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Vos says redistricting talking points were for him, but misinterpreted

Vos says redistricting talking points were for him, but misinterpreted

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Talking points telling Assembly Republicans how to handle the redistricting process — including urging them to "ignore the public comments" — were created for one of the state's top Republican leaders, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

The talking points memo was uncovered by a federal lawsuit against the new maps. The organization that filed the suit, the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, told reporters Wednesday that it proves Republicans used an unethical and illegal process to craft their voting district maps in secret, and without taking public comments into account.

"(The redistricting law) is rotten, and the process by which it was passed is rotten," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.

The talking points, prepared for one-on-one meetings between Vos and other Assembly Republicans, read in part, "Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments."

But Vos told the State Journal that the memo is being misinterpreted.

"This is another example of the loony left trying to present misinformation through innuendo," Vos said.

He said the memo was created for him by Adam Foltz, an aide to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. But Vos said the item about ignoring public comments was not about citizens but rather "the public comments and talking points of partisan Democrats." And he said he didn't parrot the talking points.

Earlier Wednesday Peter Earle, Voces' attorney, insisted that the talking points proved GOP leaders planned to tell the public something different about the maps than what they were saying in private and keep the process shrouded in secrecy.

And Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he found Vos' explanation difficult to believe.

"It would be tough to draw that conclusion that that's what he was referring to when he refers to 'the public,'" Barca said. "It's a rather contorted definition."

States are required to redraw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to reflect population changes, which are reflected in the U.S. Census.

Even before the new maps, which were drawn by Republicans who control the Legislature, were released, a group of Democratic citizens sued in federal court challenging the maps' constitutionality.

That case is scheduled to go before a three-judge panel this month.

The newly released court documents in the Voces case showed that nearly all of Wisconsin's GOP state lawmakers took the unusual step of signing a legal agreement promising not to comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new GOP-friendly maps were being drafted. The memo also said that anyone who discussed the maps could be called as a witness in the case.

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Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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MILWAUKEE — A federal case that could affect potential recall elections in Wisconsin was set to begin Tuesday in Milwaukee, where a three-judge panel will evaluate whether the latest voting-district maps are constitutional.

The case involves redistricting, the process in which lawmakers draw new maps for voting districts every 10 years to account for population changes.

The most recent maps, drawn in secrecy and approved last year by Republicans who control the state Legislature, are GOP-friendly. In some cases they cluster Republicans and disperse Democrats in ways that Democrats say could make it harder for them to win future elections.

Several Democrats and an immigrant-rights group sued over the maps, calling them unconstitutional on two main fronts: that they break up minority blocs, and that they shift an excessive number of people from one district to another.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to invalidate the 2012 maps and to order that the previous maps be used for elections this year until the court establishes a fairer redistricting plan.

The outcome of the case could affect any potential recall elections this year. Gov. Scott Walker, his lieutenant governor and four state senators — all Republicans — are being targeted for recall, but the maps would only affect the Senate races since the governor and lieutenant governor are statewide races. State elections officials are currently trying to determine whether enough valid signatures have been submitted for the elections to proceed this year.

The new maps could give Republicans an edge toward maintaining their 17-16 majority in the Senate.

Democrats had called on Walker to veto the maps. Doing so, they said, would go a long way toward showing he was serious about being more bipartisan following rancorous debates during his first six months in office, most notably over his collective-bargaining proposal that spurred the recalls.

But Walker signed off on the maps in August, saying he believes they meet the legal standards of fairness in their treatment of communities of interest, minority representation, and compact, contiguous districts.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to intervene in the drawing of new maps, a request with some precedent.

The last three times redistricting was taken up in Wisconsin, due to split political control, the Legislature and governor were unable to agree upon a plan. Each of those times, in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, a federal court had to intervene and approve a map for state legislative districts.

The opening arguments Tuesday are the latest step following a series of preliminary rulings that have gone against Republicans. Last week the federal court issued a scathing order forcing Republican lawmakers to make public emails and other documents they wanted to keep secret related to the redrawing of political boundaries.

The judges said Republican lawmakers made a "poorly disguised" attempt to "cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin's Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege."

The judges called it a "shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny."

Previous disclosures in the lawsuit revealed that nearly all of the state's Republican lawmakers signed a legal agreement in which they promised to not comment publicly about redistricting discussions while the maps were being drafted.

Another document of talking points prepared by legislative staff for state Rep. Robin Vos, the powerful co-chairman of the budget-writing committee, warned him to ignore public comments about the maps and focus instead on what was being said in private strategy meetings.

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