Here we go again …
Gov. Tony Evers has promised to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. His choices for the commission appear to lean to the left, and the decision to have former Attorney General Eric Holder address the first meeting reinforces the impression.
We’ve been here before. In January, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, made it clear any redistricting proposal made at that time was dead in the water. Why does Evers think it would be different now?
States have wide latitude to draw legislative maps, with final authority on approval given to state legislatures. Remarkably, the United States Constitution itself doesn’t even require districts. The tradition is so entrenched, though, that it’s hard to conceive of an approach that the American people would tolerate that doesn’t include them.
Wisconsin’s Constitution, on the other hand, is explicit. Members of both the Assembly and the Senate are chosen “by single districts.” And apportionment is equally clear. The Legislature must “apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants” at its first session after each census.
We don’t think there’s much doubt the people of Wisconsin would prefer districts untainted by political gerrymandering. Back in October we called for nonpartisan districting, making the case that it would benefit every person and party in the long run. There are examples Wisconsin could use as a model, or the state could develop its own approach.
The risk in gestures such as Evers’ commission is that it looks like political theater, something done purely to show his supporters he is trying to advance their goals. But in doing so, it’s all too easy for him to come across as a governor interested in representing only half the state. That cuts both directions, by the way. Theatrical statements by legislative leaders run the same risk.
Given that, why are we placing the pressure on Evers? Because he’s the one elected by the state as a whole. Legislators can honestly say they were elected to represent their districts, not the rest of the state. It’s a shortsighted approach for leaders in the Assembly and Senate, but it’s not, strictly speaking, inaccurate. That out isn’t available to governors.
We’d much rather see things start at a less ambitious level. Let’s see if our state’s leadership is even willing to sit down with each other and have a real discussion. The governor and legislative leaders don’t appear to have had a substantial meeting on anything since this past spring. That’s ridiculous. None of them come off looking good when that’s happening in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century.
That isn’t a new stance for us to take, either. In early September we took both Evers and legislative leaders to task on this page for their posturing, which they substituted for real leadership. In that editorial we said it was “clear there’s zero trust or goodwill between the two sides.” That still seems to be the case.
We’d like to see the governor make honest efforts to engage the Legislature rather than form another commission that will be ignored. Start small. Build trust. If legislators won’t budge on basic civility, then they’re the ones to blame in that case. But trotting out a grand plan that they have already said will go nowhere does nothing to find common ground.
Frankly, we’d like to see everyone grow up a bit. We’d like to see statesmanship over partisanship. We’d like to see our elected officials remember what real leadership looks like, because what they’re doing now doesn’t fit that description.
Whether you’re elected by 1,000 people or 1 million, you’re still representing the people who cast ballots. That’s always more than the people who voted for you. We need our leaders to have the humility to understand playing purely to the base is a path to alienation and division. It might keep you in office for a while, but it will do little for the state’s future.
Wisconsin residents deserve better.