Assembly Democrats, as well as one Senate Republican, introduced a redistricting reform bill Thursday that would remove lawmakers’ responsibility of drawing maps and shifting it over to a nonpartisan agency.
States redraw district maps every 10 years following the new federal census, a process that has consistently ended up in the courts. With the next redistricting cycle seven years away, Democrats seek to end conflicts over redrawn maps by having the Legislative Reference Bureau draw them, not lawmakers.
“It is wrong to allow representatives to choose their constituents,” Rep. Mandy Wright, D-Wausau, said, adding lawmakers from both parties have “abused” their power to make maps.
Rep. Diane Hesselbein, D-Middleton, said it was important to pass this bill right away, as nobody knows which party would be in power in 2021.
Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, is cosponsoring the bill in the Senate along with a couple of Democrats. Democrats said they have talked to other Republicans about the bill who have expressed some support.
Despite having a near-perfect record of voting with his party, Schultz has broken with them on a few key votes, including mining and collective bargaining. This week, Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, announced he would run against Schultz in the next election.
Republicans currently have a majority in the Legislature and the governor’s seat. Democrats controlled all three as well from 2008 to 2010, when Gov. Scott Walker was elected.
When asked why Democrats did not pass a similar bill when they were in control, Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, said they had started moving forward with a bill too late.
“We made the mistake of not moving it faster,” Schaber said.
Under the bill, the Reference Bureau would draw the maps without regards to politics and seeking to make “convenient [and] compact” districts. The bill would also create a redistricting advisory commission that would hold public hearings on the bill and be available for advice.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said Iowa has a similar model and has seen few complaints. This is compared to the lawsuits surrounding past redistricting cycles in the state, including an ongoing lawsuit over how Republicans managed the redistricting process in 2011.
Heck criticized both parties for the lack of competitiveness in congressional elections, as there are no longer any competitive races. In past analyses, Heck said he has found few competitive state legislative races.
“The voters don’t have a choice anymore in their congressional elections because of the gerrymandering by both parties over the years,” Heck said.
The Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s two largest newspapers, have also both pushed for redistricting reform.