- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 27

Remedy for rigged maps is Iowa model for drawing fair voting districts

A panel of judges stated the obvious last week in striking down Wisconsin’s voting district maps as unconstitutional.

The rigged legislative maps, drawn by top Republican lawmakers and their high-priced attorneys in 2011, were a “partisan gerrymander” that favored the GOP in swing seats while packing Democratic voters into a minority of seats they were likely to win anyway.

“It’s clear the drafters got what they intended to get,” wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ senior judge appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan. “There is no question (the legislative maps were) designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.”

In 2012, the GOP got 48.6 percent of the statewide vote yet won 60 of 99 seats in the state Assembly. In 2014, the Republicans collected 52 percent of the vote and won 63 Assembly seats.

Democrats received 51.4 percent of the vote in 2012 but only won 39 Assembly seats, and two years later the Democrats won just 36 seats despite receiving 48 percent of the vote.

Some of the disparity for Democrats results from the high concentration of Democratic-leaning voters living in Madison and Milwaukee. But that doesn’t explain the highly partisan and unconstitutional effect of Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn maps, Ripple wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and other Republican leaders still feign innocence, as if they didn’t skew key districts to their party’s favor. That’s a joke. They specifically calculated how their candidates would do under various versions of the maps, picking the option that was best for their party.

We wouldn’t trust the Democrats to draw the lines fairly, either. That’s why a nonpartisan process is needed so neither party can thwart the will of voters.

The judges did not say what should happen because of their ruling. Instead, the court ordered both sides in the legal case to suggest an appropriate remedy within 30 days.

The obvious fix is for Wisconsin to adopt a fair process for redrawing voting districts similar to Iowa’s neutral system. Rather than letting the politicians scheme in secret with historical voting data and elaborate computer software to draw maps to their partisan advantage, Iowa assigns the once-every-decade task of redrawing lines based on population changes to a nonpartisan state agency. The agency is required to draw legislative districts as compact as possible, respecting communities of interest while ignoring the fate of politicians. Yet lawmakers still must vote to approve the maps, without making changes.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Iowa both support this nonpartisan process. Iowa avoids spending millions in taxpayer dollars defending their maps in court - money Fitzgerald and the GOP have been liberally spending in Wisconsin for years.

Most important, Iowa voters enjoy much more competition for legislative seats. Voters get more choice on ballots, which lets them hold lawmakers more accountable for state decisions.

The only people hurt by a nonpartisan process are the entrenched politicians of both political parties, most of whom now enjoy easy re-elections in Wisconsin.

Top lawmakers should finally agree to a neutral process that’s constitutional and treats all voters fairly.

___

La Crosse Tribune, Nov. 27

Politicians shouldn’t draw political boundaries

It’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the question of political gerrymandering.

And, it’s time for Wisconsin to take the process of drawing political boundaries out of the hands of politicians and put it into the hands of the people.

Last week, a three-judge federal panel in Wisconsin ruled that the boundaries drawn by the Republican Party in 2011 were illegally partisan.

One of the judges in the case, Reagan-appointee Kenneth Ripple, said it is clear that one of the purposes of the redistricting process “was to secure Republican control of the Assembly under any likely future electoral scenario for the remainder of the decade, in other words to entrench the Republican Party in power.”

As we’ve written, it’s more than a quaint notion to have the voters choose their representatives instead of allowing the representatives to choose their voters. It should be the law.

It is not unusual for the Supreme Court to rule in cases of racial gerrymandering, but it has never overturned a case involving allegations of pure political advantage.

That’s why political observers nationwide are watching with interest.

Look at some of the fallout in Wisconsin. While we’ve endorsed Ron Kind as our congressman, it’s still a bit unfortunate that he ran unopposed earlier this month - in part because the people who drew the map clearly added Democrats to our 3rd Congressional District in order to make an adjacent district safer for a Republican.

In other words, gerrymandering has made for less competitive democracy in Wisconsin - and provided more political control to the ruling party to keep representatives in line or face a primary within their own party.

It’s simply undemocratic - and such shenanigans are facing legal challenges in other states, too - boundaries drawn by both Democrats and Republicans.

And that’s the larger point: Neither party has taken the necessary steps to depoliticize the process when it was their turn to draw the maps.

It’s also troubling that the process usually is very secretive and very expensive.

Neither serves democracy.

After every 10-year census, states redraw political boundaries to make sure each district contains about the same number of people to ensure the one-person, one-vote doctrine set by the Supreme Court in 1962.

Iowa uses a non-political commission to crunch data every 10 years and redraw the boundaries. That model has worked very well for years because it takes the details out of the hands of politicians.

The preservation of political power should not be a tenet of redistricting.

The process should be designed to assure fairness and trust in our electoral process.

When politicians game the system for their own political and professional preservation, something is drastically wrong.

___

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 24

Conduct outside investigation into jail deaths

David A. Clarke Jr. needs to remember he’s the sheriff of Milwaukee County, not the king. He’s not even the king of the Milwaukee County Jail, which has seen four deaths since April under his watch, and about which the sheriff and the sheriff’s office have been shamefully silent. Not even the families of those who died have been told much about what happened. Surely, the sheriff owes them answers, just as he owes answers to the people who elected him and pay his salary.

In an effort to get those answers, the families of two of the inmates who died in the jail are calling for an outside investigation, saying they fear the sheriff won’t conduct a thorough, impartial review. Maybe they will get that impartial review, but certainly Clarke has given them nothing to allay their fears, and an outside investigation would remove the doubt that now exists. One should be conducted.

The Sheriff’s Office has not publicly released any information about what factors contributed to the deaths of Kristina Fiebrink and Michael Madden. Their family members told the Journal Sentinel they have held funerals and grieved for weeks while knowing few details about why their loved ones died. The others who died were Terrill Thomas, a 38-year-old inmate who died of profound dehydration, and a baby who died after an inmate gave birth unnoticed in her cell.

Leon Limon, Fiebrink’s brother, told the Journal Sentinel that sheriff’s personnel contacted him twice since his sister’s death: once when they told him she died, and once when an investigator called his phone number by accident.

The Sheriff’s Office has not responded to requests for an interview nor has it provided written answers to a series of questions about its handling of the death investigations, the Journal Sentinel reported. The office also hasn’t responded to a request to provide its policy on requesting outside investigations, which is a document that the office is required by law to have. Nor has the office provided any records in response to an open records request the Journal Sentinel filed in early October.

This isn’t just stonewalling; this is building a castle and surrounding it with an alligator-filled moat. Maybe Clarke thinks the peasants of Milwaukee County don’t need to know what’s happening at the jail. Maybe he’s hoping for a call from President-elect Donald Trump (for whom he campaigned so eagerly while people were dying in his jail) so that he can walk away from doing his job.

Whatever his faulty reasoning, he’s wrong. Clarke owes the public answers about the deaths and about the state of inmate care at the jail. And the public deserves a sheriff who will do his job.


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