC/WI "Reform Forum" in Racine Draws Near Capacity Audience

1. During the 2013-2014 Wisconsin legislative session that ended in early April, political reform was clearly not a priority for the majority party or the Governor unless you define political reform as making it more difficult for Wisconsin citizens to vote or making it easier for special interest lobbyists to make campaign contributions to legislators, sooner – or at any time – and to completely corrupt the public policy-making process in the State Capitol. But, despite the implementation of this ongoing strategy to take Wisconsin politics back into the Age of the Robber Barons and the Gilded Age that has been underway for the past several years, one positive political reform has gained real traction and captured the attention of thousands of Wisconsin citizens and the editorial support of almost all of Wisconsin's daily newspapers: non-partisan redistricting reform. This issue has received more press attention, editorial support and has generated more citizen letters to the editors and to legislators than any other political reform issue in memory. Our neighbor, Iowa has had non-partisan redistricting in place since 1981, and Wisconsin needs it desperately – and we need to get it in place before the next redistricting process occurs in 2021.

During 2013-2014 pro-reform legislators united behind a single vehicle – Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163 – identical measures that would keep the responsibility of redrawing state legislative and congressional district lines after each decennial census through an up or down vote of the Wisconsin Legislature, but at the same time, delegate the actual task of drawing the new district boundaries to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, who would utilize decidedly non-partisan criteria in which to do so.

To review all that was done and the progress that was made in advancing non-partisan redistricting reform during 2013-2014, go here. Read veteran state Capitol reporter Steve Walter's sad and sobering commentary about the lack of competitiveness in Wisconsin legislative elections (in which he cites CC/WI) here. CC/WI State Governing Board Chair Bill Kraus also gives his analysis of the 2014 elections in the face of a horribly gerrymandered political map here.

Support for this fundamental reform ought to be a front-and-center election issue this year. CC/WI is urging newspaper editorial boards to make this issue one of their criteria for endorsement of statewide and state legislative candidates – and we urge all citizens to raise it as an issue as well. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) infamously said fairly recently "nobody cares" about redistricting reform. That's a lie, of course. What he really meant to say was that he hoped no one else would care so that he could control the next redistricting process in the same absolute, dictatorial, hyper-partisan, secretive and costly (to you, the taxpayers) way that his predecessor did in 2011.

2. On a beautiful late Spring evening recently, CC/WI held it's 37th and final "Reform Forum" in Racine and more than 75 citizens turned out to hear a lively panel discussion followed by questions and comments with State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine), State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine), League of Women Voters of Wisconsin executive director Andrea Kaminski and CC/WI director Jay Heck. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and State Representative Thomas Weatherston (R-Racine) were also invited to be panelists, but Vos had a scheduling conflict and Weatherston did not respond to our invite.

The discussion centered on the gerrymandered mess made of Racine and what was once part of one of the most competitive state senate districts in Wisconsin. As a result of the hyper-partisan 2011 redistricting process, Racine is now in a "safe" Democratic State Senate district, with the city of Kenosha and the communities around Racine combined with those outside of Kenosha to form a safe Republican State Senate district and more safe Republican Assembly districts there. What happened in 2011 to Racine, Kenosha and the communities nearby is almost a textbook example of why the current partisan system of gerrymandering controlled by Robin Vos is such a raw deal for voters. There were other issues raised at this animated forum which was covered in the Racine Journal-Times here.

Racine was our final "reform forum" as CC/WI will begin to do other types of events beginning later this year and in the future. Our very first such forum was held in Green Bay in January of 2007 and since that time we have been in almost every population center in Wisconsin – some of them more than once as we attempted to help educate the thousands of Wisconsinites who attended and participated in these events. We brought legislators of both political parties together with academic experts, other reformers, opponents of reform, newspaper editorial page editors and others on panels to discuss and debate campaign finance reform, judicial independence, voting rights, electioneering disclosure, an independent state elections and ethics entity, public financing of state elections, corruption in state government and, of course, redistricting reform. CC/WI was the only political reform organization that invited panelists to our forums who did not agree with our positions and, while they did not always come (as in Racine), we at least tried. The CC/WI director has yet to be invited to any similar type of forum by those who oppose our positions on political reform.

Our forums were held primarily on university and college campuses in order to attract some students – the next generation of political participants to be involved in our democracy. In addition to going to Green Bay (twice), we also had forums in the Milwaukee area (4 times), Oshkosh (twice), Pewaukee, La Crosse (twice), Eau Claire (twice), Appleton (twice), Sheboygan, Baraboo, Kenosha, Janesville (twice), Madison (4 times), Sturgeon Bay, Whitewater, Beloit, Stevens Point (twice), Wausau, Middleton, Spring Green, Green Lake, Menasha, Greenfield, Mazomanie, and River Falls.

We had many wonderful panelists – elected officials and others from all over the political spectrum, including current and former State Senators Rob Cowles, Dave Hansen, Carol Roessler, Julie Lassa, Dale Schultz, Jon Erpenbach, Mike Ellis, Tim Cullen, Jim Sullivan, Peggy Rosenzweig, Walter John Chilsen, Bob Wirch, John Lehman, Tim Carpenter, Tim Weeden, Jennifer Shilling, Dan Kapanke, Margaret Farrow, Jessica King, Mordecai Lee, Kathleen Vinehout, Fred Risser, Pat Kreitlow, Cal Potter, and current or former State Representatives Peter Barca, Jeff Stone, Jeanette Bell, Donna Seidel, Jill Billings, David Martin, Dean Kaufert, Penny Bernard Schaber, Steve Doyle, Andy Jorgenson, Jon Richards, Spencer Black, Bert Grover, Dick Spanbauer, Gordon Hintz, Jim Soletski, Jeff Smith, Fred Clark, Dana Wachs and Kristen Dexter. Also, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices Patrick Crooks and Ann Walsh Bradley, and former U.S. Congressman David Obey. And many wonderful academic experts, journalists and reform colleagues such as Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the legendary Bill Kraus, our CC/WI Chair.

Thanks everyone! It was a great run and we did a lot of good, we hope.

Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

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