The U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding whether the redistricting lines drawn after the 2010 Wisconsin census were legally drawn or need modification.
After each census, the political party in control is required to approve redrawn maps to conform with population changes. This process has been in place for decades.
Republicans approved the maps after the 2010 census. Liberals filed suit, Gill v. Whitford, in an effort to slow the erosion of districts they were losing. They accused Republicans of packing and cracking districts, something Democrats admit they did when in power and continue to do in states such as California and Illinois.
An earlier lawsuit found 97 of 99 Assembly districts met minority guidelines.
One needs to dig deeper to find the real reason Democrats have lost so many seats in the past decade, not only in Wisconsin but across the entire country. Democrats continue to migrate to condensed large urban areas, such as Milwaukee and Madison, thus diluting their voting power in a majority of Wisconsin districts.
Republican-leaning voters tend to be dispersed throughout most of the state. This phenomenon has created an electability problem for Democratic candidates.
Reviewing the past few election cycles further validates this fact. In 2016, President Trump won 59 counties, and Sen. Ron Johnson won 54 counties. In the six contested congressional races, Republican candidates won 61 counties, while their Democrat counterparts won only six.
The past three gubernatorial elections, Gov. Scott Walker has won 59, 60 and 54 counties. In the Legislature, Republicans have gone from being a minority to having 20 Senate seats and 64 Assembly seats.
All of this did not happen because of gerrymandering. It happened because Democratic voters continue to condense the areas where they decide to live.
Two former state legislators, Sens. Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen, discussed the redistricting issue at an Oct. 24 forum in Janesville. Cullen admitted that if the lines had been drawn “more fair” (to Democratic advantages), only 10 to 15 additional Assembly seats would be competitive. This would make a total of only 20 to 25 competitive seats. This is not the result of so-called gerrymandering but of personal preference as to where individuals want to live.
Schultz and Cullen had a combined nearly 50 years in the Legislature. Both served as majority leader of the Senate, arguably one of the most powerful positions in Wisconsin. Both benefited from the redistricting process and enjoyed its fruits. Now that they are on the outside, they cry foul. While only they know their motives, the public can’t help but be cynical.
To make districts balanced in voting preference would require tremendous shifting of current boundaries. This would create extreme gerrymandering. Should Janesville be split into four or five districts and likely wind up with no single legislator representing its interest?
Changing the way our legislative districts are drawn is not the answer to winning elections. Recruiting well-respected candidates who can articulate policy positions the voters believe will move the state forward is the way to win elections. This holds true for both parties. Voters will then give them a mandate to govern. This was true 40 years ago, is true today and will probably be true 40 years from today.