As expected, Wisconsin's Republican legislators released a redistricting plan Friday, side-stepping the traditional process already underway. The move comes ahead of this month's recall elections, which could break the GOP's majority control of the Legislature.
"It's clearly a Republican gerrymander, there's no question about that," says Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "The only reason they're doing it now is to have total control over the map drawing, because they could potentially lose control of the Senate [with recalls]."
McCabe says he's still looking at the redistricting plan, but a couple of changes jumped out him. One is in the senate districts of Kenosha and Racine, which now each cover the respective cities and counties. Under the Republican redistricting plan, the cities of Kenosha and Racine would be combined into a single district, while the surrounding suburban and rural areas would be combined in another.
"The Racine district was held by a Democrat [John Lehman] for many years, who was beaten in 2010 by a Republican [Van Wanggaard]," McCabe says. "That district can go either way, but it had been a Democratic district."
The new districts are much more likely to provide a solidly Democratic and solidly Republican seats, he says. "It certainly solves the Republicans' interests. And the interests of politicians in general, because both will be in districts that are less competitive. It's not good for voters."
Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) condemned the Republicans move: "It's just irresponsible to release this on a Friday afternoon, no public hearing. It's done with a definite partisan advantage."
Under the proposed districts, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) would end up being put in the neighboring 48th district, which has a special election next Tuesday to select its representative. But Roys says "The impact on individual legislators is not the issue, the issue is that residents in Wisconsin will not be able to make meaningful choices at the ballot box."
There will be other consequences. In Wisconsin, redistricting begins at the local level, as municipalities and towns redraw ward districts, which are then turned over to the Legislature to put these into legislative districts. In releasing the map, Republicans have completely sidestepped this process, critics say.
"Months of work are going to be thrown out the window because legislators couldn't wait," McCabe says. "[Local officials] are going to have to go back and redo the process. It's a waste of time, a waste of money, and it's an administrative burden."
Roys expects Republicans to force a vote on the plan in the next two weeks. "They're going to want to get this over with rather quickly. And that's part of a pattern we've seen," she says, adding that they don't want to face the consequences at the polls for what they did in passing the state budget. "That is an effective way to abuse power, I'm sad to say."