A nationwide activist group visited the Wisconsin State Capitol on Monday to advocate for nonpartisan redistricting as Senate lawmakers approved Republican-drawn map proposals on a party-line vote.
But instead of protest signs, these organizers wielded pizza.
Gerry’s Partisan Pizza, an initiative created by democracy advocacy group RepresentUs, made a stop in Madison on Monday as part of their nationwide campaign against gerrymandering. Members of the group gave speeches outside the Capitol and shared free pizza with anyone who wanted it — as long as they lived in Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District.
“Pizza places shouldn’t hand-pick their customers, just like politicians shouldn’t hand-pick their voters,” reads Gerry's website. “We unfairly draw the line wherever the politicians unfairly drew the line.”
Organizers only violated this rule to deliver pizzas to key legislators involved in the Legislature’s redistricting proposal process. Their pizzas, though, were cardboard cutouts of maps topped with garbage, designed to send a strong message to legislators who supported the Republican redistricting proposal.
“Don’t deliver garbage maps to the people of Wisconsin,” said Amanda Pustz, the lead organizer for Gerry’s Partisan Pizza in Madison. “Stop worrying about your own self and your own job security.”
Democratic legislators joined Pustz and other organizers in criticism of the Republican maps, claiming they fortified Republican dominance in a state that voted Democratic in the past two national elections.
“In [the Republican] maps, there’s no such thing as fair representation,” said Senator Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick). “It actually increases Republican power so that they would have a veto-proof majority. I don’t care what party anybody supports — no one should want one party to hold unfettered power.”
Wisconsinites have strongly opposed gerrymandering in the polls and at the ballot box. As of Nov. 10, 56 counties representing over 80% of Wisconsin’s population have voted to support fair voting maps, and in a Nov. 3 Marquette Law School poll, 63% of voters supported redistricting via nonpartisan commission.
“We had a hearing last week where there was eight and a half hours of testimony,” said Representative Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay). “Not a single person except for the Republican leadership, testified in favor of [the Republican proposal].”
All three maps — Assembly, Senate and U.S. Congress — in the Republican proposal were given an “F” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project for “significant Republican bias” and lack of competitiveness.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) have continually claimed the Republican maps are fair. Vos says the legislature considered public input as part of their map-making process.
“We [had] a public-facing website,” said Vos in an interview with InFocus. “People [could] go right there, draw a map and submit it to us.”
Critics, however, claim the Republican map proposal was released too soon after the website submissions closed for public input to be considered.
“After the submissions closed, it was only 48 hours later that [Republicans] submitted their maps,” said Andraca. “If you look at what the People’s Maps Commission did, it took them a pretty long time to come up with their maps.”
The Daily Cardinal contacted both Vos and LeMahieu on multiple occasions for further comment on the Republican redistricting proposal. Neither office responded.
Gov. Tony Evers has vowed to veto the Republican proposal, which he says failed to properly incorporate citizen feedback. In a statement on the Republican proposal, Evers told Republicans to “go back to the drawing board” and draw better maps.
“It's unconscionable and insulting to the people of this state, frankly, that Republicans think they can pass another set of gerrymandered maps modeled after the same gerrymandered ones we’ve had for a decade,” said Evers. “Wisconsinites won't stand for it, and I won’t either — it's just as simple as that.”
Despite Evers’ complaints, Vos is highly unlikely to draft a new proposal.
“Candidates determine who is successful in our election, not simply the partisan makeup of the district,” said Vos in defense of the Republican proposal. “What I hear in your frustration is the inability of Democrats and their candidates to connect with voters in every part of the state.”
Democratic legislators also assert they won’t back down in what they see as a crucial opportunity for change, setting up a long political battle over redistricting in Wisconsin.
“I call this the Super Bowl of maps,” said Andraca. “We’ve been talking about it forever, but what happens over the next four months will shape what happens over the next decade.”
Finding a middle ground in the redistricting fight
With the legislature and Evers at odds over redistricting, the maps will almost certainly be drawn in federal court as they were in 1991 and 2001. However, in 2011, a Republican trifecta left the GOP in sole control of map-making.
During the 2011 redistricting process, Republicans collaborated with a Madison law firm to draw maps in a private “map room” which lawmakers had to sign non-disclosure agreements to enter. The maps were released, passed by the legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Scott Walker in just two months. Only one public hearing was held.
“The [Republican] maps done in 2011 were one of the worst gerrymanders done in the country,” said Andraca. “Now, they’re trying to make them our new maps with as little change as possible for the next decade. It’s unacceptable for us to have gerrymandering 2.0”
A possible compromise solution for federal courts to consider is a redistricting proposal drafted by the nonpartisan Wisconsin People’s Maps Commission last month.
The People’s Maps Commission was created by an Evers executive order in Jan. 2020 and consists of nine members appointed by retired judges. Their maps were drawn based on public input from virtual hearings conducted in each congressional district earlier this year.
“For years, the people of this state have demanded better and fairer maps. And for years, the people of this state have gone ignored,” said Evers when the commission maps were introduced. “Preparing these maps was no walk in the park, and they did exceptional work on an extraordinarily challenging task.”
Speaker Vos has previously dismissed the commission as a “fake, phony, partisan process” which circumvents the state constitution.
All three of the commission maps were given an “A” or “B” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. The maps still favor Republicans because of Wisconsin’s political geography, but to a much smaller degree than the legislature’s proposal.
Though Democrats have reservations about the commission’s proposal, they recognize the challenges it faced.
“I think it was a fair alternative done with the best of intentions,” said Rep. Andraca. “Mapmaking is really complicated, and Wisconsin has some pretty challenging geography.”
Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) doubts Democrats’ commitment to the commission plan. In a statement on Monday, Stroebel pointed out that Democrats proposed their own maps despite criticising Republicans’ involvement in redistricting.
“I have heard countless cries from Democrats and their supporters that, notwithstanding the Wisconsin Constitution’s contrary language, legislators should not be drawing maps,” said Stroebel. “The fact that Senate Democrats didn’t propose the PMC maps and proposed their own, legislator-drawn maps should speak volumes.”
Still, Democrats claim they remain committed to fair maps, even if it hurts their party.
“I’m 66 years old. This isn’t about me,” said Sen. Smith. “This is about my children, their children, and the future for anyone else who wants to step into politics. If we lose their voice, we are not the same country that our forefathers envisioned.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.