State views: Clearing the air on redistricting reform
Legislative leaders have said they opposed redistricting reform because they believe the act of redistricting should remain in the hands of the Legislature.
We are here to deliver some good news: a bipartisan bill we have both co-sponsored, Senate Bill 163, does just that. It leaves the act of redistricting with the Legislature.
SB 163 requires the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB), the Legislature's bill drafting agency, to draw political maps that must be voted on and approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. Legislators trust the LRB to draft every other piece of legislation that is introduced.
The redistricting process laid out in SB 163 is very similar to the one used in Iowa. Since 1980, Iowa legislators have approved a version of their bill drafting agency's maps with no incident or controversy—and with minimal costs to taxpayers.
Compare that to Wisconsin's system. In the past, legislators have used taxpayer money to hire outside law firms to draw political maps in private offices, completely shut away from public scrutiny. The result has been increased acrimony and a loss of credibility, not to mention millions of dollars of taxpayer money to cover attorneys' fees.
Newspaper editorial boards from across the state have called on the Legislature to take a serious look at redistricting reform. When asked, both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos gave one—and only one—reason why they didn't support redistricting reform: because the duty of redistricting should be left to the Legislature.
A spokeswoman for Speaker Vos recently said that Rep. Vos believes elected officials should continue to make these decisions, not unelected, unaccountable boards. Sen. Fitzgerald recently offered the same sentiment. We're happy to report that their concerns are addressed in SB 163.
It's a simple solution to a serious problem. Would you rather have the state's nonpartisan bill-drafting agency draw maps with a high level of transparency and accountability, or would you rather have the maps drawn by a private law firm? We can save taxpayer money, increase credibility, and restore trust in the redistricting process.
And the maps must still be approved by the Legislature.
Now that we have cleared the air, we renew our call to legislative leaders to at least allow a public hearing on the bill.
Is SB 163 the answer? Maybe not, but it's certainly a good starting point. We're not asking Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Vos to support this particular bill, but we want to at least have a conversation about the need for redistricting reform.
We recently distributed three sets of legislative district maps—from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa—to every state legislator. We wanted to show three sets of maps to make the point that this is not a partisan issue. We are convinced that if Democrats had been in power in 2011, they would have redrawn political lines in their favor. If you had any doubts, just look at what happened in Illinois, where Democrats tilted the scales very heavily in their favor following the 2010 census.
The Illinois and Wisconsin maps illustrate how the redistricting process can be abused. Iowa's maps show us how redistricting can be done right, and that's why we modeled SB 163 after Iowa's successful system. We believe that, after reviewing the maps, any reasonable legislator will agree that we need to at least discuss the issue.
Let's get this conversation started with a public hearing.
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, represents Wisconsin's 15th District and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, represents the state's 17th District.