In place of a public hearing that never happened on a fast-tracked Republican bill creating a new process for redistricting, advocates for nonpartisan, fair maps held a two-hour event of their own Monday to denounce the GOP proposal.
Participants in Monday’s “public telling” organized by the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition rejected the claim by GOP leaders that the measure they rushed through the Assembly last month, Assembly Bill 415, was simply a version of Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process.
Speakers called that claim “disingenuous” and the legislation “a sham” and a “Trojan Horse.” One after another they said the proposal would cement Republicans’ power and control of the Legislature instead of undoing the gerrymandered districts that have given the GOP a disproportionate majority in an evenly divided state since 2011.
“We are not stupid. We know bad faith when we see it,” said Cheryl Maranto of Glendale, one of those who testified.
About 75 people attended the session, held on the fourth floor of the Capitol in the room where the Legislature’s powerful budget committee normally meets. Organizers sought to mirror the public hearing process, with Fair Maps Coalition leaders seated where the lawmakers would ordinarily be and witnesses sitting before a microphone facing them.
“This is what democracy ought to look like,” said Nick Ramos, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, who acted as the presiding officer for the event. “This is the people’s house, and in the people’s house everyone should have a seat at the table.”
In their testimony, speakers criticized both the substance of the legislation and the process by which Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced it by surprise on Sept. 12 and brought it to the floor two days later without a committee hearing, debate or vote.
“In a real democracy, our legislature would have opened their doors to the public and given Wisconsinites an opportunity to share what matters to them when it comes to our maps,” Ramos said. “When you decide how our communities are drawn up, you better believe that we need to be in the room.”
“People in our state, no matter their political leanings, do not feel seen or heard by their state legislators on issues they care about,” said Carlene Bechen, the Fair Maps Coalition’s retired organizing director. “And they know why. Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps make legislators unaccountable to them — their constituents.”
But AB-415, which “Speaker Vos rushed through the Assembly, is not the solution to the problem,” Bechen continued. “The backdoors and holes in the bill that allow the legislators to continue to control the process are buried in the details. AB 415 is nothing more than an underhanded scheme to try to fool Wisconsinites into thinking that [Vos] has heard their calls for nonpartisan process and wants to deliver for them.”
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, one of the Fair Maps Coalition’s member organizations, said advocates who have been campaigning for nonpartisan redistricting for decades were never invited to take part in developing the legislation.
“The bill was drafted entirely in secret with no consultation or input from Democratic legislators and public interest groups long involved in this process, or, more importantly, from any of you, the citizens of Wisconsin, who have long advocated for nonpartisan redistricting reform,” said Heck.
“Instead, this partisan, pseudo-Iowa-model redistricting legislation was suddenly announced by Republicans on the evening of September 12, without any prior notice, and taken directly to the Assembly floor 48 hours later — after 12 years of steadfastly refusing and opposing every attempt to advance or even discuss the creation of nonpartisan redistricting,” he added.
AB-415 would put the drafting of legislative maps in the hands of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, to be voted on by the Legislature. If after two rounds of mapping a majority in the Legislature does not approve the proposed maps, however, the bill as written would allow the Legislature to draw its own maps.
That, said Heck, “allows the majority party in the Legislature to subvert the adoption of nonpartisan voting maps and pass unfair gerrymandered partisan voting maps by simply waiting until the end of the redistricting process deadline.”
Heck said the model for nonpartisan redistricting that Wisconsin advocates want includes provisions essential to ensuring that the process isn’t twisted to partisan advantage.
The bill as it passed the Assembly does require that maps win a bipartisan vote, but critics said that wasn’t adequate, requiring just one lawmaker in each chamber to cross party lines to vote in favor. Heck and several other speakers emphasized that maps originating outside of the nonpartisan reference bureau should require at least 75% support in each chamber to pass.
Heck said the bill also needs to set specific deadlines and a procedure for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to step in and resolve differences if the Legislature and the governor do not agree on the maps. Such language is now in the Iowa redistricting law.
“It serves as a powerful incentive to get the Legislature and the governor to agree,” Heck said. “It is not spelled out in AB-415.”
State Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) and Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) joined speakers who called for rejecting the Assembly bill and for adopting a genuinely nonpartisan process.
“All we’re asking for is districts that are competitive,” Andraca said. “We don’t want a Republican map, we don’t want a Democratic map. We want the opportunity for candidates to compete on their ideas. And for voters to have the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.”
Smith recalled a time when Democrats had an opportunity to advance nonpartisan redistricting and turned it aside. That was during a decade in which majorities in one or both chambers flipped party three times out of five election cycles, he said — something that hasn’t happened once since 2011.
In 2009, the last session in which Democrats held majorities in either the Senate or the Assembly, Smith chaired the Assembly’s elections committee and held a hearing on a nonpartisan redistricting proposal.
Democratic leaders, Smith said, “told me at that time, ‘We’re not going to bring this to a vote, because we’re going to draw the maps in 2011.’”
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F10%2F10%2Ffair-maps-advocates-hold-public-telling-to-air-opposition-to-gop-redistricting-plan%2F by Erik Gunn