Milwaukee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett yesterday put forward a plan for changing the way legislative and congressional redistricting is handled. May he not be the last public official in the state to tackle this issue.
Lord knows the current system needs improving. The way it's worked is that legislators get to draw new district lines every 10 years after each census, and the lines they draw are tailor-made for their reelection. Democrats find ways to pack as many Democratic voters as possible in their districts, and Republicans load their districts with GOP voters.
In the vast majority of congressional and state legislative contests, the outcome is a foregone conclusion because of the lopsided political makeup of the districts. Much is made of how Wisconsin is a purple state, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. But individual districts are bright red or dark blue.
At present Wisconsin arguably has only one competitive congressional district, the Green Bay area's 8th district. In fact, since 2000 only two U.S. House races have been competitive (with a margin of victory within 10 points), the 2000 election in the 2nd district and the 2006 election in the 8th.
Depending on the election year, either 116 or 117 state legislative seats are up for grabs. Over the last 10 years, the number of competitive elections has ranged from a low of 10 to a high of 29.
While this is a raw deal for voters, it's great for incumbent office holders. Since 2000, state legislative incumbents have been reelected 95% of the time. In 2000, incumbents won 102 times and lost three. In 2002, they went 89-6. In 2004, 91-4. In 2006, 97-9. And in 2008, 99-3.
State politicians go to great lengths to achieve these results. They spent somewhere between $2.6 million and $2.9 million of our money on consultants, personnel and legal expenses for the 2000 redistricting. And sometimes they had to draw weirdly shaped districts to enhance the job security of incumbents. The 64th Assembly district (pictured at right - click on image to enlarge) in the Kenosha area was named one of the 10 ugliest districts in America in a state-by-state analysis released this April by the Rose Institute.