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Friday - February 3, 2017 12:27 am

Legislation in Madison for nonpartisan judges to draw Wisconsin district boundaries

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Federal court ruled boundaries to be redone in time for 2018 elections.

While legal wrangling over political boundaries in Wisconsin will likely continue, there's an effort to take political parties out of the process.

New legislation will soon be introduced to create a nonpartisan panel of judges to handle redistricting in the state.   

It's mandatory, says Jay Heck with Wisconsin Common Cause, to get competitive races, which isn't happening now.

"In the Wisconsin Legislature, only 10 of 99 Assembly seats and only three of 33 state Senate seats are remotely competitive," Heck said.

In Wisconsin, legislators handle redistricting every 10 years. A federal court ruling has mandated that the last redistricting was done unconstitutionally, requiring the lines get redrawn by November.  

The legislation to have that done by nonpartisan judges, is a much better process, maintains Heck, because they wouldn't be under the influence of political forces.

"They do not consult the legislative leaders," Heck said. "They do not consult any legislatures. And they have a strict set of criteria they have to follow in drawing the lines."

PAST STORY (by Brad Williams): 

No more waiting around for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. No waiting until after the 2020 census. La Crosse Senator Jennifer Shilling says her fellow lawmakers should obey a federal court decision calling on Wisconsin to re-draw legislative maps before next year's elections.

The court says the new legislative boundaries should be drawn by the end of this year, eliminating the current map which is perceived to give Republicans a big advantage at the polls.  The Senate Democratic leader from La Crosse, Jennifer Shilling, is pleased with the ruling, but she's not pleased that the state Justice Department wants to have this new court ruling reversed, to keep the existing maps in place until the next census.

"It's disappointing that the Attorney General (Brad) Schimel is putting out some early signs that he will be appealing the Supreme Court," Shilling said. "I think it's unclear if or when or how the court may act on this."

The minority leader says the court ruling supports fairness. The court ruling calls on legislators to fix the Wisconsin problem, rather than letting judges make the maps.

"That voters should be selecting their elected officials, rather than the other way around," she said. "Elected officials are drawing, sometimes unique, boundaries to maintain control of the legislature for one party or the other."

Time, however, is tight and Shilling hopes to be able to meet a court-imposed deadline for redistricting this year, in hopes the the 2018 election will be fairer than the map.

"As we move forward, the process should be fair, open, inexpensive," Shilling said, "because, already, we are seeing that rep have spent $2 million of public money and six years of controversy on these partisan and unconstitutional maps."

Democrat Shilling says she would like Wisconsin to emulate the Iowa model for drawing non-partisan districts.  She argues that the Iowa system has worked for years, and the state has not tried to return to previous methods.


Last modified on Friday - February 3, 2017 2:52 am
Mitch Reynolds

Mitch Reynolds is the News Director at Midwest Family Broadcasting. He covers the internecine agonies of La Crosse city hall. He really likes basketball.

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