Our Legislature could be doing more to help Wisconsinites, but they aren’t

By Mel Barnes

It didn’t have to be this way. Our state Legislature could be doing more to help Wisconsinites, but they aren’t. Why? Because too many legislative districts are drawn so that elected representatives don’t have to be responsive to their constituents.

State government is fighting itself at every turn. The Legislature not only didn’t convene — virtually or otherwise — for months on end in 2020, but spent its time and taxpayer money suing in court to block emergency measures advanced by the Gov. Tony Evers and public health officials.

Recently an NBC story pointed to the root of the Legislature’s bizarre behavior regarding the pandemic: gerrymandered 2011 maps that have entrenched Republican control of the Legislature for a decade, no matter what.  Even when Democrats win all five statewide offices on the ballot, and Democratic candidates for the Assembly win 53% of the popular vote to just 45% for Republican candidates like they did in 2018, Republicans easily retained majorities in the Legislature.

This problem is real. But it goes far beyond a political party holding on to a majority of seats with a minority of statewide votes. The problem with this sort of gerrymander is that it protects those legislators from any real accountability. They don’t have to work for their constituents. (Seriously, who else could not show up to work for hundreds of days and not worry about getting fired?) The only threat to their re-election is a (more extreme) primary challenger from their own party. 

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