Last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court gives state legislatures free rein to create gerrymandered district maps that favor one political party over another.

That doesn’t make doing so a good idea.

Even the high court acknowledged that in its ruling.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, “Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust.” However, Roberts noted that our nation’s founders understood politics would play a role in drawing election districts when they gave the task to state legislatures, so a 5-4 majority of the court ruled that federal courts should not hear cases challenging partisan gerrymandering.

Emboldened by that ruling, politicians will likely continue the partisan practice.

There are state legislatures, though, that manage to draw fair and objective district maps — namely, in Iowa.

In Iowa, nonpartisan legislative staffers draw the maps without considering party affiliations indicated on voter registration rolls. The main consideration is keeping the districts compact and uniform in population. Iowa’s districts have only an 84-person deviation from one congressional district to another, and the boundaries do not cross county lines.

In Illinois and Wisconsin, the process looks much different.

The gerrymandering in Wisconsin was so egregious, a federal court ruled in 2016 that the pro-Republican maps actually violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters. A legal snag sent the case back to court with a new trial scheduled to begin in two weeks. But this U.S. Supreme Court ruling will likely make that point moot.

That’s a shame. It’s hard to imagine the intent of the forefathers was to allow states to map out “safe seats” — where incumbency is practically guaranteed. That can lead to complacency, pork barrel spending and a lack of accountability.

In Iowa, there are no “safe seats,” and the state has been the better for it.

How many of us would buy an item if we had no idea how much it was going to cost until after the purchase? Very few people, most likely. How would we know if we could afford the purchase?

Yet, Americans nearly always make health care decisions with little information about cost. Even those who ask about costs often have trouble getting a straight answer.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump last week aims to change that by improving transparency in the health care marketplace.

The order would require doctors and hospitals to let patients know upfront the cost of a non-emergency procedure — such as delivering a baby or getting knee replacement surgery. That empowers patients to compare prices and make informed decisions based on cost, if they so choose.

One of Dubuque’s own was in the audience, applauding the president’s remarks and the signing of the order. Andy Butler, vice chairman of Dubuque-based insurance broker Cottingham & Butler, was invited to the White House to commemorate the occasion. Butler called it a “fantastic experience” to witness this important event.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, always a proponent of transparency, was pleased to see it come to fruition. “When consumers have access to information and can easily compare products, they end up saving money and are happier with their purchase. That certainly holds true for health care. When big companies hide behind complicated bureaucracies, prices are higher, there are more surprise bills and there is reduced access to health care.”

Any time citizens get more information and greater transparency, that makes for better decision making. When people shop around for health care the way they do for other purchases, it will likely drive prices down. Kudos to this effort to shine a light on health care costs for consumers.

Community leaders unveiled plans last week for a Dubuque conference aimed at tackling the big issues surrounding race and inequality.

“Race in The Heartland: The Past in The Present,” is slated for Oct. 18-19 at Loras College and will explore solutions around education, housing, criminal justice and workplace inequities in Midwest communities.

While the conference will include some impassioned speakers, 10-plus breakout sessions and continuing education credits for teachers, social workers and others, there’s another aspect that sets this gathering apart from other conferences. Miquel Jackson, conference coordinator, and Anthony Allen, chairman of Dubuque Human Rights Commission and president of the local NAACP, spoke about the need for community conversation.

“As a member of a minority group, I think about race every day,” Allen said. How many Dubuque-area residents have that experience? Organizers hope a public forum can get beyond the surface, engage in discussion and begin to build real understanding.

It’s a lofty and powerful goal.

Over the last several years, we’ve see cities in strife over racial issues — often brought about by officer-involved shootings. Then, in an effort to resolve a roiling crisis, communities organize conversations.

Here in Dubuque, these leaders hope to have that conversation now. To be proactive, rather than reactive. While Dubuque has its own troubling history of racism, this conference isn’t meant to rehash what happened in the past, but rather to look to the future.

Exciting. Forward-thinking. Necessary.

Hats off to organizers for tackling this challenging subject matter in a conference setting, and here’s hoping the tri-state community seizes the opportunity to participate.

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