The root cause of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years isn’t in Washington, D.C.
It’s right here at home.
Blame the rigged redistricting process in Wisconsin and most other states.
Once every decade following each major census, the most powerful politicians huddle behind closed doors to redraw legislative and congressional district maps.
The official purpose is to adjust voting district lines to account for population changes. But the much bigger goal for the politicians is to seize political advantage.
As a result, most incumbents wind up with safer seats and less reason to compromise on public policy.
All of Wisconsin’s eight House races, for example, were decided by double-digit margins last fall, following the 2010 census and remapping. The three seats held by Democrats were drawn to include more Democratic-leaning communities, and most of the remaining seats held by Republicans were drawn to include more Republican-friendly turf.
With less or little risk of losing a general election, incumbents worry more about party primaries. And in party primaries, strict ideology trumps thoughtful independence.
If members of Congress compromise too much with the other side in Washington — if they veer too far from their party’s core — they can expect to be challenged and punished.
A big part of the solution is nonpartisan redistricting, similar to Iowa’s strong model. Instead of putting scheming politicians in charge of the maps, Iowa assigns a nonpartisan agency to draw new boundaries. The agency must draw districts as compact as possible, and it is forbidden from considering political implications.
Iowa enjoys more competitive elections. So it’s politicians have more reason to seek bipartisan agreement.
The Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature are resisting even a public hearing on Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163, which would mirror the Iowa redistricting model in Wisconsin. Only public pressure will move this needed reform, which Democrats failed to approve back when they had the chance.
Fixing the process in Wisconsin won’t magically tame the tea party in Washington or turn progressives into pragmatists. But it would be a start toward a more responsible government in Washington and here at home.