Battle over Venue Defines First Phase of Litigation on Wisconsin Redistricting 

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

In the litigation over Wisconsin legislative and congressional redistricting, both sides say they’re not on a venue-shopping spree.

But however it’s characterized, virtually all of the legal action to date has been directed toward deciding which court will hear the case—and perhaps ultimately draw the maps for Wisconsin’s Assembly, state Senate and U.S. House districts—and when.

Officially, the job of redrawing those lines after each decennial census belongs to the Legislature, subject to veto by the governor. But both sides—and even a federal judge—have cast doubt on the chances that Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will agree on maps. Both sides argue that their preferred courts must be ready to step in swiftly if the legislative process breaks down. Continue reading “Battle over Venue Defines First Phase of Litigation on Wisconsin Redistricting “

Gerrymandering, geography, and competitiveness

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

Many discussions of “gerrymandering” are hampered by an often unacknowledged tension between competing goals. Gerrymandering is classically defined as weirdly-drawn districts manipulated from some ideal (or “natural”) form so as to benefit a particular party or politician. In practice, people see evidence of gerrymandering when one party consistently wins a share of legislative districts in excess of its proportion of the overall vote.

Proponents of “fair maps” may be motivated by concern over a partisan imbalance, but they typically define “fairness” with regard to the first definition of gerrymandering. A fair map is one drawn without regard to political advantage. Instead, districts should follow the boundaries of existing communities where possible.

There’s the rub. Imagine if Wisconsin’s Constitution called for our decennial redistricting to be carried out by an alien species of mapmaking specialists who are unaware of the existence of Democrats or Republicans but are nonetheless imbued with a passion for compactness, contiguity, and the preservation of municipal boundaries. These extraterrestrial cartographers could provide us with thousands of maps to choose from, but probably every last one of them would still give Republicans a legislative majority when the statewide vote was a tie. The reason, as we shall see, is where partisans live and how they cluster together. Continue reading “Gerrymandering, geography, and competitiveness”

Wisconsin’s Local Governments Face a Time Crunch in Redrawing Boundaries

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This is the first in a series of posts this fall concerning redistricting in Wisconsin—a focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education. 

In a race against time to draw new district lines for local governments, three of Wisconsin’s four largest counties are off to a slower-than-recommended start—a delay that could throw the state’s three biggest cities behind schedule as well.

Perhaps not coincidentally, those three counties—Milwaukee, Dane, and Brown—are the same ones that have created independent advisory bodies to devise their supervisory district maps. That means they faced the added challenge of inventing a new redistricting process when their timeline was more compressed than ever before.

By contrast, the Waukesha County Board used its traditional process, working through a board committee, and approved a preliminary supervisory district map on September 14, one day ahead of the target date recommended by the Wisconsin Counties Association.

All of the state’s counties and municipalities, along with the Racine Unified School District (RUSD), are under pressure to finish redistricting before December 1, when candidates can begin circulating nomination papers to run in the spring 2022 elections. If any of them miss that deadline, the legal consequences are uncertain. Continue reading “Wisconsin’s Local Governments Face a Time Crunch in Redrawing Boundaries”

Lubar Center Exploration of Redistricting in Wisconsin Expands to Include Blog Updates

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Political redistricting in Wisconsin is important to shaping long-term policies. The process for deciding political boundaries at all levels is controversial and hot. The courts, more so than legislative chambers, are likely to be the central arenas for deciding a number of the important outcomes in the now-unfolding decennial cycle.

Put those three statements together and you see why Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education is giving redistricting special attention, with the goal of providing evenhanded background and insight.

A blog post that will follow this is the first in a series of Lubar Center posts on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog that will focus on aspects of the current work on redistricting.

Reporting and writing the posts is Larry Sandler, a freelance journalist with more than 38 years of experience covering government and business in southeastern Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other publications. Continue reading “Lubar Center Exploration of Redistricting in Wisconsin Expands to Include Blog Updates”

Milwaukee’s population loss in the 2020 Census surprised some, but makes sense on closer examination

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The 2020 census found a population decline of 17,611 in the City of Milwaukee since 2010. This 3% population decline came as a surprise because it exceeded recent estimates based on other data. Some observers—most prominently from City Hall—have suggested the Census Bureau undercounted Milwaukee. This concern is worth taking seriously given the difficulties of the pandemic and the Trump administration’s ultimately unsuccessful but well-publicized efforts to include a question about citizenship on the census.

However, a careful consideration of the census data shows no real evidence for an undercount. On the contrary, the 2020 census count is consistent with long-observed facts about Milwaukee’s demographic trajectory and other, independent data sources.

A big reason why a shrinking population feels intuitively wrong to many Milwaukeeans is that some parts of the city really are growing—specifically the places people most often visit. Continue reading “Milwaukee’s population loss in the 2020 Census surprised some, but makes sense on closer examination”

Mike Gousha to Become Law School’s Senior Advisor in Law and Public Policy

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Mike GoushaFifteen years ago, at the suggestion of one of my faculty colleagues, I began a conversation with Mike Gousha, who had announced his intention to depart his daily broadcast television news duties at WTMJ, here in Milwaukee (“Channel 4,” if you prefer). Mike accepted our invitation to join Marquette University Law School as distinguished fellow in law and public policy. Thus was born what we came first to denominate our public policy initiative and now (since 2017) tend to refer to as our Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.

My occasion for noting all this—which omits for the moment everything in between—is that Mike has decided to shift to a new role at the Law School, as of the end of this new semester. In particular, he will step back from his daily obligations here and assume a sort of emeritus status. The word is especially appropriate: Although Marquette University now uses emeritus more broadly, its origin (well, its modern usage, anyway) is in academe, and Mike’s position here has been much in the nature of a faculty member. He has not taught students in law courses, but his initiative, creativity, and leadership have dramatically expanded the Law School’s role in civic education, as the creation of the Lubar Center dramatically attests.

Going forward, Mike will serve the Law School as senior advisor in law and public policy. It seems worth noting that the theory underlying Mike’s affiliation with the Law School will not change. In my initial correspondence with him years ago, I encouraged Mike to consider making Marquette Law School “the platform” for journalism and policy work that he might pursue. Since he joined us in January 2007, he has done this brilliantly—whether the particular form has been the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” series; his crucial role in imagining the possibility, and persuading us as to the value, of the Marquette Law School Poll; introducing us to Alan Borsuk, senior fellow in law and public policy since 2009, and Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the poll since 2012, among many other people; establishing the Law School as the go-to place for debates for important political office in this region; organizing conferences on K–12 education, national security, and Milwaukee’s regional water initiative, among many other topics; or, most recently, fashioning with John D. Johnson, our Lubar Center Research Fellow, an important series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as part of the Lubar Center’s Milwaukee Area Project.

That list is scarcely exhaustive, but my point, as noted, rather involves Mike Gousha’s work going forward. Like a faculty member assuming emeritus status, Mike is not likely to take up full-time work at the Law School and will surely partner with others than the Law School for aspects of his possible activities (e.g., work on a documentary such as this project last year with his wife, Lynn Sprangers, and others). But, as senior advisor in law and public policy, Mike will remain part of our Marquette University Law School community and engage in projects with us here as they appeal to him. Meanwhile, the work of the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education will continue on a daily basis. That can be the subject of separate communications or announcements as we plan and realize that future.

More immediately, please join me in extending good wishes to Mike in this next (Marquette Law School) chapter.

Differing COVID-19 vaccination rates are about more than just politics

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For months, journalists have documented the connection between conservative political beliefs and hesitancy (if not outright opposition) to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Certainly, partisanship does play a strong role in Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Take Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties, for instance. Milwaukee is deep blue. Biden defeated Trump 69% to 29%. Ozaukee is one of the WOW counties–the historic stronghold of the Wisconsin Republican party. Trump defeated Biden there by 55% to 43%.

Knowing nothing else about southeastern Wisconsin, you might be forgiven for guessing that Milwaukee would enjoy a higher vaccination rate. In fact, 70% of adults in Ozaukee County are fully vaccinated, compared with 60% in Milwaukee. Across the United States, 88 counties have a higher adult vaccination rate than Ozaukee. Milwaukee ranks 307th.

This discrepancy probably doesn’t surprise anyone who lives in either of these counties. The partisan gap between Milwaukee and Ozaukee voters is more a symptom of their differences than a cause of them. Ozaukee is one of the richest counties in the country, Milwaukee one of the poorest. Ozaukee’s advantages extend beyond income.

“Social capital” is a term that captures many things. Chief among them is the idea of “collective efficacy”–a widespread belief that working together can effectively achieve shared goals. Popularized by Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, social capital can be measured in different ways. But one recent effort to create “social capital index” for each U.S. county ranked Ozaukee 22nd and Milwaukee 1,885th.

I collected 5 statistics for each county in the United States, each of which I suspected might have some influence on COVID-19 vaccination rates. They are:

  • 2020 presidential election results
  • 2020 Census self-response rates
  • each county’s social capital index score
  • share of the population living below the poverty line
  • COVID-19 deaths per capita

Here are the simple scatter plots comparing each of these values with vaccination rates. In each graph, I’ve colored red and labeled the dots for Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.

scatter plots showing the relationship between predictor variables and vaccination rates

The correlation between 2020 vote choice and current vaccination rates is clear and strong, but many of these variables interact with each other in complex ways.

I ran a regression analysis testing each of these variables for an independent correlation with vaccination rates. First, I re-scaled each variable using z-score standardization. In other words, I subtracted the mean from each value, and divided by the standard deviation.

Here are the results of that regression. As expected, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains the largest and strongest predictor of vaccine behavior, but several other variables are also important predictors.

A 1-standard deviation increase in Biden’s margin of victory correlates with an 8 percentage point increase in the share of adults who are currently fully vaccinated.

A 1-standard deviation increase in the social capital index correlates with a 3 percentage point increase.

A 1-standard deviation increase in the COVID-19 deaths per capita correlates with a 0.9 percentage point increase in vaccinations.

A standard deviation increase in the poverty rate has essentially an equal and opposite effect on vaccinations as the same size increase in social capital.

When controlling for these other variables, census self-response rate is insignificant.

Dependent variable:
percent of adults who are fully vaccinated
Biden vote margin 8.167***
(0.179)
Census self-response -0.281
(0.197)
social capital index 3.132***
(0.227)
covid death rate 0.901***
(0.174)
poverty rate -3.040***
(0.223)
Constant 47.550***
(0.165)
Observations 2,068
R2 0.590
Adjusted R2 0.590
Residual Std. Error 7.475 (df = 2062)
F Statistic 594.681*** (df = 5; 2062)
Note: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01

The model fits the data fairly well, and the correlation between actual vaccination rates and values predicted by the model is much higher than the correlation of any individual variable. Despite their differences, both Milwaukee and Ozaukee are well explained by the model.

scatter plot showing actual vs predicted results of the regression model

From Diverse Standpoints, Experts Agree on the Need for Re-energizing K-12 Education

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This story about the discussion during a program of the Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy and Civic Education appeared initially in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 2, 2021.

Pedro Noguera and Rick Hess talk to many school superintendents and principals around the United States. In general, they don’t find them to be oriented toward the sharp partisan divides that dominate education debate.

“When you talk to people who lead school systems, they are less ideological,” Noguera said. “They focus on practical matters.”

By “practical matters,” Noguera meant the daily things that lead to kids getting good educations, things like good teachers, good learning practices, and school cultures that offer warmth, safety and stability. Those are things he hopes will be given renewed priority as education recovers from the COVID pandemic.

“If there’s a silver lining to come from this experience with respect to education, I hope it’s a return to a focus on education that stimulates and inspires kids,” Noguera wrote in a book, co-authored with Hess, that came out several weeks ago. Continue reading “From Diverse Standpoints, Experts Agree on the Need for Re-energizing K-12 Education”

Out-of-State Investment in Milwaukee’s Home Rental Market

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(Click here to download the entire report.)

I bought a home last year in Milwaukee’s Uptown neighborhood. It’s a nice place—one  I’ve come to see as quintessentially Milwaukee. Kids walk to the playground at the end of the block. Adults walk to the coffeeshop. The mostly interwar-built houses are sturdily constructed on small lots. Typically, they’re worth about $30,000 less than the citywide average, so it’s the kind of place many people can comfortably afford to live. Since moving in, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my neighbors—school district employees, a firefighter, a welder, a guy who assembles circuit boards, the lady who feeds the cats. For a researcher like myself, meeting my neighbors hasn’t just meant striking up conversations on the sidewalk. I’ve also dug into the property records of the houses near mine. In doing so, I’ve learned that locals aren’t the only people interested in Uptown.

Since 2018, LLCs based outside Wisconsin entirely have purchased dozens of houses near mine. Ohio-based VineBrook Homes, Milwaukee’s most aggressive home buyer, owns five houses within three blocks of mine (part of the nearly 350 they have purchased citywide so far). Another national company, SFR3, owns several more. Sometimes the ownership is obscure. The duplex at 2702-04 North 49th Street is owned by “2704 N 49TH ST 53210 LLC.” This particular LLC lists an owner’s mailing address in San Francisco. I’ve lost track of the number of flyers I’ve received encouraging me to sell my home. One Friday night, someone even called my cell phone, offering to buy my house.

My neighborhood is one small part of a wave of single family home and duplex purchases by large corporate investors, often with Wall Street backing. Continue reading “Out-of-State Investment in Milwaukee’s Home Rental Market”

Why Do Republicans Overperform in the Wisconsin State Assembly? Partisan Gerrymandering vs. Political Geography

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(This essay is adapted from an On the Issues program with Craig Gilbert, Mike Gousha, and John Johnson. Click here to view that program in its entirety.)

Wisconsin has a confusing political personality. A casual observer might perceive it as a blue state. After all, 2016 is the only year a Democratic presidential candidate lost the state since 1984. On the other hand, it feels very purple when you consider that Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis to win an outright majority of the vote. In still more ways, you might think this is a solidly red state. Republicans have controlled the State Assembly for all but three years of my lifetime. Rather than encouraging a mood of bipartisanship, I think this combination of red and blue traits leads many Republicans and Democrats alike to believe that they are the “true” representatives of Wisconsin who are only stymied by the illegitimate interference of the other party.

My preferred description is that Wisconsin, politically speaking, is not one moderate state; rather, it is one very conservative state overlapping another very liberal one. This state of affairs, after all, isn’t new. Wisconsin gave the nation the rabid anti-communist senator Joseph McCarthy at the same time Milwaukee elected its third mayor from the Socialist Party. The varied nature of Democratic and Republican coalitions in Wisconsin—both geographically and demographically—gives each party advantages in certain kinds of elections. Republicans have long performed better in the state legislature than their statewide vote share would suggest. This advantage accelerated after the 2011 redistricting, by some measures doubling their previous advantage. But how much of the built-in Republican advantage in the State Assembly is due to deliberate partisan gerrymandering and to what extent it is the natural consequence of Wisconsin’s political geography? Continue reading “Why Do Republicans Overperform in the Wisconsin State Assembly? Partisan Gerrymandering vs. Political Geography”

Lafayette Crump: Success as Development Commissioner Will Mean Improved Equity in Milwaukee

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How does Lafayette Crump define success in his new job as the City of Milwaukee’s commissioner of City Development?

“I think it would be a disservice to this community if I did not view my success through the prism of how I am able to improve racial and economic equity in the city of Milwaukee,” Crump said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. The interview, one of the “virtual Lubar Center” programs of Marquette Law School, was posted online on Wednesday, August 26.

“I’m charged as development commissioner to promote development in the City of Milwaukee, to bring jobs here, to ensure that we lessen the impact of home foreclosures, that we assure that there is affordable housing available for people. All of that is clearly important and we will never lose sight of that as a department,” Crump said. “But we have to think about those things through the prism of how they are improving racial equity.” Continue reading “Lafayette Crump: Success as Development Commissioner Will Mean Improved Equity in Milwaukee”

How are Wisconsin voters experiencing the pandemic economy?

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Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit 14 percent in April and remained at 12 percent in May. Combining surveys from late March, early May, and mid June, the Marquette Law Poll found that 13 percent of Wisconsin registered voters had lost a job or been laid-off due to the coronavirus outbreak. A further 23 percent said this had happened to a family member. Likewise, 23 percent reported working fewer hours due to the coronavirus outbreak, and another 29 percent said this had happened to a family member. Altogether, 27 percent of those interviewed had either lost a job, lost hours, or both at some point during the economic shutdown.

Taken by themselves, these numbers suggest an economic catastrophe on par with the Great Depression, but that has not happened–at least not yet–in the experiences of most Wisconsinites. In nearly every poll, we ask respondents to evaluate their family’s financial situation–are they “living comfortably, just getting by, or struggling to make ends meet?” The trend is remarkably flat. In January 2020 63 percent said they were living comfortably–statistically indistinguishable from the 61 percent saying the same thing in June. So what gives?

Graph of self-reported subjective economic status, January - June 2020

Our poll alone cannot answer this question definitely, but it can offer some clues. Just as COVID-19 has hurt some communities in Wisconsin more than others, so too has the accompanying economic crisis. Along with disproportionate cases and deaths, Black and Latinx Wisconsin residents faced a stark economic toll. The number of Black respondents “struggling to make ends meet” increased from 10 percent in January/February to 22 percent during the pandemic. The proportion of Latinx respondents “living comfortably” declined from 66 percent to 47 percent over the same period.

In early 2020, prior to the economic shutdown, 63 percent of respondents described their family as “living comfortably.” People who lost their job during the pandemic did indeed report declining financial comfort. Just 37 percent of those who lost a job were “living comfortably.” Even worse off were those whose families lost multiple jobs. Only one in three people in this position were “living comfortably;” 57 percent were “just getting by,” and 11 percent were “struggling to make ends meet.” But people who suffered no financial ill effects actually improved their self-assessed financial well-being during the pandemic. Among people whose families lost no jobs or hours, 70 percent were “living comfortably,” 25 percent “just getting by,” and only 4 percent struggling to make ends meet.

The table below compares experiences by income level in 2019. To maximize cases, I pooled together all respondents who reported a job loss among any member of their family.

Before the pandemic, 37 percent of people with household incomes below $40,000 said they were living comfortably. People in this income bracket whose family lost at least one job during the shutdown now report a 24 percent rate of “living comfortably”–a 13 percent decline. Forty-seven percent of people from families who avoided income losses now say they are “living comfortably”–a 10 percent increase. The same pattern repeats itself in each other income tier.

percent of respondents living comfortably by job loss

What accounts for the increase in “living comfortably” among those who’ve kept their jobs? I see three possible explanations, all of which probably contribute in some way.

First, job losses in the pandemic have been concentrated among lower-wage workers. It could be that those who lost their jobs were already more likely to be financially struggling. Second, people whose families have kept their jobs may feel themselves lucky and are thus more likely to positively evaluate their subjective financial well-being. Third, people who have maintained an uninterrupted income stream may actually be making and/or saving more money than before. Whatever the cause, the pandemic appears to be sharpening the division between haves and have-nots in Wisconsin’s economy.