Assembly passes new redistricting bill in the middle of the night; Democrats call it "slapdash" and an attempt to distract the public
By Alexandria Staubach
Just two days after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced a new bill to move Wisconsin toward a nonpartisan redistricting process, the Assembly approved the bill.
On Tuesday, Vos (R-Rochester) announced AB 415 to adopt what he termed a nonpartisan redistricting process styled after the process used in Iowa.
In a move that Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) called “slapdash,” Vos placed AB 415 on the agenda for a vote during Thursday’s Assembly floor session, bypassing public hearing and comment.
The bill was voted on late Thursday, just before midnight. It passed largely along party lines with one Democrat, Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee), also voting in favor.
AB 415 comes in the wake of a petition filed by Law Forward and co-counsel on August 2 asking the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of an original action challenging Wisconsin’s “severally and politically gerrymandered maps.”
Vos offered no salient reason why AB 415 could not proceed through the normal legislative process, nor did he explain the urgency with which his majority is now moving. He said Tuesday, “Hopefully it means that we will take all of the money that has been wasted by the liberal interests suing us over the maps and instead we get to say we don’t need to waste those taxpayer dollars because we can adapt the process that has been used flawlessly in Iowa.”
Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand commented on AB 415 ahead of Thursday’s vote, saying, “This is not the Iowa model. It’s also just impossible to expect Iowa-style fair results when you still have the capacity to gerrymander at the end of the day, which is what this bill allows for. They can reject, and reject, and draw their own. You can’t do that in Iowa, that’s why the Iowa system works.”
Moreover, the Iowa method is not without fault. In Iowa, Republicans hold a majority in both the House and Senate, empowering them to accept or reject maps drawn by their nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. In October 2021, Iowa's Republican legislators did just that, rejecting the agency’s first map proposal because it all but doomed Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson’s seat. Iowa subsequently adopted maps that preserved Hinson’s seat.
For years Democrats have asked that Republicans redraw maps in a nonpartisan way, yet Vos’ proposal was met with derision and skepticism. Gov. Tony Evers said Republicans are “making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps.”
During the floor session Vos chided Democrats for failing to meaningfully critique the content of the bill (introduced just two days before). He accused them of relying on the Law Forward lawsuit and a favorable vote from Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, whom he said Democrats “bought and paid for.”
Republican lawmakers may be feeling the heat from a multimillion-dollar opposition campaign that targets their threats to impeach Protasiewicz if she fails to recuse herself from the Law Forward case after criticizing Wisconsin’s legislative maps on the campaign trail.
Democrats largely focused their objections to the legislation on an insufficient opportunity to vet the bill, which could change the face of Wisconsin legislative map drawing into the foreseeable future. It is a “clear red flag that this bill skipped the entire legislative process,” said Rep. Alex Joers (D-Middleton).
“If this is about anything more than diverting the public’s attention from your plan to impeach Judge Protasiewicz, put your money where your mouth is and vote to refer this to the committee on campaigns and elections where it can have fair hearing where we can do the work,” said Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison). “This is about distracting the public from your folly of impeachment,” she added.
Not all Democrats toed the party line at last night’s session. Myers criticized Republicans and Democrats alike for a failure to communicate about the legislation. She pointed out that across Wisconsin, more than politics is on the line for Black and Brown people. She told her caucus members, “Maybe you get the luxury of toeing the company line, but not everybody does.”
The bill calls for maps to be drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
The LRB would report to a five-member advisory commission. The commission would include two Democrats, two Republicans and a fifth commissioner chosen by the first four.
The LRB would send the maps it draws to the Legislature for approval. Changes would be prohibited. If the first drafts are rejected, the LRB would get a second opportunity to draw maps and the process would repeat itself. If the second set is rejected, the Legislature would then be able to amend the maps or draft its own, which would ultimately need approval from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Having passed in the Assembly, the bill moves to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 22-11 majority. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) has been equivocal on whether the Senate would act on the legislation.
Evers has threatened to veto the measure.
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