Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Big Changes Needed In Political Districts

Population changes in Madison, metro Milwaukee require redrawn legislative and congressional seats.

By - Sep 27th, 2021 11:05 am
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Census figures show that Congressional and legislative districts represented by Milwaukee-area Democrats lost so many residents that their new districts may have to include areas represented by suburban Republicans.

New district-by-district Census numbers compiled by the Center for Urban Research at City University of New York (CUNY) document the largest deviations from the required “one person, one vote” standard that must be part of new districts. CUNY analysts said those imbalances signal major changes in districts — whether drawn by federal or state judges or by legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — traditionally represented by Democrats.

“Populations have shifted and grown or declined in the last 10 years,” the CUNY report said. “Some districts now have many more people than the average district size; these districts will need to shrink. Other districts now have far fewer people than average; they will need to expand.”

Some of the biggest imbalances:

-The 4th Congressional District, represented by Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore, is 41,320 residents – or 5.6% – below the statewide average of 736,715 for the state’s eight U.S. House members.

-The 2nd Congressional District, represented by Mark Pocan, who lives in rural Dane County, now has 52,678 more residents than that statewide average.

-Milwaukee Democrats in the Legislature lost significant numbers of constituents in the last 10 years. Rep. David Bowen’s 10th District has 6,905 fewer residents than the average of 59,533 for every Assembly District, a deviation of 11%; Evan Goyke’s 18th District, 6,546 below the average; Kalan Haywood’s 16th Assembly District, 5,794 residents below the average, and the 11th District of first-term representative Dora Drake, 5,258 below average.

Those numbers mean Milwaukee Senate districts are also significantly imbalanced. The 6th District of Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson has 16,529 fewer residents than the 178,598 average for every Senate district. Sen. Lena Taylor’s 4th District has 15,390 fewer residents than a new district should have.

-Populations in Madison-area Assembly and Senate Democrats’ districts soared over the last 10 years. The 76th District of Francesca Hong is now 12,152 above the Assembly average, a deviation of 20.4%. The 79th District of Dianne Hesselbein is 10,199 above the average, a deviation of 17%; the 48th District of Samba Baldeh is 4,222 residents — or 7% — above the average.

Among Democratic senators, the 26th District of Kelda Roys is 23,321 — or 13% — above the Senate average of 178,598; the 27th District of Jon Erpenbach, 16,906 above the average; and the 16th District of Melissa Agard, 13,894 above the average.

One former Democratic senator put it bluntly. “Will (Republicans who control the Legislature) have to give Madison one more Senate seat?

CUNY statistics suggest that districts of Milwaukee-area suburban Republicans with above-average numbers of residents could lose constituents to Democrats. The 24th District of Republican Rep. Dan Knodl, of Germantown, and the 22nd District of GOP Rep. Janel Brandtjen both have more than 1,200 residents than the ideal Assembly district, for example. And the 98th District of Republican Rep. Adam Neylon has an excess of 1,874 residents.

But Democratic legislators don’t know what new districts Republicans will draw for  them. Will Republicans draw a new Milwaukee Assembly district that throws two incumbent Democrats — Bowen and Goyke, for example — together, forcing a primary or one of them to move? Or will new Milwaukee districts encourage new candidates willing to challenge incumbents?

Who will draw the final maps is still much in doubt. Evers will veto any blatantly Republican-biased maps and lawsuits are pending before federal judges and the state Supreme Court. And Republicans have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to interject itself.

In a newsletter, Goyke said the new Census numbers had major changes. “Our urban areas are becoming increasingly more diverse. Milwaukee County lost around 1% of its population The City of Milwaukee lost nearly 3% of its population, leaving it at its lowest population since 1930.”

But that won’t mean less Capitol clout for metropolitan Milwaukee, the five-term Goyke insisted last week.

“I don’t believe that Milwaukee’s population loss will result in lost power in the Legislature, because growing Democratic suburbs are turning the region bluer, which results in a greater number of allies for Milwaukee and for the issues most critical to us.”

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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