By Joe Handrick
Baseball season may be over for fans in Wisconsin, but when Gov. Tony Evers “non-partisan” Peoples Maps Commission unveiled its maps, I could almost hear the ghost of Yogi Berra say it was “like Déjà vu all over again.”
The Peoples Commission regurgitated three failed and flawed Democratic features from past redistricting cycles: 1) Decimation of municipal boundaries; 2) Disregard for communities of interest; and 3) Failure on Voting Rights Act.
And for those scoring at home, that’s a strikeout.
Decimation of Municipal Boundaries
The Peoples Commission named preservation of political subdivisions as a top-tier criteria and then proceeded to virtually ignore it. Strike one.
State Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) recently took to the Assembly floor and criticized the current map for splitting his home city of Beloit. The current map, in fact, splits 71 municipalities. This, he argued, is evidence of a gerrymander. The Commission responded by saying, “Hold my beer” and proposed a whopping 94 splits.
How does this slicing and dicing compare with other proposed maps? A map introduced by Common Sense Wisconsin contains only 35 split municipalities.
In Milwaukee County, for example, the Common Sense map splits only two municipalities while the Commission splits seven.
This feature of the Peoples Commission map also echoes Democratic maps from the past. In 2002 Democrats presented plans in court that split 78 municipalities.
The Democratic splitting was so over the top that the federal court noted it in the decision saying, “Leg Dem (the Democratic) plans divide the City of Madison into six districts radiating out from the Capitol in pizza like fashion.”
Disregard for communities of interest
As if splitting 94 municipalities was not bad enough, the Peoples Commission managed to split apart an entire nation. They propose to splinter the Oneida Indian Nation. Strike two.
This also brought back memories of Democratic maps from the past. At least three different maps introduced in court by Democrats in 2002 divided the Oneida Nation.
Below is a side by side comparison of a 2002 Democrat map and a depiction of the 2021 Commission proposal.
Failure to meet the Voting Rights Act
The federal courts in 2012 approved and/or drew majority-minority districts in Milwaukee. The plans put forward by the Peoples Commission obliterate these districts. Strike three.
Two of the plans eliminate one of the Latino districts, reduce the number of African American assembly districts from six to four, and eliminate one of the two African American senate districts. The third plan does all that and eliminates both African American senate districts.
Once again, the plan put forth by the Peoples Commission is eerily similar to plans advanced by Democrats in the past.
In the 1992 trial, Democratic lawmakers tried (and failed) to convince the federal court that fewer minority districts were better and proposed a map that created also only four African American assembly districts.
The worst part of the People’s Commission plan is not that it violates the VRA, it is that the commission purposefully and completely ignored the VRA, only to eventually issue a vague promise to come back and fix it later. Following the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment is foundational to protecting the civil rights of Wisconsin citizens – it cannot be an afterthought.
It will be experts and courts that ultimately prove that the Commission’s maps violate the VRA, but even Democrats appear to believe they do. For example, Democrat attorney Doug Poland recently tweeted, “A seventh majority Black district must be drawn to comply with federal law.” Without expressing any opinion on whether Poland is correct that a seventh black assembly district must be drawn, it is obvious he would view a reduction from six seats to four as a violation of the VRA.
Doomed from the beginning
Rather than starting from the current map, the Peoples Commission started from scratch and created an unbelievable high number of municipal splits and wrought havoc on communities of interest. It’s clear that the People’s Commission are not unbiased umpires, but rather are wearing the uniform on one particular team when crafting their maps.
This approach is “Déjà vu all over again”. In 2002, the Democratic argument to the court was that the 1992 map (also court-drawn) was too partisan in favor of the GOP and the court should not draw a new map based upon it. Judge Frank Easterbrook of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit famously retorted, and I am paraphrasing, that it wasn’t the Republicans’ fault that all the Democrats have decided to live together.
The Peoples Commission cannot be taken seriously. There is a reason that the courts have used a prior map as the starting point for a new map.
The People’s Commission would be wise to adopt a Common Sense approach. The Common Sense approach is simple: Start with a court-approved map (either 2012 or 2002), even out the population, reduce the number of municipal splits, and protect communities of interest. It may not produce a home run, but it will prevent a four-strike strikeout and the embarrassment of being aligned with failed Democratic maps of the past.
Joe Handrick is executive director of Common Sense Wisconsin. He formerly represented Vilas and Oneida Counties in the Wisconsin State Assembly and has been instrumental in redistricting efforts in the state for three decades. For more information visit CommonSenseWisconsin.org.