Even If They Lose, Republicans Will Have Won Redistricting

Look at the calendar. Even if Republican maps get thrown out, the party will have come out ahead.

It took several years to reach this point, and now we’re closer to the upcoming 2020 Census than the one in 2010, which laid the groundwork for a Republican-friendly redistricting in Wisconsin. A federal appeals court has sent the state Legislature back to the drawing board to come up with new maps that have a greater whiff of constitutionality, and less of an “unconstitutional political gerrymander,” as a previous ruling stated. The court set a deadline of Nov. 2017, so new maps might be in place for the Nov. 2018 election, the next to make use of legislative boundaries.

The slow timeline is further evidence that the winning strategy for redistricting is to accomplish one’s vision and sort the legalities out later. In Wisconsin, there’s no reason not to pursue such a course; the state provides legal support for party-drawn legislative maps, even when they’re later thrown out — the Wisconsin Department of Justice is defending the currents maps in court and will before the U.S. Supreme Court if the case makes it that far.

According to the most recent opinion, “The people of Wisconsin already have endured several elections under an unconstitutional reapportionment scheme.” And nobody elected in those races will be leaving office. Republicans maintain firm control of both houses of the legislature, and Democrats would have to win four seats in the Senate in 2018 to gain control and another 15 in the Assembly. Judging by past contests, that would require more than just a comparative leveling of the playing field.

The odd-numbered Senate districts come up for election in 2018, and a quick review doesn’t find a lot of vulnerable seats.

Shortly after the 2020 Census, whoever is in control of the state Legislature will write another reapportionment plan, and so on. Nationwide, the GOP fared pretty well in the last round of redistricting, and so many of its loudest critics are, presently, Democrats. There are less partisan ways to go about drawing new maps.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.