Republican candidates got 46.11 percent of the Assembly votes in last year’s election, but the GOP won more than 60 percent of the 99 seats – which translated to exactly 60 seats in the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature.
That’s not surprising because the previous Republican-controlled Legislature had drawn the district boundary lines for the Legislature and the state’s eight congressional districts. It marked the first time in a half-century that one party had developed the election districts in Wisconsin.
Even before the election occurred Republicans were ambitiously predicting they’d win 61 or 62 of the 99 Assembly seats. State Rep. Robin Vos of Burlington, who would become Assembly speaker, spelled it out for lobbyists before the election in case any of them would be in doubt about which party was running the chamber. Most of the lobbyists expected the Republicans to easily win 59 Assembly seats.
The redistricting results virtually assure that Republicans will control the Wisconsin Assembly through 2022. The Democrats will easily win the 39 districts they now hold. The redistricting provisions packed a lot of likely Democratic votes into those districts.
The new congressional boundaries created five safe Republican seats and three safe Democratic seats.
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble of Appleton, has warned that gerrymandering has shifted attention from general elections to primary elections. An incumbent faces more political danger from within his own party than from the other party, he said.
On a National Public Radio program last month, Ribble said gerrymandering across the nation might be part of the political dysfunction in America. “If you come from a district that’s 80 percent Republican or 80 percent Democrat, your big problem is whether you’re going to be ‘primaried’ or not.
“We’re at a place now in this country where voters are not picking their representatives any more. Representatives, through the gerrymandering process and redistricting, are picking their voters,” Ribble said.
Last year President Obama won Wisconsin’s electoral votes, and the U.S. Senate seat went to Tammy Baldwin, who was among the most liberal members of the House of Representatives.
As a whole, Democratic candidates for the Assembly got 269,596 more votes than the Republican candidates in 2012. Those sorts of numbers suggest that next year’s gubernatorial election might not be slam-dunk for Republican Scott Walker.
A recent Marquette University poll continues to show a narrow difference between those who approve and those who disapprove of Walker’s performance as governor. The difference is within the range of statistical error.
With that poll in mind, Republicans are counting on the conservative majority in the State Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of tougher voting requirements such as having photo IDs. Republican legislative majorities across the country have adopted similar requirements. Those requirements in other states have been upheld in federal courts.
The Wisconsin challenge is different because plaintiffs contend it violates the state constitution, not the federal constitution. The state document broadly says everyone of age 18 is a qualified elector except those convicted of a felony or have been judged by a court to be incompetent.
The decision may have been sealed this spring when Justice Pat Roggensack won a close election, assuring the conservative control of the high court. The day after the election, Walker told a television reporter: “I won, too.”
Wisconsin Republican leaders, led by Walker, like to suggest that the voting requirement laws are needed because there is widespread voting fraud in the state. To the contrary, Republicans have been unable to offer any evidence of such a crime wave.
A more gentle explanation is that state Republican leaders are embarrassed because their party has been unable to win a presidential election since Ronald Reagan was on the ballot.
Matt Pommer has covered government in Madison for 35 years, including the actions of eight governors. His column was provided by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.