On May 9, the Republican chairs of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee — Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Hills, R-River Hills — at the direction of GOP legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, led the 12 Republican members of the committee in removing nonpartisan redistricting reform from Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-21 budget proposal. The four Democratic members of the Joint Finance Committee opposed this misguided and hyper-partisan action. Sen. Darling was ill and not present for the vote but approved this action.
In doing so, Republican leaders are saying they will continue to utilize unlimited Wisconsin taxpayer dollars to defend the most partisan gerrymandered voting maps in the nation. Since 2011, this policy has resulted in close to $4 million of state taxpayer money spent to devise — and defend in court — among the most indefensible voting maps in the nation.
Evers inserted in his budget proposal the nonpartisan redistricting reform proposal that Common Cause in Wisconsin has championed, and which has united pro-reform legislators and citizen reformers since 2013. The model is based on Iowa’s redistricting process, adopted by a Republican-controlled legislature and Republican governor in 1980.
In Iowa, the redistricting process every 10 years occurs at almost no additional cost to taxpayers as it is performed by a nonpartisan state agency. In Wisconsin, in the budget provision proposed by Evers, the same thing would happen. The actual drawing of new voter maps, mandated by federal and state law to occur after the 2020 census, would be undertaken by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, at little or no additional cost to Wisconsin taxpayers.
In 2011, Republican legislative leaders hired at taxpayer expense a private, partisan and costly Madison-based law firm — Michael Best & Frederich — to help draw new voter maps in the most secretive and partisan manner possible. Later, they hired other costly law firms and lawyers from both inside and out of Wisconsin. The maps were declared unconstitutional by a federal three-judge panel in 2016, but the GOP has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to defend them.
In four public hearings around Wisconsin held by the Joint Finance Committee during the month of April, dozens of citizens testified in support of the fair maps budget provision. Not a single citizen spoke against them.
The Iowa model reform provision has the support of every state reform organization and every pro-redistricting reform state legislator, as well as Evers. A Marquette University Law School poll earlier this year showed that 72 percent of Wisconsinites support nonpartisan redistricting, including 62 percent of Republicans.
Additionally, in 46 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties — covering three quarters of the state’s population — county boards have passed resolutions urging the state Legislature to ban partisan gerrymandering and adopt nonpartisan redistricting instead. Thirty-four of those 46 counties were carried by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. And in the eight counties that have held referendums on the issue thus far, all have passed with overwhelming margins ranging from 65 to 82 percent.
Despite overwhelming public support for this reform, Vos, Fitzgerald, Nygren and Darling will not yet relinquish their iron-fisted grip on the redistricting process.
But the battle goes on.
The removal of redistricting reform does not spell the end of the measure by any means. There will likely be an amendment offered to re-insert this provision in the budget. Stand-alone legislation will also be introduced soon in both the Assembly and the Senate, and the fight will accelerate to have the legislation considered, voted on and enacted into law before the 2021 redistricting process.
It is imperative that Wisconsinites contact both their state representatives and their state senators and demand that they support the Iowa model redistricting reform legislation as part of the state budget bill and as separate stand-alone legislation.
Never surrender! On, Wisconsin!
— Jay Heck is the state director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. For more information call 608-256-2686 or go to www.commoncausewisconsin.org