The story we as Democrats in Wisconsin have been telling ourselves about why we don’t control the legislature has gone national, echoed by a columnist in the New York Times. “For more than a decade, dating back to the Republican triumph in the 2010 midterm elections, Wisconsin Republicans have held their State Legislature in an iron lock,
I’ve been out of town for a week and so had more time to reflect on this paper than to respond. I’m back in town and ready to respond. There’s a lot to respond to.
I recall an earlier version of the argument in this document that I found reasonable and important and shared with a good number of fellow Democrats. I agree that the wrong kind of emphasis on gerrymandering can be both demotivating and a convenient excuse for inaction: “the Republicans have done it to us, rigged the system, …and there is nothing we can do about it”. Except that’s not what I see happening. There was a great deal of organizing, conversations, resolutions, and education around the “Fair Maps” campaign that culminated in the election of Janet Protasiewicz to the Supreme Court. There were many people involved in active campaigning and many more involved in the kind of one to one conversations that we need to engage in on many fronts. So it seems kind of disrespectful to write “nothing we can do about it – except perhaps ask a friendly court to throw the gerrymander out.”
An odd thing about the argument in Doug’s document is that it is like a mirror image of the argument that gerrymandering in the root of the problem: “The first step in fixing a problem is figuring out what the cause is. If you don’t get that right whatever fix is tried isn’t going to work”. That kind of one dimensional, either/or, thinking is an obstacle rather than a help. [As a comic aside try to imagine the DPW conducting a members forum on what the root of the problem is and waiting for consensus.]
Is gerrymandering THE Problem? Of course not. Is gerrymandering a problem? A lot of people think so. When Pepin County Democrats had an office in 2016, I printed out maps of state senate and assembly districts as well as congressional districts. The near universal response was ‘wow’. We laughed at the “Harsdorf notch” that allowed the then Senator Harsdorf to keep her home in a more reliable district. Visitors would try to describe district shapes – like clouds – as animal figures that respected no other reasonable boundaries of interest. The Republicans who launched and funded the REDMAP project nationally in 2010 certainly sought advantage. The Wisconsin Republicans who violated open meeting laws to draw maps with sophisticated computer analysis certainly were seeking advantage. Anda the Republican legislators seeking to impeach Justice Protasiewicz before she’s heard a case and Soeaker Vos’s fraudulent last minute proposal for an ‘independent’ redistricting commission – that would none the less have maps subject to approval by the legislature – show a remarkable mix of panic and commitment to the gerrymander.
The flaw in much discussion and practice of gerrymandering – on both sides --is considering voters’ preferences and loyalties to be static and unchangeable. Doug does well to point out some of the dynamics in recent history. But to argue “it is these new voting patterns rather than the new maps” ignores the use of sophisticated analytics of voting patterns that gives the new maps. In Pepin County for example, a decade of voting patterns and the 2020 census caused the legislature to move two increasingly liberal towns – Pepin and Stockholm – into the 92nd AD from the 91st to protect the incumbent’s margins in the 91st.
It is possible of course for a progressive candidate to win in a ‘red’ district running up hill with good organization and infrastructure. Flawed thinking about gerrymandered fixes seems to me to have more impact on the higher levels of Democrats making decisions about candidate recruitment, funding, and resources than on the grassroots campaigners.
But fairer maps would eliminate some excuses and lead to a more genuine democracy.
Based on what you're telling us, simply recruiting more voters might not be the solution. Perhaps Dem's message needs to be adjusted. Remember when Raymond Burke caused a stir with telling Catholics he would NOT give communion to John Kerry because he was a Dem? People listened & voted as if their faith alone dictated how they voted instead of recognizing that women's rights were going to be seriously curbed by that kind of voting. Additionally, Dems can benefit by clearly telling voters where their tax $$$ are being spent to counter the notion that Dems are promoting social dependency by throwing $$$ out the window trying to solve poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, enemployment/under-employment. While I favor funding programs designed to overcome those social problems, rural voters thnk it is more handouts for the undeserving....IMHO.
Great and right on! State and national Dems and their "professional" paid advisors do not make it easy to reach out to ALL eligible voters and to do community organizing in rural areas. Perhaps reaching out from non-partisan groups, like LWV, etc., to motivate folks to vote because of how the Legislative decisions affect our families and communities would be more effective in GOTV efforts. Attacking and blaming create more barriers to good outcomes.