The Issue: Milwaukee County's redistricting plan.
The Concern: Despite population growth, the Hispanic community will be under-represented for the next 10 years.
In the past decade, Milwaukee County's Hispanic community grew by 43,000 bringing their population to 126,000. Yet the county board's redistricting plan didn't seem to acknowledge the 2010 Census data. So the question prevails, how does a populace of 126,000 (13% of Milwaukee County) constitute one majority voting-age district?
Census numbers show that the black community is roughly 26% of the Milwaukee County population while the Latino community is about 13%. And although the county's black community doubles the size of the Hispanic community, they managed to retain six times the representation on the county board. County Supervisor Patricia Jursik noted that, based upon population results, the black community should have 4.6 seats while the Latino community should have 2.4 seats. Jursik told El Conquistador that the county board did not factor into their redistricting plan an increase in the Latino population. We think she's right.
We asked Supervisor Peggy West why Latinos didn't get at least two majority voting-age districts in their plan. She said the only way to add another Hispanic district was to increase the size of the county board. But when we asked if she had pitched a plan do just that, West didn't return our email. We also asked her if any county supervisor raised a concern that the Hispanic community might be under-represented or possibly disenfranchised, again she did not respond.
In an earlier email exchange, Supervisor Peggy West told El Conquistador that a second majority Hispanic district couldn't be created since "the Latino population is dispersed across the County." It's nearly the same word-for-word response that Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic gave us, but Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo is not buying it.
Last week, Sanfelippo told El Conquistador that a second majority Hispanic district could have been created without having to upsize the county board. It was a claim that directly contradicted Peggy West. So we asked Sanfelippo to put his money where his mouth was. A week later - and after some research - Sanfelippo did just that.
Using the county's redistricting program, Supervisor Sanfelippo made changes he believes would strengthen Hispanic influence in Milwaukee County. The plan that passed the county board weeks ago, the one Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic endorsed, gave Latinos one majority voting-age district of 65%. Dimitrijevic's district had a 43% Latino voting-age population, so her district couldn't qualify as being a majority Latino district . . . well, at least not yet.
The plan that Supervisor Sanfelippo put together this week - mostly to prove a point - purportedly gives Hispanics two majority voting districts, one at 63% and another at 57%. Sanfelippo did this by drawing district lines that shifted more voting-age Latinos to Dimitrijevic's district.
Sanfelippo's plan is actually really big news. The results suggest that Supervisors Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic - both of which have large Latino constituencies - could have done more, a lot more to ensure greater Latino influence in government policy. Enlarging a Latino voting-age population from 43% to 57% means more say on who they elect and more say on county board policy. That's a big deal.
Assuming that Sanfelippo had indeed created two majority voting-age districts, this opens a Pandora's Box. For starters, it would give more credence to a federal lawsuit against Milwaukee County for violating the Voter Rights Act. It would prove that the Hispanic community, based upon Census population growth, should have greater representation, but were neglected by a county board focused on advancing another agenda.
Sanfelippo's findings would also strengthen the position of the State Legislature if they were to intervene in the county board's redistricting. A couple months ago, Representative Dale Kooyenga drafted legislation that would trim the county board down to nine supervisors; and although his draft remained a draft, knowing that the Hispanic community is being deprived of fair representation gives the GOP a door of opportunity to play hero. It would also put a feather in the cap of several mayors in Milwaukee County that feel they were left out of the redistricting process.
In the 40 or so days from now, the county board will either vote to keep their plan intact, or they will vote to make some changes. Supervisors Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic will also have an opportunity to integrate Sanfelippo's plan procuring for the Hispanic community two majority voting-age districts. They could also vote to keep the Hispanic community a non-player in county policy. One way or another, it's a big decision - one that may make or break their political careers.
Already, West and Dimitrijevic have some explaining to do. They must explain why a county supervisor with less than 5% of voting-age Latinos in his district is pushing to give the Hispanic community a stronger voice while supervisors with 65% and 43% Latino populations are content with things the way they are. We encourage the county board to review Sanfelippo's redistricting plan and give Latino's the voice they deserve.