Voces de la Frontera files lawsuit over redistricting

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee-based Latino community group has filed a lawsuit in Dane County District Court, saying Republican lawmakers intentionally withheld information from the public as they redrew electoral maps in secret last summer.

Voces de la Frontera has filed a lawsuit, claiming Republicans developed redistricting maps in secret, to strengthen their majorities, deliberately shutting out the public and the Democrats. "The state redistricting map is rotten, and the process by which it was passed is rotten," Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces de la Frontera said.

Secrecy agreements signed by 58 Assembly members and 17 senators were discovered this week by Voces attorney Peter Earle, after a three-judge panel allowed him to view them. "What we have here is an egregious example of intentional violation of the public trust. That secrecy agreement went to the planning process, the negotiating process, and ultimately the decision-making process," Earle said.

The electoral maps are re-drawn every ten years after the census, to reflect the new population. Earle says Republicans held a secret meeting at the law firm near the Capitol, all to strengthen their grip on voting majorities in the Assembly and State Senate. "When those meetings ended on July 7th, they had a majority consensus in the legislature to vote for and adopt a secret map that no one had seen - not Democratic legislators, and not the public. They went through the charade of a public hearing on July 13th," Erle said.

"They were brief meetings, just to show the legislators the maps that we were ultimately going to try to move through both houses. Democrats did it exactly the same way ten years ago, so we didn't think we were reinventing the wheel here. It was just kind of standard SOP in the way we operated," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said.

In addition, Earle says there's damning evidence of Republican intent to mislead the public in a "talking points memo" which stated "public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments." "Significantly, that document was saved to the hard drive under the name 'talking points for Robin (Vos),'" Earle said. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) is the powerful Joint Finance Committee chairman. Earle and Voces say this is a clear indication Republicans intended to say one thing in public, and do a completely different thing in private. Vos was unavailable for comment Wednesday, and his spokeswoman said there would be no statement from his office because of the pending litigation.

Fitzgerald was one of two senators not to sign the agreement. He says a draft piece of legislation is not something that is made public because it would have a direct effect on what the public policy would look like. Fitzgerald did not sign the secrecy agreement, and says he did not put pressure on any members to sign it.

The Dane County District attorney has 20 days to decide if there will be criminal charges filed.