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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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GOP lawyers withheld emails

A federal court recently declared the law firm that performed last year’s Wisconsin redistricting withheld 34 emails that had been ordered to be public.

A federal court had asked Michael Best & Friedrich – the law firm Wisconsin Republicans contracted to put together the redistricting maps – to reveal the correspondence related to the redistricting process. The Legislature draws new maps every 10 years for the state’s voting districts according to the new population census. A report given to the court this week showed 34 emails that should have been revealed were not.

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said the redistricting process was “cloaked in secrecy” since it began.

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“The lawyers just threw up one obstacle after another and obstructed the public’s ability to see what was really going on behind the scenes,” McCabe said. “Even the court ordered them to release emails so the curtain could be drawn back, and the lawyers refused to comply with the court order. It’s been obstruction and secrecy from day one with this process.”

Last year, Republicans were in control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said this explained why the redistricting process was “so partisan.”

The $17,500 fine Michael Best & Friedrich received is shadowed by the approximately $430,000 the law firm was paid for creating the maps, Heck said. He added there should be further disciplining for the firm and the Republican aides who were working in the office during the process.

When the Democrats became the majority in the state Senate this summer, they asked the release of all records regarding redistricting. When that was done, the plaintiffs found Michael Best & Friedrich did not give them the complete records, according to The Associated Press.

The court has already ruled two Assembly districts in Milwaukee’s south side were drawn inappropriately.

McCabe said the emails have shown last year’s redistricting process was “entirely political” by ensuring districts were drawn to keep Republican majorities.

“There have been enough of the emails that show the way they approached redistricting was all about gaining partisan advantage,” McCabe said. “I could see why they wanted to keep them secret. They didn’t paint a very pretty picture of the process.”

McCabe said an independent redistricting process would ensure this would not happen in the future. The Legislative Reference Bureau, he added, already has the expertise to draw maps and has an established reputation of being nonpartisan.

Heck said he agreed a change in redistricting is needed and said proposals are currently on the table to make such a change.

“The way you could solve this problem is to take the redistricting process out of the Legislature and put it in the hands of a nonpartisan entity,” Heck said. “They can draw the new maps in a way that is not partisan and reflects the interests of the voters in terms of shape and competition of the district. For 2021, the Legislature ought to act now in order to get a new system in place.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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