The 2018 "mid-term" election last November brought significant and even sweeping change to the political landscape of Wisconsin. Scott Walker and Brad Schimel were ousted from the state's two highest constitutional offices, and Democrats now control of all five of those offices.
But the will of the voters was very decidedly not reflected in the 2018 state legislative and congressional elections. Despite the fact that 54 percent of Wisconsin voters voted for Democratic candidates for the State Assembly, Democrats now hold only 36 of 99 seats. That disparity between votes cast and seats won may be the largest in the nation.
Only one incumbent in the entire Wisconsin Legislature lost in November. That was Democratic State Sen. Caleb Frostman, who had won the 1st Senate District in a special election only five months prior in a district that had been gerrymandered to vastly favor Republicans.
In the 99-seat Assembly, every incumbent won and only one seat changed partisan hands — in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. There, Democrat Robyn Vining won an open seat vacated by a Republican who ran and won in a gerrymandered State Senate seat — Dale Kooyenga.
In the state's eight congressional districts, all incumbents were easily re-elected. Not a single challenger came within 10 percentage points of winning. Twenty years ago, six of nine Wisconsin congressional districts were considered competitive. Today, not one is competitive and hasn't been for the past eight years.
Taxpayers foot the bill for rigged elections
How is this incredible disparity between how Wisconsinites vote and who wins state legislative and congressional seats possible? It's all due to the most partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts by any state in the county, and one of the five most partisan gerrymanders in the past 50 years — the Republican redistricting process in Wisconsin eight years ago.
Adding insult to injury, Wisconsin voters have to foot the bill for creating unfair voting maps that rob them of a viable choice between two major party candidates for legislative and congressional seats. Taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars spent — without their consent — by GOP legislative leaders on out-of-state lawyers to defend their rigged, gerrymandered districts in the courts.
Just last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was compelled to finally make public a secret contract he signed in December to pay a pricey Chicago law firm $850,000 of your money to defend those 2011 maps in a federal trial that will begin in about six months. This outrageous arrogance is expressed eloquently in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal editorial.
The total taxpayer burden for this misappropriation of scarce tax dollars is now approaching $4 million.
Urge lawmakers to refuse funding to continue defending gerrymandered map
The overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites strongly support an end to partisan gerrymandering and favor the drawing of legislative and congressional district boundary lines by a non-partisan entity. In Wisconsin, the very best option for that would be the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureauı, and it would do it in a way very much like our neighboring state of Iowa does.
All reform organizations and all pro-reform legislators are united in support of the "Iowa Plan" legislation which will soon be introduced by State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa).
Last week, a Marquette University Law School Poll was released that showed overwhelming bipartisan public support for non-partisan redistricting. Support for ending partisan gerrymandering. Here's what the poll analysis said:
"Seventy-two percent of voters say they prefer redistricting of legislative and congressional districts to be done by a nonpartisan commission, while 18 percent prefer redistricting be done by the legislature and governor. Majorities in each partisan group favor a nonpartisan commission for redistricting, with 63 percent of Republicans including leaners, 83 percent of Democrats including leaners, and 76 percent of independents favoring a nonpartisan commission. Less than 30 percent of each group preferred redistricting be done by the legislature and governor, with support for the current system coming from 27 percent of Republicans including leaners, 10 percent of Democrats including leaners, and 10 percent of independents."
So the only folks supporting Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) in their quest to deny the vast majority of Wisconsinites the ability to be able to vote in fair map districts are the hardcore partisans who would rather have a rigged system favoring one party over a fair system in which the voters decide.
What can citizens do now to advance fair maps and hasten the end of the most partisan gerrymandered process in the United States?
First encourage new Gov. Tony Evers to use his "bully pulpit" to speak out in support of the Iowa model and to include funding in his upcoming 2019-2021 state budget for the Legislative Reference Bureau so they can begin to prepare for the 2021 redistricting process. Denying Robin Vos the $850,000 he’s asking for to continue defending his indefensible, partisan 2011 voter maps would be a good beginning to ending the madness.
Call both your State Senator and State Representative and demand that they co-sponsor and support the forthcoming legislation to be introduced by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Vining. Urge the to make this issue a top priority for this legislative session. Make sure it is at the top of their "to do" list for 2019.
Sign this petition in support of the Iowa Model legislation, if you haven't yet done so yet. If you have, urge others to sign it. We would like to present the Legislature with 5,000 signatures from all over Wisconsin in the near future.
And finally. Never give up. When CC/WI started this concentrated effort six years ago, we knew it was going to take years of hard work to build public support for ending partisan gerrymandering in this state.
Now, the public overwhelmingly supports fair voting maps.
What we need to do next is to force our elected representatives to listen and to heed our will. We need all of you to make this happen.
Jay Heck is executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.