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Assembly Republicans announce plans to introduce Iowa-style redistricting process

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Assembly Republicans announce plans to introduce Iowa-style redistricting process

Sep 12, 2023 | 9:26 pm ET
By Baylor Spears
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Assembly Republicans announce plans to introduce Iowa-style redistricting process
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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) — who has opposed nonpartisan redistricting proposals for years — said during a press conference Tuesday that the bill is as “close as constitutionally possible to Iowa." (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers announced plans Tuesday to introduce and quickly vote on a bill that would implement an “Iowa-style nonpartisan redistricting” process in Wisconsin. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers swiftly rejected lawmakers’ announcement as “bogus.” 

The announcement comes as legal challenges to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps have threatened Republicans’ power. Republican lawmakers have called for Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz to recuse herself from redistricting cases due to comments she made on the campaign trail describing the GOP-leaning maps as “rigged” — or face possible impeachment, while Democrats have jumped in to defend the new justice. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) — who has opposed nonpartisan redistricting proposals for years — said during a press conference Tuesday that the bill is as “close as constitutionally possible to Iowa” and that the bill should nullify any redistricting lawsuits and conversations about recusal and impeachment. 

“We are going to get this bill passed, we are going to get it signed by Gov. Evers, we’re going to have maps that look different,” Vos said. “So there will be no need to have the whole discussion of recusal and millions of dollars of attack ads, special interests trying to buy the elections, all the things that we know are coming.” 

Under the bill, the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) would take charge of drawing Wisconsin’s redistricting plans that would need to satisfy certain requirements, and a redistricting advisory committee would be established to perform other tasks related to the redistricting process. 

The plans drawn by LRB would need to be approved by the Assembly and the Senate without any amendments. If the Legislature rejected the initial proposal, the LRB would come up with a second redistricting plan to be voted on. If the plans were rejected a second time, then the Legislature could amend the map. 

Vos said that the bill will be directly referred to the floor — meaning it will bypass a public hearing — and the Assembly will vote on the bill Thursday. He said the Senate had been briefed on the proposal, but that he couldn’t speak for whether the bill would advance there. 

Vos said if the bill passes the Assembly and Senate and is signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the process of redistricting could start as early as October, so that new maps could be in place for the 2024 election cycle. 

“We’re going to go first. We’re going to have to show the way,” Vos said. “We’re going to, hopefully, have that strong bipartisan vote.” 

When asked if the bill would mean that impeachment would be off the table, Vos said “let’s hope that it’s not necessary.” 

However, Democrats criticized Republicans’ action on Tuesday, calling it a political stunt. 

Evers said the Legislature cannot be trusted to appoint or oversee someone charged with drawing fair maps. 

“Now, with the possibility that fair maps and nonpartisan redistricting may be coming to Wisconsin whether they like it or not, Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps,” Evers said in a statement.  

“I’m not going to participate in enabling Republicans in the Legislature to keep trying to use and abuse their power to control the outcome of our elections,” Evers continued. 

Democratic lawmakers also criticized Republicans’ sudden support for a new redistricting process. Sen. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) said there cannot be a legitimate or nonpartisan redistricting process that originates in the current Legislature because of how gerrymandered it is. 

Spreitzer said it is “disingenuous” for Vos and the “gerrymandered Republican majority to pretend to support nonpartisan redistricting now – when they are on the verge of having their gerrymander thrown out by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” 

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen reform advocacy organization, said the proposal, while in some ways similar to Iowa’s, lacks  a key component. 

Heck explained that the Iowa model is a match for Wisconsin because both constitutions require the Legislature to vote on redistricting. 

Heck said, however, that the bill introduced by Republicans is missing a key safeguard provision that advocates and supporters of Iowa-style redistricting have said would be necessary to implement the system in Wisconsin. 

“Say it’s voted down twice, the Legislature can do what they normally do, which is just amend the legislation and pass whatever version they want,” Heck said. “And so that would allow the Republicans in Wisconsin to just vote down the nonpartisan maps twice and then put forward their own plan.” 

Heck said past iterations of bills that proposed Iowa-style redistricting included a safeguard provision that would require that in the case that the Legislature votes down the LRB-drawn maps twice, any maps drawn by the Legislature would require a three-quarters vote of approval from lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly. This would prevent lawmakers from playing “games” with the process. 

“I’m glad that [Vos is] finally arriving to the table, but I’m a little disappointed that this only has Republican cosponsors on this bill,” Heck added. “He didn’t reach out to any of the groups like Common Cause Wisconsin that have worked on this issue for 20 years. There’s not a Democrat that was apparently invited to the press conference, and nonpartisan redistricting reform has to be that. It has to be nonpartisan.” 

Vos said on Tuesday that he believes Wisconsin would be able to follow Iowa’s lead by passing maps on the first or second vote. 

“The good news is that, if you look at Iowa as the model under both divided government and united government, they have adopted it on the first or second map every single time,” Vos said. “So if Iowa, a competitive state…, over the past 50 years has been able to adopt a proposal, I think we’ll have the exact same goodwill. …  actually getting a map that everybody can support.” 

Heck also added that the timing of the bill is “ludicrous.” 

“If [Vos] slows down the process, and as a real conversation and a discussion, then this would be meaningful,” Heck said. “But to immediately pull this proposal up and send it to the floor immediately, it would be impossible for us to support it or for anybody to take it seriously.”

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday.