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Dave Obey at redistricting hearing

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Obey testifies at a July 13 legislative hearing in Madison on Republican redistricting plans.

New Republican-made maps for Wisconsin's legislative and congressional districts passed the state Senate on Tuesday over criticism from Democrats that the GOP was marginalizing minorities and insulting local communities in a rush to push their plans through before a wave of recall elections.

The maps, which would set new boundaries for the state's 132 legislative districts and eight congressional districts, passed on a 19-14 party line vote.

The Assembly plans to vote on the maps Wednesday, meaning they will reach Gov. Scott Walker before next month's recalls.

But Democrats signaled the redistricting fight is far from over.

"We'll see you in court," Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, said on the Senate floor. 

Voting on the maps could be the last thing some of them do as lawmakers.

Nine recall elections will take place by mid-August; six for Republican senators and three for Democratic senators. If Democrats win six of the recalls, the party will take control of the Senate. 

"I find it interesting that one of the last votes some will take as senators is a no-confidence vote in themselves," Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said of his GOP colleagues.

Changes would not take effect before any of the recalls, but they could potentially help Republicans retake seats they lose in the recalls. Many Democrats have dubbed the maps the "Republican incumbent protection plan."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, defended the plans.

"I'm proud to announce that the new maps conform to the constitutional and legal requirements: substantially equal population, compact, contiguous districts and deference to minority populations," he said.

The maps are intended to reflect changes in the state's population. The state constitution requires new maps after every 10-year census. Wisconsin gained more than 320,000 residents since 2000. 

But Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring growing Latino communities and failing to ensure fair representation for minorities.

"At the very least it smells," Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee said. "It reeks."

The federal Voting Rights Act requires districts be drawn to make sure minorities have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Coggs mentioned several Latinos who asked for a few more weeks to review the plans during last week's public hearing, saying they were "crying out for more time."

The maps have drawn blistering criticism from Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa, D-Milwaukee, the state's only Latina lawmaker, as well as groups like Voces de la Frontera. They say Latinos were shut out of the process and GOP leaders missed an opportunity to create a Senate district in Milwaukee that would be predominantly Latino. 

But Fitzgerald said the GOP maps would withstand lawsuits.

Efforts to draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts in Wisconsin have cost the state about $350,000 in attorney fees so far this year, and legal bills could climb dramatically if lawsuits are filed over the proposals.

The last time there was a redistricting battle about 10 years ago, legislators spent more than $2 million in taxpayer money on lawyer bills for a court battle over redrawing the state's political boundaries.

"Fair, legal maps, passed fairly through the democratic process, can prevent a long, costly court battle, the same way you avoid a speeding ticket by driving under the limit," Fitzgerald said.

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