Legislature is once again bypassing the will of the people

Editor’s note: Every 10 years, the state redraws its district boundaries. In the past, municipalities conducted open hearings to gather public input for how the cities could be fairly divided to effectively represent the population, and the state then incorporated those local decisions into the statewide redistricting plan. This year, the Republican-controlled Legislature bypassed that local feedback and devised its own plan, which was unveiled at a hearing by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce & State Operations at the Capitol in Madison Wednesday. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, chairman of the city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee sent a letter to members of that committee Wednesday, urging them to give consideration to the Milwaukee plan before proceeding with the state plan. The following is the text of that letter.

Dear Members:
Due to the short notice of this public hearing, we were unable to change previous commitments and appear before you in person. That being stated, we believe that Senate Bill 150 has profound and negative impacts on local governments and the redistricting process we have followed since 1971.
We oppose the proposed changes to the current state law.
As prescribed by state statute since 1971, the City of Milwaukee began its redistricting process in February, 2011 and completed that process Friday, July 8, 2011. During that process the city held four public hearings, participated in three public listening sessions, held two full-day public workshops for citizens to produce their own maps, and conducted countless informal briefings to individuals and interested citizen groups. The city cost of the dedicated labor hours and administrative expense total over $40,000. Passage of Senate Bill 150 would cost the city an additional $10,000 or more to make the retroactive changes mandated after the process by the state negating local authority to establish its boundaries.
Senate Bill 150 negates months of work, outright dismisses our open and transparent public hearing process, and wastes our taxpayer dollars. While the city has had little time for an in-depth analysis of the state’s legislative district lines and the impacts it will have on communities of interests and our neighborhoods, we have identified widespread ward splitting that will force the Common Council and Mayor to initiate a second redistricting process – only a few short weeks after we completed a legal and comprehensive ward and aldermanic district mapping process.
The proposed legislative districts fail to incorporate the city’s ward lines and therefore split 17% of all City of Milwaukee wards (55 wards) and mandate the
City of Milwaukee to redraw the boundaries of nine aldermanic districts. Please see attached map.
By excluding local governments and ignoring natural boundaries and local factors that bind communities of interest, you have arrogantly mandated artificial ward lines without regard to local concerns. You have intentionally done this in order to gain extreme partisan advantage at the expense of equal and fair representation.
Current law properly ensures that local governments – the unit of government that is closest to its electors – have a strong voice in the redistricting process. The very fact that you need to pass a new state law that allows you to circumvent a process that has been in place since 1971 displays your raw intentions to grab more partisan advantage at the expense of local input.
Furthermore, voters in up to six Milwaukee County Assembly seats will significantly lose their influence in choosing who represents them to voters outside of Milwaukee County. For the largest county in Wisconsin and, the economic engine for the entire state, that is a significant loss of representation.
Senate Bill 150 is a power grab that allows this to occur without the proper public disclosure, debate and discourse that was followed in the City of Milwaukee.
The people of Wisconsin do not want a strong, central, State Government. Yet, that is what the Senate and Assembly leadership are forcing on the residents of our great State.
Today we call on you to slow this process down. You must hold more public hearings, allow more citizen participation and provide opportunities for the submission of alternative maps that will be seriously considered. And, you must respect the work being done by local units of government. No legislative vote should be taken until these provisions are fulfilled.

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