A gathering of local business, education, and public leaders met at the Radisson Hotel Ballroom on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 to hear a panel of speakers discuss the Federal court ruling which calls for the redrawing of legislative boundaries in Wisconsin by November 1, 2017. The panel included former State Senator and Majority Leader, D-Janesville , Tim Cullen; Chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party, Bill Feehan; and Head of the Political Science Department at the University of Norther Iowa, Dr. Donna Hoffman.
The entire panel seemed to agree that taking up a new strategy to redistricting before the November 1st deadline would be unlikely. However, the first speaker, Cullen, argued that a change was needed in the redistricting process to make it less partisan. He stated that a new approach to drawing districts is necessary in order to eliminate the gerrymandering of districts by the ruling legislative party, which is currently Republican controlled in Wisconsin.
Next, Feehan argued that Wisconsin should continue to use the current redistricting process because it, although not perfect, is a fair approach. He stated one cannot correlate the statewide total of votes for a party with the number of seats won, since a number of seats go unchallenged. Secondly, in 2010 Republicans won seats on a map drawn by a non-partisan federal court in 2002. Thirdly, since Democrats are highly concentrated in just a few urban areas, it becomes harder for them to secure an equal amount of seats to their population percentage. For these three reasons the seats won by the Republican party are not the result of partisan control and gerrymandering, therefore the current redistricting approach does not need to be changed in Wisconsin.
Finally, Dr. Hoffman gave an overview of the redistricting process used in Iowa after each decennial census. This model has Nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, a staff agency of the General Assembly, draw new boundaries for the legislative districts in Iowa. The staff agency takes into account population and county lines, but is blind to partisanship, incumbent residency, and voting history when drawing the new map. This proposed map is made public and reviewed at public hearings. Any changes are noted at the public hearings are then made by the staff. Then the map is submitted to the legislature for gubernatorial approval. The non-partisan staff, who draw the map, is what guards against gerrymandering by the ruling party.
Overall, Cullen and Feehan gave thought-provoking arguments for their positions related to the redistricting process in Wisconsin, and Dr. Hoffman provided a clear overview how Wisconsin could redraw its legislative districts. After the panel took questions from the guests, the event concluded.