Wisconsin Republicans make last-ditch effort to pass new legislative district maps

Republican senators have introduced new state Senate and Assembly district maps for a vote — Democratic lawmakers said before the maps were unveiled that they were unlikely to support them.

Associated Press

January 23, 2024

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Devin LeMahieu speaks while sitting in front of glass-topped wood desk with a laptop computer, water bottle and other items on its surface, in a room with wood-paneling on the lower half of its walls, and the U.S. and Wisconsin flags in the background.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu speaks during an interview with the Associated Press on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. (Credit: AP Photo / Harm Venhuizen, File)

AP News

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans made a last-ditch effort on Jan. 23 to avoid having the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court put in place new legislative district boundaries for the November election.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed new Senate and Assembly maps just over an hour after unveiling them, not giving the public or Democrats a chance to review them ahead of their release. Democrats said they didn’t have time to analyze the proposal before the vote.

And Assembly Republicans were discussing passing maps as proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers without any changes. That could stop the Wisconsin Supreme Court from ordering maps that were even worse for Republicans.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said that the new maps approved by the Senate were the same as what Evers proposed, but with changes to reduce the number of Republican incumbents who would have to face one another in November.

The governor’s map was “clearly a partisan attack on us,” LeMahieu said.

“We just wanted to make things somewhat fair,” he said.

In yet another twist, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he supports passing the maps as proposed by Evers with no changes. He said Republicans can win under the lines drawn by Evers.

“We would basically be giving Gov. Evers a huge win,” Vos said shortly after Evers concluded his State of the State speech. “Adopting his maps, stopping the lawsuit seems like something to me we could agree on, but I’m waiting on Gov. Evers to get back to us.”

Evers’ spokesperson did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Assembly could vote on the maps on Jan. 24.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court tossed the current Republican-drawn district boundaries as unconstitutional and ordered new maps in December. Evers, Republicans, Democrats and others submitted maps that two consultants hired by the court are now reviewing. Their recommendation is due Feb. 1, and the court is expected to release new maps shortly after.

But the court said it would defer to the Legislature if it could pass maps that Evers would sign into law.

Evers and Democrats appeared unlikely to back the new Republican maps passed by the Senate which made changes to what he proposed.

“This is about one thing: Republicans desperately trying to retain power,” Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback posted before the maps were released. “Full stop.”

Cudaback said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that any maps that differ from the maps as Evers submitted them to the Supreme Court “aren’t the governor’s maps. Period.”

If Evers vetoes the new Republican maps, it “will just show his true intent of trying to disenfranchise Republican voters around the state,” LeMahieu said.

Democrats said the maps, detailed in a 169-page amendment, were an attempt by Republicans to protect their majorities that sit at 22-11 in the Senate and 64-35 in the Assembly.

“This is not a serious proposal that we have before us,” Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said. “These maps make changes that protect Republican incumbents.”

The Senate passed the bill 17-14, with four Republicans joining 10 Democrats against. No Democrats voted for it.

All maps under consideration by the Wisconsin Supreme Court are expected to shrink Republican majorities.

Under the Evers map, Republicans would have a seven-seat majority in the Assembly, down from 29 seats now, and just a one-seat edge in the Senate, based on an analysis by Marquette University Law School research fellow John D. Johnson. His analysis used a statistical model to predict the results of the 2022 state legislative election had they taken place in the newly proposed districts.

LeMahieu said the changes Republicans were proposing to Evers’ maps would not affect the partisan breakdown of each district.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have tried to take control of redistricting. In September, three months before the court ordered new maps, the Assembly passed a sweeping plan that takes the power of drawing maps out of the hands of lawmakers and gives it to nonpartisan staff.

But Evers rejected the plan, calling it “bogus,” even though it largely resembled a nonpartisan redistricting plan he’s pushed for years.

It was that bill that Senate Republicans amended before passing it on Jan. 23. It was passed just hours before Evers delivered his State of the State address.

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