Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is pitching moving Wisconsin to an Iowa-style redistricting process to avoid a costly court fight before the state Supreme Court and to spare his members from millions in ads targeting them over the push to impeach liberal Janet Protasiewicz.
Vos, R-Rochester, said the Assembly will vote on the proposal Thursday with plans to have it in place for the 2024 elections and expressed optimism it would be embraced by GOP senators, Dem lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers.
But Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, immediately expressed skepticism on the sincerity of Vos’ offer, calling it a “political stunt.”
“Robin has proven time and time again that he’s not to be trusted, and I don’t trust him on this,” she told WisPolitics.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers called the proposal “bogus” and a last-ditch effort by Republicans “to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps.”
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told WisPolitics he had been given an overview of the plan. He notified his members during caucus the proposal was coming, but was noncommittal about taking it up. He said Senate Republicans will discuss it at a later date.
Vos has opposed calls to move Wisconsin to a nonpartisan redistricting process in the past, saying that power belonged in the hands of state lawmakers. On Tuesday, he argued the move would save taxpayers money by avoiding the two lawsuits now before the state Supreme Court; lawmakers have signed contracts with law firms putting taxpayers on the hook for a seven-figure payout if the cases go to trial.
The call also comes a week after the state Dem Party announced it and its allies planned a $4 million blitz to pressure Republicans to oppose impeaching Protasiewicz if she refuses to recuse herself from the redistricting lawsuits. Meanwhile, the Republican Accountability Project on Tuesday announced a six-figure ad campaign targeting Vos and 20 other GOP colleagues over impeachment.
Vos noted both Dems and Republicans have passed up chances to implement an Iowa-style redistricting process when they’ve had unified control of the Capitol. He suggested Thursday’s vote in the Assembly on the proposal would be a chance for both sides to admit “that maybe we were wrong.”
Still, he continued to defend the maps that Republicans drew and the state Supreme Court put in place in April 2022.
“I am convinced the reason that we win elections is not because of the districts. It’s because we have better candidates, a better message,” Vos said. “Now we’re going to test that. I have no fear about maintaining our majority.”
Vos said the GOP proposal closely follows the process used in Iowa.
Still, it would only apply to legislative districts without touching the congressional maps, with Republicans now holding six of the state’s eight House seats.
Under the proposal, the Legislative Reference Bureau would be charged with drawing maps that meet a series of standards. That includes compactness, dividing as few political subdivisions as possible and having districts composed of “convenient contiguous territory.”
One of the arguments Dems have raised in the redistricting suits now before the court is that districts include islands of territory that aren’t contiguous to the rest of the seat.
The LRB would be barred from using data on an incumbent’s address, voters’ political affiliation and previous election results in drawing the maps.
After public input, the Legislature would vote on the map with the opportunity to make “corrective amendments.” If it failed, the LRB would draft a second map that again could only see corrective amendments. If that process was unsuccessful, LRB would then draft a third map that the Legislature could change as it sees fit.
The Iowa approach has a deadline for the state Supreme Court to step in if no agreement were reached. The Assembly GOP plan includes no such deadline.
Read an LRB memo on the proposal: