No wonder Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tried to hide a contract for more lawyers to defend his gerrymandered voting districts.
Taxpayers, in turns out, will be on the hook for a lot more money.
Vos, R-Rochester, refused to release an $850,000 contract last month, citing attorney-client privilege as his excuse for violating Wisconsin’s open records law. The Assembly speaker caved to pressure last week, waiving his weak objection to transparency.
Now that taxpayers can finally read the fine print, they’ve learned it sets them up for further expense, the longer this tedious and needless legal mess plays out.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, appear willing to spend whatever it takes in public dollars to defend the voting district maps that help them stay in power.
Taxpayers have already shelled out some $2.5 million to private law firms to draft and defend legislative districts that give Republicans an unfair advantage in elections. The latest contract will push that figure closer to $3.5 million. And if a trial occurs after Sept. 1, the state will face even more fees from Chicago law firm Bartlit Beck.
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Voters see the waste and want a nonpartisan process instead — one that’s fair and inexpensive.
A statewide Marquette Law School poll last week found that 72 percent of 800 registered voters support a nonpartisan redistricting process to draw Wisconsin’s political maps. Only 18 percent were opposed.
Vos and Fitzgerald want to continue rigging voting districts after the 2020 census, when the lines must be redrawn to account for population changes. But most Republicans across Wisconsin favor an honorable process in which the politicians of both parties must earn their elected positions, rather than cheating.
Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republican voters and those who lean Republican told the Marquette Law School pollsters they favor a nonpartisan commission for drawing new maps (as do 76 percent of independents, and 83 percent of Democrats and those who lean toward Democrats).
For decades, a nonpartisan state agency in Iowa has been drawing voting districts there after each major census. The result has been near-unanimous votes by both houses of the Iowa Legislature in favor of the neutral agency’s maps. Iowa’s voting districts don’t get tied up in court. So the cost to taxpayers is minuscule. Iowa also enjoys more competitive elections.
Wisconsin should adopt the Iowa model here. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers supports fair maps, as do many lawmakers, including some Republicans. This isn’t about benefiting Democratic politicians — who, if given the chance, would rig the maps to their favor. That’s happened in other states, including Illinois and Maryland, after the 2010 census. No, this is about treating all voters fairly, regardless of partisan politics.
Voting districts should be drawn as contiguous as possible, without special protection for the incumbents of either party. Voters deserve an honest chance to choose their leaders, rather than the politicians picking which voters they want to represent.