Beloit’s newest state senator said he believes the redistricting process in Wisconsin is fair the way it stands now.
Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said he doesn’t support moving the redistricting process to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau. Kedzie became the Senate representative for a narrow slice of Beloit’s East Side in the redistricting that followed the 2010 census.
“I don’t think there is an issue with the current system,” Kedzie said in an interview with the Daily News. “It is vested in us by act of Congress that we have incorporated in the state constitution. I take the constitutional duties seriously as a sworn representative of the state. I don’t believe in advocating for five individuals that have not been elected, and aren’t accountable.”
Democrats in Wisconsin have been pushing two identical bills in both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly designed to lessen partisan influence while redrawing district lines. One Republican state senator, Dale Schultz of Richland Center, has signed on to the measure.
Both bills are stuck in their respective committees, with the chairs of those committees refusing to call them for a public hearing. Kedzie said he believed the process is fair, and the most recent redistricting was done in a fair manner.
“I believe that we drew the maps as we thought were fair as the Democrats would have done the same way if they were in control,” he said.
He said the process to draw the district lines isn’t easy, and can’t be done in a way that would satisfy everyone. He added the process still has checks and balances by allowing the maps to be challenged in court.
“Even when one party does control both houses and the governor’s wing, it still was called into question by the courts and adjustments were made,” Kedzie said referring to a three-panel U.S. District Court’s ruling on the redrawn maps.
The court, in its ruling, upheld most of the district maps except the 8th and 9th districts in Milwaukee. However, the judges’ written opinion contradicts Kedzie’s claim the maps were drawn fairly.
“Regrettably, like many other states, Wisconsin chose a sharply partisan methodology that has cost the state in dollars, time, and civility,” the judges wrote. “Every effort was made to keep this work out of the public eye and, most particularly, out of the eye of the Democrats.”
Kedzie’s district was drawn into Beloit after the last reapportionment splitting off a portion of Beloit’s East Side for his district. Historically, that area votes predominately for Republicans.
The rest of Beloit — traditional Democrat areas — was assigned to Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville. Cullen is one of the main pushers for the reform, and has acknowledged both sides have drawn lines to favor their parties when they could.
When asked about his involvement with Beloit since he had been assigned to represent portions of the city, Kedzie said he couldn’t remember the last time he was in Beloit either on political or non-political business.
He did say he has visited the city for some school district functions in the past. Melissa Badger, spokesperson for the school district, said Kedzie is on the mailing list, and has been invited to all the ribbon-cutting ceremonies coming up for the schools that have been worked on as part of the referendum passed last year.
Badger said Beloit Superintendent Steve McNeal has met Kedzie only once, in Madison, during this year’s Day at the Capitol Event, which is organized by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
City Manager Larry Arft said the city has had communications with Kedzie’s office, and he has spoken to the senator a few times when visiting Madison.
“He is available,” Arft said. “He’s come to legislative briefings that the city has held when in Madison. We’ve arranged meetings in Sen. Cullen’s office and he has come there on at least two occasions.”
Kedzie said he feels comfortable with the relationships he has with the school and city officials.
“We’ve heard from administrators from the city and school district as well as school board members,” he said. “People keep in contact via email, letters and we have other various forms of communication.”
Arft said one silver lining with Beloit being split into two districts is that it gave the city a representative in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
“It’s not how we would’ve have preferred the lines, we would’ve liked the city to stay intact, but that is one of the advantages. We have a voice in both of the caucuses,” he said.