BELOIT - State lawmakers are divided on partisan lines regarding a redistricting proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to redraw the legislative and congressional maps included in the 2019-2021 state budget.
Evers proposed directing the Legislative Reference Bureau to draft new maps under the direction of the Redistricting Advisory Committee, a newly established nonpartisan group by the governor's office. Evers has compared his proposal to a similar model used in Iowa that saw sweeping nonpartisan redistricting reform.
Wisconsin's current maps, last redrawn in 2011, are still held up in the courts.
In November of 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin found the district maps for the Wisconsin State Assembly represented illegal partisan gerrymandering. Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A trial in state district court could come this year after the U.S. Supreme Court sent the 2015 case back to a lower court last June. The case came before the U.S. Supreme Court for oral arguments in October of 2017 but was sent back after the map challenges had failed to demonstrate standing to bring a complaint under Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution related to judicial authority. In January, the lower court postponed the trial, originally set for April, to later in 2019 after a three-month delay.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and other Democrats have tried since 2015 to remove redistricting authority from lawmakers and transfer cartographic powers of the pen to a nonpartisan commission. Similar legislation that was co-authored by Spreitzer has been reintroduced by other Assembly Democrats in each successive session, to no avail. The GOP-controlled Assembly has yet to hold hearings on any redistricting bill and have barred it from floor debate.
"Gerrymandering has undermined our state's democracy for too long. It has allowed a group of legislators - supported only by a rigged map and a minority of voters - to execute a radical agenda that has hurt families, wasted taxpayer dollars, and taken our state backward," Spreitzer said. "Voters rejected that agenda last November when they elected Governor Evers, but their will was thwarted by unconstitutional rigged maps that allowed this 'minority majority' to cling to power."
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said she felt the issue should be separate from the 2019-2021 budget discussions. Loudenbeck said consideration of changes should come after all court cases challenging the current redistricting map had been resolved.
"I am supportive of looking at other options, and having the discussion outside of the budget process," she said.
Loudenbeck's district was redrawn following the 2011 redistricting effort that split a portion of Beloit into two Assembly districts. Critics of the 2011 effort said at the time the redistricting diluted Beloit's influence in future elections, and made the 31st Assembly District secure for any future GOP candidate by picking up a bigger share of Walworth County.
Wisconsin was awarded eight congressional seats following the 2010 national census. A new census will be conducted in 2020, triggering the next redistricting process.
Loudenbeck also argues any redistricting changes would need to come via constitutional amendment.
"The identical resolution would need to pass both houses in two consecutive sessions and then pass with majority support on a statewide ballot," Loudenbeck said. "Adding language to the budget the way Governor Evers has proposed, even if passed and signed into law, would have no binding effect on any future legislature."
Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said the proposal made by Evers was "long overdue." Ringhand cited results from the most recent general election as evidence of a broken system. Last November, GOP lawmakers won over 63 percent of the seats in the Assembly despite winning just 47 percent of total votes cast.
"Without redistricting reform Republicans will continue to ignore the majority of the voters in Wisconsin who want the government to fund our public schools, repair our roads, protect our water, and reform healthcare," Ringhand said.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said installing power in the hands of a nonpartisan organization could lead to future issues, citing turmoil from the now-defunct Government Accountability Board and the 2012 recall election investigation of former governor Scott Walker. Republicans strongly opposed the board for its investigations funded by tax dollars against lawmakers.
"I don't support shifting the Legislature's constitutional duty of redistricting to a bunch of Madison bureaucrats," Nass said. "This is just another extreme budget proposal from Governor Evers meant to create a fight with the Legislature."
Evers will announce his full budget proposal tonight in Madison.