Think of it this way. You’re the Packers. You’ve had a dismal first half of the season. (I don’t know. Maybe Aaron Rodgers left the team for an eight week Panchakarma cleanse.) You went 0-8, but now Rodgers is cleansed and you’ve gone 5-2 with a couple games remaining. You’re not going to make the playoffs, but you’ve fought your way back to some measure of respectability.
That’s pretty much where Wisconsin Democrats are at on redistricting. Everything went to hell for them once the state Supreme Court decided that any maps they selected would have to hew closely to the ones the Republicans gerrymandered the bejesus out of in 2011. That spelled the end of Gov. Tony Evers’ Peoples Maps Commission products. That wasn’t as big a loss as it seemed, however, because even those maps gave the Republicans a projected 55-44 edge in the Assembly, compared to the 61-38 advantage they have now. (Senate splits are commensurate, so I’ll continue to use just the Assembly numbers as benchmarks.)
But Evers cleverly found a way to get that same 55-44 split back before the court even after jettisoning the PMC maps. Evers’ new maps moved fewer people between Congressional districts than the GOP plan, which prompted swing vote Justice Brian Hagedorn to side with Evers and the Court’s liberals and hand the Democrats a 4-3 victory.
Republicans were furious that they had just maintained a pretty much insurmountable advantage and not an absolute guaranteed majority. So, they huffed off to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday the Court ruled in favor of the Republicans… but not entirely.
Most significantly, they didn’t change the Congressional maps. That was a significant victory for the Democrats because their maps create another competitive district in Southeast Wisconsin. In a good Democratic year, the Democrats could now get to an even 4-4 split in the House delegation. Under the current maps they’re locked into only two solid Democratic seats and one, in Southwest Wisconsin held by Ron Kind, that is a toss-up. Kind is retiring and it’ll be tough for Democrats to hold that seat this year, but in future years it will be about as competitive as the Southeast seat.
Moreover, the Supremes didn’t reject Evers’ maps altogether. They just sent the whole thing back to the state Supreme Court with orders to deal with a legal question over the Voting Rights Act. It comes down to this: Evers created a new majority Black district. The Court said that that could violate Federal voting rights and equal protection laws and so the state court had to deal with the legal questions presented. The state Supreme Court could still reason its way back to support for the very same Evers maps they had approved a few weeks ago. The Court essentially gave them what amounts to a law school homework assignment. If Hagedorn just sticks with the liberal study group all will be fine.
In any event, it may not matter too much in the end. Whether a particular district is 60% Black or 51% Black it’s still likely to vote for a Democrat. Worst case scenario for the Democrats, the court goes with the Republican plan, which locks in an Assembly majority closer to their current one. That does create a somewhat greater chance for Republicans to gain a veto proof majority in a very good Republican year, but it’s far from a sure thing. It doesn’t make it any more likely than it has been for the last decade.
The bottom line is that what’s at stake has been narrowed down to a fine point. The Democrats have now probably locked in a new competitive Congressional district, which gives them some hope of having an evenly split delegation some day. And the difference between 55 or 60 Republicans in the Assembly matters, but probably not all that much.
Here’s another thing that hasn’t changed: Whether you’re looking at the Peoples Maps Commission product, the Republican plan or even Evers’ own maps, the Democrats must find a way to start winning outside of Madison and Milwaukee.
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