February 11, 2016

Weighing the chances of redistricting reform

A proposal to change how the state draws new Congressional and state legislative districts faces a tough road at the Capitol.

The bill from Assembly Democrats would have a non-partisan agency draw new legislative districts every ten years, instead of lawmakers. Similar proposals have been brought forward before in past sessions, with little success. Although, Jay Heck of Wisconsin Common Cause says it could benefit from getting an early start. It will be almost eight years until the state does its next redistricting, and Heck says “the key is to build support for it now.”

Even with an early start though, Heck says there’s no guarantee this version of the proposal will go “steamrolling through the Wisconsin legislature.” Still, he believes it is the beginning of a process that that’s necessary to help build support from both political parties.

Majority Republican leaders have already indicated they have no plans to take up the issue. Heck says the only way that position is likely to change is through public pressure. He says that may exist right now, given how close the state is to the redistricting that took place during the 2010 session. That highly contentious process saw the Republican-drawn maps taken to court, with portions of them eventually ruled unconstitutional. The state spent almost $2 million defending the district maps Republicans approved last session.

GOP leaders also drew fire because of secrecy oaths members were made to sign, for filing frivolous challenges judges said were intended to slow down the process, and for failing to turn over files to the parties that sued the state. Recently, it was discovered that several of those undisclosed filed may have been deleted from state computers. Heck says those things have a “cumulative effect” and supporters of redistricting reform should move to take advantage of them now.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:15)

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