Shankland Column: New Year, New Maps

By Rep. Katrina Shankland

As the legislature enters “silly season” and passes a flurry of bills in just a few short weeks, all eyes are on the wave of gerrymandering lawsuits nationwide. From North Carolina to Wisconsin, courts are ruling that rigging legislative maps to benefit one party is unconstitutional. The most pressing and important case for Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford, had oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October. The court’s decision in this case will not only affect our future elections, but also what happens at the State Capitol – and how it happens.

The state legislature is far from deliberative. With Wisconsin under one-party control for the past seven years, most bills are decided upon by a few Republican leaders and then rubberstamped by their majorities in both houses. They frequently fly through with such speed that I hear from constituents months later who are frustrated that they just found out about a new law that will impact them.

The number of bills passed in a very short time is so overwhelming that concerned citizens simply can’t keep up. Just recently, the Assembly Majority Leader said that we’ll have a shorter legislative session than normal, but much more aggressive. This means less time to weigh in on bills that will affect you and other taxpayers, with less transparency than usual. And yet politicians who adjourn early to work on their re-election campaigns will receive the same pay. That is not what democracy should be.

The political winds in Wisconsin and across the nation are moving quickly, and many people are excited to restore balance to the legislature so it’s less extreme and more purposeful. A balanced legislature where Republicans and Democrats must listen to their constituents and work together to decide what’s best for Wisconsin – not for one party or for special interests – is what most of us want for our state.

Courts have now ruled twice that the rigged electoral maps in Wisconsin are unconstitutional. If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, we could very well have new competitive electoral districts where everyone must talk to people of all parties, not just one. Can you imagine being able to hold your elected representatives truly accountable? A Wisconsin where town halls aren’t closed to the public, and where your representatives ask you what you think and then act on it?

That’s what fair maps will do. Competitive districts will mean more choices for voters, greater participation in our democracy, and more elected leaders who truly listen to everyone. Voters in heavily gerrymandered districts feel disillusioned and disenfranchised. It’s time to end that. I have great hope for a court ruling in our favor, but we also have the power to reform the system ourselves.

Democratic legislators have been pushing for nonpartisan redistricting reform for years because we champion voters’ rights and believe that voters should be the ones choosing their elected representatives – not the other way around. Nonpartisan redistricting reform would take the power to draw legislative maps, power that is readily abused, out of the hands of elected officials and put it into the hands of a nonpartisan redistricting commission. A similar model has been successful in Iowa for decades.

As we wait for the Supreme Court to decide on Wisconsin’s case, we must push for accountable, open, and transparent state government. We need elected officials who will listen to all of their constituents, not just their own party’s voters. And most simply, we need a democracy all of us can believe in and count on. Let’s push for new maps in the new year. Call your legislators and ask them to cosponsor Senate Bill 15 and Assembly Bill 34.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) represents the 71st Assembly District in Portage County.