Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday signed into law two bills redrawing Wisconsin's legislative and congressional district maps in ways that benefit Republicans.
Walker signed the bills privately, just before a deadline for him to take action and as voters decided whether to recall six Republican state senators from office.
"The maps passed by the Legislature meet the objective criteria laid out by the courts including communities of interest, fair minority representation, and compact, contiguous districts," Walker said in a one-sentence statement.
Democrats had called on Walker to veto the maps, saying that 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.
"Today's blatant, partisan power grab by Gov. Walker is proof that he has absolutely zero interest in uniting Wisconsin and that his bipartisan pledge was strictly rhetoric," said Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha.
Opponents of the plan now are hanging their hopes on a pending federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the maps. Federal courts have drawn the state's 132 legislative districts each of the past three decades because a politically divided Legislature couldn't agree on a map.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the new maps this year in July, just before recall elections that could swing majority control of the Senate to the Democrats. Six Republican senators faced recalls Tuesday with two Democrats up next week. Democrats need to pick up three seats to take majority control.
Democrats in both houses last month universally voted against the new maps, saying they amounted to an unconstitutional power grab designed to cement Republican majorities over the next decade.
Democrats in the Assembly said the legislative map creates 59 strongly Republican districts and just 40 Democratic ones. Under the new map, 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats will be forced to run against an incumbent in the newly drawn districts.
The Legislature usually doesn't consider the once-a-decade process of redistricting until the fall and Democrats accused Republicans of rushing to get the maps before the recall elections. The new lines, which are required to be drawn to address about a 320,000-person population increase over the past decade, don't take effect until the fall 2012 elections.
Under the new maps, the biggest change in the state Senate comes in the southeast corner of the state. Under the new maps, the cities of Kenosha and Racine are put into one district while the western parts of the counties go into another. Currently, the districts are broken up largely along county lines.
The change would put Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie in the same district as Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine. That new district would be heavily Republican, while the one encompassing the cities of Racine and Kenosha, which Wirch would be outside of by just a few blocks, would be heavily Democratic.
Wirch is one of two Democrats facing a recall election next week. His Republican challenger, Jonathan Steitz, also would live outside the district he is running to represent. That means whoever wins the recall election would either have to run in 2012 in the new district or move.
The congressional map moves Portage County and eastern Wood County from the 7th District, along with Democratic-leaning cities of Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and Chippewa Falls, and puts them into the 3rd District. It also moves Republican-leaning areas including Vilas and St. Croix counties into the 7th District.
That would make the 7th District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, slightly more Republican. The moves would make the 3rd District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, more Democratic.
Republicans have paid private attorneys $350,000 in taxpayer money so far to help advise them on the drafting of the maps, while Democrats were not allowed to hire their own attorneys to write an alternative plan.