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Killing redistricting reform

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Killing redistricting reform

Lazich right to let reform bill die

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Waukesha Freeman September 26, 2013 Page A6 Opinion

The latest outrage du jour is the refusal by state Sen. Mary Lazich to schedule a public hearing on a bill that would take legislative redistricting out of the hands of legislators. Try not to be shocked that politicians are behaving like politicians.

After every decennial census, the Legislature is charged with the responsibility of drawing the boundaries for their districts and the state’s congressional districts. The latest “reform” proposal would place that responsibility in the hands of the Legislative Reference Bureau instead.

Republicans are reluctant to give someone else the crayons to draw the map. They used the redistricting process to make their majorities even safer by making more districts majority Republican while cramming as many Democrats together in their districts.

The Republicans put the so-called “reform” bill in a nice, safe committee to kill it. It’s as dead as the parrot in a Monty Python sketch.

When the Democrats had absolute majorities after the 2006 and 2008 elections they didn’t want to give up control of redistricting, either. They were looking forward to their own plans of creating more majority Democratic districts while cramming as many Republicans as they could in fewer seats.

Had the Democratic winning streak continued in 2010, it would be Republicans complaining about how their district redrawing reform bill was not being given a public hearing. After all, it’s the duty of the minority party in Madison to complain how unfair life is.

Just ask our friends in Illinois. The Democrats down there drew a map with more squiggly lines than a third-grade cursive writing class.

Perhaps Wisconsin Democrats should have appealed to the voters in 2010 not to allow one party to have control over the process. But that would have raised the awkward question of why they didn’t pass a redistricting reform proposal of their own when they had the chance.

Now Democrats are trying to claim they have suddenly seen the light on redistricting reform. It’s a miracle, right?

Lazich’s refusal to schedule a public hearing for the idea is causing the Democratic Party and their allies on newspaper editorial boards to feign attacks of the vapors. Listening to the lot of them, you would think Lazich ordered the abolition of legislative elections for the rest of the decade.

Killing bad ideas from the opposing party in committee is a time-honored democratic tradition. It dates back to Pericles telling Themistocles to kill a peace deal with Sparta by putting it in the committee with Damocles.

(No need for the city of Waukesha’s Landmarks Commission to commemorate the occasion. I got the story off a gyro restaurant menu.) Yes, letting legislators draw the boundaries is a little like putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse. However, the legislators are accountable to the voters. Even if the process isn’t pretty, the voters can judge the legislators on the results and act accordingly.

However, putting the power in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats, no matter how well-intentioned, will not remove politics from the process. It will only mask the politics.

While there are few government agencies that enjoy the respect of the Legislative Reference Bureau, it is still manned by flawed human beings. As we have seen with the Government Accountability Board and the Internal Revenue Service, those agencies tasked with the most sensitive “nonpartisan” responsibilities are the ones most in danger of being manipulated for partisan purposes.

Lost in all of the complaining about the district lines is the real problem for the Democrats in Wisconsin. They have done a better job than the Republicans of purging their moderates and now they’re paying for it across the state.

We have seen it here in Waukesha County, where the Democrats have run one leftist candidate after another only to watch them lose. Democrats could not even recruit a moderate candidate with experience for county clerk last year to take advantage of the Republican incumbent’s repeated disasters.

If state Democrats had more centrists willing to compete on so-called Republican turf, they would have a better chance of breaking the Republican hold on the Legislature. Instead of complaining about hostile districts of Republican voters, Democrats should do a better job of making Republican voters vote Democratic.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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