The Cost of Gerrymandering By Phil Anderson
The Cost of Gerrymandering
Democracy does not exist in Northwest Wisconsin when it comes to congressional representation. Because of the extreme gerrymandering of the district people essentially have no choice. Republicans are virtually assured of winning any election for the House of Representatives in the 7th Congressional District.
This is not just a problem for Democrats. It is not that Democrats are sore losers who don’t have the support of the people in the district. Gerrymandering produces “safe” districts that allow minority control regardless of what the overall majority of people want. Gerrymandering leads to bad public policy that negatively impacts many people in their everyday lives.
Good decision making in any human activity requires looking at and choosing between options. The more information, experience, knowledge, insight or points of view the better. Narrow perspectives and limited inputs produce bad decisions.
Gerrymandering results in leadership with narrow, ideological, partisan perspectives. There is little diversity or competition of ideas. In a gerrymandered “safe” district there is no incentive to “reach across the aisle” on issues. There is no need to build a broad base of support by compromising, moving to the center or trying to understand other’s needs and points of view. It is widely known that gerrymandering produces increased partisanship and more rancorous, polarized politics. This often results in governmental gridlock and an inability to deal with serious problems.
Gerrymandering also discourages people from running for public office. Voters have fewer choices. Over time this tends to reduce the quality and responsiveness of the representation. Again, everyone is adversely affected by gerrymandering.
Currently the 7th Congressional district has no Democratic candidate for the House. The statewide U.S. Senate race has 13 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Why is this? Democrats in the statewide race have a chance at winning. In 2020 Democrats won five stateside offices. In the last five elections for the 7th Congressional district representative, Republicans have won five times by roughly the same 60% to 40% margin. No one wants to be the Democratic sacrificial lamb to run in a heavily gerrymandered district.
Rep. Tom Tiffany is the poster child of how and why gerrymandering is bad for democracy and for most people. First elected the Wisconsin Assembly in 2010, his political experience was formed in the hyper-partisan era of the Walker administration. After the 2011 gerrymandering of the Wisconsin legislative districts, Tiffany has always been in a “safe” district. He has never had any reason to compromise his far-right positions. He has never had to broaden his beliefs to court more moderate voters. As a result, his constituents pay the price for his ideological purity.
Tiffany’s voting record shows an astonishing number of “no” votes on legislation and issues important to Northwest Wisconsin residents. It is a record of ideological rigidity that disregards the needs of his constituents and demonstrates a lack of caring for people. It is all about rhetorical hot buttons and pandering to his Trump supporting base rather than the common good.
Here are just a few of many possible examples that show how costly gerrymandering and Tom Tiffany are for Northwest Wisconsin.
Northwest Wisconsin’s greatest asset is the environment. Forests, lakes, and outdoor recreation are critical to the economy. In the Wisconsin legislature Tiffany was branded “Toxic Tom” for his efforts to gut environmental protection. He has a record of favoring mining and other extractive industries.
Tiffany is on record calling the Green New Deal “socialism.” A sensible program of diversifying the economy, supporting cleaner alternative energy, improving energy efficiency and creating local jobs is, in his mind, evil.
He even attacked the use of more efficient light bulbs, saying, “Any government that has the power to tell you what light bulb to put into a socket…we should be fearful of because they have the power to take away our freedom.” For Tiffany any “regulation” of business is an infringement on “freedom.” Sensible, beneficial building, safety and health codes that protect the public and improve our society are less important than his campaign rhetoric.
Fortunately, the “free market” private sector has more sense than Tiffany. People and companies all over northern Wisconsin are installing solar panels, buying electric cars, building more energy efficient buildings and buying more efficient appliances. It is simply good economics. LED light bulbs are now the standard because they work better, last longer and cost less!
Tiffany voted against the Great American Outdoors Act. This law provided a tiny $6.5 billion to address the $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance in our 400 national parks. This includes the Apostle Islands National Seashore which has a $46 million economic impact on Wisconsin’s economy and supports 550 jobs in economically poor Bayfield County.
The City of Superior will receive $17 million from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. This extra money will help expand broadband internet access, provide childcare services, repair public infrastructure, provide new police vehicles and equipment, fund social services grants, address homelessness and increase mental health services.
But Tiffany voted against ARPA and $5.7 billion for Wisconsin’s state and local governments. He condemned this funding because it “is filled with unrelated, job-killing policies like a $15 minimum wage mandate. And bailouts for… governments who haven’t been as fiscally responsible as Wisconsin.” These “bailouts” included $15.7 million for Wausau and even $437,000 for his hometown of Minocqua.
Even highway constructions was a bridge too far for Tiffany’s anti-spending philosophy. He voted against the Build Back Better Act and the INVEST in America Act. The latter provides funding for federal highways, public transit, and highway safety programs. But it also allocated money for lead pipe replacement, filtering water in public schools and grants for drinking and wastewater treatment in “disadvantaged communities.” One suspects the help going to poor (read minority) communities was the reason for his opposition. Tiffany also has a record of racist actions (a topic for future articles).
Bringing home, the “bacon” to your district is normally the holy grail of politics. But for Tiffany pandering to the far right, anti-government Republican base is more important than addressing the needs of his district and its constituents. The costs of gerrymandering are high. Only one thing can change this situation. People must understand the cost to themselves and vote for change.