Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering

Voters overwhelmingly favor fair maps, yet Vos spends millions in taxes to fight this.

By - Jan 29th, 2019 11:32 am
Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Just after the November election, former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson gave a speech to the Milwaukee Press Club where he criticized the way political districts have been drawn in Wisconsin. “We’ve got to be able to make districts more competitive,” he said. 

Thompson did not use the word gerrymandering, but that’s clearly what has made the districts so uncompetitive. As a recent Wisconsin State Journal editorial noted: “None of Wisconsin’s races for eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 6 was decided by less than double-digit margins — even though statewide races for governor and attorney general were incredibly close. And for the state Legislature, only 11 of 99 Assembly seats and 5 of 17 Senate races were decided by single digits, with many incumbents going unchallenged.”

As Urban Milwaukee’s Data Wonk columnist Bruce Thompson found, in 38 of the 99 assembly districts, only one of the two major parties fielded a candidate. That’s because gerrymandering creates districts that are as uncompetitive as possible. Republicans in Wisconsin sought to give themselves as many safe seats as possible and did this by packing Democrats into a minority of districts that were also uncompetitive. “To take control of the Assembly and win 50 of 99 seats,” Thompson found, “Democrats need 54.7 percent of the vote; by contrast, Republicans need support from only 45.5 percent of voters.” 

Yet it’s clear that Republican voters do not support this kind of gerrymandering. Last week’s Marquette University Law School poll found the majority of Republicans — 63 percent — favor having redistricting of legislative and congressional districts done by a nonpartisan commission. Just 27 percent of Republicans favored having redistricting done by legislators and the governor.

The support for nonpartisan redistricting was even higher among Democrats (83 percent) and independents (76 percent). Among all respondents combined, 73 percent supported non-partisan redistricting with just 18 percent preferring the current system.

The poll echoed the results of county referendums where voters supported fair electoral maps. In the November election four counties overwhelmingly supported nonpartisan redistricting, by 74 percent in Eau Claire, 72 percent in Sauk, 69 percent in Winnebago and 65 percent in Lincoln counties. The latter two are conservative counties carried easily by Donald Trump in 2016, yet they overwhelmingly favor redistricting reform. 

To date, 41 of 72 counties in the state have approved a resolution calling for non-partisan redistricting. 

Republican legislators obviously know the gerrymandering plan is offensive. That’s why it was done in secret back in 2011, without Democratic legislators being able to see the plan and with GOP legislators required to sign a pledge of secrecy. 

“What could have — indeed should have — been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny,” wrote a three-judge federal panel in February 2012 about the Republicans’ scheme.

The stink arising from this plan has only grown more offensive as Republicans have continued to operate in secret while spending ever more taxpayer money to defend their skulduggery. 

“Taxpayers have already shelled out some $2.5 million to private law firms to draft and defend legislative districts that give Republicans an unfair advantage in elections,” as the Wisconsin State Journal noted.

But by February 2017 the Republicans conspired to spend still more of the taxpayers’ money. ”Republican lawmakers voted behind closed doors Thursday to give a blank check to hire two law firms — one of which routinely bills more than $800 an hour —  in a legal battle over redrawing legislative maps,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Then-Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca “asked that legislators hold a public meeting to discuss the plan …but Republicans rejected his suggestion and proceeded with their plan to hire the law firms behind closed doors,” the story reported. “Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) did not give a reason why they didn’t want to see the cost of the contract before casting a ballot for it.”

Reporters later learned that a new contract Republicans had signed with a Chicago-based law firm would pay the firm $850,000, but only after Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos fought efforts to release the information in response to an open records request. 

“They should just release the record. I mean, it’s clearly a public record and it should be automatic,” said Orville Seymer, a longtime conservative with Citizens for Responsible Government and a member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council‘s board, in a Journal Sentinel story.

By now the total cost for taxpayers is at $3.5 million, and if another trial on redistricting occurs as expected, the state will face even more fees from Chicago law firm Bartlit Beck, which will increase the total costs to more than $4 million. 

Vos and the Republicans have already benefitted for eight years — and four election cycles — from gerrymandered districts, and will finally lose the advantage after the 2020 census, because Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will still be in office. Yet to make sure they have one more election, in 2020, with a nearly 10 point built-in advantage over Democrats, they will spend whatever taxpayer money is needed to forestall a court decision requiring a fair map. 

The advantage is by now so obvious and objectionable that former Republican Assembly Speaker turned lobbyist Scott Jensen recently cautioned some of his confederates in an email, writing that “I am getting concerned that conservatives are repeating the Democrat’s line that we hold both houses of the legislature because Republicans drew the maps.”

But why else are Vos and company working so hard to protect their gerrymander? They obviously believe they will lose legislative seats if all voters have an equal chance to elect their representatives. 

Perhaps the more remarkable aspect of this smelly story is that Vos, the key architect of this gerrymandering, has plans to run for governor in 2022. By now there is detailed documentation of his secret scheming, over the last nine years, to frustrate the will of the voters and charge them millions of dollars for this. Not the most promising platform for a candidate seeking our vote for the state’s highest office.  

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering”

  1. blurondo says:

    This piece contains data which can be very useful quite soon.
    “Iowa Plan” legislation will soon be introduced by State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Rep Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa). All current legislators should be contacted by their constutients to urge, no, force the passage of this legislation. Remind them of the facts that you just read.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Yet WisGOPs claim that it’s not gerrymandering that kept them in power in the Legislature.

    Well if it’s not because of the maps, then why have they spent millions of dollars to defend these maps? And why did Robbin’ Vos just hire map-maker Joe Handrick for more than $100,000 to be a staffer after the elections?

    Republicans know their agenda isn’t backed by most Wisconsinites, which is why they spend so much time and money rigging things.

  3. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Vos has been like a kid in a candy store since the gerrymandering assured safe elections for WI republicans. He has been grabbing power after power like a kid stuffing treat after treat in his bag on Halloween.

  4. meganwh says:

    Shouldn’t the title of this be Republican VOTERS Oppose Gerrymandering? Because it’s pretty clear that Republican legislators love it….

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