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COMMENTARY: Why Just Stop At Redistricting?

Drawing the line is the new battle ground.

Wisconsin’s once-a-decade political theater is well under way. I’m, of course, referring to the redrawing of legislative and congressional district boundaries in response to the results of the 10-year U.S. Census.

The intent of making these changes is to ensure that citizen populations are adequately represented in their state legislatures and in Congress. In reality, the outcome can be quite different in places—like Wisconsin—where political parties get to draw the lines.
It’s a long-standing tradition in America for political parties to attempt to manipulate these district lines to their advantage. It’s lousy public policy, by the way, but a tradition nonetheless.

A particularly egregious example in Massachusetts way back in 1812 resulted in a strangely contorted district shaped somewhat like a salamander. The political shenanigan was dubbed the “Gerrymander” after then-Gov. Elbridge Gerry who signed off on the deal.
The same sort of thing is occurring right in our own backyard. The Republicans, who control the Legislature and the governor’s office this year, have redrawn state Senate, Assembly and Congressional district boundaries with no input from the Democrats whatsoever. Why? Because they can.

And, because the natural inclination of the political party in power is to retain its power forever, the proposed state Senate districts for our area are, um, interesting.

For the first time in history, Senate districts would almost completely combine Racine and Kenosha counties. The present 21st Senate district, which had previously been confined to Racine County, would take in large chunks of both Racine and Kenosha counties.

Meanwhile, the 22nd Senate District, that was primarily a Kenosha County district, has been redrawn to run right along the Lake Michigan shoreline combining much of the cities of Racine and Kenosha.

The Rs haven’t had a whole lot to say about their rationale. However, in a flagrant act of journalism, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel crunched some voter history numbers to reveal that the “new” 21st District covers a population that is likely to vote Republican while the “new” 22nd District is comprised of strongly Democratic-leaning voters.

In another flagrant act of journalism, the Racine Journal Times took a magnifying glass to the maps and found that the proposed 21st District conveniently includes the home of current Sen. Van Wangaard, R-Racine, by just one block. The paper also reported Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, and both Republicans who want to replace him in an upcoming recall election don’t live in the “new” 22nd District.

Other than Democrats who use terms like “massive power grab,” nobody in Madison seems to care very much. Both Republican-controlled houses of the Legislature are scheduled to vote on the new district boundaries this week.

Not surprisingly, the whole shebang is going to end up in court.
It seems to me that legislative districts are supposed benefit citizens who share the same general goals and interests. It doesn’t make sense to arbitrarily herd people onto artificial islands.

That’s why if the folks in Madison who reshape legislative districts every 10 years are really serious, they should look at redrawing the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.

From my 22 years of living in Racine, I believe that the location of the state line has gradually crept northward. I’d argue that it’s now somewhere along County Highway KR (i.e. the county line.)
For example, when you drive through parts of Kenosha, you see the exact same things you see in Chicagoland—strip shopping centers, Walgreen’s drug stores, BP convenience stores, subdivisions with big houses cheek-to-jowl, Bears flags, etc. I haven’t seen the recent statistics, but I know that for a number of years, Abbott Laboratories in Waukegan was the largest private-sector employer of Kenosha County residents.

Our Legislature would be wise to just roll with it and move the Illinois state line where it naturally belongs. Oh, and then, annex Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Chris Wright July 18, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Paul, just one note Sen Wirch's district has included Burlington for some time. It was not strictly a Kenosha County District.
Chris Larsen July 18, 2011 at 01:57 PM
If the redistricting was done by Tom Barrett and Peter Barca instead of Scott Walker and The Fitzgerald Bros. would you even have written this article? I
Paul Holley July 18, 2011 at 05:59 PM
You are correct, Chris W. I've edited this column to reflect that the current 22nd District isn't exclusively Kenosha Co. Thanks for pointing that out. Chris L.: Rest assured, that if the Ds were proposing something like this, I'd call them on it. My issue is with the way redistricting is handled in this state.
Chris Larsen July 18, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Thanks for stating that.
Brian Dey July 18, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Paul - They have and did. Actually, this is one of the few times that all districts had contiguous borders. This is nothing new and it really isn't news. Not picking on the article, but I wouldn't exactly call the Journal Times or Journal Sentinel slant on this flagrant acts of journalism.

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