Republicans have released new redistricting maps, and they’ve done something that hasn’t been done in our lifetimes: they splintered central Wisconsin. We believe that central Wisconsin should be kept unified in the 7th District.
According to a press report, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), a mentor to our current Congressman Sean Duffy, took the lead in drawing the map. That report also indicated that Ryan held a meeting about the map with other congressmen, presumably including Duffy, behind closed doors June 13 in Washington.
Our district, which only needed to add about 20,000 people due to population shifts, makes a number of strange twists and turns in order to “gain” those 20,000 people. Specifically, the Ryan-Duffy map pushes 150,000 people out of our district and adds 170,000 from other districts, thus disrupting 220,000 people’s representation for no apparent reason — other than partisanship.
Some will say both parties do this, but in Wisconsin during the past 50 years or more, control of government has been split, so there has been reason to compromise and keep more districts more competitive.
Locally, Portage County and eastern Wood County (including Wisconsin Rapids) — areas that lean Democratic — would get shoved into the Mississippi River-based 3rd District, represented by Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse. That district actually becomes a gerrymandered “Y” shape under the Ryan-Duffy map.
You also might wonder why five Democratic leaders like us would be upset with this Illinois-style plan, given the fact that some of us would be added to a Democratic district — but this isn’t about protecting our party. It’s about keeping our communities, our economic development organizations and our citizens together.
Our three counties — Marathon, Portage and Wood — have been in the same congressional district for 100 years for a reason. We are culturally and economically joined at the hip.
Look at Centergy, the Central Wisconsin Alliance for Economic Development. Our three counties form the core of this regional economic development group. Imagine how difficult it will be if we are split between congressional districts when it comes to federal funding.
When you divide a region, it reduces your influence.
Even the Central Wisconsin Airport — the recipient of much federal funding via former Congressman Obey in years past — is jointly owned by Portage and Marathon counties.
Think, too, about our local media market. Our TV stations cover a wide area, but most of the coverage will be of 7th District issues because of location. With the population in our three counties possibly divided into different districts, this could result in less coverage of our specific issues, depriving the public of information and businesses being left behind.
The strong connections among our counties here in central Wisconsin are why we are so concerned that Congressman Duffy and Republican legislators — now in solid control of the State Capitol — are trying to gerrymander the 7th District to protect Duffy.
While we believe Duffy can’t run from his bad votes to end Medicare and protect Wall Street, we still can see he’s trying to do his best to hang onto power. And for us, having central Wisconsin divided just so one person can hang onto power is wrong. It will have a lasting and detrimental impact on our area.
Laura-Hauser-Menting and Gary Hawley are co-chairmen of Portage County Democrats; Chris Jockheck and John Daven are co-chairmen of Wood County Democrats; and Jeff Johnson is chairman of Marathon County Democrats.