Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have long opposed any and all attempts to bring fairness and impartiality to the redistricting process of state legislative and congressional districts in Wisconsin. Indeed, they are so afraid of a fair system for Wisconsin voters that they have quashed efforts to allow even a public hearing on the issue in the Legislature since 2013.
The very dirty, not-so-secret truth is that both Vos, R-Rochester, and Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have long depended on their absolute control of the redistricting process. It enables them to enforce their iron-clad demand for allegiance and obedience on political and policy objectives. It allows them to quash any dissent or independent thinking among rank-and-file legislators in their respective partisan majorities.
But for each of these leaders to continually lie about the legality of gerrymandering reform is beyond outrageous and pathetic.
Both leaders continually say that the widely supported “Iowa model” for nonpartisan redistricting is “unconstitutional.” But according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council and virtually every constitutional expert, including UW-Madison political science Professor David Canon, the measure is fully compliant with Wisconsin’s Constitution. If Vos and Fitzgerald can prove their claim that the bipartisan bill seeking the Iowa model is unconstitutional, they should cite their legal sources. They never have.
Similarly, these longtime, overly partisan politicians and their underlings have said that Gov. Tony Evers’ recent executive order to establish a nonpartisan commission to draw state legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 decennial census is also unconstitutional. It most certainly is not. Continually stating that it is illegal does not make it so.
The Wisconsin Constitution gives the Legislature the power to decide (approve) the redrawn maps for legislative and congressional district every 10 years. But the constitution is silent on who must actually draw the maps. Under the current partisan process, Vos and Fitzgerald delegate the actual drawing of the maps to partisan experts (lawyers and legislative aides) whom they select to do their bidding. Then, both chambers of the Legislature are to pass the maps that Vos and Fitzgerald have masterminded for their own maximum political self-interest.
The result is that only 10 percent of legislative districts and none of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts offer real choices to voters in the general election. The election results are preordained and rigged.
Under the Iowa model and the governor’s proposal, the actual drawing of the voting maps is taken out of the hands of the partisan legislative leaders and their designated minions. Instead, the new districts are drawn according to very strict nonpartisan criteria. This includes keeping cities and towns and counties together to the extent possible. Currently, 48 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are split among legislative districts for strictly partisan purposes.
The nonpartisan criteria also include not utilizing past election results to draw new districts. And it does not even take into consideration the residency of incumbent legislators. Voters, not incumbent legislators, take precedence in this objective procedure.
Under the Iowa model and governor’s proposal, the Legislature must vote yes or no, without amendment, on the voting maps drawn according to the objectively nonpartisan criteria. And unlike the hyperpartisan maps by Vos and Fitzgerald, the process would be transparent, with the ability to inspect and comment on the maps. Republican legislative leaders could no longer force Republican legislators to sign “secrecy oaths” to hide rigged districts from the public.
Significantly, the nonpartisan process would be of negligible cost to taxpayers. Vos and Fitzgerald have spent $4 million in taxpayer money since 2011 to draw and protect their uncompetitive voting maps.
Vos and Fitzgerald have held the voters of Wisconsin captive to their own narrow interests for far too long. And they have continually misrepresented the truth about the legality and constitutionality of the strongly supported and nonpartisan antidote to partisan gerrymandering.
This is the year Wisconsin citizens should finally rise up and insist on having leaders responsive and worthy of their trust and support. On April 7, voters in nine Wisconsin counties (Marquette, Milwaukee, Monroe, Pierce, Portage, Rock, St. Croix, Trempealeau and Wood) can vote for fair voting maps in referendums on their ballots. So too will voters in 14 municipalities in Oneida and Vilas counties. Send Vos and Fitzgerald a message that voters should pick their elected representatives, rather than the politicians picking which voters they get to represent.
Heck is executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin: www.commoncausewisconsin.org.