Redistricting shores up GOP hold in Wisconsin
MADISON — Wisconsin has long been a politically competitive state, with the governor and other offices flipping between parties, but Republicans in 2010 took advantage of their legislative majority to redraw congressional districts to strengthen their majority hold on the delegation in Washington.
A prime example of this is in central Wisconsin, where Democratic communities were shifted into a now-bizarrely shaped 3rd District in exchange for Republican areas that put the northern 7th District more solidly in the GOP's block.
Democrats, activists and others have objected that the process was unethical. However, their complaints aren't gaining any traction since Republicans retain power in the state Legislature and, thanks to the maps they drew, are likely to keep it for the foreseeable future.
"We no longer have any congressional districts that are competitive in the state of Wisconsin," said Democratic state Rep. Fred Kessler, a former judge who has worked on redistricting issues in Wisconsin and other states since the 1960s. "Here we've had the politicians choosing the voters, rather than the voters choosing the politicians."
The Republican-friendly maps drawn by the Legislature in 2011 can explain how the GOP was able to make gains in the 2012 election at the same time President Barack Obama carried the state by nearly 7 points. Despite the statewide win, Republican Mitt Romney carried five of the state's eight U.S. House districts, 17 of 33 state Senate districts and 56 of 99 state Assembly districts.
In the three House districts held by Democrats, Obama won by 11 points, 38 points and 51 points, respectfully. Obama lost in all five districts held by Republicans by between 3 and 24 points.
Even under the new maps, three congressional districts currently held by Republicans — the 1st, 7th and 8th — still remain competitive, said University of Wisconsin political science professor David Canon who studies redistricting.
Romney won in those districts by between 3.1 and 4.2 points. Obama won all three, under the old maps, in 2008 by between 2.7 and 8.7 points.
While Republicans are unlikely to lose them this year, in a strong Democratic wave like what happened in 2006 and 2008 they could take them back, Canon said.
"It's definitely a partisan map," Canon said of what Wisconsin lawmakers drew in 2011, "but it's not as egregious as other gerrymanders we've seen in Texas or Illinois."
Most of Wisconsin's Democratic voters are concentrated in the two congressional districts covering the Madison and Milwaukee areas, giving Republicans an advantage throughout the rest of the state.
The maps drawn following the 2010 Census moved three Democratic cities in central Wisconsin out of the 7th Congressional District and into the 3rd District. That helped the Republican incumbent in the 7th, Rep. Sean Duffy, retain his seat in 2012. But it also made the 3rd District, held by Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, less competitive for Republicans.
More Republican bias was seen in the drawing of state legislative districts, rather than congressional boundaries, Canon said.
Republicans increased their hold on the Legislature in 2012, the first election under the new maps. They currently hold a 60-39 majority in the Assembly and an 18-15 majority in the Senate.
Kessler said he thinks Republicans will hold their advantage through the decade, and the only way things will change following the 2020 Census is if there is a Democratic governor then.