By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
For a guy who says he’s just doing the right thing, Governor Scott Walker gets sued a whole bunch. As if the federal trials against voter ID weren’t enough for Republicans, this week marks the start of a new federal trial in a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative maps. The focus of this lawsuit is the 2011 Assembly map Republicans drew.
The attorney for this case called the GOP Assembly map the “worst partisan gerrymander in modern history.”
This abuse of the public trust by my Republican counterparts must end. The map was so bad that Republicans have already been successfully sued over it once for violating the Voting Rights Act by splitting a longtime Latino district into two. They should have also been sued for drawing half of Wisconsin’s black legislators out of the Assembly. We went from six African American Representatives in 2011 to three in 2013!
Now Republicans are back in court fighting once again to defend their power grab. The results of the map is clear. Democratic candidates for State Assembly received collectively almost 200,000 more votes than Republicans. Yet, Republicans won 60 seats compared to the Democratic candidates’ 39. They won five of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts in 2012 with less than half of the collective votes.
They also won 55 percent of our contested State Senate seats with just 45 percent of the votes. President Barack Obama won the state with 53 percent of the vote that same year. All these election results just go to show that had Republicans not gerrymandered the district lines, they wouldn’t be in the majority today.
Every ten years the state legislature establishes the boundaries for every Congressional, State Senate and Assembly district in a process called redistricting. The redistricting process was created to ensure that our state legislature and congressional districts reflect the diversity of our population in Wisconsin. We’ve learned that when you put Republicans in charge of drawing the maps, the result doesn’t reflect diversity. Instead, they clustered as many Democratic voters as they could into the same districts, ensuring their majority for at least a decade.
Federal law requires that redistricting must comply with the Voting Rights Act to ensure that minority populations have a voice in our government and have an opportunity elect people who reflect our community. Prior to the Voting Rights Act, many states manipulated legislative districts to limit the ability minorities to elect our own representatives.
Kids on the playground would call this level of unfairness cheating. Grownups running our state call it governing.
The Republican-drawn map from 2011 was developed in secret at a private law firm. Why? Because they knew they’d be sued over it. Only certain Republican staff were allowed in and out of the secret room where they drew the maps, and people were required to sign secrecy agreements to keep the public and Democratic legislators in the dark on their sneaky plan to rule Wisconsin’s government.
The public was also denied access to the research and documents used to develop the redistricting plan.
After lawsuits were filed to make the redistricting information available to the public, hundreds of thousands of files were deleted from the Republican computers used for redistricting. Republicans spent over $2 million in taxpayer dollars to defend the secret process used to develop the maps and to keep the information from the public. Can you imagine how many textbooks that would buy?
That’s why, the very next session, I cosponsored Senate Bill 163. The bill would have called for an independent redistricting process so that politicians weren’t choosing their own voters. When faced with the choice to keep the current corrupt system in place of to change Wisconsin’s law something fair, Republicans chose power over good government.
Governor Scott Walker’s administration seems to be learning from County Executive Scott Walker’s administration. It’s almost like on day one, the state people sat down with the county people and asked how they could best mess over the people without getting caught.
Eventually, the voters are going to catch on. Republicans can redraw legislative district lines, but they can’t redraw state lines.