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Feb 16 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Redistricting Shocker in Wisconsin

 

The memos are shocking. Republican legislators and their lawyers connived at creating public support for new electoral maps.

In one, attorney Jim Troupis e-mails two lawyers at Michael Friedrich and Best:
“You can let the chair know that Manny Perez and others from the Latino community will be there to testify for a 60-54 map. You will need to have a large map showing that district—you should prepare that and bring it with. You should still, I think talk about the three alternatives. That way it looks like what it is—an effective negotiation of something the community wants.

Congratulations!

Manny is talking right now with MALDEF to coordinate their testimony.” (MALDEF is the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.)

A three-judge panel ordered the documents released and wrote in a scathing critique that the GOP had engaged in an “all but shameful” effort to keep its machinations hidden from the public.

 

Republican legislators were also forced to sign an oath promising to keep the maps secret, to use talking points, and to disregard public comments about the maps. Nearly all signed the legal agreements.

Electoral maps are re-drawn every tens years, based on the latest Census numbers. Redistricting is a politicized issue and often the newly drawn maps end up facing legal challenges. This happens in many states, not just Wisconsin.

And it’s not something that only Republicans are guilty of. Maps drawn up by Dems elsewhere, such as Illinois or California, face legal challenges, too.

But in Wisconsin, the Republicans are being so brazen. The secrecy is astounding. The three-judge panel called it shameful, echoing the sentiments yelled by protesters in the Assembly gallery.

One aspect of the redistricting saga going underreported is the role of Washington establishment Republicans such as Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.

The Wisconsin GOP controls redistricting because it has the majority in both chambers. The Fitzgerald brothers, Robin Vos, and their cohorts would not have won these majorities if it wasn’t for a little known group called the Republican State Leadership Committee.

This group, formed in 2002, is the only national organization that focuses on electing Republican majorities to state legislatures. (I wrote about this group in the October issue of The Progressive.)

The Republican State Leadership Committee played a pivotal role in Wisconsin, enabling Republicans to flip both houses of the state legislature and the governorship from Democrat to Republican in 2010. The group bet big—-and won big—even though it was the first time it spent money on legislative races in the state. It dropped almost one million dollars in five races, and won four of the seats.

Most of the Republican State Leadership Committee’s money went to oppose candidates, not support them. It spent five times more money tearing down Democratic candidates than building up its own Republican candidates.

“We’ll be providing air cover,” Chris Jankowski, current president of the committee, boasted to The Wall Street Journal.

It certainly did. It blasted central Wisconsin’s airwaves and spent $326,700 on negative campaigns against Russ Decker, who was the Democratic majority leader at the time. It was the only group to target Decker.

It also went after Democrat Kathleen Vinehout with a glossy direct mail package that asked: “Why would senator Kathleen Vinehout allow Wisconsin convicts out of prison early?” The mailing resembles a poster for a horror film: A young, white woman has a terrified look on her face as a man’s hand covers her mouth. The accusation was based on Vinehout’s support for the 2009-2011 state budget, which included the early release program. Vinehout was the only Dem who survived the RSLC’s onslaught of negative ads.

IRS filings show the committee has been heavily backed by big business since its inception. Many of the same companies that give money to the committee also give money to ALEC and the Republican Governors Association.

Its biggest contributor by far is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has given more than $11 million. Devon Energy Corporation has given nearly $2 million. Tobacco (Altria, Reynolds), pharmaceutical (GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca), and health insurance (WellPoint) industries all give money.

Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman, leads the Republican State Leadership Committee. He also contracts with it. During 2010, his company, Ed Gillespie Strategies, received regular monthly consulting fees of $16,667.

American Crossroads, another 527 group, has donated $600,000 to the committee, ranking within the top twenty-five contributors. American Crossroads is the brainchild of Karl Rove and Gillespie.

What happened in Wisconsin in 2010 wasn’t unique. The RSLC helped flip twenty state legislative chambers from Democrat to Republican.

These new Republican majorities, along with the already-existing ones, put the GOP in charge of redistricting Congressional maps in seventeen states, including all of the House seats from the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Looking ahead to the 2012 election, the committee is expected to continue to focus on swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin remains a battleground state, and the RSLC will be aggressively involved in increasing our majority in 2012,” said Jankow­ski in a statement after Wisconsin’s summer recall elections. (The committee did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment.)

This summer it launched the Future Majority Project, an initiative to get women, young people, and Latinos to run for office as Republicans. It has set a goal to recruit at least 100 new Hispanic Republican candidates.

“The RSLC believes that cultivating change is best achieved through a bottom-up, state-level approach,” said Jankowski in a press release.

Which bring us back to Manny Perez. The Wisconsin GOP will have to do more than court prominent Latinos to get the support of Latino communities. But the memos reveal the GOP may not really be that interested in Latino votes after all. It just wants the appearance of it.

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