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Written by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31   
Wednesday, 20 September 2023 10:42

assembly-wi-robin-vosSenator Smith discusses recent developments in the fight for fair maps and how we can approach redistricting with an eye to incorporating public comment and lessons learned from other states.


MADISON - The most common question I get as a state legislator is "Can't you all just work together?" In this terribly divided country we're living in, that's a big ask. But it's abundantly clear that people want their elected officials to work things out together.

Last week we were treated to the perfect illustration of why we aren't working together. The Republican Speaker of the Assembly, Robin Vos (R-Burlington) called a press conference in the middle of a floor session on Tuesday for an important announcement. Of course we were all curious what the import ant announcement might be, so I went to the room to find out. As it turned out, Speaker Vos announced he had come to the realization that Wisconsin needed to adopt a redistricting plan like what Iowa had. He wanted us to know that he had been thinking about this over the weekend.

After over a decade of continual opposition, the Speaker's epiphany was shocking to say the least. Wisconsin has gerrymandered political maps that heavily favor Republicans. Only a reformed system of redistricting where legislators don't approve their own maps would cure this problem, and this isn't it.

The Iowa redistricting law was the standard-bearer back when I joined Representative Spencer Black to introduce redistricting reform in 2009. As the Assembly Committee on Elections Chair at the time, I was there when we held our first and only public hearing on the bill. It's common for legislation to take a couple tries and plenty of public input before it becomes law. But sadly, after Republicans took control of the Governor's office and both houses of the Legislature and approved maps heavily lopsided in favor of Republicans, there was zero chance of redistricting reform.

janet-protasiewiczWhile Speaker Vos has been conjuring a path to redistricting reform, he was issuing threats to impeach Justice Janet Protasiewicz before she takes any action on the court. Now the Speaker is convening a secret panel of former justices to help justify his decision to start an impeachment proceeding of Justice Protasiewicz, who was elected by an 11% margin (a landslide in Wisconsin politics).

Speaker Vos is using an outdated version of the bill from 2013 for a reason. The bill I authored in 2021 would draw maps and approve them in the most nonpartisan way allowed under current law. If the Speaker and other Republicans cared about redistricting, they could have made a good-faith effort to reach out to those of us who have been working on this issue for years. If they had done so, they would've known that in response to public input and other states' innovations, we are seeking to further update the bill in preparation for 2030. My co-author, Representative Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish B ay) and I are engaging good-government stakeholders to create a new Wisconsin model of redistricting modeled from all the other states that have passe d redistricting reform.

jeff-smith-2022Those constituents who ask why we can't work together might be best answered by pointing out that the powerful majority party isn't interested in what the minority party has to offer. There have been no public hearings and no inclusion or consideration of ideas from anyone else. We used to hold in-person executive sessions during the committee process, a time to introduce amendments and learn about the motivation each senator had for attempting t o fix or change a bill. Now committee chairs send members a paper ballot fo r us to vote either yes or no on bills they choose are worthy in their mind to move forward. You may wonder why we can't work together, but we aren't even given a chance to work together in committee. We hardly know each other.

What you are seeing in the news these days is a direct result of unaccountable legislators who are gerrymandered into power with no concern that they must answer to you. The Speaker's ultimatum - adopt his unvetted bill continuing his Party's control or he will impeach Justice Janet Protasiewicz - leaves Wisconsin in a "Vos-tage" situation.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 September 2023 11:05
 
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