Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos unveiled on Tuesday a nonpartisan redistricting plan that lawmakers were scheduled to take up on Thursday.
The proposal follows talk from Republican leaders about the possibility of impeaching Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal who flipped the majority on the state’s highest court when she was elected earlier this year. During Protasiewicz’s first week in office, two lawsuits were filed seeking to overturn Republican-drawn legislative maps. If she sat on those cases after calling the current maps “rigged” during her election campaign, some Republican leaders said they’d have to consider the possibility of impeaching her.
Vos’ new proposal, from Rep. Joel Kitchen’s (R-Sturgeon Bay) perspective, would both stop talk of impeachment and the threat of the Supreme Court tossing the current maps – “that’s part of the consideration,” he said – while getting a fair map-making process in place.
“We are in a unique situation; Republicans agree with the long-held position of many Democrats regarding redistricting,” Kitchens said. “This is an opportunity to see if Democrats ever really believed in non-partisan redistricting, or if they plan to rig the maps in their favor. If we do not seize this opportunity, I do not believe we will see a nonpartisan redistricting process in my lifetime.”
Fifty six of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed resolutions backing fair maps and 32 counties have passed referendums also calling for a fair redistricting process. Door County has passed both a referendum by popular vote and a resolution by the county board.
According to a Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau memo to Vos, the proposal “proposes a nonpartisan legislative redistricting process almost identical to Iowa’s process.”
The proposed legislation establishes a redistricting advisory commission of five members and gives it special tasks related to the creation of the new maps. The speaker and minority leader of the assembly and the majority and minority leaders of the senate would each appoint one person to serve on the commission and those four members would then select the fifth commission member to serve as chair.
Kitchens said he’s supportive of the new proposal and it will most certainly pass the Assembly on Sept. 14. The bill’s fast-tracked introduction to the floor is not typical, however, and if the bill passes, it will do so without a hearing.
“I don’t remember a time we’ve done it this way,” Kitchens said.
The Senate will have a hearing on the bill before taking a vote, which could happen next week. If it passes there, Gov. Tony Evers would need to sign the legislation. That doesn’t seem likely. Hours after Vos held a press conference unveiling his proposal, Sept. 12, Evers issued a statement blasting it as “just the latest in several years’ worth of efforts by Republicans to interfere in Wisconsin Elections.”
Evers said he ran for office on the promise of securing fair maps for Wisconsin, even proposing similar measures as the current plan, and Republicans have always rejected his efforts.
“Now, with the possibility that fair maps and nonpartisan redistricting may be coming to Wisconsin whether they like it or not, Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps,” Evers said. “That is bogus.”
If the bill fails, talk of Protasiewicz’s impeachment may resurface. When asked if he would support impeachment, Kitchens said he would have to hear the arguments before deciding. However, he strongly stressed his disbelief that it would ever get that far, and said he thought media coverage of impeachment was “way overblown.”
“It’s never something we’ve talked about or planned,” Kitchens said. “Speaker Vos just said it was something he’d have to consider.”