July 20, 2011
“Have you heard about the new maps?” I asked a voter in Pepin County.
“Yes,” he said. “Can you tell me why they are doing this?”
Last weekend at festivals around our district, folks were talking about the new Legislative district maps. New boundaries will affect every citizen in the 31st Senate District.
The City of Eau Claire will become one Assembly District – the new 91st Assembly District. Right now the city’s south side has one set of representatives and the north another. A new Assembly District will be created from parts of rural Eau Claire County, Pepin and most of Pierce. Much of this area is now in the district of Representative Danou.
Most of Buffalo and Trempealeau Counties will join eastern Jackson, including Black River Falls, in a new 92nd Assembly District. This forces Democratic Representatives Danou and Radcliffe to run against each other.
Folks in the eastern half of Jackson and parts of Monroe Counties move into the 24th Senate District represented by Senator Julie Lassa. This becomes a sprawling U-shaped district including Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point, Tomah and Sparta.
People near but not in the cities of Sparta and Tomah – who live in the towns of Adrian, Angelo or Tomah – will join the 32nd Senate District now represented by Senator Kapanke.
This week Legislators return to Madison to vote on the maps redrawing Legislative and Congressional Districts. If all of this sounds a little confusing, it is. The big question I hear from most constituents is, ‘Why?”
Every ten years following the census, boundaries of political districts are redrawn. This is to assure equal representation. For example, each Assembly district in our state should have roughly 57,000 people and each Senate District should have approximately 172,000 people.
The process of redrawing the lines, sometimes called ‘reapportionment’ or ‘redistricting’, always starts at the local level with the drawing of wards, aldermanic and supervisor districts. The locals finish their work by the end of the summer and the Legislature picks up the task in the fall.
Not so this year.
Republican leaders, anxious to set in stone their political gains in the last election, turned the process upside down – right in the middle of the work of local leaders.
Across the state, local officials are looking at changes in the populations and adjusting ward boundaries. As usual, their work began this spring and will be complete by early fall.
What’s unusual are Legislative leaders scheduling an Extraordinary Session this week to vote on the new Legislative and Congressional boundaries. This action is in advance of recall elections across the state. These elections may change the balance of power in the state Senate.
With control of the Legislature and the Governor in the hands of one party, the drawing of maps became a partisan exercise. Although Republican leaders and their lawyers worked on the maps for months, I and other Democrats only saw the new districts when they were made available to the press last Friday.
Wisconsin has not recently faced ‘redistricting’ under the control of only one party. The first full redrawing of Legislative lines since 1921 was done by a committee that included public members and was chaired by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Marvin Rosenberry. For the fifty years following the “Rosenberry Committee”, partisan control was split. In every decade the drawing of new maps was resolved with action by the Supreme Court.
This year we face a very unusual situation: complete control by one party and voting on new maps in the shadow of recall elections.
While all states are in the process of redrawing district lines, some states approach the process differently. Iowa, for example, uses the resources of a nonpartisan group similar to our Legislative Council to draw the lines.
I spoke with many folks who want to know who will be their new representatives. The new maps are available through a link on my Senate website and the Legislative website (http://legis.wisconsin.gov/). The new maps will be in effect for the 2012 General Election or any recall or special elections held after November of 2012.