Supervisors approve fair maps resolution
Conservatives oppose it
The Marathon County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday narrowly approved a resolution calling on state government to end gerrymandering and enact a non-partisan method for redrawing legislative and congressional district lines following the 2020 federal census. Fifty-one other counties statewide have approved similar resolutions.
The 19 to 17 vote followed a lengthy Thursday debate in a clash of board liberals and conservatives. The liberals said non-partisan redistricting was a pro-democracy, good government move and, ultimately, would benefit Marathon County. Conservatives, on the other hand, saw little problem with the status quo and argued supervisors should stay out of state politics. Supervisor William Harris, Wausau, the county board’s lone black member, was a co-sponsor of the resolution with supervisor Jean Maszk, Mosinee. The pair put the resolution on the county board agenda after it failed to emerge from the Executive Committee.
Harris, after showing a Wisconsin Farmers Union video in support of non-partisan redistricting, told supervisors he believed Wisconsin’s gerrymandering robbed him of a vote that counts and, as the grandson of black people who lived in Dauphin, Ala. during the Jim Crow era, said he takes the theft personally.
“Voting has always been an important issue for me and my family,” Harris said, “The right to vote for me isn’t just about who holds office at any given time. It’s personal. It’s the right for my vote to be heard and to acknowledge me as a person.”
Harris said a vote for the resolution supported the county mission statement about the county seeking to be the state’s most prosperous and, in asking for an Iowa-like non-partisan commission to take care of state redistricting, he argued that the resolution was the opposite of partisan politics. The supervisor said that the county depended on state legislators to push local issues, including district attorney and transportation funding. He noted that the Wisconsin Counties Association officially supported non-partisan redistricting.
“I am here to stand up and speak out,” he said, and, borrowing a phrase from the recently deceased civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, said, “I am here to get into some necessary trouble.”
Harris received support from supervisor Jeff Johnson, Wausau, a Democratic candidate for state assembly, who noted that while the county respects municipal boundaries in creating supervisory districts, the current legislative map puts the City of Marshfi eld into three different assembly districts.
He said anybody who believed their fifth grade civics lesson had to support fairly drawn legislative districts. “Voting is the bedrock of democracy,” Johnson said.
Supervisor Bill Conway, Schofield, said the county’s comprehensive plan supported elections and good relations with state leaders and, in doing so, justifi ed passing the anti-gerrymandering resolution. “Fair maps is what our comprehensive plan says we should be doing,” he said.
Board conservatives were not impressed.
Supervisor Brent Jacobson, Mosinee, a former Republican candidate for assembly, said the resolution was “driven by partisanship” and that, given the number of major issues facing the county board, it wasn’t a priority.
“I didn’t get into local government to deal with state issues,” he said.
Jacobson said the county benefited from the current legislative map. He said the county has recently been granted a sixth judge, improved transportation funding and better funding for the district attorney’s office. Jacobson argued the county would have done better if Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, had not shifted Marathon County funding for the district attorney’s office to Milwaukee County.
Jacobson said Republicans hold public office in this state because people vote for them, not because of how districts are laid out. He noted that Russ Decker, a Democrat, was the 29th District senator for many years, but eventually was replaced by Sen. Jerry Petrowski, a Republican.
Other supervisors supported Jacobson. Supervisor Kelley Gabor, Wausau, said the county board need not weigh into a state political fight. “We have bigger fish to fry,” she said. Board member Bruce Lamont, Wausau, argued against the premise of the whole fair maps movement. “Every vote does count and is counted,” he said. Chris Dickinson, Stratford, said the county board should not involve itself in the state legislative map debate. “This is a partisan issue,” he said. “We shouldn’t be involved with this.”
Supervisor Becky Buch, Wausau, said redistricting was an “inherently partisan” activity and that she thought it was naive that the state could hand the task of making new legislative maps to “nameless, faceless bureaucrats” and come up with a non-partisan result.