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Politics pocketed in primaries

Gov. Scott Walker ignored newspaper editorials urging him to use his State of State speech to urge reform in how Wisconsin creates legislative and congressional boundary lines.

That’s no surprise because reform talk could damage his presidential ambitions. Creating firewalls around safe election districts is part of a national Republican strategy, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

Proof of the Republican gerrymandering success in Wisconsin was the significant legislative majorities achieved in 2012 while Democrats Barack Obama and Tammy Baldwin carried the statewide vote for president and U.S. Senate. The GOP margin in the State Senate is expected to increase in this year’s election. Three veteran Democratic senators have announced they won’t seek re-election.

Walker also showed his support for the national Republican strategy late last month when he denounced the idea of increasing the minimum wage. The governor described a higher minimum wage as “piling on regulations” that would hurt economic recovery.

Mary Burke, the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has proposed increasing the Wisconsin minimum wage by 35 cents to $7.60 per hour. She is a former executive at Trek Bicycle Corp.

Walker stayed the Republican line when he rejected additional federal dollars under Obamacare to expand Medicaid; the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated the state would have received $459 million through the year 2021. Walker said he didn’t think the federal government would be able to afford more money for the Medicaid programs across America. Burke has said she would have accepted the added aid for Wisconsin.

The governor has said the gubernatorial election may swing on the 11 percent of Wisconsin voters who had both voted for President Obama’s re-election and against recalling Walker. The governor has cared for the conservative social base by approving concealed carry for the gun lobby and tough measures backed by anti-abortion activists.

Put bluntly, he may not need to worry about the editorials focusing on the gerrymandering of legislative districts. Walker had signed the law creating the new district boundary lines.

Matt Pommer

But sometimes the news surprises political animals. One such example has been the furor raised by State Rep. Joel Kleefisch’s bill to help a multimillionaire businessman reduce his child support payments. The dad has been paying $15,000 a month in support for his three children. In Wisconsin child support is tied to the absentee parent’s income. The children are in private school.

The businessman had been a major contributor to Rep. Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and his wife Rebecca who is the lieutenant governor.

It was double political trouble for Republicans. Democrats often try to paint Republicans as defenders of the wealthy and being insensitive to issues affecting women. Child-support payments clearly sound like an issue that could interest women in an election year.

Rep. Kleefisch retreated, withdrawing the measure. But editorials continued to hoot at the concept of helping a wealthy donor with legislation the millionaire himself had helped draft. The Appleton Post Crescent correctly noted that Rep. Kleefisch came from a solid Republican district — the kind that had growingly been created by the gerrymandering after the 2010 federal census. Democrats aren’t going to win that district.

The Appleton editorial suggested the Republican Party might want to run another candidate in the upcoming primary. That is unlikely especially given that Rebecca Kleefisch is the lieutenant governor. She would become governor if Walker and she are re-elected in 2014 and the governor goes to Washington D.C. after the 2016 election.

A key criticism of gerrymandering is that it forces political decisions into party primaries rather than general elections between the two major parties.

Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for The Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.