Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. April 7, 2021.

Editorial: Nonpartisan redistricting’s time has come

Late last October we presented an editorial arguing in favor of Wisconsin adopting some form of explicitly nonpartisan redistricting process. New evidence emerged recently that is prompting us to return to the issue.

It seems, based on a recent poll, that the question isn’t as partisan as one might think. There appears to be strong support nationally and across political lines for an end to the gerrymandering practices parties use to retain power in excess of what vote tallies suggest they should have.

The poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center and the Associated Press asked adults nationwide about a range of questions, but it was gerrymandering that stood out. More than six in 10 respondents said states “drawing legislative districts that intentionally favor one party” is a major problem. Another 26% said it was a minor problem.

The exact responses varied a bit by party, as might be expected. But strong majorities in all groups said gerrymandering is a significant problem for the country. That included 74% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans and 63% of independents.

It’s hard to think of any other issue that generates that strong a response across party lines. Far more people view gerrymandering as being more problematic than either voter suppression or illegal voting — issues the two major parties spend far more time screaming about.

The poll’s follow-up question asked whether people supported “requiring states to set up independent and nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative districts.” Support for such a requirement, which would likely require a Constitutional amendment, was lower among all groups than overall concern about gerrymandering was. Far more people were neutral on that question.

What stood out was how rare hostility to the idea was. Only 8% of people overall were either strongly or somewhat opposed to the prospect. Democrats, Republicans and independents were all within a single percentage point of each other, with no more than 8% opposition in any group. People may be lukewarm on the idea, but they don’t seem to hate it.

As we said in October, Wisconsin is widely viewed as a heavily-gerrymandered state. Right now the lines are drawn by Republicans to favor Republicans. But there is zero evidence to suggest Democrats would do otherwise were they in power. States with strong Democratic legislative majorities have done much the same thing.

What the evidence suggests is that people are very much aware of the games legislators are playing with their districts and that they’re frankly sick of them. Creation of districts that are all but guaranteed seats for a party encourage pandering to the fringes. If the risk to an incumbent is losing a primary, survival demands that the incumbent ignore compromise and stand for re-election as an ideologically pure paragon. It’s a recipe for bitter fighting, increasing partisanship and less work getting done in Madison or in Washington.

History shows extremists make lousy leaders. So why are we tolerating a system that rewards such behavior?

Look, no majority lasts forever. The current approach invites retaliatory actions when it changes. There is a better way, and it appears most Americans favor it.

Wisconsin needs a nonpartisan redistricting approach. It might sacrifice margins in the short term, but it would be an investment in the long term health of our state’s government. The kind of rancor and bull-headed power plays that too often define the state’s political leadership isn’t serving Wisconsin residents. It’s encouraging cynicism, rewarding all-or-nothing attitudes and undermining faith in the current system’s ability to govern for everyone.

In October, we said competitive maps would benefit Wisconsin. They would create incentives for compromise and help elevate leaders who believe more in finding ways to work and live together than hoarding power. We still believe that’s true.

Settling on a new approach may not be easy, but it offers the hope of restoring the Legislature as a place where progress is made, rather than where ideas go to die. It’s time for Wisconsin’s political leaders to get serious about finding a better way to draw the state’s legislative maps.

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Kenosha News. April 11, 2021.

Editorial: Let’s keep our guard up in COVID-19 fight

Are we there, yet?”

That’s a backseat query we haven’t heard in more than a year as we’ve curtailed our travels, family visits and outings to sports events and other destinations. All because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when that question is applied to COVID, itself, the answer is, “No, not yet. But soon. It’s just around the next bend.”

Now is not the time to let up; we need to keep our foot on the gas and our eyes on the road. That means continuing to push ahead with COVID vaccinations, maintaining social distancing and masking up when necessary to protect ourselves and others.

After losing more than 556,000 Americans to death at the hands of the pandemic, we’re all well aware of the awful cost COVID has inflicted on friends and family — and on others across the world; it would be a massive mistake to let our guard down now, just when victory over the virus is in sight.

Yes, there are many bright spots in recent reports on the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines. The number of COVID deaths in the U.S. plunged by nearly 20% in the first week of April. For the most part that success is due to the fast ramping up of vaccination rates that are now going into the arms of Americans at the rate of 3 million people per day.

Here in Wisconsin 1.1 million state residents have been fully vaccinated with two doses and that represents 20% of our population. Additionally, the number of state residents who have received their first vaccination which gives substantial protection now stands at 30%. Likewise, the national figure on partial vaccinations stands at 33% with more than 109 million Americans having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The drop in deaths and the rise in vaccinations are both reasons to cheer.

Gradually we’ve seen restaurants and bars opening to higher capacities and sports venues as well. Tailgating is coming back at Am-Fam Field for Brewers games and travel is on the uptick. We’ll gladly welcome the day when we can put our masks in a drawer to sit as a reminder of a perilous 2020.

That day hasn’t yet come. There are new spikes in Europe in COVID cases and here in the U.S. the number of coronavirus cases a day has risen by 21% over the past couple of weeks. The number of daily hospitalizations in the U.S. have also gone up by about 2.7% from week to week.

Younger people in their 30s and 40s are showing up in those statistics — in part because America gave vaccination priority to older Americans who were more likely to die. And new variants of COVID look to be more aggressive in their ability to spread.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned last week that the U.S. is at risk from a new surge and said, “It’s almost a race between getting people vaccination and this surge that seems to want to increase.”

“Hang in there a bit longer,” Fauci said. “Now is not the time, as I’ve said so many times, to declare victory prematurely.”

By moving ahead with vaccinations, continuing to take precautions and masking up when necessary, we will get there. By the start of summer, we may well be able to have a victory party.

We’re not there yet. Keep your guard up.

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Wisconsin State Journal. April 7, 2021.

Editorial: 4 top cops send signal on policing

For the first time in state history, Black men will be leading the law enforcement agencies of the two largest cities and counties in Wisconsin.

It’s a big deal that’s more than symbolic. And it comes at an opportune time as Wisconsin and the nation grapple with controversial police shootings and violence that have led to protests and riots across the country, including in Madison.

The milestone will occur May 8, when Kalvin Barrett replaces the retiring Dave Mahoney as Dane County sheriff. Gov. Tony Evers announced Barrett’s appointment Friday as the high-profile trial of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin proceeds in the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

Barrett will join new Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes, acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman, and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas as a quartet of top cops who are African American.

The hiring and electing of Black men to run the state’s largest local police agencies sends a clear and powerful message that Wisconsin’s most urban communities intend to treat people of color fairly.

The sweeping change at the top also should improve recruiting and efforts to diversify the force. Madison has already proven that. Barnes is Madison’s third Black police chief, and the department now has a higher percentage of Black officers than the city’s Black population.

Most important will be the perspectives these leaders bring. They won’t have to “look through a lens of racial equity,” as so many white leaders in Madison profess to do when making decisions. They will view their agencies and communities with the experience of being Black and understanding discrimination in a personal way.

At the same time, these Black law enforcement leaders will be able to speak with authority about the need for public safety, including in neighborhoods hit hard by crime. Wisconsin and its largest communities arrest and lock up disproportionately high numbers of Black people. Now these same cities and counties will have a disproportionately high number of Black police chiefs and sheriffs to set a tone of fairness and respect for all.

Barrett, for example, repeatedly referred to himself as a “peace officer” last week. Barnes, Madison’s new chief, wants to further diversify his force by recruiting new officers in churches.

Police critics may discount how much difference Black leaders can make. Critics often contend that the criminal justice system must change, not just top management.

We get the point. Yet having Black men in charge and engaging with people of color who say they are more suspicious of police should build more trust. That, in turn, should improve cooperation between police and the citizens they protect, improving public safety for all.

END