Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Women Out of Their League

The topic du jour for all the good government groups these days is the famed Candidate Survey from the "nonpartisan" League of Women Voters, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Common Cause.

Keep in mind, that none of these groups are actually "nonpartisan." Two of them have actually lobbied against the gay marriage constitutional amendment. Just check out the League of Women Voters' website, which includes "nonpartisan" positions supporting universal health care, supporting gun control, opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, and on and on. It's essentially just the Moveon.org talking points charading as nonpartisanship. By the way, how often do you see the print media refer to Wisconsin Right to Life as "nonpartisan?" (technically, they are).

The League of Women Voters actually includes their support for abortion in the "Representative Democracy" portion of their website. This shows they have a sense of humor, since the unlimited right to abortion was mandated by the Supreme Court, the least representative branch of government conceivable.

Apparently willing to support anything with the words "reform" on it, the League has waded into the complicated area of campaign finance reform. This is the focus of the biased Wisconsin candidate survey they distributed, which more than half of state candidates rightfully ignored. The survey is full of ridiculously slanted questions such as: "Do you support and would you vote for bipartisan, comprehensive campaign finance reform that would reduce special interest influence..."

What's a candidate supposed to say? "No, I want to increase special interest influence?" Actually the question relates to voluntary spending limits, which would actually increase special interest influence by pushing campaign spending out into the shady independent groups like the one Xoff runs. How's McCain-Feingold working out? Good thing there's no special interest influence in Washington anymore. No candidate in their right mind would actually turn this garbage in.

Despite the obvious flaws in the survey and the cheerleading done for it by the statewide media, there was one question in particular that piqued my interest. Question #4 on the survey reads:


4. YES OR NO: Do you support and would you vote for legislative measures making electoral competitiveness a legal or constitutional standard that must be applied by the Legislature and the courts in establishing state legislative and congressional district boundaries?
Clearly, they are dissatisfied with the current makeup of the State Legislature and think there's a better way to draw legislative districts. They think that the districts are rigged by the incumbent lawmakers that redraw them every decade. They think that somehow, the state Constitution should be rewritten to make "electoral competitiveness" the standard when drawing new districts.

So making all the districts in the state competitive sounds like a good idea, right? Then, more races will be contested, and democracy will flourish, correct? There's only one problem with this theory: The Voting Rights Act.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for all citizens. The Act was a response to Southern separatists, who responded to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by making it more difficult for blacks to vote.

For the past 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has continued to mold the meaning of the Civil Rights Act. One of the problems encountered by the courts has been that of "vote dilution," used by segregationists to lessen the influence of black voters. These segregationist lawmakers would gerrymander districts to make sure only a sliver of black voters were present in each district, which guaranteed no minorities could be elected to office, and would "dilute" the efficacy of minority votes.

To address this nefarious tactic, the courts have ruled that wherever possible, minority representation must be present. The goal in redistricting has to be keeping minority voters together as a community. To that end, where there are majority-minority populations, there must be an opportunity to elect a minority to office. Of course, minorities, especially African-Americans, disproportionately vote for Democrats. Thus, in heavily black areas of Milwaukee, you find a lot of black Democrats that hold office. Here's a map of downtown Milwaukee Assembly districts:


Of the inner city Milwaukee districts, look at the solid block that are represented by African Americans or other minorities: the 16th (Leon Young), 18th (Tamara Grigsby), 10th (Polly Williams), 17th (Barbara Toles), 8th (Pedro Colon), and 11th (Jason Fields). Additionally, these districts are represented by African-Americans Spencer Coggs and Lena Taylor in the State Senate. Of course, all of these minority representatives are Democrats, and represent heavily Democratic districts.

Now try to imagine drawing a map where each of these districts are "electorally competitive." Think of how you could take these 90% Democratic districts and gerrymander them so they are each 50% Republican. You would essentially have about ten to fifteen districts made up primarily of the suburbs that pick off just a little sliver of inner city Milwaukee. The effect of this type of gerrymandering? Vote dilution.

Trying to make these districs "electorally competitive" would fracture the African-American community into little sections, where it would be increasingly more difficult to elect black representatives. I'm not willing to say that any of the current African-American representatives couldn't be elected in majority white districts, but Wisconsin has yet to elect a minority in any district without a strong minority presence (Bob Turner from Racine, for instance). So the end result of the League of Women Voters' plan to equalize districts would actually be to end minority representation in the state.

Not only would this be unlawful (as determined by the courts) it wouldn't pass the test of public decency. Of course, what the League really wants to do is make heavily Republican districts more competitive. But in order to do that, you have to move the Republicans somewhere, and they would have to go into districts that cause problems with equal rights case law. Since Republicans continue to pick up seats in both state houses, they figure something must be wrong with the process of drawing districts - it's obviously rigged.

This is just another example of interest groups not thinking through the implications of their policy positions. Who ever thought the League of Women Voters would advocate undermining the Voting Rights Act?

Side note: Boo, York! Write the funny stuff!

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Supplemental Info:

Here's a good article by Jason Stein of the Wisconsin State Journal discussing the dwindling relevance of the League of Women Voters and their newfound political advocacy.

Watch Neil Heinen's head explode when he finds out how few candidates actually fill out the survey. Calm down, Neil - more people will read this post than will read the LWV survey results.

Phil Brinkman of the Wisconsin State Journal can't believe that Mark Green didn't fill out his survey. I can't believe this article wasn't on the editorial page, where it belonged.