Two departing lawmakers – Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center – said at a hearing on Monday that the current system of deciding political boundaries needs to change.
They argued the system has things backwards: Increasingly, voters are not choosing who represents them, but rather politicians in power are choosing their voters.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years in Wisconsin, where politicians decide political boundaries. In 2012, Republican-drawn maps appear to have helped the party's state Assembly candidates. University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor David Canon says even though Wisconsin is a “purple” state, Republicans won 40 out of the 47 most competitive races.
“The maps, in fact, were carefully drawn to maximize the advantage for the Republican Party,” said Canon. “Again, this is a bipartisan issue, because if Democrats were in control they would have done the same thing.”
Boundary disputes often end up in court with taxpayers covering the cost.
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Some, like Shorewood resident Linea Sundstrom, say this skillful cartography may be legal but adds to increasing cynicism among voters: “Do we want one-party government?” said Sundstrom. “I'm not happy with either side right now, but I do see the reason for a variety of voices.”
Reform advocates like Common Cause say a nonpartisan independent body like the Legislative Reference Bureau should determine districts. Republican leaders have refused to hold legislative hearings on the issue, so an alternative public forum was held at the state Capitol by Cullen and Schultz.
Schultz said he may not be running for re-election, but that those who are should have to tell voters how they feel about redistricting reform: “Every person running for office ought to be asked point-blank: ‘Will you support this and what leadership will you provide?’” said Schultz.
Two pending bills would change who does redistricting but still give lawmakers the final say on district maps.