CAP TIMES: GOP redistricting maps split off, dilute minority communities

July 19, 2011
Jessica Vanegeren

A missed opportunity.

That's how the state's only Latina state lawmaker sums up the new Assembly and Senate district boundary lines draw up and released by Republican lawmakers a little more than a week ago.

With the state's Latino population jumping from roughly 193,000 in 2000 to 323,000 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, says one of the state's 33 Senate seats could have been turned into a predominantly Latino district. The move would have given the state's growing Latino population its first guaranteed voice in the Senate.

Instead, in what she describes as the "rush to pass new (redistricting) maps with little public input," the opportunity to include her constituents in a process to boost their voting power in Senate District 3 has been lost, she says.

"I know we could have increased the percentage of (Latino) voters in Senate District 3," Zamarripa says. "I don't know if we could have created a majority district, but that's something we could have looked into. If the governor and the Republican majority are truly committed to bipartisanship, we need to slow this thing down." 

Instead, Republicans introduced the state's new district maps July 8. A public hearing was held last week, with the Senate expected to vote on the maps Tuesday and the Assembly Wednesday.

The fact that Manuel Perez, who resigned after a five-month stint as the secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development and is chair of the Wisconsin Republican National Assembly, testified at a public hearing last week that he was asked to offer input on the maps two months ago further fuels Zamarripa's anger. She was not invited to offer input.

"As the only Latina representative in the Legislature ... I find that appalling," Zamarripa says. "I feel this is just one example of the injustices being done to minority communities across the state."

She's not the only one who is voicing concerns that minority groups, often referred to in redistricting terms as "communities of interest," are being placed in predominantly white, Republican-leaning districts. 

Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff raised similar concerns during a public hearing last week. Pfaff says he plans to ask the Legislature for an exemption to maintain the Madison suburb's two Latino-majority districts. The redistricting plan presented by the Legislature dropped Fitchburg's Latino-majority districts to one.

"There would be people whose voices would not be heard for the next 10 years," Pfaff said in reference to the fact that the redistricting process occurs once a decade.

On Friday, Republican lawmakers proposed an amendment that would allow cities such as Fitchburg to create wards smaller than legally required, a move Pfaff says would address his concerns.

On July 12, four days after the GOP-created redistricting maps were made public, James Hall, president of the Milwaukee branch of NAACP, issued a statement. 

Like Zamarripa, he criticized Republican lawmakers for not conducting the redistricting process in an "open and transparent" manner.

Hall also said in the statement that the interests of minorities should not be "diluted" and should be "fairly reflected" in the plan that is ultimately adopted. 

On the opposite side of the state from Milwaukee, concerns also are being raised over the Republicans' decision to split one of the largest bands of the Ojibwe (Lake Superior Chippewa) tribe out of Senate District 25.

For decades, four of Wisconsin's six Ojibwe bands were included in the state's northernmost district, represented for the past 28 years by Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar. 

Now, if the redistricting plan is approved, the Lac Courte Oreilles band will join Senate District 29, which includes the city of Wausau. 

To pack more Republicans into the Wausau Senate district, Sawyer County, the home of the Lac Courte Oreilles, was moved out of Jauch's district. 

In exchange, Jauch's district was given Democratic-leaning Price County. The move makes his district more Democratic. And while this seems like a fact a Democrat should like, Jauch says "that's not the point."

"The Republican plan is stripping them from a district in which they have something in common and putting them with Wausau. The tribe has nothing in common with the city of Wausau," Jauch said Monday. "They really feel they are being used."

Numerous calls seeking a comment from a Lac Courte Oreilles tribal council member were not returned Monday.

Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the senator had no comment on the accusations made by Zamarripa and Jauch that pockets of the state's minority populations are not being represented in the new district maps.

"Every map is written for partisan purposes," Jauch says. "But this map violates major principles protecting district compactness and principles protecting communities of interest."