Wood County Board takes stand on redistricting issue

Written by Liz Welter, Central Wisconsin Sunday

 

Marshfield and Wood County could be considered the poster children for redistricting dysfunction.

“The way it’s done now needs to change, and we’re hoping this will push things along,” said Ed Wagner of Marshfield, a member of the Wood County Board. On Tuesday, the board passed a resolution recommending to the governor and Legislature that a new nonpartisan approach for creating congressional and legislative districts needs to be instituted before the 2020 U.S. Census.

During the last redistricting, Marshfield was divided so that it was no longer represented by Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore, whose district includes Wood County. Two-thirds of the city was placed in the district formerly held by Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, and the remainder in the district by Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield.

“The state just about cut Marshfield in half and then cut it off at the knees, pretty much separating it politically from the rest of the county,” Wagner said.

The resolution has been forwarded to each Wisconsin county in hopes they will take similar action, Wagner said.

Under federal and state law, legislatures must approve a redistricting plan that creates boundaries to equalize the populations for congressional and legislative districts.

In many states, the plans are studied and drawn by a nonpartisan commission or agency and approved by state legislatures.

But not in Wisconsin, where essentially, the party in legislative power draws the plans subject to the majority approval of the Legislature, Wagner said.

Whether redistricting is completed by a nonpartisan board or a political party, it still needs final approval by the Legislature, said Rep. Scott Krug, R-Rome.

Developing a new plan for redistricting could have been done earlier when the Democrats were in power, he said.

“Why now? It’s because they are the minority party, and they don’t like it. There are so many other important issues, like jobs, we need to work on,” Krug said.

Krug defeated long-time incumbent Marlin Schneider, a Democrat, to win his seat prior to redistricting, he said.

“The district was heavily Democrat, but I won it. With redistricting, it’s 50-50. I won in the last election by 100 votes,” Krug said.

Besides the state drawing districts for congressional and legislative seats, each county reapportions its districts for county board seats, said Jason Grueneberg, Wood County planner and land records coordinator.

“Citizens in our county saw how the county’s process works, and it’s very transparent. There’s a few citizens that have brought this forward because they’re frustrated how at the state level it’s very secretive and a closed process,” Grueneberg said.

“They feel if the redistricting process was nonpartisan, it will be more open and there will be less, for lack of a better word, gerrymandering. They don’t want to see politicians picking their residents,” Grueneberg said.

Two bills were introduced in the Senate and Assembly and were referred to committees where they remain, said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, who co-authored the Assembly bill, which calls for the Legislative Reference Bureau, rather than lawmakers, to be responsible for redrawing legislative district boundaries.

The bureau would be prohibited from considering voting patterns, party information or incumbent residency when drawing the maps. It is intended to keep lawmakers from drawing boundaries to make their seats more secure.

“It’s very disappointing, because there is citizen support for it, but it hasn’t translated into a committee hearing at the Capitol,” Shankland said. “People need to contact their legislators or (Assembly) Speaker (Robin) Vos and demand a hearing.”

A forum to discuss redistricting policies is planned for Oct. 28 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.