Largely because of Wisconsin's high profile case about extremely partisan electoral maps, activists have begun talking to state legislators and key leaders about a pair of bills languishing in committees in the state Senate and the Assembly. These bills — SB13 and AB44 — aim to transform the way Wisconsin establishes electoral districts for the Assembly, state Senate, and US Congress. District lines must be redrawn every ten years, following the US Census, so that they reflect the population enumerated in the count. Currently, the legislature devises electoral maps and the process is highly partisan. If SB13 and AB44 were to become law, electoral maps would be developed by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
Under the current process, the party in power can develop maps that all but guarantee that it will retain power at least until new maps are drawn after the next US Census. In November 2016, a federal court comprised of two district judges and one appellate judge ruled that the maps the Republican-controlled legislature had developed after the 2010 Census produced exactly that result. The state appealed the ruling and the case, Gill v. Whitford, is pending at the US Supreme Court where oral arguments will take place during the first week of October, 2017. If Whitford et al. (the defendants in the case) prevail, Wisconsin will presumably have to draw new maps soon, perhaps even in time for the 2018 elections.
But even if Whitford et al. win the case, the problem of partisan maps will not disappear. We will still need to ensure that Wisconsin legislates a nonpartisan process for all future rounds of redistricting.
I'm reviewing these points — while apologizing for the length of this piece — because it is important to press our legislators to support the pending bills. People who have spoken directly to Republican representatives report two standard responses, neither of which addresses the key issues. First, Republicans deflect the conversation by saying that they are awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling. Second, many argue that because partisan voters are not evenly distributed across the state but are instead "clustered" in like-minded communities, even a nonpartisan process for drawing district lines will not change the distribution of power much, if at all. They are in effect arguing that Republicans will retain most or all of their electoral advantage because of where people of various political persuasions have chosen to live.
The first response has no merit because Gill v. Whitford only addresses the outcomes of elections. It will not alter the process by which the state redraws its electoral districts every ten years. Even if Whitford et al. prevail, the party in power can continue to skew the maps just as they like. Nothing short of additional (and expensive) litigation can stop that practice. Only the passage of new laws governing the process of redistricting will ensure that our electoral maps are constructed in a fair and nonpartisan way.
The second response takes a bit more investigation. It's based on a theory called "The Big Sort" developed by Bill Bishop in 2004 and published by the same name in 2008. According to Bishop's analysis, Democrats are densely clustered in mostly urban areas while Republicans dominate in all the less densely populated areas of the country. And the trend of spatial segregation by political leaning seems to have accelerated between 1992 and 2016. (See an analysis by Richard Florida from October 2016.)
Few if any serious analyses claim that the GOP domination of state legislatures and congressional seats is due solely to self-sorting. Instead they argue that electoral maps deliberately skewed to favor the party in power (which, by the way, both parties do whenever they have enough power — see Maryland, Illinois, and Rhode Island to name just a few of the most egregious Democratic gerrymanders) don't have as much impact as some (including me) suppose. A significant imbalance arising from ideological self-sorting would remain and would continue to produce lopsided results in many areas of the country, they argue.
The idea is apparently that Democrats have packed themselves into cities, which has made it impossible for congressional and state legislative districts to be anything but Republican-leaning overall, because non-urban areas are now left to Republican dominance. [Neil Buchanan, "Is Gerrymandering a Mirage?" in Newsweek, June 25, 2017]
Recently, a number of articles examining the relationship between self-sorting, gerrymandering, and political outcomes have concluded that even though there is strong evidence of clustering, uncompetitive electoral districts are not an inevitable result. Professor Sam Wang, at the Princeton Election Consortium, writes:
It is a commonly believed that the predominant force in partisan asymmetry is population clustering: groups that tilt Democratic are clustered into cities, generating a natural packing effect. A clustering effect certainly exists. However, as of 2012-2014, this effect has become secondary to gerrymandering in a handful of states.
Population clustering and partisan actions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, partisan gerrymandering relies on the fact that voters are not distributed perfectly uniformly. Using this fact, redistricters lasso voters into districts to suit political ends. For this reason, it is easy to mix up the two processes. [Wang, The effect of gerrymandering in four states exceeds that of population clustering in all 50 states, December 8, 2015]
A more recent analysis of the 2016 elections by the AP showed
four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.
Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010....
[T]he data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering....
A separate statistical analysis conducted for AP by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project found that the extreme Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin’s Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it happening randomly, the analysis found [emphasis added].
The situation is certainly bleak: extremely partisan maps exacerbate the radical polarization we've been experiencing and make a return to more civil political discourse and a willingness to compromise much less likely. For me, that means we must do everything we can to address the way electoral districts are drawn.
A series of actions are currently under way to bring attention to this foundational issue and to pressure the legislature to hold hearings on SB13 and AB44. A large number of issue-oriented as well as politically-active organizations are participating in a coordinated effort to push this issue as hard as possible. At the Fair Elections Forum we are hosting on Sunday, July 16, at the North Shore Presbyterian Church (see details here), you can pick up an action packet that will guide your personal effort to make a difference. I hope you'll come.
Tue Jul 11, 2017
ACLU Immigration Team Meeting, 6:30pm - 8pm
336 Wisconsin Ave., Waukesha
Purpose is to finalize action regarding AB 190 and AB 127.
Drinking Liberally MKE, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Riverwest Public House Co-op, 815 E. Locust St., Milwaukee
Now, more than ever, Drinking Liberally is a space to gather, support each other,and form the progressive community we're going to need to get through the next four years. Come share a pint with your fellow progressives! Drinking Liberally MKE meets on the second Tuesday of every month, hosted by Matt Filipowicz.
350 Milwaukee Meeting, 7pm - 8:30pm
Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee
Topic: “Sustainable Economics Essential for a Sustainable Environment,”presented by Jim Carpenter, Teacher of Economics at MATC. Also updates on City of Milwaukee's support for Paris Climate Accord. 350.ORG is the global organization building a grassroots movement in 188 countries to address global warming and solve the climate crisis. 350 Milwaukee meets every month on the second Tuesday. More information.
Wed Jul 12, 2017
Refuel the Resistance, 5pm - 8pm
Bounce Milwaukee, 2801 S. 5th Ct., Milwaukee
Weekly gathering at Bounce Milwaukee's mezzanine bar for networking,inspiration or just to vent. Bring along any evidence of your civic action from the last week to get a beverage (up to $7) on the house, and compare notes with other individuals and groups working to make things better. More information.
Mike Thurow Meet and Greet, 6pm - 8pm
8159 N. 38th St., Brown Deer
Meet and Greet for Mike Thurow, a possible candidate for Assembly in the 24thDistrict. Come and meet Mike, who is considering running for the seat currently occupied by Rep. Dan Knodl. Hosted by Dennis and Ann Griffin. For more information call 414-354-7145.
Southwest Region Dems Meeting, 6pm
Greendale Public Library, 5647 Broad St., Greendale
Region 5 Democrats will hold their monthly meeting at the Greendale Public Library (enter through rear at 5600 Parking St.). Region 5covers Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Milwaukee (Southwest), West Allis, West Milwaukee. More information.
Abrupt Climate Change, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
First Unitarian Society, 1342 North Astor Street, Milwaukee
World-renowned scientist Dr. Guy McPherson is coming to Milwaukee on his Midwest Tour to share findings the media will not. Come and join us for a most urgent and thought-provoking discussion; a rare opportunity to discuss predictions and also ideas of how to live our lives to the fullest. Free to the public. Donation suggested.
Thu Jul 13, 2017
Emerge WI Celebration, 5:30pm
Tripoli Shrine Center, 3000 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee You are invited to join in the celebration of 10 years of Emerge Wisconsin!Become an event sponsor and invest in the next 10 years of Emerge Wisconsin by donating $250, $500, $1,000, $2,500, or $5,000.General Tickets are $100. Help Emerge train and prepare the next classes of women who will go on to serve in public office all across the state of Wisconsin. Cocktail Reception: 5:30PM || Dinner: 6:30PM || Program: 7:00PM RSVP.
Fire and Police Commission Meetin, 5:30pm
City Hall, Room 301-B, 200 E. Wells St., Milwaukee
The City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission will hold a regular meeting that may consider issues surrounding a new policy on inquiries about immigration status during police encounters. If you have an interest in these issues be sure to attend the meeting. More information.
Building a Progressive Era, 6pm - 8pm
South Shore Park Pavilion Terrace, 2900 South Shore Dr., Milwaukee
Can the Democratic Party Help Build a Progressive Era? Join us with our panel of guests: Marina Dimitrijevic, County Supervisor and State Director, Working Families Party; Matthew LaRonge, Chair, DPW Progressive Caucus; Solana Patterson-Ramos, Membership Chair, DPMC, and ACLU staff member; Attorney Lillian Cheesman, 5th CD Vice Chair. Presented by Grass Roots South Shore.
Drinking Liberally West Allis, 6:30pm - 9pm
Studz Pub Sports Bar & Grill, 6833 W. National Ave., West Allis
Drinking Liberally West Allis meets on the second Thursday of the month. Free discussions and fellowship. Good food and specials available.
Waukesha Writers Club, 6:30pm - 8pm
336 Wisconsin Ave., Waukesha
The "Letter to the Editor" section is one of the most widely read parts of the newspaper, offering a chance to reach a broad audience. Letters to our legislators are also an effective way to let them know what we expect of them. Working together gives us the opportunity to discuss the current issues, improve writing skills, develop persuasive techniques that target intended readers, and help each other with ideas and suggestions. Sponsored by Grassroots Waukesha (email).
Sat Jul 15, 2017
NAACP Monthly Meeting, 11am - 1pm
2745 N. Dr Martin Luther King Dr., Milwaukee
Monthly membership meeting of NAACP Milwaukee Branch. The meeting is held in the basement conference room.
Sun Jul 16, 2017
Fair Elections Town Hall, 4:30pm - 6:30pm
North Shore Presbyterian Church, 4048 N. Bartlett Ave., Shorewood
The US Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford for the first week in October, a very good sign that the case could be decided in time to affect the 2018 elections. There is no more pressing issue in our politics today: as long as the party in power can rig the maps so that is cannot lose its majority in the state legislature, our democracy will remain in serious jeopardy. At this forum, you'll hear from the experts about the issues at stake in the court case and about the campaign to make Wisconsin's redistricting process non-partisan going forward. Doors open at 4pm; program begins at 4:30pm. Please RSVP.
Mon Jul 17, 2017
Milwaukee Dems Meeting, 6pm
Amalgamated Transit Union, 734 N. 26th St., Milwaukee
At this meeting we will focus on the state budget with a distinguished panel featuring Phil Neuenfeldt (President, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO), Dr Robert Kraig (Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin), Senator Lena Taylor, and Rep David Crowley. All interested Democrats are invited. (Note: the Issues Committee meeting will remain at this location but has been changed to the first Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm.)
Grassroots Waukesha Member Meeting, 8pm
336 Wisconsin Ave, Waukesha
Monthly membership/planning meeting. Everyone Welcome.
Tue Jul 18, 2017
Sup. Lipscomb Town Hall, 6pm - 7pm
Doctor's Park Pavilion, 1870 E. Fox Ln, Fow Point
County Board Chairman Theodore Liscomb, Sr. invites you to a Chat with the Chairman listening session. More information or 414- 278-4280.
Diversity and Community: Author Event, 7pm
Boswell Book Co., 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee
Author Evelyn Perry will discuss Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood. While conventional wisdom asserts that residential racial and economic integration holds great promise for reducing inequality in the United States, Americans are demonstrably not very good at living with difference. Perry's analysis of the multiethnic, mixed-income Milwaukee community of Riverwest, where residents maintain relative stability without insisting on conformity, advances our understanding of why and how neighborhoods matter.
Wed Jul 19, 2017
Refuel the Resistance, 5pm - 8pm
Bounce Milwaukee, 2801 S. 5th Ct., Milwaukee
Weekly gathering at Bounce Milwaukee's mezzanine bar for networking,inspiration or just to vent. Bring along any evidence of your civic action from the last week to get a beverage (up to $7) on the house, and compare notes with other individuals and groups working to make things better. Guest bartenders will be Shavonda Sisson and Tracy Corder from That's What She Said, pouring for Sojourner Family Peace Center. More information.
Drinking Liberally Wauwatosa, 6pm - 8pm
Cranky Al's, 6901 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa Come join fellow Wauwatosa progressives for good conversation and good beer at one of Tosa's most gemütlich establishments, Cranky Al's. DLW meets monthly on the 3rd Wednesday at 6 pm.
Thu Jul 20, 2017
Green Drinks Milwaukee, 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Good drinks, good conversation and a chance to network with other environmentally minded people. More information: http://www.mkegreendrinks.org .
Sat Jul 22, 2017
Community Brainstorming, 8am - 11am
St. Matthew CME Church, 2944 N. 9th St., Milwaukee
Description: Community Brainstorming Conference Breakfast Forum Breakfast: 8 am, Program: 9 am. Topic: Violence Prevention Panel, all from City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention: Reggie Moore, Director; David Muhammad, Program Manager; Deonte Lewis, Program Coordinator; Salma Abadin, Analyst. Moderator: Roderick Rush. Chair: Hon. Russell Stamper Sr. All Are Invited, Come and Participate. Details.
Laughing Liberally Milwaukee, 8pm - 10pm
Comedy Sportz Theater, 420 S. 1st St., Milwaukee
Laughing Liberally Milwaukee presents a night of progressive political comedy. Inaddition to some of the finest progressive comedians Milwaukee has to offer, each Laughing Liberally Milwaukee will feature a special interview with a local political figure, journalist or activist. This month's guest is James Carnell, a Milwaukee area transgender activist focused on building awareness of the equal rights initiatives of the Shorewood Solidarity Network and the Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission. Advance tickets ($8).
Sun Jul 23, 2017
Sunday Demonstration, 12pm - 1pm
Cutler Park, Wisconsin Avenue, Waukesha
What are you most concerned about? Social justice, democracy, the environment?Join us for a silent demonstration. We meet at Cutler Park in Waukesha on the sidewalk along Wisconsin Avenue near the Public Library. Bring a sign or use one of ours. Sponsored by Grassroots Waukesha.
GRNS Office Housewarming, 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Grassroots North Shore Office, 5600 W. Brown Deer Rd., Brown Deer
Grassroots North Shore is celebrating its new home with festive treats and a tour of the new digs. The new office is spacious and much more easily accessible. There's great parking and an elevator for those entering the building from the parking lot. Please RSVP so they will have enough treats on hand.
Help Save Our Wells and Waterways, Sunday, August 13, 4pm - 5:30pm
North Shore Presbyterian Church, 4048 N Bartlett St, Shorewood
As Wisconsin’s wells and waterways are put under pressure from the relaxation of state water protection standards, citizens MUST work together or face irreparable harm. The first step is knowledge; the next step is action. The League of Conservation Voters will fill us in on the physical and legislative status of wells and waterways, and their protection (or lack of) in Wisconsin. Then we can inform others regarding which legislators are working to protect their wells and waterways, and which are not. Details and RSVP.