, ,

State Republicans make 11th-hour pitch to pass new legislative voting maps

GOP lawmakers claim maps are based on Evers' submission to Wisconsin Supreme Court in ongoing redistricting lawsuit, Democrats call it 'insulting'

A wide view of the Senate chambers showing the seats and rotunda ceiling.
The Wisconsin State Senate chambers on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Republican state senators Tuesday afternoon introduced and passed new legislative voting maps they claim will resolve the ongoing legal dispute over redistricting in Wisconsin.

The surprise move comes as the state Supreme Court’s new liberal majority reviews new map proposals to replace those drawn by GOP lawmakers. 

The state Senate was originally scheduled to vote on a GOP state Assembly bill supporters say would create an “Iowa-style” nonpartisan redistricting process for Wisconsin, but that didn’t happen.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Instead, Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, amended the bill to strip its original language and replace it with new maps he claims are based on ones Democratic Gov. Tony Evers submitted to the Supreme Court as part of the ongoing redistricting lawsuit.

The GOP maps introduced by LeMahieu Tuesday haven’t had a public hearing, and Democratic senators said they hadn’t seen them before the start of the Senate floor session. 

In a social media post before the maps were unveiled, Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback stressed that any GOP changes to the governor’s maps “aren’t the governor’s maps. Period.”

During debate on the bill, LeMahieu attacked Evers’ submission to the court. He said the governor’s maps would draw several Republican state senators into one another’s districts, meaning those lawmakers would have to face one another in a primary election or move and run for election in another district. LeMahieu said that would result in “disenfranchisement of voters all around the state.” 

“A veto of this bill by the governor, if he decides to go down the road of vetoing, will just show his true intent of trying to disenfranchise Republican voters around the state and the purely partisan attack that his maps made on us,” LeMahieu said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, called the new maps introduced by her Republican colleagues “pure partisan garbage.” She said the maps will give some GOP incumbents new “gerrymandered districts.”

“Because for some reason, I guess they’re people’s favorites, Republicans’ favorites, I don’t know,” said Hesselbein. “I don’t know what the deal is.” 

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, called the GOP proposal and process “insulting.” 

“We are literally about to vote on a bill that had no hearing in the Assembly, no vote in a committee, no hearing in the Senate, no discussion in the Senate and no vote in a committee in the Senate,” Taylor said. “This is about our democracy. You have responsibility to do what is right for this institution.” 

In response to Democratic objections, Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, accused Democrats of hypocrisy. He said during the last round of redistricting, maps produced by the People’s Maps Commission, which was made up of citizens chosen by retired judges, were “s—canned.”

“And maps that you guys (Democrats) did behind closed doors were presented the very next day,” Stroebel said. “So, spare me your drama here.” 

In the end, the state Senate approved the maps bill with a vote of 17-14. Four Republicans joined Democrats opposing the legislation.

The new GOP maps introduced in the state Senate come as the Supreme Court’s liberal majority considers whether to adopt the maps submitted by the governor, the Republican-controlled Legislature or other parties to the redistricting suit.

An analysis of proposals before the court by Marquette University research fellow John Johnson found that Republicans majorities would shrink under every map proposal except those submitted by the Legislature if the 2022 election were using maps under the court’s consideration. 

Having cleared the Senate, the GOP maps will head to the state Assembly for a vote. Republicans hold a 64-35 majority in the Assembly.