Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Unleashing Redistricting Reform

Press Release
February 12, 2013

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Legislation Expected to be Unveiled Soon

Over the past several months, Common Cause in Wisconsin has been meeting and working with pro-reform legislators on legislation that would take the 2021 state legislative and congressional redistricting process out of the direct control of partisan legislative leaders and, instead, entrust the process to a demonstrably non-partisan entity such as the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). For many years the LRB in Wisconsin did this work before legislative leaders outsourced it to partisan Madison lawyers who work in secrecy at great expense to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

The new reform measure is expected to be unveiled and introduced soon.

The highly secretive, partisan 2011 redistricting process has already cost Wisconsin taxpayers almost $2 million, and the bills are still rolling in. It also resulted in even fewer competitive state legislative districts -- Wisconsin now officially has not a single competitive congressional district as a result of the redrawing of the lines two years ago.

An analysis by Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) of the election results this past November 6th reveals that only one of the 16 Wisconsin State Senate seats up for grabs was even remotely competitive. CC/WI defines "competitive" as an election in which the winning percentage of the vote was no larger than 55 and the losing percentage no less than 45. Only the 18th State Senate District met that criteria, in which Republican challenger Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac narrowly edged out incumbent Democratic State Senator Jessica King of Oshkosh by less than 600 votes. No other State Senate election was even remotely close. Republicans seized control of the State Senate 18 to 15 seats.

In the State Assembly, CC/WI found that only 14 of the 99 Assembly elections in 2012 fell into the "competitive" category, with Republicans winning 11 of those contests and Democrats, three. Republicans now hold 59 (and soon, 60) seats and Democrats, 39. Only one incumbent Member of the Assembly (and who was not forced to run against another incumbent) lost -- Republican Roger Rivard of Rice Lake. And he had other serious issues that undermined his candidacy. Obviously, the 2011 redistricting process left little choice for most Wisconsinites when it came to choosing state legislators. Most districts were utterly uncompetitive.

There were no incumbent losses among Wisconsin's eight Members of Congress and no remotely close elections. Every congressional district can now be considered uncompetitive and "safe" for the incumbents. No real choices for Wisconsin voters. As recently as 1998, there were five competitive congressional districts. Today there are none. Members of Congress and of the Wisconsin Legislature choose their voters. Voters now have virtually no say as to who represents them in Madison and in Washington, D.C.

But there is support building both in the Wisconsin Legislature and by citizens to reform this disgraceful state of affairs. During the 2011-2012 legislative session, CC/WI led the effort for redistricting reform and was the only state reform organization to have political reform legislation actually written and introduced -- including a measure to reform the redistricting process. Very soon, there will be a new measure introduced.

Redistricting reform must pass and be enacted into law very soon for it to be in place for 2021. Why? The closer we draw nearer to 2021, the more incumbent legislators will view redistricting reform as a threat to their own re-election. Currently, we are still more than eight years away from the redrawing of state legislative and congressional district lines after the 2020 Census, and many of those currently serving in the Wisconsin Legislature will not be in office in 2021. But as we draw nearer to that year, the odds that the Legislature will reform itself, diminish. So time is of the essence.

Last week, Wisconsin's largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, issued this powerful editorial in support of this reform.

And the Center for Media and Democracy, also last week, released this stunning exposé of the corrupt Wisconsin redistricting process.

Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican President, was born 204 years ago today. He would support this. So should all Republicans and Democrats today.

Stay tuned for the new redistricting reform legislation announcement.

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


No comments: