How Low Will Vos Go on Gerrymandering?

July 30, 2019

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

A report in the Wisconsin Examiner yesterday revealed that there are discussions in Republican circles about whether Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald should pull a power play and try to ace Gov. Tony Evers out of the redistricting process.

After the 2020 Census, the Legislature will draw new maps, and if it remains in GOP hands, you can bet the Republican leaders would rig the maps again in their favor. But they couldn’t succeed this time because Gov. Evers would veto those rigged maps. As has happened several times in the past when the legislature and the governor can’t agree, a judge would then appoint a nonpartisan person to draw fairer maps.

Unless…

Unless Vos and Fitzgerald found a way to strip Evers of this veto power, as they’ve tried to do with so many of his other powers.

And the way they could do this, according to the Wisconsin Examiner story by Ruth Conniff, is by passing a joint resolution. “Since joint resolutions do not require the governor’s signature, the map could go into effect without any input from the governor,” wrote Conniff, who cited a prominent Democratic lawyer and a prominent Republican lawyer who had heard of this possibility.

After the story broke, Vos and Fitzgerald tried to tamp down this prospect. “That approach has never been discussed by Republican leadership,” Fitzgerald said. And a Vos spokesperson denied that they were considering it.

But neither Vos’s office nor Fitzgerald’s “would categorically rule out the possibility of trying to approve maps without getting Evers’ approval,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

If Vos and Fitzgerald plow ahead and take this route, they would be violating longstanding practice as well as Wisconsin law, at least as it has stood for 55 years.

“In the early 1960s, a Republican-led legislature tried to reapportion the state’s voting districts by joint resolution, making an end-run around Democratic Gov. John Reynolds,” Conniff explained in the Wisconsin Examiner. “That effort was overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the 1964 Reynolds v. Zimmerman decision. The court ruled that the legislature could not enact a reapportionment plan by joint resolution, and that the governor must be a part of the process.”

But Vos and Fitzgerald could run to their crooked cronies on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and have them overturn that old decision. I wouldn’t put that past the Roggensack Court, that’s for sure. The conservatives on our high court are notorious for bending the law to arrive at their desired political outcome.

At some point, though, Vos and Fitzgerald might pay a price for taking the low road.

Wisconsinites are sick and tired of gerrymandering. In a Marquette Law School poll earlier this year, 72 percent of Wisconsinites were in favor of banning gerrymandering. And that included 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents.

Elected officials who continue to blatantly rig the maps will be doing so at their own peril.