Democratic representatives in the state Assembly are called for a statewide vote to adopt a nonpartisan policy for redistricting Tuesday.
Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, in addition to other Assembly freshman Democrats, introduced legislation that would allow the state to conduct a referendum during the 2014 general election to gauge public opinion on redistricting.
“Attempts to fix our flawed, partisan system of redistricting have been ignored in the Legislature, so we feel that now is the time to give Wisconsin voters the chance to speak up,” Wachs said in a statement.
Erik Kirkstein, a spokesperson for United Wisconsin, said his organization would firmly support the Democrats’ proposal.
According to Kirkstein, partisan politics has played too strong a role in determining political boundaries and a referendum would allow for more nonpartisan methods to prevail.
“For too long, redistricting in the hands of politicians has allowed them to cut and paste the voting math in the interests of power,” Kirkstein said. “This is not in the interests of the people of Wisconsin.”
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, has been holding forums on redistricting reform since 2007 and sees such reform as the major issue his organization has been working on.
The hope is the Legislative Reference Bureau, an existing nonpartisan body, would be given the authority to conduct redistricting, Heck said. This measure is modeled after the current system in use in Iowa, he said.
“This has been a top political reform priority for CC for a number of years,” Heck said. “This year it all came together because we were able to get everyone together behind the same, unified redistricting measure.”
Heck said the 2011 redistricting process was “hyper-partisan” and secretive, making it the source of many of today’s problems.
Legislators from all political parties are experiencing less competition which, Heck added, can make them less responsive to the public. Heck also said that lack of a challenge in elections forces candidates to appeal to the extreme base of the party, making them pursue more partisan policies.
“We now don’t have a single competitive congressional district in Wisconsin,” Heck said. “This is in large part due to the gerrymandering process.”
Melissa Baldauff, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the fraud and misconduct in the last redistricting process cost the state millions of dollars in wasted legislation.
According to Baldauff, part of the problem is that the Republican Party holds a majority in both houses of the legislature, allowing them to shut down legislation by refusing to bring it to the floor.
“This is a reform that will make sure that no one party is able to rig the game,” Baldauff said.
Kirkstein said United Wisconsin is currently conducting a petition of its membership to complement the efforts of Democrat legislators in the Assembly.
“We want to make sure our members have their voices heard and let the legislators know that this is something the people of Wisconsin want,” Kirkstein said.
In early September, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released a statement that said decisions on redistricting should not be taken out of the hands of officials.
“Legislative reapportionment is one of the most important duties that the legislature is required to perform under the Constitution. I have no interest in turning that duty over to an unelected, unaccountable board of individuals that could bring their own partisan leanings and internal agendas to the process,” Fitzgerald said.
Calls to elections and campaign committee chairs Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, were not returned.