In the past few weeks, the Milwaukee County Board bustled through a redistricting plan that would have the effect of diluting the voting strength of the Hispanic community. Some allege that the Board's plan includes an illegal practice called "packing" whereby minority populations are spread out into different districts so they don't have the collective power to elect the representatives of their choice.
Every ten years, county governments in Wisconsin are required to review district boundaries in order to reflect population shifts. Since the last census, the Hispanic population in Milwaukee County grew by 45,000. The Board, however, decided that it wasn't enough to warrant a second majority voting-age district. This has created a concern from some leaders in the Hispanic community as it places limits on their ability to participate in the County's political process.
Weeks ago, we had an email exchange with County Supervisor Peggy West about the recent U.S. Census figures. We wrote to her that Milwaukee County's black community has twice the population of the Hispanic community, but they have six times the influence on the County Board. We asked West why she, as the only Hispanic on the County Board overseeing the only Hispanic majority district in the County, did not address the inequity problem when she had a chance.
West told us that the Latino population was "so widely scattered across the county" that it became "impossible to draw a second Latino majority district." West said she voted for the County Board's plan because it was the "best option presented." But County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo disagreed.
Recently, Sanfelippo drafted a district map - due to El Conquistador's public information request - that showed a second Latino majority district could have been created. To prove it, Sanfelippo drew districts lines that "unpacked" Latinos from surrounding districts shifting them into Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic's district. Sanfelippo believes his district map proves that the population growth in Milwaukee County's Hispanic community indeed warranted a second majority district.
More than two weeks ago we asked Peggy West if at any time during the redistricting process she had advocated for a second Latino majority district. She has yet to respond. In a separate email, she told us that the deadline for submitting a secondary plan (referring to Sanfelippo's) had passed and that "this subject is mute [sic]" and also "non-negotiable." When we asked if this meant that the County Board would ignore recommendations from Intergovernmental Cooperation Council of Milwaukee County (ICC), West told us she would check into it the following day. That was 9 days ago, and we have yet to hear from her.
This is how it breaks down. Sanfelippo's redistricting map that created a second Latino majority district was drawn because El Conquistador made a public information request. His map suggested at least two things: first, Hispanics could have received more representation on the County Board by unpacking and redrawing some of the district lines; and second, neither Peggy West nor Marina Dimitrijevic - supervisors overseeing Latino constituencies - introduced plans of their own ensuring that Hispanics had an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
West's remark that the County Board's tentative restricting plan was non-negotiable also has its problems. Initially, the County Board starts with a "tentative plan" after soliciting input from surrounding municipalities. After municipalities finish their own redistricting, the County Board has 60 days to finalize and adopt a plan for the county. During this time, the County Board has the power to amend their "tentative" plan. If State Statutes say the Board's plan tentative and amendable, then how can Peggy West say it's non-negotiable?
Pat McIlheran, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, suggested that the County Board did not intend to cheat the Hispanic community, but that their intentions were secondary to the seeds of ethnic animosity already planted. Besides El Conquistador, the only media to cover how the Board's plan slighted the Hispanic community were Pat McIlheran and Mark Belling. The only State Legislator to speak out against how the board's plan doesn't do right by the Hispanic community was Republican Jeff Stone.
This raises an interesting question. Where was Voces de la Frontera on this issue? Are they not Wisconsin's premiere civil rights group that aggressively fights for Latinos? Where was JoCasta Zamarripa, Wisconsin's first Latina Legislator, on this issue? Does she not represent the very Latino constituency potentially cheated by the County Board's plan? She had plenty of time to review Sanfelippo's plan to decide whether it had real merit. Why is it that Republicans Joe Sanfelippo and Jeff Stone are the only public figures speaking against this injustice while Supervisor Peggy West, the only Latina on the County Board, stays quiet?
Perhaps we don't want to see it. We don't want to know that so-called leaders in the Hispanic community are non-existent. In just a few years, Hispanics will be the largest minority group in Wisconsin, but we have nobody that's willing to lead them. It's frustrating and chilling at the same time. We can do better; we must do better.