Wisconsin lawmakers continue push for nonpartisan redistricting after SCOTUS ruling

2019-07-16 | Jefferson Post (West Jefferson, N.C.)

July 16-- Jul. 16--Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers are continuing the push for a nonpartisan redistricting process, an effort they say is crucial following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling allowing partisan maps.

The latest bill -- the legislators' last chance to overhaul the process ahead of the next redistricting cycle -- comes after Gov. Tony Evers proposed a similar process in his state budget, though the measure was taken out by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee.

This time around, the bill has support from three Republican representatives: Joel Kitchens, of Sturgeon Bay, Travis Tranel, of Cuba City, and Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, who co-sponsored last session's bill.

Still, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Republican Legislature, where it's almost guaranteed to again stall this session, as it has previously.

Bill co-authors Sen. Dave Hansen and Rep. Robyn Vining acknowledged the legislation's bipartisan support and applauded the GOP lawmakers who signed on to the bill.

At a Capitol news conference Tuesday, Hansen said the three Republicans, who didn't attend, were "listening to their constituents finally."

"Now it is up to us to continue our efforts to make nonpartisan redistricting the law of the land here in Wisconsin," the Green Bay Democrat said. "We can no longer count on anyone else to do it for us. If we want fair and competitive elections, we must do the work."

The U.S. Supreme Court last month decided 5-4 that partisan redistricting isn't reviewable by federal courts, voiding a challenge brought by liberals in Wisconsin against the Republican-drawn state Assembly maps.

The proposed redistricting overhaul would resemble the "Iowa model," where a nonpartisan staff draws the state's electoral maps and lawmakers vote to approve them. Under the bill, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau would be given the responsibility of drawing electoral boundaries and could receive input from a new, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, knocked the legislation for seeking to hand "over our constitutional duty to an unelected, unaccountable board of bureaucrats appointed by politicians."

"Republicans won with court-drawn maps in the 1990's and 2000's as well as in the 2010's," he said in a statement. "The Democrats' efforts are based on sour grapes because they haven't won in 30 years no matter how the maps were drawn."

State government in Wisconsin has been under one-party Republican rule since 2011. Democrats didn't pass redistricting legislation when they held a majority in 2009 and 2010, and lawmakers Tuesday blamed their party's leaders at the time for not getting it done.

"The leaders who were in the way that time, they're gone," said Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, who previously served in the Assembly from 2007 to 2009.

The state's legislative districts were last redrawn in 2011 by then-Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature. The next redistricting will come in two years, following the census.