Last week’s decision by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on the legislative districts in our state was perhaps the least surprising outcome imaginable. The same can be said of the breakdown, a 4-3 split along clear ideological lines.
We’ve said before that the state’s maps are clearly engineered to produce an outcome favorable to Republicans. This is a narrowly divided state, but the large majorities in the Legislature don’t reflect that. It’s far too simplistic to claim, as some do, that Wisconsin’s closely split electorate should produce an identically split Legislature. But it shouldn’t be producing the results we see, either.
There’s no guarantee the new maps, when they’re produced, won’t be heavily gerrymandered themselves. In fact, that’s a likely outcome. The court’s decision focused on the fact districts violated the requirement to be contiguous, without detached pieces of a district separated from one another. It’s entirely possible to resolve that objection with contiguous contortions that still generated an unbalanced result, and there are plenty of states in which that happens.
The frustrating thing is that this is so completely unnecessary. We’ve said that before, too. Politics will never entirely be removed from the redistricting process, but there are clear and effective steps that can contain it.
We’ve outlined Iowa’s process more than once, and that’s because it’s a good approach. The majority and minority leaders from the Iowa House and Senate each pick a member of the redistricting committee. Those four members then select a fifth member.
There are clear political interests in play — when’s the last time you saw a politician appoint someone to an important body without that? — but it’s balanced by the fact the four partisan selections must find a tiebreaker who is acceptable to all.
The rules for the districts in Iowa are simple and easy to understand. They must, like Wisconsin’s districts, be contiguous. They must have equal numbers of residents to the degree that is possible. And they must be as compact as possible, no meandering or winding monstrosities allowed.
The result? Iowa’s redistricting process is as boring as its football team. There’s rarely any drama, and the Legislature has never rejected the proposed maps despite the ability to do so. The districts are generally competitive. While Iowa has clearly moved toward Republicans in recent years, that’s a genuine shift in the population rather than something engineered by the maps.
Does Wisconsin need to clone every detail of such a system? No. But neither is there an urgent need to reinvent the wheel.
Overly-gerrymandered maps aren’t just bad for the party they target. They’re bad for the party that benefits, too. When there is no real threat of losing the general election, politicians’ biggest worry becomes the primary. An inexorable pressure develops to ensure the candidate isn’t outflanked, resulting in increasingly extreme positions. That, in turn, generates a political feedback loop as voters in the primary expect more extreme stances, which politicians are only too happy to provide.
We don’t believe such extremes are good for states or their people. They leave little room for compromise and cooperation, the lifeblood of democracies. They don’t allow for new ideas unless they’re produced by the right people, stifling innovation.
Worst of all, they encourage the promotion of overly simplistic “solutions” to complex problems. History is littered with examples of political leaders who promised the solution to every problem was easy, simple to enact. Such leaders were rarely good for their nations, proving far more often to be tyrannical rather than benevolent.
We hope those who draw the new maps for Wisconsin will resist the lure of gerrymandering. It’s not a practice that benefits us, no matter who does it.
— From the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram