RACINE — The current state Assembly and Senate district maps could be redrawn in 2021, but legislators are already talking about those possible changes.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear arguments over the Wisconsin Assembly district maps and possible gerrymandering in favor of Republican candidates, and instead punted it to the lower federal court to decide the case.
With Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, a Democrat, preparing to argue the case on behalf of the state, some legislators are wondering what the fate of the current district lines will be.
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Democrats have pointed to the fact that they won in statewide races (governor, U.S. Senate, state treasurer and attorney general), and received more total votes — but did not earn proportional representation — as proof that state districts are drawn to favor Republican candidates.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disagrees with that assertion.
“I believe somewhere between 12 and 15 districts that Republicans won in the fall election two weeks ago, were also carried by (Democrat U.S. Sen.) Tammy Baldwin,” Vos said. “And some of those folks also had districts that (Democrat Gov.-elect) Tony Evers won. So if it’s gerrymandering, every district would be held and carried by every Republican.”
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Vos said the Republican Party of Wisconsin is preparing an analysis of the fall election. The party believes it will show if Democrats ran better candidates, had a better message, “and performed as well as other Democrats on the ticket, they would win those races.”
“I think we have better candidates, a better message and a better organization which has allowed us to win in districts that are even being carried by Democrats at the top of the ticket,” Vos said.
Vos also pointed to the fact that Republicans did not run a candidate in every race. He said looking at the number of votes Democrats got as a reason to change the district maps is misleading.
“We made a strategic decision in the last election cycle to not run a candidate as a Republican for every single seat in the Assembly,” Vos said. “Democrats made a different decision. They made a decision to run somebody in every seat thinking they were able to catch some kind of ‘blue wave’ and either take back the majority or make some significant progress.”
Neubauer wants more competitive races
State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, who won her race but was unopposed, believes the maps should be made more competitive.
“I just don’t buy that argument,” Neubauer said about Vos’ statements. “I think it’s very clear the packing of Democrats into certain Assembly districts like mine, which is a very heavily Democratic district, means democracy suffers, and our constituents suffer, because they’re not getting robust conversation and a different perspective presented and aren’t able to make a choice of who they want to represent them.”
Neubauer said she hopes Republicans join Democrats in advocating for more competitive district maps even if that means her seat and other Democrats will become more vulnerable in future elections.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing that the majority of sitting Democrats did not have challengers this cycle; I don’t think that’s the most democratic outcome,” Neubauer said. “I decided to run for office with the full understanding that what that means is: You debate ideas, and you allow the people in your district to make the best decision to elect the person that best represents their values. Right now that is not the case.”
Two attorneys, one state
When the gerrymanderinig case gets argued in front of a federal judge, Kaul won’t be the only attorney present on behalf of the state. Last week the court allowed for the Assembly to hire an attorney to put alongside Kaul when it takes up the case.
“When we argue the lawsuit in federal court, the attorney general will be there but obviously as a partisan Democrat; you would assume he would not be as vociferous in his defense of the maps,” Vos said. “We were given ‘intervener status’ where we hired our own legal counsel, so we’ll be right alongside the attorney general as a team defending the maps.”
Neubauer said she has not discussed the case with Kaul and had no comment on the attorney hired to represent the Assembly.
Although that attorney will represent the entire Assembly, Vos said he did not talk with Assembly Democrats about hiring an attorney and added, “I’m sure they don’t like it.”
“Because they want us to cave in and let the Democrat attorney general kind of soft-sell our case, have us lose, and that’s the only way they can think they can win because they’re bad at candidate recruiting and bad at messaging.”
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Neubauer said people are tired of “politicians choosing their constituents instead of constituents choosing their representatives,” and there needs to be a change.
“I think that the Republican Party here, the Democratic Party in other states can try to stand in the way of the democratic process, but eventually people are not going to take it anymore,” Neubauer said. “And they’re going to do what it takes to get their maps to be adequately represented at the state level.”