Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) argues for new political maps proposed by Republicans. (Screenshot | WisEye)
The Wisconsin Assembly moved the state’s redistricting process one step closer to Gov. Tony Evers’ veto pen and a court battle Thursday when, on party line votes, Republicans passed their versions of the state’s new legislative and congressional maps that entrench and deepen the partisan gerrymander that has been in place for the last decade.
In hours of floor debate, only Republican Reps. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) stood up to speak in favor of their maps while Democrat after Democrat stood in opposition. In a public hearing last month, only Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) spoke in favor of the maps while hundreds of members of the public denounced them.
Democrats, who have spent the last 10 years criticizing the advantage that the current maps give legislative Republicans in an evenly divided state, said that Republicans’ new maps, which were passed in the Senate earlier this week, do nothing to even the playing field.
Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said the proposed maps are “the same poop in a different toilet.”
Vos, the Assembly speaker, criticized the sets of maps proposed by legislative Democrats and the People’s Maps Commission — a body created by Evers to come up with maps in a nonpartisan way — for drastically changing the political landscape of the state and said Democrats were hypocrites for not drafting their maps entirely in the open.
“The Republican caucus took this mission seriously,” Vos said. “Republican legislative employees crafted these maps within the confines of the state Capitol and completed this work on their own without the involvement of outside counsel.”
In 2011, when drafting the old maps that the new proposal is largely based on, Republicans met at a law office near the Capitol to work with consultants in creating one of the most gerrymandered maps in the country, a process they kept secret under the terms of nondisclosure agreements.
“In 2011, after signing secrecy oaths to hide their partisan machinations from the public, Republicans passed a gerrymandered map to distort the will of the voters and guarantee a deep red Legislature despite an overall purple state,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said. “Today, in 2021, Assembly Republicans doubled down on their corrupt actions and their past unconstitutional map by voting to lock in their 2011 gerrymander for another decade.”
Vos said his maps were the most favorable of the three options because they meet the requirement of “core retention,” by keeping districts mostly the same.
The floor debate on the maps opened with Vos offering an amendment to his bill that would substitute the Republican-drawn maps for the maps created by the People’s Maps Commission.
The maps commission’s proposal failed on a 77-21 vote with 17 Democrats voting against the amendment. Milwaukee Democratic Reps. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez and LaKeshia Myers said they were voting against the maps because they don’t believe they comply with the Voting Rights Act.
“We know that we’re all equals in this body and we know that the people we serve, they deserve to be equal, too,” Ortiz-Velez said. “The partisan gerrymandering is not fair. It doesn’t make us equal. But at least the Republican map goal was not to decimate the voices of the Black and brown communities in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers or the people’s maps are also not fair to everyone in our state.”
While Republicans relished the fact that Evers’ maps were denied on a bipartisan vote, the Republican maps failed to bring any legislators across the aisle.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), whose district includes half the city of Beloit but also stretches into parts of Green County, spoke to the problem of splitting up a county with a population of nearly 37,000 people into three Senate districts and three Assembly districts.
“We’re here to say that we as politicians should not be the ones drawing maps behind closed doors,” Spreitzer said. “We should not be drawing maps for our own self interest. We should be creating a process, a fair process, that draws maps that protect the Voting Rights Act, that keeps communities of interest together, that follow existing political boundaries, where possible, that are compact and contiguous. And also, that lead to fair outcomes that represent this 50-50 purple state, that send a Legislature here that in one election could have a Democratic majority and in the next election could have a Republican majority, just like we see in our statewide elections. The maps in front of us do not accomplish that. The maps in front of us represent the worst of it. They represent politicians choosing the voters that should live in their district, rather than the other way around.”
Evers has said he will veto the Republican-drawn maps once they reach his desk.
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