Former state senators explain their support of new legislative district map

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Ashley McCallum
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

JANESVILLE—Former Democratic State Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville has it on good authority that U.S. Supreme Court justices get the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal every day.

That's why his best piece of advice for citizens who oppose gerrymandering is to write letters to the editors to those East Coast newspapers instead of local papers like The Gazette.

Former Republican State Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center agreed during the Fair Maps community forum Tuesday, hosted at UW-Rock County by the Janesville League of Women Voters.

The former senators are leaders in the Fair Election Project, a group working to end partisan gerrymandering across the country, according to the project's website.

The group filed a federal lawsuit, Whitford v. Gill, which the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed at the beginning of the month to determine whether Wisconsin's legislative district map drawn in 2011 is constitutional.

The map is said by critics, including Cullen and Schultz, to have been drawn with intent to favor Republicans.

Many of the more than 50 people in attendance wondered what they can do to support redrawing the Wisconsin legislative map.

The former senators stressed the importance of residents making their voices heard.

While it might sound crazy to write to newspapers in major metropolitan areas hundreds of miles away, Cullen said if the New York Times receives enough letters from people in Janesville, they might print them. They might then be read by the justices and others in Washington.

If the court rules against the map, Wisconsin will have to decide on a new districting procedure. Cullen and Schultz recommended a third party be in charge of drawing the maps.

The method would not be determined until after the ruling, which is expected by June, Cullen said. He is optimistic that it could be decided as early as April.

If the Supreme Court mandates the state make a change, the new map is likely to be drawn before the November 2018 election, Cullen said.

Schultz thinks the Supreme Court vote will rule in their favor by more than a one-vote margin, he said.

He admitted he voted for the current legislative districts in 2011. At the time, he said he had other things he was more concerned with.

Now he travels across the state with Cullen, speaking to citizens on why gerrymandering is against the democratic values the country was built on, Schultz said.

“(Too often) people decide to be good partisans, not good patriots,” Schultz said.

Gerrymandering is not an issue of partisanship, but an issue of control, Cullen said. It cannot occur unless one party controls both houses.

The same issue can be found in Illinois, where Schultz said gerrymandering favors Democrats.

One person presented the main argument against the lawsuit and Fair Voting Project: People often live in areas with like-minded political ideas, so how can legislative districts be drawn to make elections more fair?

Schultz and Cullen acknowledged that some areas, like liberal-leaning Milwaukee and its conservative-leaning suburbs, wouldn't become more politically competitive with a new map.

But there are other areas where redrawing the districts would make a difference, the senators said.

With the current map, there are 10 districts that would be considered competitive, Cullen said. Different maps could increase that number to somewhere between 20 and 25, similar to what it was before 2011.

Others claimed to feel “disheartened” and “hopeless” by the current district map. Those who oppose gerrymandering argue the districts void some people's votes because their district is designed to lean toward one side of the political spectrum.

This is done through cracking, spreading like-minded voters into several districts to dilute their power, or packing, filling one district with many like-minded voters to reduce their power in other districts.

If the Supreme Court does not rule the current legislative boundaries in Wisconsin unconstitutional, residents would be tasked with convincing lawmakers to redistrict fairly, Cullen said.

The law says the Legislature has to approve the district map, not create it, Schultz said.

“It's time for adults to stand up, blow the whistle and say time out,” he said. “(This is our) opportunity to restart the clock.”

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