Two months ago, the Milwaukee County Board scurried through a preliminary redistricting plan that failed to account for a striking growth rate in the County's Hispanic community. But overlooking patterns of growth is only one component to this redistricting debacle. Two weeks ago, El Conquistador made a public information request for the current voting-age population totals of each of the County's supervisory districts. What we found was a little disconcerting.
According to recent U.S. Census data, Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic's district has a Latino "voting-age population" (VAP) of 51%. By federal law, this makes Dimitrijevic's district a "majority" Latino district. The public information request confirmed that Dimitrijevic voted to reduce the Latino VAP of her district from 51% to 43%, an 8% overall cut. Simply put, Supervisor Dimitrijevic supported a plan that would take away the Hispanic community's second majority voting-age district. If the County's preliminary plan is finalized, Latinos in Milwaukee County will have one less majority voting-age district and a lot less say in the County's policy-making decisions.
As agents for the County government, Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic are constitutionally bound to keep the public informed about actions that impact the community. Unfortunately, the County Board's actions have not been transparent. Quite the contrary, they have shown a penchant for backroom deals and political paybacks.
Earlier this week, we attempted to contact Supervisor Dimitrijevic for an explanation on her vote. We asked if she had believed it was in the Hispanic community's best interest to cut out a second majority voting-age Latino district. She has yet to respond to our email. We asked Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo what he thinks about Supervisors not representing their constituency. He said,
"When elected officials fail, whether purposefully or not, to put the best interests of their constituents above all else, they are breaching their oath of office and violating the trust of the very people they are charged with servicing. This result raises serious doubts as to whether or not the practice of having politicians be in charge of the redistricting process serves the constituency best.",
The facts clearly show that Dimitrijevic voted to excise 8% of her district's Latino voting-age population making it a "minority" voting-age district. The real question is why? Some in Dimitrijevic's circle say she didn't want to dilute the voting-age population of Supervisor West's Latino district, which is currently at 66%.
However, Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo's plan - which gave the Hispanic community two majority VAP districts - kept Peggy West's district proportionally intact at 63%. Even more to the point, stacking West's district with a super-majority of Latinos could cause a wasteful use of voting strength, wasteful in the sense that their voting power could be better utilized in a separate majority VAP district.
Hispanics for Leadership, a growing coalition of Latino business professionals, educators, and community leaders, issued a statement today calling upon the County Board to support a redistricting plan that preserves the two current Latino voting-age districts in Milwaukee County.
Gregorio Montoto, Vice President of Mexican Fiesta and a cooperator of Hispanics for Leadership, said "If Supervisor Peggy West doesn't get behind the effort to preserve two majority Latino districts, it may become a problem for her politically." Montoto's history and involvement in Milwaukee's Hispanic community is no small matter. Montoto has built vital economic relationships between Mexico and Milwaukee's south side, and his influence in Milwaukee's Latino business community cannot be easily dismissed.
Pressure is mounting on the County Board to support a new redistricting plan that preserves two majority Latino VAP districts. We hope this expose does more than just answer a few questions. We should be asking ourselves why two County Supervisors, with compact Latino constituencies, would fail to provide the Hispanic community with proper voting representation.
We should also ask ourselves what sort of politicking occurred behind the scenes at the County level, and what did Dimitrijevic and West hope to gain from endorsing the County Board's preliminary redistricting plan.
It is no secret that if Dimitrijevic's Latino district stays a majority VAP, a Latino challenger could become a political headache for her. Perhaps such politicking gives credence to the notion that Latinos are best equipped to represent Latinos. Similarly, it is no secret that boosting the Latino VAP in West's district would increase her chances of winning a reelection. As a community, these are the sort of questions we should be asking ourselves. And we shouldn't sit on our hands when our representatives are caught red-handed protecting their careers rather than empowering our community.