Republicans deny report GOP looking to circumvent Evers

Wisconsin Legislature New Session
In this Dec. 14, 2018, photo, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers holds a news conference in Madison.
Steve Apps | Wisconsin State Journal via AP

The Wisconsin Legislature's top Republicans denied a report Monday that their party is working to circumvent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers when redrawing political boundary lines in 2021.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos both rejected the notion that Republicans were considering passing a joint resolution in 2021 to accomplish redistricting. That approach wouldn't require Evers' signature, meaning he couldn't veto GOP-drawn maps.

"That approach has never been discussed by Republican leadership, within the GOP caucus, or with outside counsel," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "This is nothing more than rumor-mongering by Democrat activists in an attempt to fire up their base ahead of the 2020 elections."

Said Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer: "A redistricting resolution is not being discussed."

The Wisconsin Examiner, in a story Monday, quoted both liberal and conservative attorneys who said they had heard that Republicans were considering passing a redistricting joint resolution, rather than a bill. Vos and Fitzgerald did not comment for that story.

The Legislature is charged with redrawing political boundary maps every 10 years. The next time they will do it is in 2021, following the 2020 census. Republicans currently have a 19-14 majority in the state Senate and a 63-36 majority in the Assembly. There will be one more election, in the fall of 2020, that will determine majority control heading into the redistricting year.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that passing a joint resolution for redistricting is unconstitutional. The court is now controlled 5-2 by conservative justices, which has emboldened Republicans to challenge long-held precedent.

Lester Pines, a liberal attorney who frequently works with those challenging Republican-enacted laws, told Wisconsin Examiner that he believed GOP lawmakers were working with the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on passing a redistricting joint resolution.

Rick Esenberg, executive director of WILL, said he had "heard about" that approach, but his law firm was not currently working with GOP lawmakers on a joint resolution plan.

Pines, reacting to the denial from Fitzgerald, said his refusal to say any such move would ever be considered in the future "speaks volumes."

"He knows damn well that he and Vos will do or manipulate anything in order to remain in control of the legislature, including trying to get the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn a 54 year old case that is in their way," Pines said in a statement.

Fitzgerald did not return a message seeking clarity on his statement.

Vos earlier this month appeared to support the traditional approach of passing a redistricting bill that's signed by the governor. Vos then was speaking out against a Democratic plan to create a nonpartisan commission to draw political boundary lines.

"Redistricting should continue to be the responsibility of the legislature and governor," Vos said at the time.