By Chris Reader, Institute for Reforming Government
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Jan. 19 on the redistricting cases now before the justices. At stake is the makeup of the legislative boundaries at the state and congressional levels for the next decade. Unfortunately, Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats are using this process to push obvious political gerrymandering to weaken Congressional District 1 for Republicans, a seat currently held by Republican Congressman Bryan Steil (R-Janesville). The court must reject Evers’ effort at political gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court requested parties to the case to submit maps with minimal changes from current boundaries. Yet, in his attempt to rig the congressional maps, Gov. Evers submitted maps that not only did not follow the court’s order, they didn’t even follow his own public statements opposing political gerrymandering throughout this process. Given that, it’s not a surprise that his current maps were developed in secret and have not been vetted in a public setting. They were never announced publicly, were not introduced for a legislative review, and were never considered by his own “People’s Map Commission.”
Consider what Gov. Evers is attempting to do out of public sight to the First Congressional District. The evidence is in the maps. Evers’ proposal moves whole communities like South Milwaukee, Cudahy, and Saint Francis away from their traditional Milwaukee-centered district, ignoring their strong historical, cultural, and economic ties to Milwaukee, and places them into the First District. His maps also move all of Waukesha County out of the district, splits the City of Whitewater between District 1 and 5, moves East Troy and some of Mukwonago out of the First District, and shifts Beloit from District 2 to 1. All of these moves are done without reason — and are contrary to the court’s request for maps that make minimal changes to current boundaries.
The moves are also peculiar, given that the Milwaukee seat, District 4, is currently the most underpopulated congressional district in the state. When fixing underpopulation in a district, as is the situation in District 4, the solution is to move new voter blocks into the district. Instead, Gov. Evers removes entire cities, like South Milwaukee, Cudahy, and Saint Francis, that have historically been part of District 4.
The purpose of the changes seems clear. Each of the moves described above has one thing in common: they move Democrat-leaning communities into District 1, and move Republican-leaning communities out of District 1, creating a partisan advantage for Democrats, while ignoring the court’s request for maps that make minimal changes.
Maps submitted by other Democratic petitioners in the case are just as egregious in their attempts to politically gerrymander District 1. The moves also create an odd geographic gerrymander, attaching a new appendage to District 1 jutting up into southeast Milwaukee County.
Supreme Court justices Annette Ziegler, Pat Roggensack, Brian Hagedorn, and
Rebecca Bradley, along with the rest of the Court, should reject this attempt by Gov. Evers and his allies to sneak a partisan advantage for Democrats into District 1.
Chris Reader is the executive vice president of the Institute for Reforming Government, a Madison-based think tank.