WDC Testimony on Redistricting

Joint Public Hearing on Redistricting
Assembly Committee on Homeland Security and State Affairs
Senate Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce and Government Operations

July 13, 2011

In a democracy voters are supposed to choose their representatives, not the other way around. The redistricting plans that are the subject of this hearing are a disgusting affront to this bedrock principle of democracy. The plans for new congressional and state legislative districts that were drawn at great expense to taxpayers but yet kept secret until last Friday afternoon are a Republican gerrymander, pure and simple.

The mere fact that we are here today instead of weeks or even months from now as would have been customary – caused by the majority’s decision to jump the gun on state legislative redistricting – is a disgusting affront to local control.

The Wisconsin legislature is, by law, barred from drawing legislative district lines until after local governments have drawn lines for aldermanic and county board districts. There is a reason for this law. It ensures that legislative districts are respectful of local boundaries. That way, communities are not sliced up for partisan purposes and citizens with shared history and shared needs living in close proximity to one another can be grouped in districts designed to make sure their interests are represented.

The redistricting plan you are considering ignores longstanding practice and changes the law to accommodate early state redistricting. There is only one conceivable reason for doing so, and that is to complete legislative redistricting before recall elections in the coming weeks that could shift control of the senate to the Democrats. This politically inspired maneuver is unprecedented in our state’s history. Hundreds of hours of work already done by local government officials around the state will have been a waste of time, as they will be forced to start their work over. This will end up costing local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is not lost on anyone that this waste of taxpayer money to advance purely partisan political aims comes at a time when Wisconsinites have been told repeatedly that the state is broke.

Yesterday we put forward citizen-designed maps of new state assembly and senate districts in response to the gerrymandered redistricting plan you are considering. Our plan creates a large number of toss-up districts that could be won by either Republicans or Democrats. Based on how Wisconsin voters cast their ballots in 2008 – a strong Democratic year – and 2010 – a strong Republican year, 80 of the 132 assembly and senate districts under our plan have partisan splits of 10 percentage points or less.

That is impressive considering that over the last decade, the largest number of competitive legislative elections Wisconsin has seen is 29, and there have been as few as 10 races decided by 10 percentage points or less. When districts are drawn to account for population changes without deliberately trying to create Democratic or Republican districts, the result will be greater electoral competition and more leverage for voters, yielding improved representation.

The maps we’ve drawn provide an inkling of what would happen if redistricting were turned over to a nonpartisan authority as proposed in Assembly Bill 198.

One telltale sign that the redistricting plan under consideration today was drawn to gain political advantage for Republicans who control both houses is the fact that several Democratic candidates running in the senate recall elections this summer are drawn out of the districts they may be elected to represent. It is not necessary to draw candidates like Fred Clark, Nancy Nusbaum and Bob Wirch out of their districts. Districts can easily be drawn that account for population changes without pulling such stunts.

The plan you are considering also unnecessarily splits communities like the city of Sheboygan, while our plan does not. You need to have a really good reason to divide a community. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. In Sheboygan’s case, it was not difficult to draw districts that kept the city intact. The only reason for splitting it is a crassly political one.

Another example can be found in the southeastern corner of the state. Our plan keeps separate senate districts for Racine and Kenosha counties, while the plan you have before you gerrymanders the region for political purposes, merging the cities of Kenosha and Racine into one district and the outlying areas of Racine and Kenosha counties into another.

This not only gains Republicans some political advantage in that area of the state, but even more importantly it disadvantages voters by greatly diminishing electoral competitiveness there. The way you have drawn the lines, we won’t see a district anymore like the one once represented by Republican George Petak, who was defeated by Democrat Kim Plache, who voters then replaced with Republican Cathy Stepp, who in turn was succeeded by Democrat John Lehman who eventually was defeated by Republican Van Wanggaard.

These are just a few illustrations of the blatantly political nature of your redistricting plan that stuck out like sore thumbs. Many others were readily apparent to us. And if members of the public were given sufficient time to carefully review your proposed plan, many more such examples undoubtedly would be found.

What you are fixing to do is nothing but a power grab and one that will dishonor Wisconsin. Holding hearings without any intention of listening disgraces our state too. You should be ashamed of yourselves.