A Shorewood resident of nearly 30 years, Village President Guy Johnson can’t remember the last time the village hasn’t been part of the North Shore’s 8th Senate District.
Under a redistricting plan unveiled by GOP lawmakers, the village would be lumped in with Milwaukee and the 4th Senate District, now represented by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
“This is going to be quite a change,” Johnson said. “Gerrymandering goes on, unfortunately. It’s so obvious what’s going on.”
Without liberal-leaning Shorewood, the 8th Senate District would see a more suburban, more conservative constituency, stretching north into Grafton and as far west as the town of Erin in Washington County.
Currently the district's western edge only includes parts of Menomonee Falls and Richfield.
If approved the by Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, the new 8th District should ensure an easy re-election for River Hills Republican Sen. Alberta Darling. And if Darling is defeated by Democrat Sandy Pasch in the Aug. 9 , she would face an uphill re-election battle in the revamped district.
Legislators are constitutionally required to redistrict every 10 years based on new census population figures and demographic changes.
A state Senate committee approved the redistricting plan on Friday, and Republican leaders have said they hope to have it pass the both houses of the Legislature next week. The plan would take effect in 2012, which could put Pasch in unfriendly political territory if she wins the recall election.
Why did GOP delay recall election?
In Tuesday's primary election, Pasch and other Democratic recall candidates each faced a - a candidate put up by Republicans to force a primary. That move delayed the general recall election from July to August.
While Republican party officials have said they fielded the fake Democrats to give incumbent GOP senators more time to campaign, Pasch doesn't think that's the case.
She believes the delay was designed to give Republicans the time they need to push through the redrawn legislative map.
“It became quite clear why they would want to delay the general election – so they would have time to railroad this through,” she said. “The fact that they are doing this in such an incredibly partisan way without public input or deliberation should not only be concerning to me, but to people across the state.
"The thing I hear when I'm out talking to people is they want the parties to work together, to compromise. They don’t want this incredible divisiveness," she added.
The redistricting would also make it more difficult for Pasch to win her Assembly seat if she fails in the recall election. She would be in a seat currently held by Republican Jim Ott and the new district would include an area that has traditionally voted Republican.
Former state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, a Democrat who lost to Darling by about 1,000 votes in 2008, said the new map is "political payback" for Shorewood, which leans Democratic and has been ground zero for the recall effort.
"Alberta is telling Shorewood, 'You have embarrassed me with this recall effort, so now I'll throw you out of the district,'" Wasserman said. "It's political retribution. It's nasty on Alberta's part."
Republicans defend new boundaries
The plan has been led by Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), and Darling has not been involved in the redistricting process, said Bob Delaporte, a spokesman in Darling’s legislative office.
However, he said the change in boundaries in the 8th District - west and north, and away from Shorewood - is based on shifting populations in the state. He said the population is moving away from Milwaukee, and increasing in Dane County and western Wisconsin.
"A lot of those changes are due to population shifts," he said. "Wherever the lines end up, (Darling) will look forward to representing those areas, and she’s going to do the best job possible."
The plan also gives a Republican tilt to Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa). Her district would be pulled west, away from West Milwaukee and West Allis, and deeper into Brookfield and parts of New Berlin into the area currently represented by Sen. Rich Zipperer (R-Brookfield). Vukmir did not return phone calls seeking comment on the redistricting plan.
Not all Republicans wil have it easy
While Democrats say the redistricting plan is a power grab by the Republicans to secure their seats for the next decade, state Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) said he is taking a hit in representation with redrawn borders. Knodl would lose half of Menomonee Falls as his district expands east into River Hills.
“The Republicans having control of everything doesn’t mean we all benefit. I’ll be going from a 75 percent Republican district to about 60 percent using current election numbers,” Knodl said. “I’m taking a significant hit, but that’s part of it when you have to account for the changing population bases.”
Local officials unhappy
The plan has also drawn opposition from local governments, as the new legislative districts currently cut across existing ward lines.
Milwaukee recently completed its five-month redistricting process, and the passage of Senate Bill 150 would cost the city $10,000 to make retroactive changes mandated after the process, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret said in a letter to state senators. Barrett said the lines drawn by GOP leaders would split 17 percent of Milwaukee’s 55 wards.
"By excluding local governments and ignoring natural boundaries and local factors that bind communities of interest, you have arrogantly mandated artificial ward lines without regard to local concerns," Barrett said. "You have intentionally done this in order to gain extreme partisan advantage at the expense of equal and fair representation."
The mayor said that current state law requires local governments to have a "strong voice" in redistricting.
"The very fact that you need to pass a new state law that allows you to circumvent a process that has been in place since 1971 displays your raw intentions to grab more partisan advantage at the expense of local input," Barrett wrote.
Frederick P. Kessler, a Democrat representing the 12th Assembly District and widely recognized national expert of redistricting, has mediated a number of disputes across the nation, including the 1971 agreement referenced by Barrett.
At that time, the Senate was controlled by Democrats and the Assembly by Republicans. He was successful in negotiating an agreement that established his credentials.
"I have never had a plan that I have drawn up overturned by a court," Kessler said. "One was challenged but it was not overturned."
Headed to court?
Federal courts have decided the last three redistricting plans. Kessler said the Democrats will likely challenge the current GOP proposal, but usually court challenges are the result of different parties controlling one chamber of a Legislature or the governor's office.
"Generally, a court challenge does not occur when one party controls all three legs of the stool as the Republicans do here," Kessler said.
The federal Voting Rights Act, which bars redistricting in a way that would dilute the the influence of a minority group in a district, could influence the decision, he said. The other factor is that the districts must be roughly equal in population. If they are not, they can be challenged.
In the 12th Assembly District, two wards – one of them the ward where Kessler lives – were redrawn into another district.
"My district went from being 75 percent Democrat to 65 percent Republican," he said. "My chances of winning re-election are slim. My wife and I have discussed it, and we will move."
He said that many parts of the western section of Milwaukee are now a part of district that includes the far more Republican-voting Waukesha County. Dane County has also been divvied up in a way that dilutes the influence of the City of Madison in a similar way to that of the City of Milwaukee.
The GOP plan also is opposed by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, a consortium of Milwaukee area municipal leaders. Barrett said voters in up to six Milwaukee County Assembly seats will significantly lose their influence in choosing who represents them to voters outside of the county.
"For the largest county in Wisconsin and, the economic engine for the entire state, that is a significant loss of representation," he said.
Patch Editor Carl Engelking contributed to this report.