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Republicans trying to stall on case over gerrymandered boundaries in Wisconsin

Rick Solem

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If you take the Republicans’ side, they’re saving time and resources.

Attorneys for the GOP-led Assembly in Wisconsin asked federal courts Monday to delay an April trial alleging that political boundaries were drawn illegally.

Assembly attorney Adam Mortara essentially said there’s no need to proceed at this point in Wisconsin, because gerrymandering cases in Maryland and North Carolina at the Supreme Court could affect Wisconsin.

“You’ll be shocked to hear this is a crass political move,” Jay Heck, with Common Cause Wisconsin said with a laugh.

In other words, Wisconsin Republicans are holding the basketball at half court, hoping enough time passes to delay court action, so the 2020 elections go on with these same political maps.

Maps that have twice already been ruled against by the courts. Once in 2012, courts ordered two districts in Milwaukee be changed because they violated voting rights of Latinos.

In 2016, a different panel of judges ruled the maps were in favor of Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court then took the case and said the group bringing on the lawsuit didn’t have legal standing to sue and sent it back to the lower court.

That’s where we stand now, waiting until April, with Republicans holding the ball at half court, clinging to a lead.

“They’re trying to run out the clock,” Heck said. “Taxpayers are now being forced to to spend, in addition to the $3 million already spent of taxpayer money, another almost million dollars — $850,000 — for legislators to be able to choose their voters rather than voters being able to choose their legislators. That’s what gerrymandering is.”

The 2018 elections also showed the maps to be gerrymandered. For the first time since 1986, Democrats swept all statewide elections.

Democrats also received 54 percent of the total votes for Assembly candidates — a number that’s inflated by Democratic candidates running unopposed is 30 districts compared to just eight for Republicans. Yet the GOP now own 63 of the 99 Assembly seats. Republicans also hold an 18-15 advantage in the state Senate.

While the gerrymandering cases in Maryland and North Carolina could affect what happens in Wisconsin, there are a couple things to look at, since that’s the excuse by Republicans not to go through with Wisconsin’s case … yet.

Before looking at those, however, it may be of interest to point out that the Maryland gerrymandering case is over boundaries drawn up by Democrats, while in North Carolina, it’s about Republicans, and neither political party has made it a secret that the lines were drawn in their respective interests. Both, in fact, have all but boasted how the lines are in their favor.

But, in terms of the relation of those cases to Wisconsin, Heck says the lower courts can have multiple cases. The Supreme Court will choose whether or not to hear them afterward. There is no reason to wait for Maryland and North Carolina to rule.

On top of that, those two states are dealing with Congressional Districts — members of the U.S. House of Representatives — while the Wisconsin lawsuit is about state legislative districts — Assembly or state Senate districts.

“The facts of the case are different, as are the facts of how they were gerrymandered,” Heck said.

That’s not all, however. Heck added that Wisconsin Republican Speaker Robin Vos “doesn’t want this trial to proceed because the same three-judge panel that this would go to, ruled against the Republicans in 2016 and sent the case up to the United States Supreme Court.”

Regardless of whether the lawsuit forces the lines to be redrawn, the debate will swing to 2021 and who gets to draw those lines. Voices in the public, however, grow louder to have them drawn by neither Republicans nor Democrats.

It may not that hard of a solution, either, Heck points out. Just look south … and west, to Iowa, where its maps are drawn by a nonpartisan group.

“It was Republicans who put that into place in 1980,” he said. “There’s a right-wing Republican in Iowa by the name of Steve King (that) supports the process there. And Tom Harkin, one of the most liberal Democratic senators ever, they both support it because it’s nonpartisan and it can’t be manipulated by bipartisan legislators.”

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse