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New map could tighten GOP’s grip

By Matt Pommer

A major political step is coming in the Walker Revolution.

In the wake of the 2010 U.S. Census, the Legislature will redraw the boundaries for the 33 State Senate and 99 Assembly districts. The redistricting — it will be done by the Republican majorities — could assure GOP legislative control for a decade.

Bill Kraus, who was a top aide to former Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus, thinks an independent body such as the Government Accountability Board should establish the district lines.

That would create more competitive districts and give voters more of a choice in Wisconsin elections. Kraus said few legislative districts were competitive, and that didn’t bode well for those who thought they could oust incumbents through the recall process.

“The maps are made by and for the incumbents,” Kraus wrote in a recent blog. “The leaders of these incumbents recruit, slate, fund and manage most of these campaigns. They (the leaders) do not have unlimited funds needed to compete in 116 races.”

Decades ago candidates raised much of their own campaign money. Now the legislative leaders do much of the heavy lifting in fundraising. The special interests also like this system.

“In short, most of us do not choose our representatives. Our representatives choose us,” Kraus wrote. “We are not at the table when the maps are drawn. We don’t share the priorities of the people who are at the tables.”

The new districts are created to make districts equal in population. Unless there is easily seen gerrymandering — giving one party an obvious advantage over the disadvantage of the other party — the courts will uphold what the Legislature creates.

Kraus said Iowa had an independent agency drawing its legislative districts. Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spearheaded the California system, which is much like that in Iowa, Kraus said.

That’s unlikely to happen in Wisconsin this year. The Republican Party is enjoying its political successes. The GOP Legislature has gutted much of public employee collective bargaining. The public employee unions have been major supporters of Democrats in Wisconsin.

David Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the Assembly, has been re-elected as a State Supreme Court justice. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, persuaded the House to adopt his new Medicare and Medicaid programs.

As an aide to Dreyfus, Kraus got a chance to see the reapportionment process up close after the 1980 census.

“A turf battle brings out the worst in our political system, and redistricting is a virtual golf course,” he wrote. “When the opportunity to get a 10-year advantage rears its ugly head, really bad things happen.”

Republicans are on a roll. The reapportionment could be the first time since the 1950s that one party totally has controlled Wisconsin’s map-making.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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