In his State of the State address Wednesday night, Gov. Tony Evers announced he would create a “nonpartisan” commission to control redistricting after the 2020 census.
The People’s Maps Commission, Evers claims, will draw up fair, impartial legislative district maps.
“The people who work in this building, who sit in these seats, and who drive the policies for our state, should not be able to ignore the people who sent us here,” Evers said. “The will of the people is the law of the land, and by golly, the people should not take no for an answer.”
What kind of maps will The People’s Maps Commission draw? Why, The People’s Maps, of course. And who are the people?
“Our nonpartisan redistricting commission will consist of the people of our state—not elected officials, not lobbyists, not high-paid consultants,” Evers said. “The People’s Maps Commission will visit every congressional district, hear directly from folks across our state, and draw fair, impartial maps for the Legislature to take up next year.”
Interestingly, Evers said the Commission is needed because the legislature is thwarting the will of, you guessed it, the people.
“Unfortunately, nonpartisan redistricting legislation has been introduced for years—it’s even received bipartisan support—but the bill has never even been given a public hearing,” Evers said.
The so-called bipartisan support has actually been for not having a supposedly “nonpartisan” redistricting commission. When Democrats were in control of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion after the 2008 election, Democrats didn’t even consider a “nonpartisan” redistricting commission. Instead, Democrats were hoping that they would retain control after the 2010 election and the census that year in order to draw maps just as partisan as the maps in Illinois.
If Democrats were really serious about redistricting reform, they could start with out neighbor to the south. Instead, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (D) is campaigning against the legislative maps here.
Let’s dispense with the “nonpartisan” nonsense. If it’s a commission appointed by Evers, by its very nature the commission is a partisan Democratic commission. It’s not appointed by Republicans, and it’s highly unlikely the members will be drafted by Selective Service lottery.
The people Evers will appoint will not be “nonpartisan” either, regardless of their professional backgrounds. They will still be bringing with them their political prejudices and beliefs. As we saw with the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, the “nonpartisan” nature of the board only existed as a fiction concealing the partisans from accountability.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much “the people” will get to watch the process unfold. Will the commission meet behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny? Will the supposedly nonpolitical members be shielded from open records requests by an Evers Administration with a terrible track record for openness?
The reality is, even a partisan Democratic redistricting commission would have a hard time drawing up legislative district maps that would be equally competitive.
To draw even remotely competitive districts, the commission will have to draw pencil-thin districts like porcupine spines stretching out from blue urban areas into the red countryside.
It’s also worth remembering that any maps drawn up by Evers’ commission will not have any legal standing. The state constitution makes it quite clear that drawing legislative boundaries are the responsibility of the legislature. Republicans (or Democrats) controlling the legislature can ignore the drawings all they want no matter how carefully “the people” draw them.
So what Evers is doing is empty grandstanding (again) for his voting base for political gain. There is no real substance to Evers’ plan, just as there is nothing “nonpartisan” about it.
Ironically, even as Democrats complained about the legislative maps, they did manage to score victories in special elections in red areas in 2018. Instead of fretting over the district maps, Democrats recruited effective candidates to run in two state senate elections and won. Perhaps if they spent less time whining about unfair maps and more time convincing good candidates to run, Democrats could be competitive in rural areas again.
But that would involve actually listening to the people of the state instead of pretending to speak for them in Madison.