Republican state lawmakers are throwing still more taxpayer money at high-priced lawyers to defend their gerrymandered voting districts.
It’s an awful display of government waste from lawmakers who profess to be fiscally conservative. They’ll apparently spend whatever it takes – a blank check – to maintain their unfair advantage in state Senate and Assembly elections.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, earlier this month signed a $175,000 contract with Washington attorney Paul Clement – the same guy who helped the NFL suspend Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady. Clement will file briefs in the lawmakers’ ongoing redistricting case that they want to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A second state contract will pay a Madison-based law firm $300 an hour for related legal work.
And all of that is on top of the $2.1 million Republican lawmakers already blew on drawing and defending rigged maps that protect many incumbents of both parties while specifically helping GOP candidates win swing seats that determine which party holds majority power at the statehouse.
The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last fall ruled Wisconsin’s legislative districts unconstitutional because of extreme partisanship. The same panel of judges last month ordered the state to draw new maps, with Attorney General Brad Schimel’s taxpayer-funded attorneys already on board defending the unconstitutional voting districts.
That wasn’t good enough for top lawmakers, who have hired pricey private attorneys of their own to represent their interest in staying in power as long as they can with an unfair advantage.
The state Constitution requires the Legislature to adopt new voting districts after each major census to reflect population changes. That way, every voter gets equal representation.
But in 2011, when Republicans controlled the process, they huddled with lawyers in secret, analyzing past voting results with powerful computer software to create the most advantageous district boundaries for conservative candidates. In some cases, this involved packing as many Democratic-leaning communities into districts the Republican leaders didn’t think their candidates could win anyway. That left fewer Democratic-friendly areas in remaining swing seats.
A better way to draw the lines is to assign the task to a nonpartisan state agency, as Iowa does. Iowa Republicans and Democrats alike praise their nonpartisan system for creating compact, fair and more competitive districts.
And it doesn’t cost a dime, other than mileage for Iowa state employees to travel to public hearings across that state seeking input and answering questions. Greater competition for seats also gives Iowans more power to pick and hold their politicians accountable.
Fitzgerald and Vos should stop wasting public money and adopt the Iowa model.