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Gerrymandering - subject of town hall meeting
gerrymandering meeting
At the front table are Jay Heck (l) and Tim Cullen (r), speaking at a gathering about gerrymandering. - photo by Brian Lund

DARLINGTON — In a town hall style meeting that addressed gerrymandering in Wisconsin, the meeting was held Wednesday, July 10 at 6:00 p.m. at the Town Bank in Darlington and began with Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CCW) welcoming approximately 30 plus to the meeting, including representatives from Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition and Wisconsin United True Maps, both groups working for same end as CCW.

A definition of Gerrymandering is to divide or arrange (a territorial unit) into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage.

Heck began by saying, “In 2011 Wisconsin experienced the worst and most partisan gerrymandering of any state in the country. It was a Republican gerrymander, it’s also considered in the top five gerrymanders in the last 50 years. It was designed to specifically to elect Republican candidates for the next ten years.”

Heck pointed out, “47 of 72 counties in Wisconsin have passed resolutions for non-partisan redistricting reform, this encompasses 32 of 33 state senate districts and 91 of 99 assembly districts. There’s popular support and bipartisan support. In the last Marquette poll 72% of Wisconsinites in the state were in favor of this. We have 4,700 signatures on a petition. We’d like to get 5,000 to give to the Wisconsin legislature. Now it’s up to local county governments to push the legislature to get this passed.”

Heck introduced Former State Senator, Tim Cullen of Janesville, who serves as chair of CCW.

Cullen said, “Gerrymandering is actually rigging elections. It’s not a partisan issue, it’s an abuse of power issue. The Republican’s did it here, Michigan And North Carolina. But the Democrats did it in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland.”

Cullen continued, “In the Nov. election, with a few explained exceptions – no incumbent for either party, in either house lost. Because everybody had a safe map. What this leads to is a frustration with the voters here and across America. The voters say ‘why can’t they (politicians) work together?’ They don’t get along, because if they get along, they’ll get primaried.” (ie. party leadership will find primary opponents if they don’t follow party lines for either party)

Bipartisan-supported, “stand alone” redistricting reform legislation to institute the “Iowa Model” for Wisconsin has been introduced in both legislative chambers as Assembly Bill 303 and Senate Bill 288. Governor Tony Evers had included the measure in his 2019-2021 biennium state budget proposal earlier this year, but Republicans on the legislative Joint Committee on Finance removed it in May.

Lafayette County Board member Kriss Marion will be introducing a referendum on this issue to the Lafayette County Board. This will request that an advisory referendum be included on the April 7, 2020 election. This will allow the citizens of Lafayette County an opportunity to say if they would like to have a non-partisan commission (like the Iowa model) to be used in Wisconsin to create our maps, after the 2020 census. A resolution will also be presented.

The Iowa Model – simply put is a neutral system of drawing legislative and congressional districts after each major census by a nonpartisan state agency. The agency reshapes districts to account for population changes and tries to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, while respecting the boundaries of communities. The Iowa mapmakers are forbidden from using political data, such as previous election results or the addresses of incumbents. Iowa Legislature still gets the final vote to approve or reject the maps, without amendments.