The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign today put forward citizen-designed maps of new state assembly and senate districts in response to a gerrymandered legislative redistricting plan that WDC will testify Wednesday is a “disgusting affront” to democracy and local control.
July 12, 2011
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Madison - WDC’s plan creates a large number of toss-up districts that could be won by either Republicans or Democrats. Based on how Wisconsin voters cast their ballots in 2008 – a strong Democratic year – and 2010 – a strong Republican year, 80 of the 132 assembly and senate districts under WDC’s plan have partisan splits of 10 percentage points or less.
“That is impressive considering that over the last decade, the largest number of competitive legislative elections Wisconsin has seen is 29, and there have been as few as 10 races decided by 10 percentage points or less,” Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe said.
When districts are drawn to account for population changes without deliberately trying to create Democratic or Republican districts, the result will be greater electoral competition and more leverage for voters, yielding improved representation.
“The maps we’ve drawn provide an inkling of what could happen if redistricting were taken out of the hands of legislators and turned over to a nonpartisan authority as proposed in Assembly Bill 198,” McCabe said. The Democracy Campaign has long supported such redistricting reform legislation.
One telltale sign that the Legislature’s redistricting plan was drawn to gain political advantage for Republicans who control both houses is the fact that several Democratic candidates running in the senate recall elections this summer are drawn out of the districts they may be elected to represent.
“It is not necessary to draw candidates like Fred Clark, Nancy Nusbaum and Bob Wirch out of their districts,” McCabe said. “Districts can easily be drawn that account for population changes without pulling such stunts.”
The Republican redistricting plan also unnecessarily splits communities like the city of Sheboygan, while the Democracy Campaign’s plan does not.
“You need to have a really good reason to divide a community. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. In Sheboygan’s case, it was not difficult to draw districts that kept the city intact. The only reason for splitting it is a crassly political one,” McCabe said.
Another example can be found in the southeastern corner of the state. The Democracy Campaign’s plan keeps separate senate districts for Racine and Kenosha counties, while the Republican plan gerrymanders the region for political purposes, merging the cities of Kenosha and Racine into one district and the outlying areas of Racine and Kenosha counties into another.
“The Republicans’ gerrymander not only gains them some political advantage in that area of the state, but even more importantly it disadvantages voters by greatly diminishing electoral competitiveness there,” McCabe said. “The way they have drawn the lines, you won’t see a district anymore like the one once represented by Republican George Petak, who was defeated by Democrat Kim Plache, who voters then replaced with Republican Cathy Stepp, who in turn was succeeded by Democrat John Lehman who eventually was defeated by Republican Van Wanggaard.”
The Democracy Campaign’s testimony at Wednesday’s public hearing also will strongly condemn the timing of state legislative redistricting, noting that the “Wisconsin legislature is, by law, barred from drawing legislative district lines until after local governments have drawn lines for aldermanic and county board districts. There is a reason for this law. It ensures that legislative districts are respectful of local boundaries. That way, communities are not sliced up for partisan purposes and citizens with shared history and shared needs living in close proximity to one another can be grouped in districts designed to make sure their interests are represented.”
The testimony goes on to say the “Legislature’s redistricting plan ignores longstanding practice and changes the law so lawmakers can jump the gun on state redistricting. There is only one conceivable reason for doing so, and that is to complete legislative redistricting before recall elections in the coming weeks that could shift control of the senate to the Democrats. This politically inspired maneuver is unprecedented in our state’s history. Hundreds of hours of work already done by local government officials around the state will have been a waste of time, as they will be forced to start their work over. This will end up costing local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is not lost on anyone that this waste of taxpayer money to advance purely partisan political aims comes at a time when Wisconsinites have been told repeatedly that the state is broke.”