By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — When liberals complain about “unfair voting maps,” just remember this: They’re hypocrites.
While they gnash their teeth over how the Republican-led Legislature draws “gerrymandered” political lines, local Democrats have long manipulated the redistricting process in Madison, Milwaukee and other urban parts of the state to protect their power centers.
And had Dems only held absolute legislative and executive power a bit longer, they surely would have protected their political interests — just as Republicans did — on a statewide level.
“They are guilty of all the things they accuse Republicans of being guilty of,” said Bill Feehan, chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party. “Of course they draw these maps advantageous to themselves.”
Under state law, local governments are in charge of maps for city and county government, with the Legislature in control of drawing new district lines for Wisconsin’s Assembly and Senate seats, as well as the state’s eight congressional districts.
It’s a political process, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted many times, and to the victor go the spoils.
In 2010, voter backlash against liberal policies fueled a Tea Party revolt that swept conservatives into power, and liberals out, in Wisconsin. So in 2011 Republicans for the first time since 1995 held the so-called trifecta of power, controlling both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, according to Ballotpedia. Democrats held trifecta control in 2009 and 2010.
You could say Republicans were in the right place at the right time.
The political maps, in accordance with the constitution, are redrawn every decade after the decennial U.S. Census figures are released. Often over the years, power has been split between Republicans and Democrats in the executive and legislative branches. That has generally meant the maps have had to be decided in the courts.
But Republicans held all the cards in 2011. So, the Republican-led Legislature came up with political boundaries beneficial to Republicans and then-Gov. Scott Walker signed them into law. No court intervention — before a deluge of left-led lawsuits — was necessary (Democrats ultimately lost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”).
Would Democrats have drawn up the boundaries in an arguably “gerrymandered” way had they retained control of the both branches in 2011? Absolutely. How do we know? Because they’ve done exactly that in places like Dane and Milwaukee counties for decades.
The ‘People’s Maps’
This time around, however, some of the local liberal map drawers have struck the appearance of “non-partisan” map-making. It’s all in response to Gov. Tony Evers’ Red China-sounding “People’s Maps Commission.” Maps must “be free of partisan bias and partisan advantage,” according to the executive order that created the commission. The order prohibits election and public officials, lobbyists or political party representatives from serving on the commission.
But the “people” on Evers’ People’s Maps Commission are predominantly liberal. The panel includes a co-president of the left-wing League of Women Voters, a teacher and progressive podcast producer, and a library representative involved in a Sheboygan Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging initiative. It’s not really a group interested in protecting conservative representation.
Dane County liberals like to brag about their version of the People’s Maps Commission. “I’m looking forward to the process of allowing the public to draw their own maps and looking forward to how much more transparent and open it’ll be,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said last month.
It should come as no surprise that this deep blue county has assembled a collection of liberals to draw up its maps. The commission is supposed to be “independent, impartial and fair,” Representatives include Nakia Wiley, who serves as vice chairwoman of the commission. The Madison public school teacher’s areas of expertise include the development of anti-racist Individualized Education Programs.
While the 11 members of the “nonpartisan” commission will be charged with coming up with Dane County representation maps, like Evers’ bogus commission it ultimately serves in an advisory capacity. The County Board, where conservative representation is all but extinct, will make the final decision.
Dane County’s conservative minority doesn’t stand a chance.
Michael Basford, at the time chairman of the Democratic Party of Dane County, told the Isthmus in 2018 that Republicans could “hold their caucus in a phonebooth.”
There’s a reason for that. Conservatives and moderates used to count in Dane County government. In 2011, the controlling liberals used their power to redraw maps that pushed out conservative incumbents.
Such was the case in La Crosse County, now a virtual island of blue in a 3rd Congressional District sea of red. A liberal-led maps committee was effectively shamed out of doing what the Dem-heavy county usually does: protect liberals and push out conservatives.
As Feehan, the local Republican Party chair, wrote in an op-ed published Sunday in the La Crosse Tribune, the first maps produced by the committee would have forced conservative Kevin Hoyer, a former Republican candidate for the 94th Assembly District, into a liberal stronghold district. Another map would have created a new district in the La Crosse County town of Shelby, which grew by a scant 89 people over the decade to just shy of 5,000 residents — all in the name of securing Democratic representation.
The proposed maps still give liberals a decided advantage.
Feehan said the left likes to talk a good game about fair political maps, but at the end of the day it’s power that holds sway.
“The notion that they are going to create a nonpartisan commission that is going to do away with all the problems of partisanship is just a fantasy,” he said.