The Wisconsin Capitol at night. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)
After passing a late-night Assembly vote on mostly party lines, a last-minute Republican bill to institute a new system for drawing legislative maps will go to the state Senate, where its future is uncertain.
The 64-32 vote on the legislation, AB-415, took place late Thursday night. Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee) cast the only yes vote among Assembly Democrats, criticizing other members of her party for not trying to negotiate more with the GOP.
In an interview earlier this week Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) was “noncommittal” about whether the Senate will act on the measure, WisPolitics reported.
The bill would establish a redistricting commission working with the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to draw new legislative maps.
Beginning in 2011, Wisconsin’s maps have been identified as some of the most gerrymandered in the U.S., deliberately constructed to give an outsized advantage to Republicans running for the state Legislature. Analysts have found that the maps drawn after the 2020 census and enacted in 2022 increased that advantage.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) unveiled the redistricting plan Tuesday afternoon and Republican representatives added it directly to Thursday’s Assembly calendar without sending it to a committee or scheduling public hearings.
Vos offered the plan to nullify pending lawsuits over the 2022 redistricting, and as a way to resolve GOP threats to impeach newly seated Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from the Court’s consideration of those lawsuits after she called the state’s current maps “rigged” during the spring election campaign.
Legal analysts have argued that the impeachment threats are groundless under the state constitution.
Vos and other Republicans supporting the bill asserted that it drew on Iowa’s independent redistricting process, which Wisconsin redistricting reform advocates have held up as a potential model.
“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have consistently introduced bills championing the ‘Iowa Model’ every session since 2017,” Rep. Nate Gustafson (R-Fox Crossing) said in a statement Friday. “Wisconsin deserves fair maps drawn by a nonpartisan redistricting commission.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has called the plan “bogus,” however, and threatened to veto the measure, and Assembly Democrats have criticized the Republican proposal for being sprung in surprise rather than developed in a deliberative, bipartisan process.
Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin, which has promoted nonpartisan redistricting, has pointed out that Vos’ proposal lacks safeguards to make the final map truly nonpartisan, and would allow the Legislature, after twice rejecting the nonpartisan commission’s map, to draw its own map.
In a statement Friday, Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said the proposal was “forced through without any public input [and] is an example of the kind of anti-democratic behavior that has eroded public confidence in our elected officials.”
Andraca stated that the bill, rather than following the Iowa model, was a GOP “attempt to cling to their gerrymander in order to distract from their baseless attempt to impeach a fairly-elected Supreme Court justice.”
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