Tag: gerrymandering

Three-judge federal panel orders Wisconsin state legislative maps redrawn. What happens now?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The author of this blog post is not an attorney and is not a Wisconsin resident.


Yesterday, a three-judge federal appellate court panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of the 7th Circuit ordered the Wisconsin State Legislature redraw the Wisconsin State Assembly map because the current state assembly map is deemed by the 7th Circuit panel to be such an extreme partisan gerrymander that it violates the U.S. Constitution. It’s not immediately clear if the Wisconsin State Senate map will have to be redrawn as well, although Article IV, Section 5 of the Wisconsin Constitution states, in part, “…no assembly district shall be divided in the formation of a senate district….”, although Katelyn Ferral of the Madison-based newspaper The Cap Times has interpreted the ruling as meaning that the state senate map would have to be redrawn as well:

The order is specific to Wisconsin’s Assembly map but essentially invalidates both the Assembly and Senate district maps because the Senate district map is based on the Assembly’s map. In November 2016, the court ruled that the state’s Assembly district maps were an unconstitutional gerrymander, a ruling that has gotten national attention. Wisconsin’s case is the first gerrymandering case of its kind to go to trial in 30 years, according to the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has worked with the plaintiffs.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to consider the possibility of state senate maps being redrawn as uncertain until and unless there is some kind of specific ruling from a federal court regarding that matter.

With the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature about to redraw Wisconsin’s state legislative maps, you may be asking yourself…what happens next?

One thing is for certain…the Republicans are going to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court, with or without a Donald Trump appointee on the bench, to overturn the federal appellate court’s ruling, which would result in the current maps being upheld and used for the 2018 and 2020 Wisconsin State Legislature elections.

Possibility #1: Legislature takes redistricting out of its own control and puts it in the hands of an independent process

While a number of Wisconsin Democrats have publicly called for making the redistricting process independent of the state legislature (see here and here for examples), and I think that it would be an awesome idea, I seriously doubt that Republicans would support this for two reasons. One, the court order directs the state legislature, not a governmental entity that has not (yet) been created, to redraw Wisconsin’s state legislative maps, and it’s not clear if a court would allow an independent redistricting body to redraw Wisconsin’s state legislative maps between federal Censuses instead of the state legislature. Two, the Republicans don’t want to draw any more Democratic-leaning districts than what currently exist, and they are probably going to completely disregard the rationale for the court ruling altogether.

Possibility #2: Legislature tries to draw an even stronger GOP gerrymander

As I stated above, I fear that the Republicans that control the state legislature are going to completely disregard the rationale for the court ruling altogether and attempt to draw an even stronger gerrymander. Regardless of whether or not the state senate map has to be redrawn, State Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) is one state assembly member that could have her district, Assembly District 71, redrawn in such a manner to make it more favorable for a Republican challenger. Daily Kos Elections (DKE), the election analysis arm of the progressive website DailyKos, calculated that Hillary Clinton got a narrow majority of the vote in the presidential race in Shankland’s district (Shankland was unopposed in her state assembly race last year). It would not be unthinkable for the GOP to try to redraw Shankland’s district in such a manner that it becomes a Republican-leaning district, making it harder for Shankland to win re-election. State Reps. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), who represents Assembly District 54, and Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton), who represents Assembly District 57, could also find their districts redrawn to include more Republican-leaning areas, and a few other Assembly Democrats could find themselves in Republican-leaning districts as well if the GOP tries to draw an even stronger gerrymander.  Of course, doing that would be completely against the rationale of the court ruling.

If the state senate map is redrawn as well, the GOP could decide to…you guessed it, completely disregard the rationale for the court ruling altogether and try to draw multiple districts that are currently held by Democrats and make them Republican-leaning. State Senate districts 25 (held by State Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland)), 30 (held by State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay)), 31 (held by State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma)), and 32 (held by State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse)) could all be drawn to be made more Republican-leaning, and redrawing the state senate map to make it a stronger GOP gerrymander could open up Republican opportunities to draw even more Assembly Democrats into Republican-leaning districts.

Any attempt by the GOP to draw an even stronger gerrymander would probably be struck down by federal courts since they struck down the current state legislative districts, which are strongly gerrymandered.

Possibility #3: Legislature tries to reduce the size of the State Senate

There is a big wild card that the Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature could attempt to play, and that would be in the form of reduction of the size of the state senate. Article IV, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution governs what sizes of each house of the state legislature are permissible:

The number of the members of the assembly shall never be less than fifty-four nor more than one hundred. The senate shall consist of a number not more than one-third nor less than one-fourth of the number of the members of the assembly.

Given the requirement that assembly districts be nested within senate districts (this is the part of Article IV, Section 5 of the Wisconsin Constitution that I mentioned earlier), it would be permissible for the Republicans to reduce the currently 33-seat state senate (with a 99-seat state assembly) to as low as 14 seats (with a state assembly of 56 seats), although the Republicans could end up with a higher percentage of state senate seats with a 25-seat state senate (with a state assembly of either 75 seats or 100 seats). With a 25-seat state senate, it would not be unthinkable for Republicans to draw a map in such a manner that Republicans could have the same number of seats they currently hold in the state senate, 20, while reducing Democratic-leaning seats to only five: a district in the most densely-populated parts of Dane County, a Rock County/southern Dane County district, and three districts including the most Democratic-leaning parts of Milwaukee County. This would give Republicans 80% of the state senate seats in a state that gave Donald Trump a plurality of the vote.

However, there is a multitude of reasons of why the Republicans may not try such a plan. First off, it’s possible that federal courts may not permit the number of seats in either house of the legislature to be changed between federal Censuses. Secondly, federal courts are probably not going to permit anything resembling a stronger Republican gerrymander. Additionally, it’s not clear if federal courts would approve of a state senate redraw of any kind. Furthermore, Republican legislators don’t want their own district eliminated: for example, if the Republicans were to attempt a 25-seat state senate gerrymander, State Sens. Stephen Nass and Van Wanggaard, both Republicans from the southeastern part of Wisconsin, would probably be drawn into the same district in order to make the district of State Sen. Janet Bewley, a Democrat from the opposite end of the state, more favorable to a Republican opponent. This is because Southeastern Wisconsin would probably lose two or three state senate districts if the state senate is reduced from 33 seats to 25 seats.

Possibility #4: Legislature’s GOP majority actually abides by the rationale of the federal court ruling

Of course, it’s possible, although probably wishful thinking on my part, that the Republicans who control the state legislature actually decide to abide by the rationale of the federal court ruling and draws a state assembly map that is less gerrymandered than the current state assembly map. If the state senate map is not redrawn, one district that would likely be made more favorable to Democrats is the 26th Assembly District, which could be redrawn to include all of the City of Sheboygan and as many of the voting wards of Sheboygan County where, in the 2014 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, Mary Burke got at least 35% of the vote as possible. Currently, the district includes the southern five-eighths or so of the City of Sheboygan and heavily-Republican areas south of the city. Another district that could be redrawn to be made more favorable to Democrats is the Wausau-based 85th Assembly District, which currently extends from Wausau to the heavily-Republican eastern end of Marathon County. The district could be redrawn to make the district more compact and replace the areas along the eastern border of Marathon County with parts of north-central Marathon County, making the district slightly more Democratic-leaning. If the state senate map has to be redrawn as well, then there’s going to be at least 2 or 3 state senate districts that would be made more favorable to Democrats and several, if not a dozen or more, state assembly districts which would be drawn to make it more favorable to Democrats.

Possibility #5: A federal court redraws the map(s)

There is one scenario in which the feds would step in and redraw Wisconsin’s state assembly map, and, if a federal court deems it to be necessary, state senate map. If the state legislature and Republican Governor Scott Walker cannot agree on a new map or new maps by November 1, 2017, then it would be likely that a federal court would take over redrawing the map(s). Of course, there’s one last possibility.

Possibility #6: The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 7th Circuit’s ruling and upholds the existing GOP gerrymander

The Republicans that control Wisconsin’s state government are currently trying to get the three-judge federal panel’s ruling overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS), which will be either with or without a Donald Trump appointee on the bench by the time SCOTUS hears the Wisconsin redistricting case, along with a similar case regarding North Carolina’s Republican-gerrymandered state legislative maps. If SCOTUS overturns the lower court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the current, Republican-gerrymandered state legislative districts in Wisconsin would be upheld. If there’s still a single vacancy on the SCOTUS bench, and the justices split 4-4 in regards to the Wisconsin case, then the lower court’s ruling is upheld, meaning that the state assembly, and possibly the state senate, maps would have to be redrawn, although no major precedent would be set. However, the four liberal justices and one of the conservative justices (probably Anthony Kennedy or, much less likely, a Donald Trump appointee to the bench who turns out to be less conservative than originally thought to be) could rule 5-4 or 5-3 in favor of the lower court’s ruling, which would require a new Wisconsin State Assembly, and possibly a new Wisconsin State Senate, map to be drawn with precedent set for future redistricting cases before the federal judiciary.

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Dane County (WI) Supervisor Jenni Dye: A leader in the fight for non-partisan redistricting

Jenni Dye, a member of the Dane County (WI) Board of Supervisors representing Supervisory District 33, which includes rural areas and some suburban areas of the City of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, chairs one of the most powerful Dane County Board subcommittees: the redistricting subcommittee of the county board’s executive committee.

Instead of waiting until after the 2020 U.S. Census, which is a little less than 4 1/2 years away, to pick and choose her own constituents by redrawing her own district, Jenni is supporting a great idea: taking elected officials completely out of the Dane County redistricting process altogether and creating a non-partisan citizens’ redistricting commission:

As the Dane County Board prepares for redistricting in 2021, supervisors are leaning toward having community members take on more power in the process than they have in decades.

The Redistricting Subcommittee of the Executive Committee of the County Board is tentatively recommending the county establish an impartial redistricting commission consisting of only citizen members — no elected officials.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said District 33 Supervisor Jenni Dye, who chairs the redistricting subcommittee. “We need to have a process where the people of Dane County are sure that they are electing their supervisors and not that supervisors are choosing their voters.”

I strongly believe that elected officials in this country should not have the power to literally pick and choose their own constituents by redrawing the districts which they run for public office in. Having ordinary citizens, not elected officials, redraw legislative districts, whether it be local, state, or federal legislative districts, is, if done correctly, a far more fairer method of drawing legislative districts.

If only there were far more elected officials who, like Jenni Dye, care about the integrity of the political system, America would be far better off.

The Progressive Response to the State of the State of Illinois Address

Earlier today, Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of our state that we instinctively know as Illinois, outlined his plan to drive down wages, infringe on the rights of Illinois workers, and destroy an already weak Illinois economy.

Prior to giving his State of the State address, Rauner went around the state using PowerPoint slides to publicly bash our state’s public employees, whine about public employees being, in his view, overpaid, spread lies about worker’s rights and public employee pay, and blame public employees for our state’s fiscal problems. Additionally, it was reported yesterday that Rauner strongly hinted that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for our state’s public employees. Given that Rauner has given his top administration officials pay raises and appointed a $100,000/year chief of staff to his wife despite the fact that his wife has no official duties whatsoever, for Rauner to give his cronies pay raises while wanting to drive down public employee salaries is blatantly hypocritical.

In his State of the State address, Rauner called for gutting our state’s workers’ compensation system, lowering property taxes while our state and local governments have billions of dollars in unpaid bills, allowing local governments and/or voters to bust unions at the local level, prohibiting project labor agreements, eliminating prevailing wage laws, and privatizing public education to benefit his political cronies. Rauner did have a few good ideas that he talked about in his address to the people of Illinois, such as banning trial lawyer donations to judicial campaigns, merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer, and increasing funding for early childhood education.

While there is no disputing the fact that our state is in a fiscal mess for a large number of reasons, the primary reason why our state is in such a fiscal mess is because the wealthiest Illinoisans, such as Rauner himself, don’t pay enough state income taxes thanks to an ridiculous provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the General Assembly from passing legislation to tax the incomes of wealthier Illinoisans at a higher rate than the incomes of poorer Illinoisans. The flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution prohibits our state from raising the revenues that would be needed to pay off our state’s unpaid bills and put our state on solid financial footing. I would strongly support a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution to allow the General Assembly to levy a progressive state income tax in order to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Illinoisans, cut income taxes for the poorest Illinoisans, and put our state’s finances back on track. Additionally, I would strongly support eliminating all tax breaks for businesses, such as the ridiculous tax break that Sears and CME Group received a few years ago, as this would also bring in more revenue to the state that can be used to pay off unpaid bills.

Regarding public employee pensions, another reason why our state is in a fiscal mess, I would strongly support a pension reform proposal that would phase out the current public employee pension systems in our state, but still allow public employees who have paid into the current pension systems to still receive the benefits they’ve earned once they retire, and require all new state and local elected officials, appointed officials, and hired public employees who receive a full-time salary but had not previously paid anything into the current public employee pension systems in our state to pay into a newly-created public employee pension system that is designed to be fully-funded and provide our state’s future elected officials, political appointees, and public employees with a steady retirement income once they retire. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose any pension reform proposal that cuts benefits for those who have currently paid into the pension systems, creates a 401(k) system for public employees, and/or turns an existing pension system into a 401(k) system.

Regarding cutting spending, I would support an audit of the entire state government and every single county, township, city, town, village, and other type of local government entity in our state in order to find actual wasteful spending and propose common-sense solutions to cut actual wasteful spending and help save the state money in both the short term and the long term. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose cuts to public education, social services, and other government services that reduce the quality of service by our state and local government agencies.

Regarding strengthening our state’s economy, I strongly support raising the state minimum wage here in Illinois to $15/hour and indexing automatic, annual minimum wage increases to productivity. Additionally, I strongly support creating a North Dakota-style economic development bank here in Illinois to issue and/our guarantee loans to factories, farms, small businesses, and other types of businesses that have to be repaid in full with interest. These two proposals would lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, establish a minimum wage that values work, and help entrepreneurs start up new businesses and create jobs without pocketing government benefits to simply pad profits. Busting unions and driving down wages is something I strongly oppose because those policies would do absolutely nothing to strengthen our state’s economy or empower Illinoisans.

Regarding campaign finance, ethics, and government reform, while a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped Rauner and his cronies buy the last gubernatorial election would be required to allow Illinois to enact meaningful campaign finance reform, I strongly support eliminating the conflicts of interest that are currently allowed by our state’s campaign finance system, such as a couple of conflicts of interest that Rauner mentioned, prohibiting unions from donating to candidates for public office that they’d have to collectively bargain with if said candidates are elected and prohibiting trial lawyers from donating to judicial candidates, and one that Rauner did not mention because he’s effectively opposed to it, prohibiting business owners and managers from donating to candidates for public office that could use the public office in question to directly benefit said business owners and managers if elected. Additionally, I would support setting the maximum campaign contribution for a statewide office here in Illinois at $250 and enacting even lower limits for state legislative and local offices. Additionally, I strongly support implementing a pair of public campaign finance systems, one for judicial elections and one for other non-federal elections. The judicial public campaign finance system would prohibit judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from other people and/or funding their own campaigns, require that all judicial candidates receive a set amount of campaign funds from the state, and require that judicial candidates receive the same amount of campaign funds from the state that their opponents receive. The public campaign finance system for other offices would allow candidates for those offices to receive $4 of state funding for every $1 they receive in contributions and/or self-fund their campaigns with. Additionally, I would support enacting what I like to call the Bruce Rauner Rule, which would outright prohibit candidates for statewide office here in Illinois from donating or loaning more than $100,000 of their own wealth to their campaign, and set even lower self-funding limits for other offices. On term limits, I would support limiting the offices of governor and lieutenant governor to one elected term, limiting the other state executive offices to two elected terms, limiting state senators to five elected terms, and limiting state representatives to eight elected terms, and anything stricter than that would receive my opposition. Some other government reform ideas I support include allowing Illinois voters to recall all non-federal elected officials, converting the Illinois General Assembly into an unicameral legislature with at least 177 members via a state constitutional amendment, and amending the Illinois Constitution to establish a truly non-partisan redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts.

Regarding reforming the criminal justice system, I strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating recreational marijuana, which would reduce the incarceration rate in our state and provide our state with much-needed tax revenue. Additionally, I’m open to various ideas to reform the criminal justice system in order to make our prison system more about rehabilitating convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them and make our criminal justice system more fair. For example, one idea that I strongly support would be requiring independent investigations of deaths that occur in the hands of state and local police here in Illinois.

Regarding education, I strongly oppose implementing school voucher programs here in Illinois, expanding charter schools, or any other school privatization scheme. I strongly support repealing Common Core State Standards and replacing them well-rounded, developmentally appropriate K-12 academic standards developed by the state and are held accountable by measures other than assessments and standardized tests. Additionally, I strongly support getting rid of the emphasis on career preparation in K-12 education, since I believe that career preparation should be the responsibility of higher education institutions, not the K-12 system. Also, I strongly support increasing funding for public schools in our state and making our state’s K-12 school funding system fairer to poorer school districts.

Illinoisans are worth more than speeches, political buzzwords, and PowerPoint presentations about driving down wages, busting unions, and making our state’s economy even weaker than it currently is, and Illinoisans are certainly worth more than Bruce Rauner’s far-right policies to drive down wages, bust unions, and destroy our state’s economy. It’s time for Illinoisans to push for progressive policies to protect workers’ rights, strengthen our state’s economy, put more money into the pockets of poor and working-class Illinoisans, provide a world-class education system for our state’s K-12 and college students, and provide for a more perfect Illinois.