To hear Wisconsin’s top Republican lawmakers tell it, a fair process for drawing voting districts following the 2020 census would be unconstitutional.

But the public isn’t buying it.

Nor is Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who last week stepped up pressure on legislative leaders to accept a nonpartisan way of reshaping congressional and legislative districts to reflect population changes after this year’s official count of where people live.

In his annual State of the State speech, Evers said he’ll use an executive order to create a nonpartisan commission to draw new districts without political influence.

Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, immediately balked.

“He knows how it works and he knows that the Legislature has the responsibility, per the constitution, to draw not only the legislative maps, but the congressional maps as well,” Fitzgerald huffed.

Fitzgerald is right that the Legislature must approve new districts — and it will. What Fitzgerald shouldn’t pretend is that the Wisconsin Constitution requires him to pick up a Sharpie marker and literally draw the districts himself with 131 other state lawmakers.

That’s not how it worked last time around, when Fitzgerald was in charge.

Back then, following the 2010 census, Fitzgerald oversaw the redistricting process with his brother, then-Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. (Curiously, congressional district lines in 2011 were drawn through the middle of Dodge County, making it easier for Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald to potentially run for Congress in adjacent seats some day. Scott Fitzgerald is now seeking the 5th Congressional District seat. Jeff Fitzgerald left the Assembly after a failed bid for the U.S. Senate.)

Scott Fitzgerald and other Republican leaders spent millions of taxpayer dollars on lawyers in 2011 to draw voting districts in politically advantageous ways and, in subsequent years, to defend those gerrymandered maps in court. The goal wasn’t fair maps. It was to keep Fitzgerald and his partisan pals in power.

This time around, following the 2020 census, redistricting must be different. Instead of gouging taxpayers for millions more in legal fees to draw and defend rigged maps, state leaders should agree to a neutral process similar to Iowa’s.

Evers, most Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans have endorsed the Iowa model for fair maps in Wisconsin. So have two-thirds of Wisconsin’s counties, and nearly three-quarters of statewide respondents in a Marquette Law School poll.

Iowa assigns a neutral state agency to draw its maps without political consideration. Instead, Iowa’s districts must be drawn as compact as possible and follow established community boundaries — without protecting the incumbents of either party.

We don’t trust the Democrats or the Republicans to draw fair maps. Democrats in states such as Illinois cling to gerrymandering just as Republicans in Wisconsin do.

Voters of all stripes deserve better. And while Evers can’t unilaterally impose a nonpartisan process on the Legislature, his increasing pressure on Fitzgerald and Co. to accept neutral maps is welcome and justified.

Wisconsin State Journal