RTT Update 04-25-2017

This week we met with a representative from the office of Speaker Robin Vos to discuss Senate Bill 13 (SB13) and Assembly Bill 44 (AB44) and his stance on the constitutional convention. Speaker Vos is a representative of the Wisconsin State Legislature. He was unavailable due to business in D.C. so we spoke with Steve F., his policy adviser and legal affairs coordinator.

For more information on SB13 and AB44 see the link at the bottom of the post.

Question: What is the Speaker’s stance on SB13 and AB44?

Steve: He supports the state’s position that redistricting should be left to the legislature, of course.

Question: Why ‘of course’?

Steve: The proposed system where a nonpartisan review board helps with redistricting would not solve all the issues we are facing. Lawsuits are still possible with a nonpartisan group, which would cost the state money. This would also overturn 100 years of constitutional precedent. The bills would need to be a Constitutional amendment and would not pass before the next redistricting. Tradition dictates that the controlling party has the right to determine redistricting.

Question: Gerrymandering is illegal in most of the democratic world and calls into question if we are actually a full democracy or a flawed one. Wouldn’t it be better if we removed partisan politics from redistricting?

Steve: We have existed this way for over 100 years. This is obviously working.

Question: But tradition does not mean that this is the best method. Do you think that redistricting should be a partisan matter or should it be representative?

Steve: Redistricting has always been partisan, we have been satisfied with this method in the past. It’s fine if this process is influenced by partisan politics.

Question: But couldn’t we use computers as a tool in redistricting to help ensure that the efficiency gap is as small as possible?

Steve: Because of the natural geographic layout of our state, a computer drawn map would not alleviate this gap. Besides, fair representation is the in eye of the beholder. You could have a long debate about what ‘fair representation’ means.

Question: Switching topics, what is the Speaker’s stance on the constitutional convention?

Steve: He is in favor of having a constitutional convention.

Question: What is he hoping for as an outcome of this convention? And is he worried about the convention going off topic and making drastic changes to our constitution?

Steve: We could legally limit what can be discussed during the convention. His hope would be to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.


Tradition, or Bad Habit?

Tradition isn’t a valid reason to undermine democracy.  Both Speaker Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald have recently made appeals to ‘tradition’ while defending gerrymandering in Wisconsin.  In fact, ‘tradition’ is the only defense they offer for their intentional disenfranchisement of Wisconsin voters.  

Tradition prohibited minorities, women, and non-landowning citizens from voting.  Once laws changed, calls to tradition supported other voting restrictions like poll taxes and literacy tests.   History will group the voter suppression perpetrated by Vos and Fitzgerald together with these unconstitutional and illegal practices.

Partisan gerrymandering promotes partisan politics.  I’ve heard many times already this year how tired people are of political divides.  Removing partisan politics from redistricting entirely will help mend these divisions.  Senate Bill 13 and Assembly Bill 44 would achieve this goal by putting non-partisan boards in charge of redistricting.

Defending unconstitutional maps in court also costs tax payers a substantial amount of money.  The law firms hired to defend our district maps typically charge $800 an hour.  The entirety of the amount paid to the lawyers comes out of tax payers’ pockets.  

Vos and Fitzgerald should hold a hearing on SB13 and AB44 and listen to the opinions of the people of Wisconsin.