Tony Evers announces members of new redistricting commission

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday announced the members of a new redistricting commission that includes two members representing the Milwaukee area.

Though described as nonpartisan, three of its members donated to Democrats and one member gave to Republican candidates.   

The commission, dubbed the People’s Maps Commission, is tasked with drawing new boundaries for Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 U.S. Census. The commission’s maps would be advisory to the state Legislature. 

Britt Cudaback, spokeswoman for Evers, said political donations did not preclude a spot on the commission like politics-related employment, such as lobbying or working for political parties. 

“The selection panel of three retired judges picked the People’s Maps Commission members, and just like Wisconsinites across our state, some have supported Republican candidates, some have supported Democratic candidates, and some haven’t been involved in partisan politics at all,” Cudaback said.

“Regardless of any affiliation, the charge for every member and the commission remains the same: to listen to the people of our state and draw fair, impartial maps that can be presented to the Legislature next year,” she said.

Four of the members have donated small amounts to political candidates in the past, mostly to Democrats, according to a review of state and federal campaign finance records. 

Two have each donated thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively.

Ruben Anthony Jr., president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, who will represent the 2nd Congressional District, has donated about $3,400 to Democratic candidates.

Anthony Phillips, an Appleton physician who represents the 8th Congressional District, has donated about $7,400 to Republican candidates. 

The other commission members are:

  • Elizabeth Tobias of Racine, 1st Congressional District. Tobias is the executive assistant to the Board of Education for the Racine Unified School District. Tobias is a member of the Wisconsin Association of School Superintendents, which lobbies lawmakers, and the American Society of Administrative Professionals.  
  • Annemarie McClellan of Menomonie, 3rd Congressional District. McClellan is retired from a career in manufacturing and clinical research. McClellan is co-president of a League of Women Voters chapter. 
  • Christopher Ford of Whitefish Bay, 4th Congressional District. Ford is an emergency physician. He is a member of the American Board of Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents Association and an advisory board member of the Wisconsin Emergency Medical Services for Children.
  • Benjamin Rangel of Milwaukee, 4th Congressional District. Rangel is a high school teacher in Milwaukee, teaching government and history at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. He is the managing editor of Bridge the City and previously worked as a development coordinator for City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps.
  • Susan Ranft of Wauwatosa, 5th Congressional District. Ranft is vice president of global human resources for Manpower Group and previously served as the president and member of the Governance Board of the Wauwatosa STEM Elementary School, and is an active member of TEMPO Milwaukee.
  • Melissa Prentice of Sheboygan, 6th Congressional District. Prentice is a librarian and public services manager for the City of Sheboygan. Prentice has been involved with the Wisconsin Library Association and a local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
  • Jason Bisonette of Hayward, 7th Congressional District. Bisonette is the dean of students at a school on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation and is the board chairman for the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College.

Evers created the commission earlier this year through an executive order that barred lobbyists, elected officials, public officials or political party officials from serving as members. 

The commission’s charge is to draw new maps for the Legislature to consider that are “free from partisan bias or partisan advantage” and would avoid diluting or diminishing minority votes. 

The group of nine commissioners were picked by former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, former Outagamie County Circuit Judge Joseph Troy and former state Appeals Judge Paul Higginbotham.

The nine members were selected from a pool of 270 eligible applicants, according to a news release from the Evers administration. 

All states must draw new maps after this year’s census to account for changes in population. The maps can be drawn in ways that give one political party an edge in campaigns — all but guaranteeing one side a legislative majority. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, signaled in January that lawmakers would ignore the panel, saying the process is out of bounds of what lawmakers should use and predicted the panel would be partisan.

A spokeswoman for Vos said given the members’ political donations, “Speaker Vos is not surprised that a partisan governor created a partisan commission.”

Where the lines are drawn plays a major role in determining who controls the Legislature and has an upper hand in the state’s congressional delegation.

Republican lawmakers established maps in 2011 that handed them large majorities in the Statehouse and an advantage in five of the state’s eight congressional districts. Litigation over the current maps persisted from 2011 to 2019. 

ARCHIVES:New election data highlights the ongoing impact of 2011 GOP redistricting in Wisconsin

The idea of a nonpartisan redistricting commission has widespread support among Wisconsin voters, according to Marquette University Law School polling.

If lawmakers use their usual process for drawing maps, Evers would have the ability to veto what they put together.

Republican leaders and Evers have been able to agree on little and a compromise over maps would be difficult to reach. That would leave it to the courts to decide what maps to put in place.

Lawsuits could commence once census data is available in April 2021 — well before lawmakers would have time to start drawing maps.

Former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen with the conservative legal firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is proposing to change legal rules for lawsuits over the new maps, requiring challenges to be brought to the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court.

If Jensen’s proposal is adopted, the state Supreme Court would have to decide on the maps by April 2022, which would allow candidates to know the shapes of the districts before they begin gathering signatures to get on the ballot that fall.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.