GOP leaders have redrawn maps
But only some lawmakers have seen them; vote may come before recalls
By Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel June 23, 2011
Madison – Legislative leaders have redrawn maps for the Assembly and Senate and could be ready to vote on them in the coming weeks, but they are closely guarding their plans for their districts and many lawmakers have yet to see them.
Having the maps completed means lawmakers have the option of approving them before recall elections are held this summer that could shift control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats. Senate leaders declined Thursday to say whether they would do that.
But Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said he is now sharing maps with Republicans in his house and deciding whether to pass the redistricting plan in July.
“We’ve got them all,” he said of the maps. “We’re meeting with members now, showing them maps.”
Once a decade, every state must draw new lines for congressional and legislative districts based on new U.S. census data. The new lines are needed to ensure the districts are of equal population.
Redistricting invariably attracts legal challenges, and already a group of Wisconsin citizens – including a former Democratic lawmaker – has asked a federal court to intervene in the process. Courts have drawn Wisconsin’s maps for at least the past three redistricting cycles.
Redrawing the lines can give one party an edge over the other by packing its supporters into as many districts as possible. Republicans this year have a rare chance to control the process because they hold both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office.
But they also run the risk of losing the Senate this summer because of unprecedented recall elections against six Republicans and three Democrats. Republicans have a 19-14 majority, and Democrats would need to net three seats to gain control of the chamber.
Normally, redistricting is done months from now, after local communities have drawn their ward lines.
Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), declined to say whether maps had been shown to senators or when the Senate might take up redistricting.
A Republican source familiar with the matter confirmed GOP senators are being brought in to see maps of their redrawn districts. But three senators told the Journal Sentinel they had not seen new maps.
“They’ve kept us pretty well in the dark,” Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) said.
Olsen, Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) and Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said they have not seen maps of their districts.
Olsen said he did not know when the Senate would vote on the new maps, but he expected it would happen before he and five other Republicans face the first wave of recall elections on Aug. 9.
“Common sense would tell me they would want to get it out of our house before that date,” Olsen said.
Ellis said that he also expected the Senate to pass the redistricting plan before the recall elections are held, but that it would be up to Fitzgerald to decide whether to do so.
The Legislature is not scheduled to be on the floor in July, but lawmakers could easily meet that month in special or extraordinary session.
Nine senators are facing recalls for the stances they took on a plan to sharply limit collective bargaining for most public workers.
The recall elections will be Aug. 9 for the six incumbent Republicans and Aug. 16 for the three incumbent Democrats. Primaries will be July 12 and July 19.
Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) said he is concerned Republicans will pass their redistricting plan quickly after making it publicly available, giving the public little chance to digest it.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, districts must be drawn in ways that ensure minorities have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, said Kessler, who has helped Democrats in Wisconsin and Nevada with redistricting in the past.
This month, former Senate Democratic leader Judy Robson of Beloit and 14 other citizens asked for a three-judge panel to develop a redistricting plan if lawmakers do not put a constitutional plan in place in a timely fashion. The filing in federal court in Milwaukee says the maps in place since 2002 are unconstitutional because of population shifts revealed in the 2010 census.
Legislative leaders have retained Michael Best & Friedrich and the Troupis Law Office to draw the maps for them. So far they have spent $300,000 in taxpayer money for those maps, but lawmakers have not said how much they expect the legal work to cost in total. Any lawsuits could make those costs climb significantly.
Jim Troupis, one of the attorneys working on the maps, could not be reached Thursday.
A copy of the map for members of Congress has already been made public, but the maps for state lawmakers have not.
Journal Sentinel reporters Jason Stein in Madison and Tom Tolan in Milwaukee contributed to this report.