Iowa Republicans Pass Fair Maps, Proving Robin Vos Wrong | Editorial

It may seem far-fetched here in Wisconsin, with Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, leading the state Assembly.

But it actually happened in Iowa recently — for the fifth time in as many decades.

Ruling lawmakers have approved new voting cards that treat all voters fairly. No gerrymandering allowed.

Iowa’s continued success as a model of nonpartisan redistricting exposes the thin excuses Vos and his GOP colleagues continue to make for partisan districts in Wisconsin. It also shows that principled politicians (which shouldn’t be an oxymoron) can always do the right thing for our democracy when they want, rather than constantly fighting for more power and tearing others down.

Here’s the most remarkable thing: Republicans in Iowa control both the governor’s office and the legislature. So if they wanted to, they could have passed just about any card they wanted.

Instead, Republicans in Iowa followed their tried-and-true process of handing the once-a-decade task of reshaping legislative and congressional constituencies to a nonpartisan legislative agency insulated from politics. The nonpartisan Iowa Legislative Services Agency is prohibited from using election results or incumbent addresses when selecting new districts. Instead, the agency is tasked by law with creating districts with a narrow goal: to adjust the lines, based on census data, so that each district has the same number of people. The agency should also strive to keep its districts compact while following municipal and county lines as much as possible.

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The Iowa Legislative Services Agency draws this state’s maps at virtually no cost to taxpayers because its squeaky-clean process doesn’t invite lawsuits. Almost everyone accepts cards. The agency holds public hearings across the state to get input from citizens. Then the Iowa legislature can request different versions of the maps — but not for political reasons — before they’re finalized.

The Iowa Legislature last fall approved new Iowa maps with almost unanimous votes 48-1 in the Senate and 93-2 in the House. In stark contrast, Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps obliterated the Legislature last fall on party-line votes, with costly lawsuits filed before new districts were even proposed. The legal battles over the Wisconsin maps continue today and could take months or even years to resolve.

Iowa voters of all persuasions will appreciate much more competitive elections for their Statehouse and their seats in Congress than Wisconsin. That’s because Iowa’s process doesn’t allow its mappers to protect incumbents or group like-minded voters in the same districts for partisan advantage.

In Iowa, 58 incumbents will face each other if they seek re-election this fall, creating more turnover and choice for voters. In Wisconsin, only six Assembly incumbents will have to run against other incumbents if they seek re-election according to the maps drawn by our legislature. The Wisconsin maps that Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, have overseen are nothing less than an incumbent protection program that thwarts the power of the people to hold their elected officials accountable.

Researcher at Marquette Law School John D. Johnson calculated that only 7 out of 99 Wisconsin’s assembly districts would be competitive under Vos’ version of his new house map. And only 2 of 33 Senate seats would be competitive (i.e. they would favor a party’s candidates by 5 percentage points or less).

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Vos likes to claim that the Wisconsin constitution requires the legislature here to be in charge of drawing the lines. He and others are using this as an excuse to use election data and sophisticated computer software to draw the lines to the GOP’s advantage, keeping Vos in power.

But Iowa’s constitution also assigns redistricting to its legislature, which must approve the maps. Still, that didn’t stop the Iowa legislature from awarding the remapping job to a nonpartisan agency. If Iowa can do it, Wisconsin can too.

As many as 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties — many leaning heavily Republican — have endorsed the nonpartisan redistricting in advisory referendums or resolutions. So the public is solidly behind the fair cards here, if only Vos and Co. would listen.

Kudos to the Republicans of Iowa — and the Democrats of Iowa, when they have been in power — for Hawkeye State’s commitment to good government. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on lawsuits that will distract Wisconsin lawmakers for months or even years and rob voters of all political persuasions, Iowa is showing the rest of the nation how to get redistricting rights.

Neutral cards aren’t impossible, as Vos likes to profess. They are only impossible as long as Vos is the Speaker of the Assembly and our courts defer to partisan power over the will of the people.

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