Public commission is a sharp departure from 2011’s gerrymandering and secrecy oaths
Gov. Tony Evers followed through with another of his State of the State promises Monday by signing an executive order creating a nonpartisan commission to draw the next round of redistricting maps, a move top Republicans claim is unconstitutional.
Evers was surrounded by Democratic lawmakers and officials, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul. The commission will consist of members of the public who volunteer to serve, Evers said. Once the members are chosen, they will travel across the state to talk with citizens. They will present the maps they create to the Legislature next year, Evers said.
While the new commission allows the people of Wisconsin to draw the maps, the power to approve any final maps remains with the Legislature, as required by the state Constitution.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have claimed the process Evers is proposing is unconstitutional.
“He is wrong,” Kaul said. “Not only is the public allowed to have input but that is how the process should work. Bringing power back to the people is not only allowed under the constitution, it is how the system is supposed to work.”
Evers said it should not be a problem creating a nonpartisan commission, given there are 5.5 million people in Wisconsin.
Kaul said both Democrats and Republicans have drawn maps that favor their political parties in the past. He said gerrymandering leads to expensive lawsuits and the will of the people goes unmet.
To that point, Evers referred to overwhelming public support of certain issues such as 80 percent of registered voters approving of legalizing medical marijuana and 70 percent favoring Medicaid expansion. Yet there is no movement on these issues because unfair maps create lawmakers that are “beholden to their seat, not to the people they serve,” Evers said.
“It drives me crazy when big issues are never taken up for a vote (in the Legislature),” Evers said. “But because things are gerrymandered the way they are, that is what is happening in the state of Wisconsin.”
When Republicans took control of the Legislature after the 2010 election, leadership arranged to have new maps drawn in a private attorneys’ office and made their colleagues sign non-disclosure agreements. A related memo urged Republican legislators to ignore public comments on the topic.