Power-hungry Dems use redistricting to turn Dane County bluer

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — For all the bitching and moaning Democrats have done about how Republicans crafted the state’s voting maps, you never hear them complain about the partisan carving Dane County Democrats did to enhance their stranglehold on power.

Veteran Dane County Board Supervisor David Wiganowsky is proof negative of the slicing and dicing mega-majority Democrats did to the county’s voter boundaries.

Wiganowsky, one of a handful of remaining conservatives on the ultra-liberal board, was knocked off at the polls Tuesday by union-backed challenger Andrew Schauer, an attorney for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. Schauer, with nearly 61 percent of the vote, handily won a District 21 seat that Wiganowsky — who captured just 38.9 percent — has held for 20 years.

BIGGER BLUE: As much as they’ve complained about state Republicans’ power grab through redistricting, Dane County Dems had no problem drawing up voter boundaries that have expanded their power base over the past two elections.

The challenger’s decisive victory in no small part was the result of the 2011 redistricting that reconfigured the district boundaries, sweeping aside the rural areas Wiganowsky long served and adding Madison’s left-leaning Far East Side.

“Yeah, it has been quite a bit of a challenge,” the Madison bar owner, who has long answered to the nickname “Wiggie,” said of campaigning in the dramatically changed 21st District. “It amazed me, one of my colleagues sitting on the county board told me how terrible it was what state Republicans did to them with redistricting. Democrats did the same thing on the county board to take out conservatives.”

And they did take out conservatives. Liberals won six of the seven contested districts on Tuesday’s ballot, bolstering their massive majority to solidify their taxing and spending will without fiscal conservative interference.

Even the Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board criticized the boundaries.

“The new county maps, for example, forced prominent conservative incumbents into the same districts, meaning fewer could survive. The liberal majority also stretched city-dominated districts beyond the city’s edges to maximize city representation,” the newspaper stated in a recent editorial.

To the gall of Dane County conservatives, Tuesday’s ballot included a purely advisory referendum asking whether the Wisconsin Constitution should be amended to require a nonpartisan system for redistricting legislative and congressional districts in the state. More than 82 percent of Dane County voters, north of 50,000, said yes.

There’s been an overabundance of indignation tossed about during the past few years by progressives and the state media, decrying the legislative district maps drawn up by majority Republicans in the Legislature. The redistricting plan was crafted in secret and done to consolidate the power of the GOP, which took control of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion in 2010 in a wave of voter discontent with Democratic leadership.

Bill Leuders, of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, has been one of the many teeth-gnashers lamenting a long-time Wisconsin law that puts the party in power in charge of drawing up the voter maps every 10 years. Leuders called it a “system for letting politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around.”

Perhaps. But what has often been lost by left-leaning partisans is that legislative Democrats have shaped maps in their image, too.

Under the state law, the Legislature is charged with drawing up the plans, but the governor has the power to veto them. For much of the past 60 years, the political powers have failed to come to terms, forcing courts to settle the impasses. That’s generally because it is rare that the Legislature and the governor’s office is controlled by the same party.

In 1991, the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, enacted a redistricting plan that was promptly rejected by then-Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. Democrats attempted to reconfigure the boundaries to their political advantage. Thompson vetoed, leaving a federal court to come up with a redistricting plan.

Local governments, too, have the power to set up their local voter boundaries, and the parties in power in these supposedly nonpartisan positions create voter maps to enhance their power.

Scott Grabins, chairman of the Republican Party of Dane County, said hypocrisy knows no bounds among the Democrat-controlled Dane County Board of Supervisors. Case in point, liberal board members and fellow state Reps. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton. The lawmakers called for the advisory referendum on the creation of a nonpartisan system for the redistricting of legislative and congressional districts.

But Sargent and Hesselbein weren’t much interested in changing the system in Dane County, where liberals, before Tuesday’s election held a 30-7 majority over conservatives.

“As a freshman caucus, we not only believe in redistricting reform, but that the people should have their say on this crucial issue,” the lawmakers wrote in a column in December in the left-leaning Capital Times.

Neither came to the defense of a proposal by Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz and her push to take politicians out of redistricting. The idea died at the table.

Everybody’s got their undies in a bundle about how the Republicans did redistricting at the state to benefit themselves,” Bruskewitz told the left-leaning Isthmus. “The liberals on the county board did exactly the same thing. The hypocrisy is just too much.”

Grabins said Dane County Democrats like Sargent and Hesselbein could have led by example right at home.

“If they really cared about it, do it here and show the rest of the state how it’s done,” the GOP chairman said.

Facing an uphill battle Tuesday afternoon, Wiganowsky said he would be sad to lose, to no longer be able to represent his neighbors in the district, but that “life goes on.”

And so does the pursuit of political power.

“Whoever is in control is not going to relinquish it,” he said. “That Democrats screaming as loud as they were (in the state) is because they’re at the bottom of the barrel. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s getting further and further out of hand.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Top