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Wisconsin Senate approves GOP-backed redistricting plan

Maps are headed for a veto promised by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers

Clouds and a blue sky are seen behind the Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin state Capitol on Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The state Senate voted along party lines Monday to approve a set of Republican-drawn political district maps that could help determine the balance of power in Wisconsin for the next 10 years.

The chamber voted 21-12 to advance the maps, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

GOP lawmakers who control the state Legislature unveiled their bills outlining new state legislative districts and congressional districts last month. Since then, a number of groups have decried the proposed districts — which are very similar to the state’s current maps — as partisan gerrymandering that gives Republicans too much of an advantage in future Wisconsin elections. Hundreds of citizens packed the state Capitol last month to testify against the maps during a legislative public hearing.

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During Monday’s debate, Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, argued the state’s narrowly divided partisan split, seen in recent razor-thin statewide elections, should mean there is a near even divide between Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.

“While it might be technically legal for a legislative majority to create maps that give them a huge partisan advantage, it isn’t fair,” Bewley said.

Senate Democrats advanced their own map proposals during the debate, which Bewley said would give Democrats a 17-16 majority in the state Senate. The plan failed on a mostly party-line vote of 22-11. Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, joined Republicans in voting against the plan. She said it doesn’t do enough to ensure adequate representation for minority communities. The Senate also voted on maps drafted by a commission created by Gov. Tony Evers. Those maps also failed on a 22-11 vote.

Only one Republican, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, spoke in support of the GOP-drawn maps during Monday’s debate. He argued they “comply with state law, federal law and constitutional law.”

“Unfortunately, the governor’s (commission) maps miss the mark on many of these same priorities,” he said.

A state Assembly committee is also scheduled to vote on the GOP maps Monday. The full Assembly is expected to take up the maps Thursday.

Evers, a Democrat, has said he will veto the Republican-drawn maps when they arrive at his desk. He reiterated that commitment in a tweet Monday afternoon.

“Republicans’ new gerrymandered maps are modeled after the same gerrymandered ones we’ve had for a decade,” the governor said. “I won’t sign them. Wisconsinites want and deserve #fairmaps now.”

If the governor follows through with the veto, the mapmaking process would move to the courts. There are already state and federal lawsuits pending in anticipation of a stalemate between the GOP-controlled Legislature and governor.

The Republican-drawn maps, along with lawmakers’ maps and , could be considered by the courts.

The last time the Wisconsin Supreme Court handled a case related to redistricting was in the 1960s, though Republicans are pushing for the court to have jurisdiction over mapmaking this year.

For more on the history of redistricting in Wisconsin and how it impacts political power in the state, check out WPR’s investigative podcast series, “Mapped Out.”