“This is clearly a Republican gerrymander; this is also very clearly a power grab,” so says Mike McCabe with the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
The Wisconsin Constitution requires the legislature to adjust legislative and congressional district boundaries according to the change in population following the federal census every decade. McCabe says, if only it were that simple. “If you drew the lines that just adjust for population changes without deliberately trying to create Democratic or Republican districts, what you’d end up with are a lot more toss up districts that could go either way and voters would really have an opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be represented by Democrats or Republicans.”
McCabe cites the example of Racine’s Senate district, which has repeatedly flipped over the years from Republican to Democrat, which he says is healthy. Instead, McCabe says, the Republicans want to draw lines that are to their advantage, making the districts lopsided. “This time around it’s the Republicans who are doing that, but I have no doubt the Democrats would do it, too, if they were in charge right now.”
That’s why he has been promoting a bill (AB-198) that would take redistricting out of the hands of legislators and turn it over to a nonpartisan authority, such as the Government Accountability Board or the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) agrees, saying what the Republicans are doing “amounts to an abuse of power.” He fully realizes it’s too late for this legislative session, but he’d like to have things in place by 2021.
Republicans say they have to act on this quickly because there is a federal lawsuit pending. Critics say the GOP wants to get the maps changed before they lose members in the recall elections.
The full Senate takes up redistricting today; the issue goes to the Assembly on Wednesday.