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Legislature adopts Evers’ maps in second attempt to choose before state Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which have led a citizen effort to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin, put out statements celebrating the bill’s passage. Wisconsin Voices workers at a Fair Maps fundraiser in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Voices)

by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
February 13, 2024

The Wisconsin State Legislature passed new legislative maps Tuesday that are identical to the ones Gov. Tony Evers submitted to the state Supreme Court, in an attempt to put an end to the legal proceedings before the Court chooses maps. The maps will now go to Evers, who previously said that he would sign them if the Legislature made no changes to his proposed maps. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) introduced the maps in the morning via an amendment to a Senate bill that would have implemented Iowa-style legislative redistricting. 

“It’s the governor’s maps, plain and simple. We’ve made no changes to them,” LeMahieu said during the floor session “Given the circumstances, the Legislature is faced with two choices: either pass the Governor’s maps as is or allow the liberal majority Wisconsin Supreme Court to gerrymander the state.” 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in December that the current maps, drawn by the Republican legislative majority, are unconstitutional. In the decision, the Court urged the Legislature to draw new maps that follow the state constitution but laid out and initiated the process of choosing new maps to ensure there were new maps in place for the upcoming 2024 election. 

Six parties submitted maps to be considered and consultants recently said that the two sets of legislative maps submitted by Republican lawmakers and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) amounted to more partisan gerrymandering.

The consultants did not pick a preferred map, but said the other maps, including Evers’ submission, were “nearly indistinguishable.” Those proposals have been projected to reduce Republican control of the Legislature from its current near-supermajority status 

Republicans lawmakers have found Evers’ maps, which would likely keep a Republican majority, although a smaller one, in the Legislature, preferable to the other submissions before the state Supreme Court. 

“Republicans were not stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Sen. Van Wannggard (R-Racine) said in a statement about the vote. “It was a matter of choosing to be stabbed, shot, poisoned or led to the guillotine. We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day.” 

Tuesday’s action is lawmakers’ second attempt at trying to get maps passed and signed by Evers before the state Supreme Court picks maps to be used for the 2024 election cycle. 

Republican lawmakers first passed an amended version of Evers’ maps in January, saying that their changes would make the maps more fair. Democrats said Republicans moved certain district lines in order to protect their incumbents from being put into more competitive districts and being forced to run in primary races. Evers vetoed those maps, saying that Republicans drawing maps as a way to keep themselves in power “entrenches” the partisan gerrymander. 

Evers has said that he would sign his own maps if they were passed by the Legislature without any changes. 

“I have great doubts that [Republicans passing the maps] could happen. But if my maps are approved by the Legislature, of course, I’d sign them,” Evers told WISN over the weekend

An analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau said that the maps introduced by LeMahieu’s amendment on Tuesday are “identical in all respects” to the ones submitted by Evers to the state Supreme Court. 

Senators passed the maps in a 18-14 vote. Five Republicans — Sens. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), Julian Bradley (R-Franklin), André Jacque (R-DePere), Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay)  — voted with Democrats against the maps. Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Somers) is the only Democrat who voted with the remaining Republicans in favor of the bill.  

Democrats who voted against the bill on Tuesday expressed skepticism about Republicans’ actions. Some suggested Republicans are planning a legal challenge to overturn the maps as soon as Evers signs them.

“This is what has been happening repeatedly for the last 14 years, there will be every attempt after this is passed to continue to try and prevent the public from being represented…, ” Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said during floor debate. “So forgive me for having a memory, but I am voting no, because I do not trust what you guys are about to do.”

Sen. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) said that the maps should have received a public hearing, like any other bill, rather than coming before lawmakers at the last minute. 

Spreitzer also pointed out that under the amendment the maps wouldn’t go into effect until the November elections, leaving the current maps in place for the spring, and called into question why lawmakers would put off implementing the maps, especially with a vacancy in the Senate and effort to recall Vos being launched. 

“We’re going to be voting on something that leaves us without a map for between now and November,” Spreitzer said. “We’ve got an unconstitutional map. We’ve got a map that doesn’t take effect until November. Where are we in the meantime? [Republicans] haven’t answered that question.”

Democratic leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), said in a statement after the vote that they would “not participate in Republicans’ shady political schemes to maintain their manufactured majority.”

“The amendment containing the maps received neither a public hearing nor a committee vote and was not made public until after today’s legislative session began. That is not how the government is supposed to work,” the lawmakers said. “And this map wouldn’t even take effect until November 2024 – meaning that the map passed today wouldn’t be used for special elections or recalls, which includes the current recall efforts against Speaker Robin Vos.”

The maps were quickly sent to the Assembly and passed by lawmakers Tuesday afternoon in a 63-33 vote. Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) is the only Democrat who joined Republicans in favor.

“Pains me to say it, but Gov. Evers gets a huge win today,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said during the floor session. “We now stop spending the money on the governor’s side to argue the maps are unconstitutional, and, on the Legislature’s side, saying that we’re going to defend them. That’s a win.” 

Vos, who was the only representative to speak during the floor session, also rejected the idea that the move was a legal strategy.

Ahead of the floor sessions, some Democrats expressed concerns that Republicans wanted to pass Evers’ maps and then back a federal legal challenge before Republican-nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes, formerly a conservative justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Such a challenge “could ultimately keep the state with its current gerrymandered maps, Democrats told the progressive news platform Democracy Docket

“If we get these new maps, the governor’s maps, signed by the Republicans, it’s more than likely that there’ll be a challenge in the 7th Circuit Court,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan said over the weekend. “We’re fearful the Republicans are finally trying to come around to do what they should have done in the first place, but they’re doing it with — I guess the technical term would be ‘with sh-t-eating grins on their faces.’ We can assume that this is not done because of the idea of good government.”

Vos said at a press conference ahead of the session that lawmakers would prefer to work the issue out through the legislative process and “find a way to stop millions of dollars of lawsuits, not have to go to the US Supreme Court and be able to have maps that we run on so candidates know this is what our districts are gonna look like.” 

“I think a lot of the things that we have the potential to go to the U.S, Supreme Court and win on are no longer viable, which is why, if the governor signs the map, I am supremely confident that that is the map that we will run on in November, whether I like it or not,” Vos said. 

Vos quoted Doug Poland, an attorney with Law Forward, the firm that challenged the gerrymandered maps before the Supreme Court. 

“People really think that if the GOP-controlled Legislature and Dem. Governor agree on legislation adopting new districts that a federal court challenge will undo that? On what theory?” Poland wrote on social media. “It sounds like someone doesn’t want to end the litigation. Why?”

The Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which have led a citizen effort to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin, put out statements celebrating the bill’s passage, urging the governor to sign it, and calling it “a win for the people of Wisconsin and the fair maps movement.”

“I guess if you’re a lawyer making tons of money off of this, like it sounds like the people arguing are, they don’t want it to end because they want to have the taxpayers continue to pay their legal fees instead of having Democrats work with Republicans to get a map that we can run on this fall,” Vos said. “The vote is easy. It gets to be bipartisan, it gets to be something where the Democratic governor gets to say he got a huge win, and that the Republicans were unsuccessful in stopping his efforts.”

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said in a statement after the vote that Republicans have “shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted with legislative redistricting. We fear that Republicans are again up to their usual tricks.” 

The maps will now go to Evers.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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