Posted on

Draw the lines

Enough complaining about Wisconsin gerrymandering. That decade-long nightmare is about to lapse. It is time, now, to figure out what a new Wisconsin electoral district map should look like.

The process of redistricting has started with a People’s Maps Commission taking public input on possible maps by congressional district. A kick-off meeting was held earlier this month. A meeting for the Seventh Congressional District will be held sometimes in January 2021.

This is the time or imagination and boldness, leaving behind state and federal district boundaries made by and for the politicians. The rules of setting up legislative districts are pretty simple. They need to represent equal numbers of people. They should be compact, respecting county and city boundaries. They must not show racial bias. They should respect communities of interest.

The current assembly map in Marathon County is pretty bad. It is carved up into five districts. The Wausau metro area itself is split into two districts.

We have some ideas how to fix all of this.

Wisconsin’s population is 5.8 million. There are 99 assembly districts. Our calculator tells us that an ideal assembly district will have 58,585 people in it. We’ll see what the county’s population will be in the 2020 federal census, but our guess is that it will be around 134,000. What this tells us is that Marathon County could have something like two assembly districts. The county could be split up two ways, either urban and rural or east to west.

In an urban/rural split, a central, compact district would include the cities of Wausau and Schofi eld and the village of Rothschild. A surrounding rural district would include everything else in the county. The rural district would have the character or flavor of a joint Eastern and Western Marathon County Towns and Villages meeting.

An east/west redistricting split would have western Marathon County and a couple Wausau metro communities, such as the town of Rib Mountain and village of Weston, in one district balanced against a second district made up of eastern Marathon County townships hooked up with the city of Wausau with some other urbanized metro communities.

We’re open to arguments about which district split would make more sense. Maybe a district made up mostly of eastern and western rural towns and some suburban communities would have a shared community interest. Conversely, maybe eastern or western county rural commuters who work in Wausau metro should be in the same assembly district as urban residents.

What we think important is that any redistricting respect county lines. We need assembly people, and, in turn, state senators, who understand county needs and who will work with county officials. We need to repair a busted state/local government relationship.

When it comes to district boundaries for the Seventh Congressional District, we call for central Wisconsin to get some respect.

Currently, Marathon, Portage and Wood Counties are split between the Third and Seventh Congressional Districts. That’s no good. The three counties with their hub cities of Wausau, Marshfi eld and Stevens Point are a community of interest and should have a single congressional representative.

One nonpartisan map we’ve seen would attach the three counties to the Third Congressional District that now includes Eau Claire and La Crosse. That feels a bit strange, but it would keep central Wisconsin together in a single district. It should be considered.

It is likely a judge will set electoral district boundaries for the next decade and, in those deliberations, will hear the arguments from both political parties. That’s expected. The judge, too, however, will hear what the public has to say. So make your voice heard. This is the time for you to help draw the lines.

Editorial by Peter Weinschenk, The Record-Review