On the Issues: Some Personal Respect Amid Big Differences Over Redistricting

On one thing, Jay Heck and Joe Handrick agreed: They each respect the other for doing what each thinks is best for Wisconsin voters.

But during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, posted on Marquette Law School’s web site on Tuesday (Oct. 26, 2021), the two disagreed on just about everything that involved policies and practices involving voters. That included differences on a list of issues related to elections, especially the hot current disputes over how to draw new boundaries for political districts.

Heck has led Common Cause Wisconsin, a non-profit organization based in Madison, for more than 20 years. Handrick, a former Republican legislator from northern Wisconsin, was recently named to head Common Sense Wisconsin, also a non-profit organization.

Their differences can be summarized by noting that Handrick helped draw up the Republican-backed 2011 map of legislative districts in Wisconsin and Heck called that map one of the five most partisan gerrymanders in the last 50 years of American politics.

Or it can be shown in the way Heck spoke positively of the work of a citizen’s commission, appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, which recently proposed “nonpartisan” maps for legislative districts for the next decade, while Handrick sharply criticized that commission’s proposal and spoke positively of maps proposed by Republicans in the state legislature.

Heck said that what is at stake in the current controversy over redistricting is whether Wisconsin voters “are going to have their voices heard.” He said, “The gerrymander that we had in 2011 was extreme. It doesn’t have to be that way.” And he said, “It’s just not the case that voters are well represented when politicians are drawing the maps.”

Handrick defended legislators drawing up maps and downplayed the impact of the 2011 redistricting. He said that Republicans won the same number of seats in the state Assembly in the elections before and after that redistricting. He said the new Republican maps, which calls for minimal changes in existing district boundaries, was “a very smart legal strategy” because courts prefer not to see a lot of changes in districts.

Heck said the Republican map involves few changes because the party wants to keep its current advantages and that it backed a long list of changes when it created the 2011 maps.

“Gerrymandering only becomes an issue when Republicans are in control,” Handrick said. The basic problem for Democrats is the way their voters are concentrated in the Milwaukee and Madison area – and that “they are really, really bad at winning competitive elections.”

Heck said it was Republicans who created rules related to voting that are restrictive. “There are lots of things that have created this partisan advantage for Republicans, not simply the type of candidates” on the Democratic side of elections, Heck said.

Both agreed that under any map likely to emerge from the current process, Republicans will continue to have majorities in both houses of the state legislature, but that the size of those majorities might be affected by the map of districts.

Handrick said, “Is this round of redistricting going to determine who controls the state legislature? I don’t think so. I expect Republicans are going to continue to control the state legislature for the next 10 years.”

The two had different perspectives on whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court or federal courts should ultimately resolve what is likely to be a deadlock between Republican legislators and Evers.

Handrick said redistricting should be left to the state court because it is largely a state process.

Heck said the federal courts have been involved in the past and the state Supreme Court declined 10 years ago to get involved. He said Republicans want the state Supreme Court because it has a conservative majority.

So what court will actually decide things? “That, of course, is the $64 million question up this year,” Heck said.

The program with Handrick and Heck may be viewed by clicking here.


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