Nonpartisan redistricting

This map, among the exhibits submitted with a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's 2011 legislative map, shows the differences in legislative districts and representation under different scenarios, including a plan proposed in the lawsuit applied to 2012 election results.

Wisconsin’s burgeoning crop of Democratic candidates for governor are sure to throw out a lot of big plans and a lot of barbs against the man they hope to replace in 2019, Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

For voters looking for an actual democrat among the Democrats, though, there is no more important plan than one to take the once-a-decade redistricting process out of the direct control of politicians.

Jobs, abortion, guns, schools and lots of other issues matter. But they aren’t addressed according to the will of the people unless the maps under which the people elect their representatives are free from political bias.

It’s clear Walker isn’t interested in letting a nonpartisan board draw Senate, Assembly and congressional district lines or, better yet, programming computers to do it without regard to where incumbents live, without packing like-minded voters into a small number of districts, and without taking into account other political considerations.

His campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment, but in December he backed the fight to preserve the maps created by Republicans in 2011 and struck down in November by a federal court, and are now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s no surprise. As evenly divided as Wisconsin proves itself to be in statewide elections, Republicans have enjoyed big majorities in the Legislature, even garnering fewer votes for their Assembly candidates in 2012 while winning control of 60 of 99 seats. When your party’s got those kinds of numbers, a governor can do pretty much whatever he or she wants.

Democrats haven’t always been keen on nonpartisan redistricting either because, like Republicans, they relish the chance to rig the system in their favor, too.

But just as failing repeatedly is sometimes enough to spur people to do what is right, rather than simply what is in their self-interest, six years of losing has most or all of the Democratic candidates throwing their support behind redistricting reform.

All eight declared candidates say they support nonpartisan redistricting or would consider it.

Still, it’s not the sexiest campaign promise in the world, and maybe that’s why I haven’t noticed any of them mentioning it in their campaign announcements, and couldn’t find it mentioned on any of their campaign websites.

What does appear on the websites is a lot of the usual Democratic primary boilerplate language about what the candidates would do if elected.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, for example, says “We must invest in our schools, grow the economy and rebuild the middle class.” Businessman Andy Gronik talks about providing “affordable health care for everyone in Wisconsin.” State Rep. Dana Wachs speaks of taking on “greedy corporations.”

Actually, they wouldn’t be able to do any of those things as long as Republicans remain in control of the Legislature. And as long as the party that controls the Legislature draws the maps, Republicans will work to keep themselves in power.

Democrats would at least have a chance under nonpartisan maps. As a side benefit, they’re also the democratic thing to do.

[Editor's note: This column has been updated to note that all eight declared Democratic candidates for governor, including Andy Gronik who could not be reached earlier, have said they support nonpartisan redistricting or would consider it.]

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Chris Rickert is the metro columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, where he's got his laser-like perspective trained (mostly) on all things Madison.