When Jon Plumer ran for the Wisconsin state Legislature in 2018, in a special election in the spring and a regular election in the fall, he indicated that he wanted to serve as an open-minded and responsible Republican. He said he was rooted in the values of rural Wisconsin rather than those of partisan insiders in the state Capitol, signaling that he wanted to break the patterns of partisan rancor and division and do right by the people of the 42nd Assembly District.
We didn’t believe him, but a lot of people did.
In particular, there was excitement about the prospect that he might break with Republican leaders in the Legislature and work to end the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional district maps. An Associated Press report on a 2018 candidate forum in the district recalled, “Plumer said Democrats and Republicans have, over the years, drawn gerrymandered districts when their party was in power. However, he said he remains open to considering having an independent non-partisan body take charge of Wisconsin’s redistricting.”
That sounded good, but we doubted Plumer was sincere about repairing our broken politics. Why say you are “open to considering” reform when you could simply sign on as a supporter of fair maps — as did Plumer’s opponent in 2018, Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd. “I’m proud to stand against gerrymandering!” declared Groves Lloyd. “My family has been fighting for fair government since the 1930s and I’m proud to carry on that tradition.”
We supported Groves Lloyd with a June 2018 editorial. We made it clear at the time that we thought Plumer was playing a cynical game. It didn’t make sense to us that Plumer, who was running with the enthusiastic support of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester — and with the help of a free-spending ad campaign funded by Vos’s special-interest allies — would break with the speaker once elected.
But there were plenty of gullible commentators who fell for Plumer’s act, including the editors of the Wisconsin State Journal, who framed their editorial endorsement of the Republican around his supposed support for free and fair elections. Back in 2018, they announced that they were for Plumer because of his “open mind and strong priorities — including fixing Wisconsin’s roads, expanding rural broadband and supporting nonpartisan redistricting.”
That struck us as an overly optimistic assessment of Plumer, who seemed to us to be dancing around the gerrymandering issue and using the sort of “weasel words” that political careerists employ when they are seeking to fool gullible listeners. But the State Journal never gave up on the notion that Plumer was a reformer. In their 2020 endorsement of the Republican over able Democratic challenger Melisa Arndt, the paper’s editors declared, “Unlike many in his party, this Republican incumbent supports a nonpartisan process for drawing legislative and congressional districts.”
Plumer won in 2018 and again in 2020, setting himself up to be a part of this year’s redistricting process. And, lo and behold, he went all in for gerrymandering.
When the Legislature voted this month on Republican-crafted legislative and congressional district maps that were widely criticized as unfair, Plumer voted in lockstep with Vos.
If Plumer had proven to be an honest elected official who supported fair maps and honest elections, we would have been the first to celebrate his willingness to stand up to his party and special interests. But he didn’t keep his promises, and he made those who supported him look like fools.
We hope Plumer’s abandonment of principle will be remembered if he seeks re-election in 2022.
Legislators like Robin Vos, who openly support gerrymandering, are self-serving hacks. But at least they are open about their disdain for democracy.
Politicians who hint that they might be for fair maps at election time and then cast their lot with the opponents of fair maps when it comes time for redistricting, like Jon Plumer, are the very embodiment of everything that is wrong with politics.