Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.
It has become a nasty feature of modern politics that Democrats just cannot lose gracefully. Here in Wisconsin, the Democrats went into a full frenzy when Gov. Scott Walker was elected. They insisted that he “cheated” and engaged in “collusion” to win. Sound familiar? We saw the same thing when President Donald Trump won. Democrats advanced a narrative that Trump “cheated” and “colluded” to win the election. The truth in both cases was that the Republican won and the Democrats could not accept it. In their worldview, the only way a Republican can win is if they cheat.
This brings us to the abominably boring topic of redistricting. It is a topic that only political junkies find interesting, but it is a necessary part of self-governance. The process is fairly simple. Every 10 years, the United States does a census to count everyone in the country and figure out where they live. After that, the states redraw the boundaries between congressional and legislative districts to ensure that they each have an equal number of people.
States go about the process of redistricting in different ways. In Wisconsin, the state Constitution gives this responsibility solely to the Legislature. The Constitution simply reads, “At its first session after each enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants.” The only guidance the Constitution gives on this is that, “such districts to be bounded by county, precinct, town or ward lines, to consist of contiguous territory and be in as compact form as practicable.”
Although redistricting is the exclusive purview of the Legislature, the state Supreme Court ruled that the maps had to be passed as a normal bill and signed by the governor. This gave the governor a role in the process. The third branch of government, the courts, have an oversight role to ensure that legislative districts adhere to the Constitution and that they do not violate any federal laws or constitutional protections.
The process of redistricting is inherently political. It could not be anything but political. This is why it is appropriate for the Legislature to do it. That is the forum to which the people elect their representatives to debate political issues and make decisions on the people’s behalf. And the more controversial and heated the topic is, the more important it is to be debated by our representatives in the light of day. Decisions made after heated debates by elected representatives on the floor of the Legislature are far preferable to those made by unelected commissions or judges.
This is why Gov. Tony Evers creation of a socalled “People’s Maps Commission” is so offensive. It is a deliberate attempt by the governor to usurp the will of the people as expressed in their elected legislators. Instead, Evers proposes to appoint a group of commissars who will draw new maps according to the will of one man: Tony Evers. In a representative government, we do not decide big issues with unelected commissions with allegiance to the governor. We decide big issues by debating them in the People’s House – the Legislature.
Evers’ reason for this attempted usurpation is the reason cited at the beginning of this column. Democrats just cannot accept losing elections. The Democrats have claimed for years that the Republican majorities in the state Legislature are due to rank partisan gerrymandering. For evidence, they point to the fact that Democrats won statewide elections at the same time that they failed to win majorities in the Legislature.
The problem with their argument is threefold. First, politics are truly local. During the time that Republicans have held majorities in the state Legislature, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Tony Evers all won statewide majorities. In the state Assembly, for example, Republicans have held the majority for all except two of the previous 26 years. The fluctuations in regional turnout have more impact on these discrepancies than the boundaries of the districts.
Second, Democrats conveniently forget that Republicans first swept into their most recent legislative majorities in November of 2010 in legislative districts drawn by the courts after the divided legislature deadlocked in 2001. Their majorities are not a result of maps that Republicans drew. Republican majorities are due to good local politicking, good candidates, and good policies.
Third, partisan gerrymandering, while perhaps unfair and annoying, is not illegal or unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court affirmed that fact as recently as last year. Governor Evers’ unelected commission of usurpers is pretending to fix or prevent something that is perfectly legal and constitutional. The truth is that their purpose is not fairer maps. Their purpose is maps that favor Democrats.
Governor Evers has repeatedly demonstrated that he lacks the skills, personality, or will to work with the Legislature on important issues. Instead, he seeks to circumvent the Legislature and concentrate power in himself. In doing so, Evers is attempting to circumvent the people’s right to self-governance.