September 18, 2011
Lessons in cartography
By Bill Kraus
I am now, finally, in possession of the maps of the legislative districts that the new law created and that Wisconsin will adhere to for the next 10 years. I think.
Everyone knows by now that the tradeoff of counties in the north and west has presumably made the 3rd congressional district safe for Ron Kind and any Democrat who runs there forevermore and the 7th congressional district safe for Sean Duffy and any Republican ditto.
My own view is these carefully sculpted results are not as permanent as the sculptors imagine. These districts have a long history of choosing people they like without regard to political labels. I attribute this to their Progressive Party roots, probably unjustifiably.
But if the intended results are achieved, this rearrangement means that there are no competitive congressional districts, none, in Wisconsin. If the voters dislike an incumbent, they will have to dislodge him or her in a primary election. The general elections are wired.
The state legislative maps are pretty incumbent-friendly too, but not to this extent.
The Assembly comes closest. If this redistricting holds up through the several court challenges it faces, only 10 of the 99 Assembly seats will be truly competitive. Ten of the 33 state Senate seats were competitive before this redistricting. There are now 11 that are.
It is hard to explain how the artful cartographers who succeeded in making the Assembly unassailably Republican for the next 10 years failed to do the same for the Senate. Maybe they know something I don’t. Always a possibility.
Fifty Assembly representatives will come from districts with a history of voting Republican by 20 points or more and another 10 will come from districts where Republicans were elected by margins of 10 to 20 points in 2010.
The best the Republican cartographers could do is make 12 state Senate seats safely theirs with another two in the 10-20 point margin category. The Democrats get seven safe seats and one more in the 10-20 point margin category.
Fully one-third of the state Senate races can be expected to be truly competitive. Only 14 Assembly districts have that expectation: 14 percent.
Unless the mapmakers have made egregious errors in not conforming to the relatively equal population and community of interest criteria, the courts, who have no serious interest in going into the mapmaking business themselves, are not likely to overturn the maps as drawn.
There is no way to predict what the redistricting would have produced if put in the hands of a disinterested group of cartographers who had no interest in or reason to achieve predetermined partisan goals.
We know that getting competitive elections everywhere or even in most places is geographically and ideologically impossible. Taking partisan criteria out of the mix isn’t going to turn the Fox River Valley blue or Milwaukee and Madison red.
But a state with no congressional districts worth contesting or with a locked-in majority for one party or the other in the state Assembly seems to me to be showing the worst side of partisanized redistricting. The congressional districts are safe for the incumbents due to mutual backscratching. The 1st and 2nd district were the beneficiaries in 2001. The 3rd and 7th in 2011.
The Assembly results cannot have been unanticipated. Eureka! Look what happened! Not likely.
A bill to de-partisanize the next redistricting in 2021 by taking the mapmaking out of the hands of the Legislature is being drafted.
Many voters are perfectly content with their representatives and don’t want them to be challenged. They should not overlook the prospect of a wild swing in the other direction in 2021. By keeping the redistricting in the hands of the Legislature, this result is entirely possible.
Rather than rolling the dice yet again it may be time to take the foxes out of the henhouse as many states have done and many more are thinking of doing.
September 12, 2011
Destiny for appointment
By Bill Kraus
Two years ago a panel of jurists and lawyers and political types, with the exception of the State Journal’s prescient Scott Milfred, told former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had come to town to advocate appointing instead of electing judges, the following:
1. Wisconsin’s DNA strongly favors elections, of everyone. We invented open primaries. We elect coroners. We elect state officials to jobs that really don’t exist. It’s beyond an obsession; it’s an addiction.
2. We have a full funding law for Supreme Court candidates that spares them the indignity of dialing for dollars and the risk of having to recuse themselves from cases in which donors to their campaigns are involved.
3. We have a tradition of bi-partisanizing candidates, by putting prominent Democrats and Republicans in tandem on the top of judicial campaign organizations.
The Justice was not convinced, but she was impressed.
If she were to come back today, she might hear a different story.
The protests and recalls and legislative turmoil got all the headlines in our tumultuous 2011, but the most significant turn may have been in the way we look at the way we select our judiciary.
The elect-everyone gene is still intact, although more and more counties are deciding to take the office of coroner off the ballot.
The full-funding law achieved a couple of objectives, but the spending for and against the two candidates by outside organizations with an obvious agenda and secret sources of money overwhelmed, obliterated really, the spending by the lightly funded candidates themselves. This was all the justification the new administration needed to call it a failure and to repeal this law and any and all other laws that put public money into political campaigns.
Concomitantly the partisanization of judicial campaigns infected the judicial process itself. Instead of fact-based deliberations and discussions on cases with political consequences by disinterested legal scholars, we got a replication of the two-aisle, caucus-driven polarization that has diminished our legislative process. As one astute observer asked, “When was the last time you couldn’t predict the outcome of a controversial case before our Supreme Court?”
Suddenly two respected state senators (a Democrat and a Republican) have put the idea of an appointed judiciary on the table.
The reigning chief justice, who was the strongest voice in favor of an elected judiciary two years ago, admitted to having second thoughts.
The governing boards of reform organizations like Common Cause are being asked to put this presumably unpassable, untouchable prospect on their short agenda, and are viewing the prospect favorably.
The case for appointment over elections (and, yes, there is a case against it) is buttressed by the fact that over the century or so that judges have been elected in Wisconsin two thirds of those who ascended to the Supreme Court came via appointment. This is interesting but not necessarily alarming.
More alarming is that several of the well-funded groups of ideologues have done the math and found that it is cheaper if you think you have a chance of buying favor to participate in four court campaigns than in 50 and 17 legislative ones. Issue money is pouring into judicial elections.
Most alarming of all is the unseemly behavior of those who have been elected to rise above partisanship and rule on the difficult things that come their in a sedate and scholarly way. A court that behaves like a legislature is not what we bargained for.
All of which adds up to a question that more and more are asking: Is there a better way to the judicial rectitude everyone, okay almost everyone, wants?
September 5, 2011
Stuffing the beast
By Bill Kraus
We have known for a long time that campaigns are too long and too expensive.
We have also known that the remedy for both maladies is easy: Starve the beast by shutting down the flow of money.
This is not happening. This is not going to happen. The flow of money into politics has become a flood as the U.S. Supreme Court took the open door off its hinges. It is getting bigger every day in every way.
The incumbents have been deluded into thinking that this is to their benefit. They won’t even enact the mild suppressant which the otherwise complicit Supremes have recommended: making third-party organizations which are running parallel campaigns disclose the names of the people who are funding those campaigns.
This combination of forces has led to invincible incumbents whose main ambition is keeping their jobs, and it bursts the bubble of ideas like part-time legislators.
All of this makes the deals cut every 10 years to make more seats ideologically safer almost redundant, but not redundant enough for the incumbents.
What has evolved is a situation where challengers are more and more limited to winning primary elections. The founding fathers who designed our electoral system could hardly have anticipated this since they didn’t know there were going to be political parties.
They didn’t anticipate wedging--which works best in low turnout elections like primaries--either.
What wedging does is turn elections into issue quizzes.
The people who vote in primaries are largely concerned about narrow, special issues. They are political junkies, and their drugs are things like guns, abortion rights, lower taxes, looser regulations, gay rights, gas prices, ethanol, and the like. They are ideologues.
What ideologues want are candidates who will vote their way on whatever it is that turns them on. The guy who told a reporter when asked how he felt about a gubernatorial candidate “I am all about concealed carry” typifies the breed.
The professionals who advise candidates tell their clients that the winning formula is to build a majority an issue at a time. They pitch the campaigns to the pro or anti guns, gays, social issue ideologues to get to 51 percent.
Whether the candidate has any ideas or the capability to deal with the problems and opportunities that are going to arise and that nobody is anticipating is increasingly irrelevant.
Instead of voting for candidates we are voting for automatons who will pull the levers we want pulled.
I no longer have to ask if the system is at risk. I know it is.
September 3, 2011
The business of America
By Bob Menamin
We just learned that no jobs were created in August and that the U.S. economy in general has continued to perform poorly. This raises the question, What is the largest U.S. export? The answer is that over the last 10 years war is our largest export and not only do we not profit from it, but it has cost us several trillion dollars thrown down a bottomless pit.
This policy of perpetual war has been supported by the Bush administration, Obama administration and Congress on a bi-partisan basis. It appears that starting wars with huge military operations and occupying many countries for no good reason is firmly established in our DNA. I guess this is the end stage of empires in disintegration. There are few voices like those of Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Dennis Kucinich questioning our unmitigated lunacy in pursuing these policies. These voices are given no credibility by the majority of warmongers.
When we try to discern the purpose for such actions, there is no apparent rational reason. We are left with the assumption that massive corruption that benefits many large corporations and special interests is the engine that sustains our permanent war economy. We had hoped that President Obama would make a bold departure from our insane policies, but he doubled down in Afghanistan.
If we had spent the trillions of dollars on sustainable energy policy, environmental programs, investment in education or a massive jobs program to rebuild our decaying infrastructure would we be in a better condition? At this point, it appears there is no real potential to dismantle our war economy and transfer the expenditures to a productive and vibrant economy that circulates money throughout our population thereby creating a multitude of jobs for all. We have built and continue to support a huge military colossus that will self destruct and destroy our country. We validate our actions with an uber-patriotism and delude ourselves that our policies have a high moral and spiritual purpose.