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Assembly passes redistricting plan

Assembly passes redistricting plan

By The Associated Press. CREATED Jul 20, 2011 - UPDATED: Jul 21, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans in control of the state Assembly passed bills Wednesday redrawing political boundary lines in Wisconsin with no support from Democrats, who called it an unconstitutional plan that will not survive in court.

The proposals, which passed the Senate on Tuesday also along party lines, now head to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The maps redraw all 132 legislative districts and Wisconsin's eight congressional districts.

Democrats in both houses objected to the new maps, saying they amounted to an unconstitutional power grab designed to cement Republican majorities over the next decade. They also accused Republicans of rushing to get the maps to Walker before recall elections next month that could give Democrats control of the Senate, thereby able to block the governor's agenda.

"Democracy is literally on life support in Wisconsin and now you want to give it a lethal injection," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.

The Legislature usually doesn't consider the once-a-decade process of redistricting until the fall. The new lines, which are required to be drawn to address about a 320,000-person population increase over the past decade, don't take effect until the fall 2012 elections.

Like their counterparts in the Senate, Democrats in the Assembly offered no alternative maps on Wednesday, saying there wasn't time to come up with a plan. Republicans released their maps on July 8.

"What we are doing here today is so wrong on so many different counts," said Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha. "It's just a partisan overreach."

No Republican spoke during debate of the maps prior to the votes to pass them.

Barca said passage of the redistricting plans will be a test of Walker's claims that he intends to be more bipartisan following the first six months of his term that polarized the state over his anti-union proposal and divisive state budget that dramatically cut public education to help balance a $3 billion shortfall.

"Is he truly trying to have bipartisanship?" Barca said.

Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, had no comment on the passage of the bill.

Democrats also criticized Republicans for spending $350,000 to date on private attorneys to help draw the maps, at the same time Democrats were not allowed to hire their own attorneys to come up with an alternate plan.

Rep. Fred Kessler, a former judge who has previously assisted Democrats in Wisconsin and Nevada with redistricting, said the legislative map was unconstitutional because it splits minority populations to dilute their concentration and creates 59 strongly Republican districts and just 40 Democratic ones.

"It's a vicious plan and I think it's not going to survive," Kessler said. "You have overreached this in an effort to crush the minority."

Federal judges drew the state's legislative lines each of the past three times, when a politically divided Legislature couldn't agree on maps.

There is already a federal lawsuit this year, even though Walker has yet to sign the bills into law. The lawsuit filed last month by former Senate Democratic Majority Leader Judy Robson of Beloit and 14 other citizens asked for a federal three-judge panel to develop a redistricting plan if lawmakers do not put a constitutional plan in place in a timely fashion.

The legislative map makes a number of changes to the current 99 Assembly and 33 Senate districts. Twelve Republicans and 10 Democrats are being forced to run against an incumbent in the newly drawn districts.

The congressional map moves Portage County and eastern Wood County from the 7th District, along with Democratic-leaning cities of Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and Chippewa Falls, and puts them into the 3rd District. It also moves Republican-leaning areas including Vilas and St. Croix counties into the 7th District.

That would make the 7th District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, slightly more Republican. The moves would make the 3rd District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, more Democratic.

The vote to pass the legislative map was 57-40, with independent Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc voting no. Republican Rep. Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake also joined Democrats in voting against it. The bill redrawing the congressional map was 59-38 along party lines, with Ziegelbauer joining Republicans in support.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)