Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wasn’t budging back in 2014 on statewide calls for a public hearing to end gerrymandering.
The Republican leader claimed “nobody cares” about fair maps for legislative and congressional voting districts when he met with our State Journal editorial board on Feb. 6, 2014. His party had drawn the lines in 2011 to favor GOP candidates in key districts, helping Vos rise to power and maintain majority control.
Vos, R-Rochester, was dismissive of 10 newspaper editorial boards across Wisconsin and a slew of constituents calling for a neutral mapping process, starting with the 2020 census.
But during our meeting, Vos did sound intrigued when we brought up Dane County. Liberals who controlled the Dane County Board in 2011 had drawn local supervisory districts to further diminish the voices of conservative members, we told him. That meant even fewer conservatives were keeping a careful eye on the Dane County budget.
“Well, why wouldn’t you try to get the County Board to do it first?” Vos said of adopting a nonpartisan process for fair maps.
That was precisely what that morning’s State Journal editorial had advocated for, we informed him.
“Well, let’s see if they do it first,” Vos responded.
We tried to pin him down: If the Dane County Board approved a fair process, would Vos finally grant a public hearing on a bill to do the same at the state level?
“If they change their process so it’s nonpartisan at the county level?” Vos asked us, sounding skeptical that would ever happen.
Yes, we responded, asking again: Would Vos guarantee a public hearing if Dane County acts?
“I won’t guarantee it, but I would definitely consider it,” he said.
In case Vos needs to refresh his memory, he can view his conversation with us at go.madison.com/Vos.
He hedged, of course, as politicians tend to do. Yet he gave the impression he was willing to move if Dane County did first.
Fast forward to last week, and the Dane County Board actually did approve a clean map of its 37 supervisory districts for future elections. The map, which a citizen panel drew, doesn’t cater to partisan interests or incumbents. In fact, the citizen panel was specifically instructed to keep the county’s map as compact and contiguous as possible while respecting municipal lines and communities of interest.
It wasn’t easy. Some liberal supervisors complained about the maps pitting incumbents against each other in the same districts. But that was the whole point: The citizen panel drew the county districts with the people, not the politicians, in mind.
The Dane County Board overwhelmingly approved the new districts last week without any amendments, creating a model for other governments to follow.
That means it’s time, in Vos’ own words, to “definitely consider” a public hearing on Assembly Bill 395. AB 395 enjoys bipartisan support and would assign the task of reshaping legislative and congressional districts to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, with strict rules forbidding partisan calculations.
Unfortunately, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, are heading in the opposite direction. They hired lawyers at taxpayer expense to help draw and defend rigged maps for partisan advantage, just as their predecessors did a decade ago. And on Wednesday, they unveiled proposed voting districts that largely align with the gerrymandered maps that have benefited the GOP for the last decade.
Vos should at least allow a public hearing on fair maps. Wisconsin cares a lot about the issue, which is central to our democracy. No fewer than 56 of 72 Wisconsin counties — including many that lean heavily for Republicans — have endorsed nonpartisan redistricting in advisory referendums or resolutions.
Fair maps would save taxpayers millions in legal fees and create a more representative and less divided Legislature.
The speaker should do more than consider a hearing on AB 395. He should schedule one now, giving the public its say.