Our View: Redistricting bill will ensure fairness

Written by Stevens Point Journal Media
A new bill that would take legislative redistricting out of the hands of politicians and give it to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau is almost certainly a political nonstarter, unlikely even to reach a vote in the Assembly, let alone be signed into law.
But it’s still the right thing to do.
The bill, co-authored by state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Rep. Mandy Wright, D-Wausau, and unveiled in Madison last week by Assembly Democrats, would end the practice of politicians choosing their voters by creating funny-shaped and geographically illogical districts for themselves according to their partisan preferences. It follows a brutally partisan and secretive redistricting process that came after the Republicans’ 2010 sweep of Wisconsin’s governorship and statehouse.
The outcome was predictably partisan, and the process was absolutely indefensible. Republicans went so far as to require lawmakers — nominally public servants, recall — to sign a secrecy pledge about the proceedings. The fact that redistricting by politicians reached such a blatantly anti-democratic point should be a wake-up call to voters that it is time to take the reins away from elected officials. They clearly cannot be trusted with the responsibility.
It’s impossible in the current system to disentangle redistricting from partisan ends, and so it will be tempting for cynics to dismiss this bill as a vanity gesture by the minority party. It’s not like state Democrats moved to change political redistricting back when their party, led by Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, was in charge.
Democrats didn’t move for the same reason Republicans aren’t moving now: They thought their party would be the one in power when it came time to redraw the maps.
That alone ought to serve as a warning to today’s Wisconsin Republicans who don’t want to make changes to how redistricting is done because it benefited them — this time around. No matter what they might think, their party won’t hold the reins forever. No party ever does.
Besides being the right thing to do, there’s evidence to suggest that nonpartisan redistricting also would save state taxpayers money. The 2011 process spawned lawsuits that have cost the state nearly $1.9 million in legal fees.
Good for Shankland, Wright and Assembly Democrats for standing up for this reform. It won’t pass this year, but it’s a conversation Wisconsin needs to have. The system we have for redistricting is broken, and it needs to change.