Senate Republicans pass GOP district maps, Democrats criticize plan as partisan gerrymandering
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- After hours of debate, Senate Republicans approved their proposal for new district maps that largely maintains current lines that benefit their party.
The Senate voted along party lines, 21-12, on the GOP plan which will now head to the Assembly on Thursday for final approval. Governor Tony Evers has vowed to veto the proposal once it reaches his desk, a move that will ultimately let the courts decide how boundaries are drawn over the next 10 years.
Drawing new political lines, known as redistricting, occurs every 10 years as states are obligated to draw new legislative and congressional districts to reflect the state's population shift.
The map proposal advanced in the Senate would largely keep in place current lines that benefit Republicans, which mostly mirrors their map drawn in 2011 that opponents call one of the most gerrymandered maps in the country.
During debate, State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said the GOP map is rigged, arguing it continues to give Republicans an unfair advantage in legislative and congressional seats.
"We are now going to rig it even more for the next decade, and it means we won't have the best representation," Larson said. "It's pretty clear if you move forward with these maps that you have no interest, none at all, in making sure the public is actually heard."
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) defended the district lines, saying they are fair and they follow redistricting guidelines.
LeMahieu proposed an amendment to force a vote on maps Gov. Tony Evers' People's Maps Commission created, a move to see where Democrats stand on the issue.
Democratic Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) was outspoken about all of the map proposals, which she said fail to meet requirements set by the Voter Rights Act. Taylor said the law is intended to make sure minority voters have a say in who they elect to represent them.
"I'm not supporting any of these maps," Taylor said. "People of color have been taken advantage of by packing by Republicans and cracking by Democrats."
LeMahieu said Taylor's opposition is proof the People's Maps Commission proposal is "seriously flawed."
"The inconvenient truth for Democrats is our legislative maps are better than the PMC maps on every measurable criteria," LeMahieu said. "The People's Maps are seriously flawed."
The map created by the commission would still give Republicans a slight edge, but Democrats say it ensures elections will be more competitive. A majority of Democrats support the commission's proposal.
Opponents have been outspoken about Republicans' proposal, calling it a power grab to maintain control over state government. A public hearing on the GOP maps attracted more than 100 people speaking in opposition to the measure over a 10-hour period.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project also gave the Republican maps an "F" rating for partisan fairness and competitiveness.
"The maps proposed by the Republicans are an example of politics at its worst. Wisconsin deserves much better than this," said Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison).
Both map proposals would impact voting for thousands of people when it comes to state Senate races.
The plans would relocate voters to new districts. That means under Republican maps, it would delay voting for more than 138,000 people until 2024 to participate in a state Senate election, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
Under the maps drawn by the commission, about 544,000 people would have to wait four years to cast a ballot in a Senate election.