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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013

Republican Leaders Won’t Allow a Hearing on Redistricting Reform

Opponents of nonpartisan redistricting prove why we need it

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State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and state Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), both Republicans, are refusing to schedule a public hearing on a bipartisan bill that would take politics out of the legislative redistricting process.

During a press conference last week, supporters of redistricting reform blasted the committee chairs, as well as their leaders, state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who are stifling public debate on Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163.

An aide to August told the Shepherd that no meetings are scheduled in his committee in the immediate future and that August does not support the bill.

Reform supporters argued that the Republicans’ opposition to a public hearing was a prime example of the negative impact of a politically drawn legislative map.

“It is the very gerrymandering that’s going on that allows chairmen of committees and legislative leaders to ignore the public interest in a hearing,” said state Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), a coauthor of the bill.

The bill would allow the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, instead of members of the Legislature, to draw the legislative maps that are required after every 10-year census.

Following the 2010 census, the Republican-dominated state Legislature redrew the legislative maps in secret with Michael Best & Friedrich attorneys in the law firm’s offices on the Capitol square.

The cost to state taxpayers: $2 million.

Not surprisingly, the Republicans created districts that split up communities with common interests and patched together new, irregularly shaped districts that gave GOP candidates a hefty advantage in the 2012 elections.

Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the maps and they were used in last year’s elections.

Although Democratic candidates swept the major statewide offices last November, thanks to the new maps, the Democrats are now in the minority in both houses of the Legislature. The state Senate flipped from Democratic control to Republican last fall and only 39 Democrats are seated in the 99-member Assembly, even though Democratic candidates won almost 200,000 more votes in the November 2012 election.

Now, Democrats and fair-minded Republicans are saying they’ve had enough and want the reform bill to be heard.

“These legislators who have these bills have safe districts,” Cullen said. “Their leadership has told them to kill the bill. And they know that killing these bills does not irritate their political base and in a gerrymandered district that’s all that they have to worry about.”

Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), the only Republican co-author of the bill, said both parties should be concerned about reforming the process since there’s no way to predict which party will be in power when the next map is drawn after the 2020 census.  

“We believe strongly that this is good government, it’s a common sense reform and it’s time to shake things up,” Schultz said.

Lazich did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.