Gov. Tony Evers speaks about his decision to veto Republican proposals for new political maps. (Screenshot | Governor Tony Evers YouTube)
Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the redistricting bills passed earlier this month by Republicans, setting up a court battle over Wisconsin’s new political dividing lines that will first go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Evers said on Thursday that the maps proposed by Republicans were “gerrymandering 2.0” because they solidify the dividing lines that have given Republicans a near-impenetrable majority in the Legislature for the last decade and give the GOP a 6-2 advantage in the evenly divided swing state’s congressional districts.
“Elected officials shouldn’t be able to depend on the comfort of their seats instead of the quality of their work, and the gerrymandered maps Republicans passed a decade ago have enabled legislators to safely ignore the people who elected them,” Evers said. “And these maps here, they’re more of the same. They’re gerrymandering 2.0. I told the Legislature early on to go back to the drawing board when these were first introduced. I’ve said all along I’d veto these maps if they came to my desk. This was about elected officials having the courage to do the right thing when it mattered most. And the members of this Legislature failed to deliver.”
The fight for fair maps has been a motivating political issue for people across Wisconsin over the past ten years and was a campaign issue for Evers, who last year established the People’s Maps Commission to create a nonpartisan method for drawing new political maps.
The People’s Maps Commission, after meeting with citizens across the state, drew maps that received an “A” grade for partisan fairness from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. The Republican maps received an “F” in that same category.
But the commission’s proposals drew criticisms from Milwaukee-area Democrats who complained about being left out of the process and wanted more political representation for the minority communities in the state’s largest city.
Republicans and some Democrats voted against the commission’s maps before, on party line votes, Republicans pushed their maps forward and delivered them to Evers on Tuesday.
While the People’s Maps Commission’s proposal was unable to gain traction in the Legislature, the Republican maps landed with a thud before members of the public. In a public hearing for the maps, only Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu spoke in favor of the proposal as hundreds of citizens spoke in opposition.
“But what’s sitting in front of me here are gerrymandered maps modeled after the same gerrymandered maps we’ve had for a decade,” Evers said. “Hundreds showed up on short notice to voice their opposition to these maps, and not a single member of the public testified in support of these bills at that public hearing. And they were sent to my desk over the objections of a decade’s worth of people in this state demanding better, demanding more, and demanding a fair, nonpartisan process for preparing our maps for the next 10 years.”
Democrats and advocates for fair maps celebrated Evers’ veto of the Republican maps.
“I applaud Governor Evers for vetoing legislative Republicans’ Gerrymander 2.0,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said in a statement. “For the last decade, our state has suffered the damaging effects of Republicans’ gerrymandered 2011 maps. The maps passed by legislative Republicans last week would make Wisconsin’s gerrymander even worse. By vetoing Republicans’ rigged maps, Gov. Evers is putting the people of Wisconsin ahead of partisan politics. Wisconsinites deserve a functioning democracy, and that starts with ensuring the people can choose their elected officials and hold them accountable.”
A number of lawsuits have already been filed in state and federal court in anticipation of an impasse between Evers and Republicans in the Legislature.
Advocates for fair maps say they hope the court system will be able to create a set of maps that is more balanced than those proposed by Republicans or the currently existing ones.
“From the beginning, legislators knew that Governor Evers would veto extremely rigged maps,” Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, said in a statement. “Instead of working together with the other party to draw fair maps that could be signed into law, the legislative majority wasted time by passing these nonsense maps on a party-line vote. The people of Wisconsin overwhelmingly want nonpartisan redistricting and support this veto. This process now heads to the courts, where we hope the voice of Wisconsin voters will be fairly heard and representation for all will be achieved.”
First, the case will move to the Wisconsin Supreme Court — which has a majority of conservative justices. On Wednesday, the court set the schedule for hearing the case, including at least four days of oral arguments in January.
After the case goes to the state court, a panel of federal judges is also prepared to decide the case. The federal panel has issued a stay in the case as it waits for the Supreme Court to act, but ordered on Wednesday that it will reassess in December whether or not it will lift the stay.
“This court understands that Wisconsin’s legislative maps must be established in only a few months, absent an adjustment to the nomination-papers circulations start date,” the order states. “The court must stand ready to adjudicate the issues raised in these cases, should the state fail to do so. Accordingly, the court cannot stay these cases indefinitely. The court will continue the stay until December 6, 2021. At that time, this court will reevaluate whether it is necessary to open expert discovery to prepare for the possibility of resolution of these cases in federal court. This stay should give the supreme court time to set a course for its proceedings.”
Wisconsin’s new political maps need to be set by March 15 so local clerks can be notified of the districts and candidates can begin collecting nomination signatures from the voters in those districts.
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