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Wisconsin Republicans vote to weaken their lock on the legislature

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans approved maps Tuesday that would weaken their ironclad grip on the state legislature, backing new district lines supported by the Democratic governor out of fears that the state’s top court could impose ones that are even worse for them.

If approved by Gov. Tony Evers, the package would jettison what experts consider one of the country’s most gerrymandered set of maps in a state that has been one of the most competitive in presidential and other statewide races.

Republicans have known since last year that their majorities could face a severe blow, after liberals took control of the state Supreme Court following an expensive and bruising election for a pivotal seat.

“We kind of have a gun to our head, frankly,” state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R) said during the floor debate. After voting to approve the new maps, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, another Republican, compared his decision to choosing to be stabbed instead of guillotined.

Democrats, who had just secured one of their biggest wins in a decade, appeared no happier than Republicans. Nearly all of them voted against the maps and privately fumed over a missed chance to get a better deal.

Republicans took control of the legislature during the tea party wave of 2010 and soon after established maps that locked in huge majorities. They used them to cut taxes, weaken unions, expand gun rights and limit the powers of Evers and the state’s Democratic attorney general. They have consistently blocked Evers’s agenda since he was elected in 2018.

In last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race — the most expensive judicial contest in the nation’s history — voters by a wide margin elected liberal Janet Protasiewicz to an open seat on the court, ending a 15-year reign by conservatives.

During the campaign, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” given how greatly they favored Republicans. She said she would welcome a chance to review them, and litigants gave her that opportunity by filing a lawsuit the day after she was sworn in.

Republicans were so alarmed by Protasiewicz’s victory and the prospect of losing their maps that they threatened to impeach her if she remained on the case. They backed off the idea weeks later, and Protasiewicz and the court’s other liberals issued a 4-3 decision in December striking down the maps.

The court urged Evers and the legislature to draw new maps and said it would impose ones that were politically neutral otherwise.

Of the proposals for new maps under consideration by the court, the ones by Evers provided the fewest gains for Democrats. Republicans on Tuesday decided to approve those maps.

Republicans hold a 64-35 advantage in the state Assembly, two votes shy of a veto-proof supermajority. If Evers’s version of the maps had been in place last year, the Republican edge would probably have been much smaller — 53-46 — according to an analysis by Marquette University research fellow John Johnson.

That would be a significant improvement for Democrats, but other maps before the court would have been even better for them, putting them on the verge of the majority.

In the state Senate, Republicans have a veto-proof 22-10 majority, with a vacancy in a heavily Democratic seat. If in place in 2022, the new maps probably would have shrunk that margin to one vote, giving Republicans a 17-16 edge, according to Johnson’s analysis.

“It pains me to say it, but Governor Evers gets a huge win today,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said Tuesday just before the vote.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Evers did not say what he would do, but he has said in recent days that he would approve the new maps if Republicans did not amend them.

If Evers vetoes the maps, the state Supreme Court will choose ones for the state. If he signs off on them, the lawsuit is likely to end.

Either way, fights over the maps could continue. Republicans or their allies could bring long-shot litigation in federal court in hopes of blocking the maps.

Tuesday’s vote does not affect the state’s congressional maps. Republicans hold six of the state’s eight congressional seats. A group of Democratic voters have asked the state Supreme Court to strike down the congressional maps, but the court has not said whether it would do so.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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