Perspectives
September 13, 2023 | By Dan O’Donnell
Policy Issues
Accountable Government Ballot Integrity Constitution

Governor Evers Falls Out Of Love With His Own Iowa Plan

Dan O’Donnell analyzes the fight over legislative redistricting and Governor Evers’ rank hypocrisy in rejecting the very proposal he made just four years ago.

To hear Tony Evers praising Iowa four years ago, one might think he had just been elected governor of the wrong state. Just two months after he was inaugurated (in Wisconsin), Evers pushed the Republican-controlled State Legislature to adopt an Iowa-style nonpartisan redistricting process.

“People should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” he said during his first budget address in February 2019, a message that was accompanied by an adoption of the “Iowa Model” for redistricting in his 2020-2021 state budget.

“Want to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin? Tony Evers says look to Iowa,” read the headline of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story a month later that highlighted the Governor’s proposal. However, the piece noted, “Republicans say not so fast.”

Four years later, they seem to have come around, but Evers is the one saying not so fast. His love for Iowa, it seems, has its limits. On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced that the Legislature would finally get on board with Evers’ proposal to adopt Iowa’s method of drawing state legislative boundaries, but the Governor called the idea “bogus.”

“Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps,” the sudden Iowa-hater said in a statement issued moments after Vos’ news conference Tuesday afternoon.

What’s not to love about Vos’ proposal? Nothing, according to Tony Evers circa February 2019. It is literally the exact same plan.

What’s not to love about Vos’ proposal? Nothing, according to Tony Evers circa February 2019: It is literally the exact same plan. As the Journal Sentinel reported at the time:

[T]he maps would be drawn by state employees working at the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau — which writes comprehensive reports on issues facing the Legislature, provides analysis for legislation, and houses files associated with drafting bills.

The plan bars mapmakers from using voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information and demographic information to draw the boundaries, except where required by law. The bureau’s map process would be overseen by a nonpartisan five-member commission appointed by legislative leaders of both parties.

Each of the four leaders would get to appoint one commissioner each and those four members would appoint a fifth commissioner to serve as the commission’s chairperson.

If there is anything “bogus” about that, Evers didn’t seem to mind at the time. Republicans balked at his proposal, primarily because Article IV, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution expressly provides that “the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly” and the governor cannot delegate this duty by executive fiat.

“I don’t support giving appointed bureaucrats a legislative duty prescribed by our constitution and followed for more than 150 years,” Vos said after Evers proposed the Iowa Model. Now, though, he is consenting to the abrogation of redistricting authority.

There is a major difference. In 2019, Evers sought to force the Legislature through the budget process to surrender its constitutionally mandated authority to draw district maps. The Legislature rejected this attempt. On Tuesday, the Legislature is itself consented to a change in the redistricting process and has effectively conceded to Evers.

Why is he rejecting his own plan? He knows that it would yield the same results as Legislature-drawn maps and instead wants the Wisconsin Supreme Court to gerrymander a Democrat advantage for him.

Why is Evers rejecting his own plan? He knows that it would yield the same results as Legislature-drawn maps and instead wants the Wisconsin Supreme Court to gerrymander a Democrat advantage for him.

After the 1980, 1990, and 2000 censuses, federal courts drew Wisconsin’s legislative maps. In the 2002 midterm election, Republicans picked up three State Senate seats to claim an 18-15 majority and won four seats in the State Assembly to hold a 60-39 advantage.

A decade later, with the court-drawn maps still in place, Republicans still won massive majorities in the Assembly. Following the 2010 election—the last held under the old maps—they won a 60-38 majority (with one independent legislator).

Two years later, in the first legislative election held under the new Legislature-drawn maps that were supposedly the most gerrymandered in history, Republicans picked up…two seats. They held a 58-39 majority with one independent and one vacancy ahead of the 2012 election and held a 60-39 majority after.

Two years later, in the 2014 midterms that proved to be a “red wave” election for Republicans across the country, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly gained a whopping…two more seats. In 2016, a surprisingly strong showing for national Republicans behind Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the presidential race (which included a Republican presidential victory in Wisconsin for the first time since 1984), Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly gained a staggering…one seat to hold a 63-36 advantage.

Today, they hold a 64-35 edge, the end result of incremental growth that doesn’t prove the impact of redistricting, but rather demonstrates the steady increase in Republican support across Wisconsin—particularly in the northern and western parts of the state that were once relatively blue (Democrat Dave Obey, for instance, won re-election to Congress in northern Wisconsin for 40 straight years).

The rise of Republicans in these areas coincided with a broader demographic shift in rural voting patterns combined with an increased reluctance of Democrat voters to live anywhere other than the Milwaukee or Madison metropolitan areas. This, not gerrymandering, is primarily responsible for huge Republican advantages in the Legislature.

The only way to reverse this decades-long trend would be a partisan gerrymander that dilutes Republican voting strength outstate, and this is precisely why Evers is now rejecting his own Iowa Plan for nonpartisan redistricting.

He knows that newly elected far-left Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz will vote with the Court’s other three liberals in throwing out Legislature-drawn maps in favor of his own (which, incidentally, have already been rejected by the United States Supreme Court as a racial gerrymander).

Protasiewicz has, after all, repeatedly and very publicly violated the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct by blatantly prejudging the case now before the Court and saying the Legislature-drawn maps are “rigged.”

“Let’s be clear here: The maps are rigged, bottom line, absolutely, positively rigged", she said during her campaign for the Court this spring. “They do not reflect the people in this state, they do not reflect accurately representation in either the State Assembly or the State Senate. They are rigged, period. I’m coming right out and saying that.”

This is a massive issue, as the Code of Judicial Conduct expressly “prohibits a candidate for judicial office from making statements that commit the candidate regarding cases, controversies or issues likely to come before the court.” A judge or judicial candidate may not “make any public comment that may reasonably be viewed as committing [him or her] to a particular case outcome.”

It also requires that she recuse herself from the case that she has prejudged. She has refused to do so because she intends to “un-rig” the maps through a redistricting that is far “fairer” to Democrats. In other words, a court-drawn partisan gerrymander.

Vos knows this, Evers knows this, anyone who has even slightly been paying attention to state politics over the past year knows this. Vos wants to avoid impeaching Protasiewicz over her refusal to obey the Code of Judicial Conduct and remain faithful to the oath of office she just took a month ago, so he is offering both her and Evers the easiest possible out by giving the Governor what he has long said he wanted: Iowa-style nonpartisan redistricting.

But Evers suddenly doesn’t want that. Because he never really wanted Iowa-style partisan redistricting. He wants gerrymandering that will give Democrats what voters will not: A majority in the Wisconsin Legislature.

And, very tellingly, he is relying on Protasiewicz and the Wisconsin Supreme Court to do his dirty work for him.

Interested in the content of this Article?

Reach out to the MacIver Institute to aquire more information

Policy Issue Articles On

Accountable Government

Policy Issue Articles On

Ballot Integrity

Policy Issue Articles On

Constitution