Sunday, June 10, 2018

On eve of SCOTUS - How GOP gerrymandering shortchanged MIlwaukee County, and Wisconsin

With the US Supreme Court likely to hand down its decision on Wisconsin's redistricting case tomorrow or next week, it's important to remember how the Republicans messed with our state's maps to try to lock in a hold on power no matter what Wisconsinites thought. WisContext (a collaboration of UW-Extension, Wisconsin Public Broadcasting) put together some figures which illustrated how the choices made in the off-site rooms where the maps were drawn up have had a notable effect on who represents the Milwaukee Metro Area in the Legislature.

The WisContext article has links to a neat website drawn up by UW Population Health where you can overlay the 2000s legislative districts with the one we have in the 2010s, This site also use results from the 2016 presidential election to see where the votes came from for each parts in a state Donald Trump won 47-46. But the article centers on Milwaukee and how a few subtle tweaks to the map made several districts in the Milwaukee suburbs GOP strongholds for much of this decade.
Evidence of cracking is a bit more obvious upon examination of the 2011 map for the Milwaukee region. A close look at the suburbs shows a ring of districts which each have a little piece of the city of Milwaukee, rich in Democratic voters, and a large piece of the surrounding suburbs, which are strongly Republican-leaning. This ring includes districts 13, 14,15, 20, 22, 23, 24, 82, 83, and 84 — all but one of these 10 seats was held by a Republican in 2018.

How different is the 2011 map from the previous set of legislative districts? The 2001 map reveals a radically different political geography in the Milwaukee suburbs. It is so different from a geographic perspective that it’s not possible to directly compare districts according to their numbers and say definitively whether a seat "flipped" following the redistricting process. The most notable difference is that in 2001, districts were by and large drawn to respect the Milwaukee County boundary, the vertical line that runs down most of the center of this map view.

The creators of the 2011 districts did not follow the Wisconsin Constitution's directive that legislative districts should respect county boundaries whenever possible, and created a map that cracked the central and near-suburb bloc of Democratic voters across many districts that reach into the far-flung and deeply conservative suburbs of neighboring Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties. These suburbanized areas are populated in large part by affluent, white conservative voters.

In the era of white flight, whites left Milwaukee, city and county, in favor of neighboring counties. The historical suburbanization process itself led to counties with very different political profiles. Given the state constitution's requirement that districts preserve communities of interest, Assembly members who represent constituents across a county boundary are potentially problematic.
Also note that State Senate seats are made up of 3 Assembly districts, with 13, 14, and 15 making up Senate District 5 (Leah Vukmir R-Brookfield), 22, 23, and 24 are Senate District 8 (Alberta Darling, R- River Hills), and 82, 83, and 84 are Senate District 28 (David Craig, R- Big Bend).

ALEC Queen Vukmir is Exhibit A of how this type of gerrymandering can allow legislators to ignore the wants and needs of a large number of the constituents they "represent," as was illustrated in a 2016 prpfile of Vukmir for Milwaukee Magazine.
In some quarters, Vukmir has also developed a reputation for walling herself off from debate and anyone who disagrees with her. Perhaps more than any other legislator, she’s known for avoiding the Capitol press corps and communicates primarily through statements and interviews with friendly conservative outlets such as the MacIver Institute or Sykes’ show. Multiple calls and emails requesting comment for this story were ignored.

A Wauwatosa-based parent group called Support our Schools (SOS), formed in 2014 as a sort of mom (and dad) lobby, tried and failed for months to get an in-person meeting with Vukmir. SOS is in many ways the diametric opposite of PRESS and supports halting the expansion of voucher programs in the state while lifting the revenue caps that prevent public school districts from raising property taxes. In late 2015, Vukmir agreed to meet with one of SOS’ members but only if she selected the location, the Colectivo CafĂ© on North Avenue, and the SOS member agreed not to record the conversation or take notes. “The point of the meeting was to come to an agreement on where she stood,” says Mary Young, SOS’ president, but no such pact was reached. The SOS representative, also hand-picked by Vukmir, “was very frustrated by the conversation.”
Which gives an illustration of why Vukmir abandoned her State Senate seat to become Diane Hendricks' candidate for US Senate this year. See, the flip side of gerrymandering is that if there is a wave election and/or a hated legislator, a lot of previously-safe districts can be turned. But in Wisconsin, that would likely take a year where Dems win the state 56-44 or 57-43, while by comparison, Republicans held more than 60% of the seats in the Legislature after November 2016, despite 53% of Wisconsinites voting against Donald Trump, and barely 50% voting for Ron Johnson in the Senate race.

There's a fairer way to have Milwaukee County be represented in the Legislature. I messed around with the Dave's Redistricting app a while ago, and here's what my Assembly map of the Milwaukee area looks like.

The numbering is a little goofy on the app, but you get the idea. This basically creates one district almost entirely in Wauwatosa, and another almost entirely in West Allis. It also gives a lot of the south burbs their own districts, instead of having them shared with New Berlin or other parts of Waukesha County. And the Senate districts are even more competitive than the Assembly ones.

Gerrymandering can also play a role in the soecial election to fill the Walker-caused vacancy in Wisconsin Assembly District 42. Because the Dem-voting cities of De Forest and Portage were removed and replaced by rural Dodge and Fond du Lac counties, the seat will ended up 50-50 in April's SUpreme Court election, despite Rebecca Dallet winning statewide by 11 points.

If you have a better shot if this red-blue map, I'll take it.

Despite the map above, lots of red-drawn seats are flipping despite gerrymanders in Wisconsin and other states, and it'll be interesting to see if both AD-42 and Senate District 1 continue that trend (if so, I expect a full-on meltdown by Gov Dropout and his spokespeople on AM radio).

I'm not counting on the Supreme Court ordering Wisconsin's districts to be redone before this November's elections, which means the GOP will continue their slanted field through November no matter what happens in the statewide offices. As WisContext shows, this gerrymandering has been especially severe and detrimental for Milwaukee County, which has seen its job growth and population stagnate in the 2010s while much of the rest of the country has rebounded from the Great Recession.

And even if the Supreme Court weasels out and refuses to strike down Wisconsin's maos, this scourge of gerrymandering can go out the window if we boot out the pro-gerrymandering Scott Walker in the Governor's Office.

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