Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau is majority leader in the state Senate. Jeff Fitzgerald of Beaver Dam is speaker of the Assembly. At issue is the reapportionment plan crafted behind closed doors by the Republican legislative majorities and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.
Most GOP lawmakers were coaxed into signing pledges not to talk publicly about the new maps or to release memos that showed how the districts were created. Apparently, the Republican leadership thought the new district plans would be accepted if people kept their mouths shut.
They should know better. Reapportionment plans are often targets of lawsuits. The new district maps favor Republicans — as expected — giving them an advantage in legislative elections for the next 10 years.
Republicans lost two seats, reducing their majority to one vote.
Yet secrecy feeds suspicion.
Newspaper editorials across the state have denounced the Republican secrecy.
The Wausau Daily Herald is an example of the editorial reaction. It reported the “extreme secrecy of the process by which the Legislature created the maps was a mistake, and Wisconsin deserves better.”
Some noted that Republicans didn’t have to take the secrecy route. They had majorities in both houses of the Legislature and their own governor. But they were worried about the recall elections.
Perhaps Republicans thought no one would examine their handiwork. Legal challenges have been raised on several grounds, including claims the new districts would hurt Latino representation in future legislative sessions.
The reapportionment process ended up before a three-judge federal panel. Two of the federal judges were appointed by Republicans presidents, and perhaps that led the GOP to think the maps were a slam-dunk.
The federal judges have sharply criticized lawyers for the Republicans. They directed the GOP lawyers to pay $17,500 for making frivolous motions before the court. Secrecy also came under attack from U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
“Appearances are everything, and Wisconsin has prided itself, one generation after another, for openness and fairness in doing the right thing,” Stadtmueller said. “And to be frank, we have seen everything but that in the way this case has proceeded.”
The judicial panel invited Republicans to draft different maps to meet the legal challenges raised by the plaintiffs. The GOP lawmakers declined the invitation, and their lawyers claimed that once new boundary lines were created they couldn’t be changed. The federal judges disagreed and the case moved forward.
Is the secrecy problem important? This year’s elections may provide an answer.
Matt Pommer worked as reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.