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Wisconsin Legislature passes Democratic governor's legislative maps

The stakes are high in the presidential battleground state, where Republicans have had a firm grip on the Legislature since 2011.
Wisconsin Legislature passes Democratic governor's legislative maps
Posted at 11:37 AM, Feb 14, 2024

Wisconsin's GOP-controlled Legislature on Tuesday passed legislative maps that were proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — a move designed to prevent the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court from implementing maps that might be even worse for Republicans.

Republicans conceded defeat, while Democrats said they were afraid of being tricked.

"It pains me to say it, but Gov. Evers gets a huge win today," Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said, adding that under the new maps, "the Legislature will be up for grabs."

The Assembly and Senate passed the bill in quick succession Tuesday, sending it to Evers. Last week, he promised to sign his maps into law if the Legislature passed them with no changes. Republicans did tweak the language to ensure the new maps don't take effect until November, but it's unclear if that's a dealbreaker for the governor. His spokesperson Britt Cudaback posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, after the votes that Evers position has not changed. She did not elaborate.

The political stakes are huge in the presidential battleground state, where Republicans have had a firm grip on the Legislature since 2011 even as Democrats have won statewide elections, including for governor in 2018 and 2022.

Democrats said that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should be allowed to implement the maps. Republicans said that voting for Evers' maps, rather than waiting for the state Supreme Court to install maps that might be even better for Democrats, was their last best remaining option.

"Republicans were not stuck between a rock and hard place," Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard said in a statement. "It was a matter of choosing to be stabbed, shot, poisoned or led to the guillotine. We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day."

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Vos said at a news conference before the vote that passing the maps would be the end of costly litigation.

"I have said from the very beginning that I think we can win under the maps presented because we have better candidates, a better message and the ability to have hard-working people explain across the state why having Republicans in charge of the Legislature is best for Wisconsin," Vos said.

But Democrats who voted against adopting Evers' maps pointed to language in the bill that would not put the new maps into effect until the November general election, instead of immediately.

"The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wisconsin's current maps are unconstitutional," Democratic Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein said in a statement. "Republicans hold an illegitimate majority and should not influence the state's new maps. Their motives today, like their actions of the past decade, are ill-intentioned and self-serving."

The Republican-drawn maps, first enacted in 2011 and then largely kept in place in 2022, are widely regarded as among the most gerrymandered in favor of Republicans in the country.

Tuesday's vote marked the second time in less than a month that the Legislature has tried to enact new Senate and Assembly boundaries before the court issues its order drawing the lines. Evers vetoed the Legislature's last attempt, which was based on maps he proposed but that made changes to protect Republican incumbents.

This time, the Senate passed the Evers maps without any changes to the lines.

Under the bill, the new maps wouldn't be in effect for any special or recall elections before the November election. That means if the effort to force a recall election of Vos succeeds, the vote would take place under the current map and not the new one.

That raised concerns among Democrats.

"We don't have clarity on that," Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said. "Somebody is going to have to go to court on that."

The Senate passed it 18-14, with one Democrat joining 17 Republicans in favor and five Republicans joining nine Democrats against. The Assembly passed it 63-33, with all Democrats except one voting against it.

The action comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court in December tossed the current Republican-drawn maps as unconstitutional. It said that if the Legislature couldn't adopt new maps that Evers signed into law, it would choose new maps. Evers, the Legislature and four others submitted maps for the court to consider.

Consultants hired by the court last week said that maps submitted by the Republican Legislature and a conservative law firm were gerrymandered. They did not raise concerns about any of the four Democratic-drawn maps, including one submitted by Evers, but left the question of constitutionality to the state Supreme Court.

Analyses of the Evers maps show they would likely greatly reduce Republican majorities in the Legislature, which stand at 64-35 in the Assembly and 22-10 in the Senate.

Under the Evers maps, there would be 15 incumbents in the Assembly who would be forced to run against another incumbent and six such pairings in the Senate. Only one of the Assembly pairings would pit one Democratic incumbent against another one. In the Senate, the only Democratic pairing includes an incumbent who has already decided not to run this fall.

The state elections commission has said the new maps must be in place by March 15 in order to meet deadlines for candidates running for office in November.

Litigation continues in more than a dozen states over U.S. House and state legislative districts that were enacted after the 2020 census.

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