The state Senate voted along partisan lines this afternoon to overhaul Wisconsin’s political boundaries amid Dem cries that Republicans were rushing the new maps through ahead of next month’s recall elections because they fear losing control of the chamber.
Dems complained the maps split up communities that had long been in the same district, diluted the influence of minority voters, particularly Hispanics, and were gerrymandered in a way to decrease the number of competitive districts and strengthen the GOP’s hold on their legislative majorities for the coming decade.
But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, rejected the arguments, charging Dems had failed to comprehend the population shifts in Wisconsin that necessitated the changes in the map.
He acknowledged Dem complaints that various communities were being moved around to different districts, saying he’d heard similar gripes from his own members. But he said Republicans had little choice as they stuck to three principles: equal population, sensitivity to minority concerns and compact districts.
He also defended the process, saying Republicans took power in January with an agenda for this year that included redistricting and said the legislatures in most states around Wisconsin have already approved their maps.
“You can’t make a change in northern Wisconsin that doesn’t have an effect in southeastern Wisconsin or vice versa,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to adhere to the principles that will ultimately render the map constitutional, and that’s what we did.”
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, complained Republicans were ignoring past precedent in which local governments finished their maps and then state lines were built upon that foundation. Instead, Republicans are passing a map that will force local governments to start over.
He also derided some of the moves, noting he had significant population growth in his district that necessitated him losing 25,000 votes. But in doing that, Republicans put some 60,000 new voters that he had not represented before into his district.
“This is a huge power grab by a party that’s worried about losing the majority in a couple of weeks,” Erpenbach said.