Wisconsinites never like to admit Iowans are right about anything. After all, our neighbors are people whose idea of high cuisine is pizza from Casey’s General Store. But it’s time for us to admit Iowa’s system of drawing up political districts is better than ours. We must swallow our pride and copy the Iowans.
It’s going to hurt, because we’re already envious Iowans enjoy such a critical role in choosing the U.S. president. The Iowa caucuses can make or break presidential campaigns, giving kooks from Keokuk to Correctionville incredible influence over who runs the country. It’s enough to make Howard Dean scream.
They think they’re pretty smart because they write the ACT and all, but don’t forget: Donald Trump’s surprising second-place finish in Iowa helped propel him to the White House. And we can all see how that’s working out. Perhaps it’s time to build a solar wall at the Iowa-Wisconsin border.
When it comes to establishing legislative districts, though, Iowa knows what it’s doing. The state assigns to a nonpartisan agency the task of reshaping voting districts to reflect population changes after every U.S. Census. Strict guidelines require the agency to draw compact and contiguous districts, respecting the boundaries of communities. The agency is forbidden from considering the fate of politicians when drawing the lines. Iowa’s system is based on a common sense philosophy that constituents should choose their representatives, and not the other way around.
Iowa’s system prevents gerrymandering, which is not a coach for the Hawkeyes, but rather the practice of manipulating voting districts to benefit one party. Here in Wisconsin, Republicans stand accused of rigging the system to keep the GOP in power. It was football coach Jerry Glanville, not Gerry Mandering, who liked to say, “If you ain’t cheatin,’ you ain’t tryin.”
The U.S. Supreme Court may decide whether Wisconsin Republicans were trying or cheating. A lawsuit accusing the Legislature of gerrymandering has bounced up the appellate court ladder, and last week Attorney General Brad Schimel convinced the Supreme Court to delay a lower court order requiring that the state draw new Assembly voting districts by this fall. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ordered the Legislature in January to redraw the boundaries of Assembly districts by November so they would no longer blatantly favor Republican candidates in key races.
The Supreme Court agreed with Schimel to delay the drawing of new maps until it decides whether the lower court is right that the maps constitute an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.” Drawing new maps now would be a waste of resources, Schimel argued, if the high court winds up ruling next year in favor of keeping the existing maps.
I hope the Supreme Court understands that letting politicians draw up voting districts is akin to letting inmates run an asylum. Political parties exist to seek and retain power, not uphold the virtues of fairness and good government. The result is a nonsensical grid of oddly shaped districts, many tailor-made to ensure incumbents’ re-election. Have you seen the Assembly district map? It’s a patchwork of polygons. It’s as if Republicans sliced a pizza in a hundred funky angles to make sure they got every piece of sausage.
This is why in 2012, Democrats didn’t put a dent in Republicans’ majority in the Assembly despite their party’s candidates getting 200,000 more votes than their Republican opponents statewide. Under Wisconsin’s current system, a minority party can lose most of the battles despite winning the war.
There are a lot of things I wouldn’t co-opt from Iowa. For example, they can keep Tom Arnold. But putting redistricting responsibilities in the hands of people without anything to gain makes sense. I’ll give Iowans credit: They know how to evenly divide pieces of the pie. They must’ve learned this during all those mealtime visits to Casey’s General Store.