Lawmakers and activists seeking to end partisan gerrymandering and create a nonpartisan system for drawing legislative districts sought to turn up the heat Tuesday on current Assembly and Senate leaders to give the proposals a hearing.
At a crowded Capitol press conference, the sponsors of companion Senate and Assembly “Fair Maps” bills called on the public to contact their lawmakers and demand public hearings on the proposed legislation.
Activists Sachin Chheda, a political consultant and director of the Fair Elections Project created to help organize support for nonpartisan redistricting, and Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign both asserted that the lopsided advantage created by the 2011, heavily gerrymandered redistricting was a key driver of the sharp polarization that has characterized state politics over the last decade. “The division is exaggerated by gerrymandering,” Chheda said.
Democratic State Sen. David Hansen, of Green Bay, lead sponsor of the Senate version (SB-288), pointed out that he has been pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting process since well before the 2011 Republican-engineered redistricting in which GOP legislative leaders, working in secret with outside lawyers, drew the district maps to maximize their advantage.
When Hansen first proposed changing the system, “Hardly anyone talked about or knew about what redistricting even was,” he told reporters and activists at Tuesday’s press conference. “But the times have changed. Not only do people know what it is, but they know how wrong, how totally wrong, gerrymandering is and they want it to stop.”
Hansen pointed to polls showing strong majorities among Democrats, Republicans and Independents for redistricting reform. He appeared to harbor some hope that a barrage of phone calls to lawmakers might yet pressure Republicans who control both houses of the legislature to hold public hearings and take up the legislation.
Three Republicans — Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville); Travis Tranel, (R-Cuba City); and Joel Kitchens, (R-Sturgeon Bay) — have signed on as cosponsors for the assembly version of the bill, but none of them were in attendance on Tuesday.
Freshman Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), who is the lead sponsor for AB-303, emphasized the recurrent theme of the day, that ending gerrymandering for party advantage should be completely nonpartisan.
“It’s wrong when Democrats to it, and it’s wrong with Republicans do it,” she said. “I am not here to draw maps to protect my job. I’m here to protect the people of Wisconsin. Let’s give the bill the hearing it deserves.”