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Editorial: Iowa Republicans adopt fair maps, proving Robin Vos wrong

It might sound far-fetched here in Wisconsin, with Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, running the state Assembly.

But it actually happened in Iowa recently — for the fifth time in as many decades.

Lawmakers in power approved new voting maps that treat all voters fairly. No gerrymandering allowed.

Iowa’s continuing success as a model for nonpartisan redistricting exposes the thin excuses Vos and his GOP colleagues keep making for partisan-skewed districts in Wisconsin. It also shows that principled politicians (which shouldn’t be an oxymoron) can still do the right thing for our democracy when they want to, rather than constantly fighting for more power and tearing others down.

Here’s the most remarkable thing: Republicans in Iowa control both the governor’s office and the legislature. So if they had wanted to, they could have passed just about any maps they wanted.

Instead, Iowa Republicans followed their time-tested process of assigning the once-every-decade task of reshaping legislative and congressional voting districts to a nonpartisan legislative agency that’s insulated from politics. Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency is forbidden from using election results or the addresses of incumbents when drawing new districts. Instead, the agency is instructed by law to create districts with a narrow focus: To adjust the lines, based on census data, so each district has the same number of people. The agency also must strive to keep its districts compact while following municipal and county lines as much as possible.

The Iowa Legislative Services Agency draws that state’s maps at virtually no expense to taxpayers because its squeaky clean process doesn’t invite lawsuits. Pretty much everybody accepts the maps. The agency holds public hearings across the state to get citizen input. Then the Iowa Legislature can ask for different versions of the maps — though not for political reasons — before they are finalized.

The Iowa Legislature last fall approved Iowa’s new maps with near-unanimous votes of 48-1 in the Senate and 93-2 in the House. In sharp contrast, Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps cleared the Legislature last fall on party-line votes, with expensive lawsuits filed even before any new districts were proposed. Court battles over Wisconsin’s maps continue today and could take months if not years to resolve.

Iowa voters of all stripes will enjoy far more competitive elections for their statehouse and congressional seats than Wisconsin. That’s because Iowa’s process doesn’t allow its mapmakers to protect incumbents or pack like-minded voters into the same districts for partisan advantage.

In Iowa, 58 incumbents will have to square off against each other if they seek reelection this fall, creating more turnover and choice for voters. In Wisconsin, just six incumbents in the Assembly will have to run against fellow incumbents if they seek reelection under the maps drawn by our Legislature. The Wisconsin maps that Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, oversaw are nothing short of an incumbent-protection program that thwarts the power of the people to hold their elected officials accountable.

Marquette Law School researcher John D. Johnson has calculated that just 7 of 99 Wisconsin Assembly districts would be competitive under Vos’ version of his house’s new map. And just 2 of 33 Senate seats would be competitive (meaning they favor one party’s candidates by 5 percentage points or less).

Vos loves to claim that Wisconsin’s constitution requires the Legislature here to be in charge of drawing the lines. He and others use this as an excuse for using election data and sophisticated computer software to draw the lines to the GOP’s advantage, keeping Vos in power.

But Iowa’s constitution similarly assigns redistricting to its legislature, which must approve the maps. Yet that hasn’t stopped the Iowa Legislature from assigning the actual remapping work to a nonpartisan agency. If Iowa can do that, Wisconsin can, too.

No fewer than 56 of 72 Wisconsin counties — including many that lean heavily for Republicans — have endorsed nonpartisan redistricting in advisory referendums or resolutions. So the public is solidly behind fair maps here, if only Vos and Co. would listen.

Congratulations to Iowa Republicans — and to Iowa Democrats, when they have been in charge — for the Hawkeye State’s commitment to good government. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on lawsuits that will distract Wisconsin lawmakers for months if not years and disenfranchise voters of all political persuasions, Iowa is showing the rest of the nation how to get redistricting right.

Neutral maps aren’t impossible, as Vos likes to profess. They’re only impossible as long as Vos is Assembly speaker and our courts defer to partisan power over the will of the people.

– Wisconsin State Journal

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