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Legislators quarrel over voting districts

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Frank Schultz
August 7, 2013

MADISON—A state legislator from Janesville is calling for reform of the way the state draws the borders of legislative districts, but she is faces opposition from a key Republican from Lake Geneva.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, announced Wednesday she had sent letters to Gov. Scott Walker and to the chairman of an Assembly committee, calling for “immediate action.”

Kolste asked that Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, agree to a hearing on the bill. August is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Government Operations and State Licensing.

A spokesman for August said no hearings are planned on any topic because the Assembly is in summer recess, but in any case August does not support and will not hold a hearing on the bill.

Critics have said the current process gives unfair advantage to the party in power. Kolste said in her news release that both Democrats and Republicans have abused the process.

Republicans control the Legislature and the governor's office. The most recent Republican-approved redistricting has led to accusations of abuse and lawsuits.

Kolste said she is one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 185, which would make redistricting non-partisan.

Kolste complains that “the bill has been languishing in committee since May 3.''

Critics accuse the parties in power of changing legislative district boundaries to favor their parties, creating districts that are solidly in favor of one party or the other, giving the other party little chance of winning an election.

“Under the current system, voters are not choosing their legislators,'' Kolste said. “Legislators are choosing their voters.''

The bill, based on Iowa's system, would have the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau and a Redistricting Advisory Commission draw the boundaries. It would result in more competitive elections, Kolste said.

“The lines now are drawn by the party in power, and lawsuits are almost always the result,'' Kolste said.  “Look at Iowa, where the districts generally form a grid.  Then look at Wisconsin, where political considerations have resulted in a crazy quilt of lines and curves.''

“Rep. August believes the Wisconsin Constitution clearly assigns the responsibility of redistricting to the Legislature and does not support putting that responsibility into the hands of an unelected, unaccountable board,” says a statement from August's office.

The state will not be redistricted until after the 2020 census.



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