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August 14, 2020

7/2/2020 10:49:00 AM
A Victory for Democracy and Citizen Action

Dear Editor:
When we reach out to people urging them to contact their legislative representative about an issue they are concerned about, we often hear "Why bother, they don't listen anyway." On the evening of June 16 the Iowa County Board let us know why it is worth bothering. That night the Board voted 16-4 to place a referendum on the November ballot asking: "Should the Wisconsin Legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district plans and maps?"
The resolution on the referendum did not magically appear on the agenda for the Board meeting, nor was it initiated by any of the Supervisors. It was the end result of the efforts of a small group of citizens who were fed up with gerrymandering and decided to do something about it. They studied what was being done by volunteer groups in Wisconsin and other states and gathered resources and advice from organizations that promote Fair Maps. They provided information to the Board committee that had to approve the resolution before it could go to the entire Board. People who lived in the districts those committee members represented were urged to contact their Supervisors and ask for their support. In preparing for the June 16 meeting letters were sent to all the Board members, and a petition drive was launched asking the Board to support a referendum. In spite of the Covid-19 crisis 355 signatures were gathered. Letters appeared in local newspapers and many calls were made to supervisors from their constituents. After a heated but respectful discussion the motion to approve placing the referendum on the ballot was approved.
"OK," we can hear the cynics saying, "Maybe the County Board, which is more accessible to its citizens, is more likely to listen to them but what about the State Legislature?"
Our cynical friends raise a valid point here. And that gets us back to the issue of gerrymandering.
In contrast to the partisan bickering and rancor that is often seen in the State legislative sessions, at Iowa County Board meetings you will find thoughtful deliberation of issues, with Supervisors focused on what is best for the County rather than how to score political points. We believe this difference is due in part to the fact that elections for Supervisor are non-partisan; the candidates are not beholden to any political party or large donors and need to appeal to a wide range of voters to win an election. Gerrymandering results in hyper-partisanship, because elected officials need only to appeal to their base and are more beholden to party leaders and donors than to voters. We believe that the State Legislature might operate more like the Iowa County Board if we end gerrymandering along with adopting other electoral reforms.
What happened in Iowa County is not an anomaly. Fifty-one of Wisconsin's 72 County Boards (many of them in so called "red" counties) have passed resolutions in support of banning gerrymandering, and 17 counties and 17 municipalities have passed, by large majorities, referendums supporting Fair Maps. An additional 13 counties are considering holding a referendum this fall. All of these efforts have been initiated and shepherded by citizen activists, many of who have never been politically active before. "We are all in this together and we will work together to get through it" has become the watch-word of the Covid-19 crisis. It could just as easily be the watch-word of the crisis crippling our democracy.
Thanks to the Iowa County Board for fueling our hopes rather than feeding our cynicism. Thanks to everyone who participated in any capacity to get the referendum on the November ballot.

Allen and Judy Pincus
Barneveld, WI

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