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Governor Tony Evers approves new legislative maps for Wisconsin

evers
Posted at 9:25 AM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 10:28:43-05

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed new legislative district maps into law on Monday that he proposed and that the Republicans who control the Legislature passed to avoid having the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court draw the lines.

The maps were approved by a GOP-led Legislature last week.

Democrats hailed the signing as a major political victory in the swing state where the Legislature has been firmly under Republican control for more than a decade, even as Democrats have won 14 of the past 17 statewide elections.

Democrats are almost certain to gain seats in the state Assembly and state Senate under the new maps, which be in place for the November election. Republicans have been operating since 2011 under maps they drew that were recognized as among the most gerrymandered in the country.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to overturn the Republican-drawn maps. But it wasn't until control of the state Supreme Court flipped in August after the election of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz that Democrats found a winning formula.

They filed a lawsuit the day after Protasiewicz joined the court. Republicans argued that Protasiewicz shouldn't hear the lawsuit because she said during her campaign that the GOP-drawn maps were "rigged" and "unfair." But she did not recuse herself.

Protasiewicz ended up providing the deciding fourth vote in a December ruling that declared the current maps to be unconstitutional because not all of the districts were contiguous, meaning some areas were geographically disconnected from the rest of the district. The court said it would draw the lines if the Legislature couldn't pass maps that Evers would sign.

The court accepted maps from the governor, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as three other parties to the redistricting lawsuit. Consultants hired by the court determined that maps submitted by the Legislature and a conservative law firm were "partisan gerrymanders," leaving the court with four Democratic-drawn maps to choose from.

Facing a mid-March deadline from the state elections commission for new maps to be in place, the Legislature on Tuesday passed the Evers maps. Republicans described having no better option, while skeptical Democrats voted against the governor's plans, saying they feared being tricked by Republicans.

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

Other Republicans were even more stark.

"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."

Democrats also raised concerns that under the bill, the maps wouldn't take effect immediately. That raises a legal question for any special or recall elections that take place before November, given that the state Supreme Court already ruled that the old maps are unconstitutional.

Under the new 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.

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

The Wisconsin Supreme Court also has been asked by Democrats to take up a challenge to the state's congressional district lines. The lawsuit argues the court's decision to order new state legislative maps opens the door to challenging the congressional map. Republicans hold six of the state's eight congressional seats.