/ Articles / Evers pushes redistricting overhaul
With a swarm of towns and counties posing referenda questions this spring about restructuring the state’s redistricting process, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has jumped head first into the fray since the first of the year, launching a move to try to eliminate lawmakers from the actual drawing of legislative maps and rallying Democrats to his cause.
In late January, Evers signed an executive order establishing what his administration calls “The People’s Maps Commission,” which he pledged would be comprised of “the people of Wisconsin” and would be tasked with drawing fair, impartial maps to be presented to the Legislature for consideration following the 2020 census.
“When elected officials are able to ignore their constituents without consequences, and when they can rely on the safety of their seats rather than the quality of their work, something’s wrong, folks,” Evers said then. “The people should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. And when it comes to the integrity of the process and the fairness of the maps, Wisconsin must look to the people, not politicians, to assist in drawing maps that fairly and accurately represent our state.”
Under the executive order, the commission, which is attached to the Department of Administration, may not include any elected officials, public officials, lobbyists, or political party officials, but will instead rely on what the order calls “nonpartisan experts” for guidance.
“Commission membership shall include members from each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts; memberships from communities of interest; and experts in nonpartisan redistricting,” the executive order states.
The commission will hold at least one hearing in each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts, and, as soon as possible after the 2020 census, prepare proposed maps for the Legislature to consider, the executive order continues.
Also, according to the executive order, the commission shall, whenever possible, be free from partisan bias and partisan advantage, avoid diluting or diminishing minority votes, be compact and contiguous, avoid splitting wards and municipalities, prevent voter disenfranchisement, and maintain traditional communities of interest.
Republicans maintain the commission is unconstitutional — they point to the state constitution’s provision that “the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants” — and say they will draw their own maps as they have done under state law. However, Evers could veto the maps.
Speaking on Wisconsin Public Radio, Assembly speaker Robin Vos dismissed the whole commission as a partisan stunt.
“This is just Democrats rallying their base,” he said. “This is not something that actually has a huge appeal to anybody outside of the Democrat activists.”
Since Evers announced his commission, the governor has been rallying Democrats to his side. In a recent email from his campaign committee to supporters, Evers urged Democrats to stand behind his commission.
“One of the most important things I did this year was to announce an executive order to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission that will draw fair district maps,” Evers wrote in the email. “In 2011, Republicans used the redistricting process to rig the district maps in their favor for a decade. This is our chance to undo their damage.”
Here in America, Evers wrote, voters should decide who their politicians are — not the other way around.
“That is why I need your help,” he wrote. “Can you add your name and join with tens of thousands of Democrats nationwide to sign on and demand that all 50 states draw their districts by non-partisan redistricting committees?”
Evers said that’s what his new redistricting commission was all about.
“The nonpartisan commission that I am creating, The People’s Maps Commission, will visit every congressional district, hear directly from folks across our state, and draw fair, impartial maps for the Legislature to take up next year,” he wrote. “This is a process that should be happening all over America. That’s why I’m asking you to stand with me against gerrymandering and for fair district maps.”
Meanwhile, numerous towns across the Northwoods and across the state have approved putting a nonbinding redistricting referenda question on their election ballots as a result of a major effort by a group calling itself The Fair Elections Project (FEP).
The referenda questions dovetail with Evers’ campaign for a different redistricting process spearheaded by the administration. Generally, though the language may differ slightly in some locations, the question voters will face asks whether the Wisconsin Legislature should create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district maps.
On its website, the FEP says it is “fighting for fair redistricting around the country by inspiring and supporting litigation, legislation, and public advocacy to stop partisan gerrymandering.” The goal, the group says, is to end map-rigging, so instead of politicians choosing their voters, voters can choose their elected officials, and elections will again be meaningful.
While the Fair Elections Project does have some Republican faces, most notably former state Sen. Dale Schultz, the organizations on its website supporting the Fair Maps pledge for independent redistricting are all decidedly liberal or liberal-leaning: One Wisconsin Institute, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Center for Media and Democracy, Wisconsin Voices, and Grassroots North Shore, which describes itself as the progressive voice of Milwaukee’s North Shore communities.
Wisconsin Voices also describes itself as a progressive organization in sharing its founding history.
“People and organizations came together to push progressives to remember what we stand for and make a plan to realize our values … together,” the group states on its website. “That plan included the need to build an engaged citizenry working for change and to expand the electorate by targeting underrepresented constituencies. … Today, Wisconsin Voices brings groups together, builds the power of our collective voice by providing guidance, advice and support as we embark on our journey towards a better Wisconsin.”
Its “partners” list is a veritable Who’s Who of left-wing groups and entities, including The Progressive Magazine, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Planned Parenthood, Peace Action Wisconsin, Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice, Voces de la Frontera, and the Alliance for Climate Education.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.