DARLINGTON – Ultimately, the resolution to conduct a countywide advisory referendum on creating fair legislative and congressional redistricting maps failed at the meeting of the Executive, Rules and Legislative Committee on Aug. 4. All the moments before there was no motion cast was full of chaos and turmoil.
About 20 community members joined the committee at their meeting Tuesday night to express their opinions on fair maps. A petition signed by more than 260 county residents representing all municipalities in the county was presented as well.
The idea of endorsing a referendum to create fair maps in the state has failed at the Lafayette County Board level three times in the past. The hope of the group wanting to vote on a referendum was to show the committee and hopefully the county board that there were citizens who wanted the chance to vote on the issue. Fifty-two of the 72 counties in Wisconsin have passed the resolution with 14 having passed the resolution and referendum.
At the meeting, seven people spoke about the topic with most urging the committee to pass the resolution onto the county board.
After each person spoke, committee member Scott Pedley stated and asked, “Because this will cost us thousands and thousands of dollars, spending precious taxpayer dollars for a non-binding referendum questions, can you tell me where in Lafayette County has gerrymandering occurred to disenfranchise a voter from being able to vote? I don’t know of any in the county.”
Committee chairperson Kriss Marion answered the question on how much it would cost the county. County clerk Carla Jacobson did a fiscal note showing that having the referendum on the ballot would cost about $2,500 to $3,000.
Carol Korn was concerned with spending money. “I can’t see the possibility of having to lay an employee off for this to happen.”
Jack Sauer began his contradicting rhetoric by asking what is unfair about our maps now.
“Ms. LaBarbera told us last month we have white privilege. I’d like to know where white privilege is,” Sauer asked. He proceeded to explain how every person on the committee got to where they are now as Connie LaBarbera told Sauer to look around the room, as there were no minorities in the room.
Sauer continued raising his voice asking where is the white privilege.
A community member shouted back that this topic was totally irrelevant and asked to get back on topic.
“Where is the white privilege at when all these other people are sitting around, throwing rocks and busting into stuff,” Sauer continued, seeming to be discussing the recent riots.
Marion apologized to the public who came to speak about the fair maps topic.
“This is the third meeting that there has been an outburst. People have told me they are uncomfortable with coming for fear of being attacked. There is a signed petition with 260 signatures…”
Sauer interjected Marion’s comments stating that the 260 signatures was less than two percent of the population. He questioned the way people were saying the redistricting process was created last time it was done, adding he didn’t see a problem at all.
He again kept asking where the white privilege is in the county.
LaBarbera asked Sauer to look around the room.
“That is not our problem. Anyone can live here.”
“Really?” LaBarbera asked. “This is something we don’t understand because we have white privilege and I’m as guilty of it as you. Most people feel unwelcome. Scott (Pedley) can talk about that because it is happening in Benton.”
A month ago, a swastika was burned into the lawn of a nearby housing unit, where a black family lives. It is currently being investigated.
Pedley commented that incident was not aimed at the people of color in that neighborhood. “There is not proof of that, even though people want to make it.”
LaBarbera asked if he could prove that and he said he could.
Marion then asked to get back on topic of the maps.
Sauer directed his comments at LaBarbera stating, “You are the one that brought up white privilege and I have proven that everyone here has worked their rear ends off on this committee to get where they are at.”
“I have worked just as much as anyone else and people of color have worked just as hard. They work harder,” LaBarbera rebutted.
“Some do and some don’t.”
LaBarbera was finally able to explain the redistricting lines in the county. The redistricting line follows the county line down to Benton Township but then it curves and pulls Leadmine to the west.
“As soon as you start doing curved lines you are gerrymandering. Twisted lines are gerrymandering. This issue is something that applies across the state, not just our county. We are asking for support because it does affect all of us. This division and screaming and yelling, this is what happens when you gerrymander,” LaBarbera said.
Before Sauer could make a full comment Marion forcefully stepped in. “Jack, I’m going to ask you to stop talking.”
Pedley asked LaBarbera who has been disenfranchised in Lafayette County by the description she gave.
The people who created the maps used sophisticated algorithms to make them and it was done with lawyers behind closed doors, LaBarbera said.
“This division is not good for any of us. In order to have competitive districts you need to have fair competition. None of us like it.”
Pedley then read some studies showing positives about gerrymandering.
After his explanation, chairperson Marion asked to entertain a motion to approve the resolution. The room was silent for an entire minute before a community member asked Marion to read the resolution.
“Let the record show,” Marion began, “that this board is not in favor of letting the full county board weigh in on this. Is that how I am to take your silence?”
Marion wanted it on the record that she was in favor of the referendum.
Many community members expressed their distain for the lack of support for the referendum. As they began to leave, many commented they were ashamed the committee wouldn’t allow the people of the county to vote on it and thought the committee was wrong for denying them that opportunity.