Andraca and Rodriguez are the only Democrats to flip Assembly seats from red to blue.
Editor’s note: The Wisconsin 24 is a new series at UpNorthNews that will run over the next three weeks to introduce readers to the newly elected members of the Wisconsin Legislature. All told, there are 10 new Democratic members and six new Republican members to the Assembly. The Senate is welcoming three Democratic and five Republican members.
Deb Andraca knew she needed to run for office after experiencing two shocking events: first, an active shooter drill while she was substitute teaching at an elementary school; and second, when her local representatives, Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) refused to take any action on gun safety.
“If I couldn’t change their mind, I would have to change their job,” Andraca said.
She did just that.
In the 2020 general election, Andraca, of Whitefish Bay, became one of just two Democrats to flip Assembly seats in the whole state as President-elect Joe Biden succeeded in winning Wisconsin back for Democrats at large. Andraca defeated Ott, a seven-term incumbent, with 51.6% of the vote in the suburban Milwaukee district that includes affluent, majority-white communities like Fox Point, Thiensville, and part of Mequon.
The representative-elect said she is “under no illusions” that she will have a huge impact on state politics as a freshman lawmaker in the political minority, but she said she wants to join fellow Democrats in taking a stand against gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing district lines to favor one party.
Gerrymandering has been a huge issue in Wisconsin since 2011, when legislative Republicans drew the maps to be the most rigged in the nation, ensuring a sizable majority in both the Assembly and Senate.
“When you have that, that’s sort of what a lot of my friends have been feeling—that we’re not represented, our concerns were being ignored,” Andraca said.
Electoral maps will be redrawn next year, and the public has massive support for drawing the boundaries in a nonpartisan fashion. The 2018 election of Gov. Tony Evers will ensure Republicans cannot get away with such blatant map-rigging this time around, but there will no doubt be drawn-out fights.
The vast majority of Wisconsinites also support common-sense gun legislation like universal background checks, yet Republicans gaveled in and out a special session on gun safety in 15 seconds last year. Andraca said she hopes the legislature will be able to take action on gun safety once new maps are drawn.
“If you have something where 80% of constituents want something to change, the only way you can ignore that and keep getting elected over and over again is if you’re gerrymandered and you have a locked-in advantage,” she said.
Meet Sara Rodriguez
Sara Rodriguez speaks with an air of urgency: The COVID-19 pandemic is raging throughout Wisconsin, turning the state into one of the nation’s worst, and lawmakers need to do something about it.
“I’m ready, day one,” said Rodriguez, representative-elect for the 13th Assembly District.
Rodriguez, a Democrat from Brookfield, was one of only two candidates to unseat an incumbent representative in the Nov. 3 election. She defeated four-term incumbent Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) with 51% of the vote in the district, which includes parts of western Milwaukee County and eastern Waukesha County.
The former healthcare executive, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic service officer, and registered nurse’s foremost priority is trying to control the pandemic, which as of Monday has infected almost 272,000 Wisconsinites and killed 2,329, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“We are still gonna be managing the pandemic in January. We are,” Rodriguez said. “And I am ready and willing on day one to use my expertise and knowledge and background to work with the Republican-led Legislature to put a really comprehensive plan in place to protect the health of our communities while supporting our small businesses.”
Second on Rodriguez’s list is ending the state’s nation-worst gerrymandering. When Republicans took control of the Legislature and governorship in 2010, they drew electoral maps the next year that locked in their majority for the entirety of the 2010s.
Redistricting will occur next year and while the vast majority of Wisconsinites support a nonpartisan map-drawing process, it is almost certainly headed for a fight between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), and new Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu (R-Oostburg). Evers will be able to veto the maps the Republicans present.
“What the people of Wisconsin have overwhelmingly asked for is fair maps and fair representation in Wisconsin, and that’s what I want, too,” Rodriguez said. “And I think if we draw our maps fairly, where people are equally represented, we will move past this logjam of partisan politics and really be able to work for everybody in Wisconsin.”