Rushed Redistricting Bill Drafted In March
No author listed for bill, but drafting notes show it was requested by Robin Vos.
A surprise redistricting bill was rushed to a public hearing Monday even before most people who are closely watching redistricting were aware it existed, let alone had a chance to analyze it.
The bill extended the timeline for redistricting in Wisconsin, based on a delay in census data, and Republicans described it as a noncontroversial, technical fix that came from the Wisconsin Counties Association. At the hearing, the group took credit for writing the proposal.
The drafting notes used to draw up the legislation tell a different story — one that is not so benign as local government groups simply requesting more time to draw district lines.
The drafting note file — used by the Legislative Reference Bureau to write a bill — contains a memo from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos requesting the bill be drafted. More detailed instructions came from Vos staffer Joe Handrick, a former Republican legislator and one of the architects of the 2011 rigged maps that a federal judge described as among the most gerrymandered in the country. In addition to serving as Vos’ “outreach director” according to his Linkedin resume, Handrick is also the current director of the new conservative policy group, “Common Sense Wisconsin.”
Others involved behind the scenes on the bill are GOP stalwarts, strategists and lawyers who have been active in Republican politics. One party on the emails attached to the drafting notes was Jessie Augustyn, who was on former Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s staff and who also represented Fitzgerald as his attorney in election lawsuits as well as lawsuits brought by Jeré Fabick fighting Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency public health orders. Augustyn also works with The Federalist Society.
Andrew Phillips, who is representing the Wisconsin Counties Association as outside counsel, represented Vos and 13 other Assembly Republicans who were sued in 2019 for refusing to disclose information under the state open records laws.
The proposed bill retains a change made in 2011 that slows down the process, however, forcing local governments to redraft their maps if they don’t fit with the districts drawn by the Legislature. And it dramatically extends the timeline for redistricting, which would keep the old gerrymandered maps — that locked in Republican control of the Legislature — in place long past their expiration date.
“Holding local elections in districts everyone knows are not properly apportioned is questionable,” said Mike Browne, deputy director of the progressive research group A Better Wisconsin Together. “That some of the key players behind it are the same ones who were behind one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering in the nation — the Wisconsin state legislative districts — only raises more red flags.”
Not such a rush
The bill was pushed to a public hearing on Monday, but drafting notes indicate that the request to have it drafted was made on March 16 — nearly three months ago. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu’s staff person Brian Radday also sent an email suggestion, which Handrick apologized to the Legislative Reference Bureau for forwarding at the last minute after they said they were all done. This was on April 26.
The bill went through a number of different revisions, but the one presented as something new that needed to be acted on immediately so it could be voted on next Wednesday in the Assembly was drafted, reviewed, submitted and jacketed (the process of crafting a bill) by April 27.
“We would like to get a bill draft that addresses the local redistricting timeline (in reaction to a delay of receipt of US census data until the end of September),” wrote Handrick on March 17 to Joseph T. Kreye, senior coordinating attorney at the Legislative Reference Bureau.
“Below I’ve outlined the desired goals for this bill,” wrote Handrick and in bold print he added, “If you believe the language as presented does not achieve these goals, please let me know.”
His goals include that the Feb. 2022 primary and the April 22 spring elections “would be held in the existing districts.” He lays out the timeline and adds that new wards must be put in place between April 15 and May 15, after the April election but before the August 22 primary.
Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, made it to the public hearing to testify despite its last minute announcement. He says delaying redistricting sets a “very dangerous precedent,” made worse by how “terribly rigged” the 2011 maps are to favor Republicans.
With the drafting notes now coming to light, Rothschild says, “From the drafting notes it’s clear that this bill has got GOP fingerprints all over it, and that the GOP leadership was very much involved in the crafting of this bill. It wasn’t just some innocent bill put together by civic-minded county personnel. It was a partisan bill constructed with the direct involvement of the leaders of the Republican Legislature and other Republican figures who were involved in the gerrymandering back in 2011, so that is reason enough for us to be even more skeptical of these bills.”
Rothschild predicted that if Republican leadership uses this process to keep the old maps around even further, “there will be a huge uproar here in Wisconsin.”
Vos’ office declined to comment for this story.
Legislature’s mystery redistricting bill drafted by Vos and Republican political players was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner.
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- The State of Politics: Political Storm Brewing Over Redistricting - Steven Walters - Aug 2nd, 2021
- State Supreme Court OKs Private Attorneys for Redistricting - Shawn Johnson - Jul 16th, 2021
- Op Ed: Vos, LeMahieu Want Special Legal Treatment - Mel Barnes and Matt Rothschild - Jul 10th, 2021
- Rushed Redistricting Bill Drafted In March - Melanie Conklin - Jun 13th, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining Urges Passage of Fair Maps Legislation - State Rep. Robyn Vining - May 19th, 2021
- Capitol Rally For Nonpartisan Redistricting - Shawn Johnson - May 18th, 2021
- Fight For Fair Maps Heats Up - Ruth Conniff - May 16th, 2021
- State Supreme Court Rejects Redistricting Rule Change - Shawn Johnson - May 14th, 2021
- Law Forward on Supreme Court Rejection of Redistricting Rulemaking Petition - Law Forward - May 14th, 2021
- Republicans Lose Lawyers Before Redistricting Starts - State Sen. Melissa Agard - Apr 29th, 2021
Read more about Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts here