Examining the Impact of Milwaukee County's Redistricting Plan

This is the first article in a series of investigative reports that El Conquistador will be doing on Milwaukee County's redistricting process and how it impacts the local Hispanic community.

Thursday, April 21st, the Milwaukee County Board voted 11-7 approving a district map that would alter the boundaries of a few North Shore neighborhoods and reduce the overall size of the county board by a seat.  It would appear that the board's majority vote was more of a standard and uncomplicated decision, yet its impact on the Hispanic community may be adverse and chronic.

According to U.S. Census Bureau reports, Wisconsin's Hispanic community grew by 74% in the past decade adding a little more than 143,000 inhabitants to Wisconsin's total population.  At the current rate of growth, Latinos are projected to become the largest minority group in the state surpassing the projected growth of the black community in just a few years.

Media discussion about Milwaukee County's redistricting has focused mainly on two premises: first, the county board size would be reduced by one seat; and second, Supervisor Joe Rice would bear the brunt of Lee Holloway's wrath by losing a portion of his conservative North Shore district.  What hasn't  been discussed regarding Thursday's 11-7 county board vote was how the Hispanic community was left holding the bag with a single voting district despite recent Census Bureau proof of significant population growth.

Who Benefits and Who Doesn't

Right now, the black community in Milwaukee County doubles the Latino community, yet they receive six times the representation on the county board.  The lopsided representation affects government policy and gives a political advantage to African-Americans at the expense of Latinos.  This isn't a black versus Latino issue; it's an issue of representation on the basis of verifiable population growth.  Apparently, Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic didn't get the memo.

Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic were among the 11 votes that kept the Hispanic community in a single district.  They had an opportunity to present their own redistricting plans so Latinos could get fairer representation, yet nobody spoke up for the Hispanic community.

In response to questions from El Conquistador, Supervisor Peggy West said, "The only way to add a second Hispanic district and comply with the Voting Rights Act would be to increase the size of the County Board.  Supervisor Dimitrijevic and I in today's political climate could not advocate doing that, nor would we have been successful if we tried."

Both County Supervisors said they couldn't give Latinos a second voting district because in doing so it would require them to grow the county board.  This claim contradicts that of County Supervisors Joe Rice and Joe Sanfelippo.  All things considered, El Conquistador threw down the gauntlet challenging Supervisor Sanfelippo to prove his claim that a second majority Hispanic district could have been created.

Sanfelippo accepted the challenge and will present to us a formula that could be used as the basis of creating a second majority Hispanic district.  Sanfelippo reassured us, "Sixty-seven percent of the Hispanic population in Milwaukee County lives within four current Supervisory Districts; it seems to me there is enough density there to be able to build two majority Hispanic Districts in that area."

As Supervisor Sanfelippo works to prove his point, one question should be asked: why is he the only one doing the work?  Both Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic represent heavily Hispanic districts, so why aren't they teaming up with Sanfelippo to create that second Hispanic district?  It's a good question considering that Sanfelippo's Hispanic constituency is under 5% while Peggy West's is over 65% and Marina Dimitrijevic's is over 40%.

The Milwaukee County Board rammed through their redistricting plan so quickly that even the local chapters of the NAACP and ACLU were scratching their heads.  There was no time for a citizen review, no time for bipartisan cooperation, and certainly no time to consider fair and equitable representation.  When the complaints of the NAACP and the ACLU fall on deaf ears and the Redistricting Committee has no time to accept feedback, something is going on behind the scenes.

Conclusion

There are a number of ways to address the redistricting problem.  First, the media can do its job and conduct a thorough investigation of what happened.  It mau just prompt enough citizens to come forward and demand a re-vote.  Second, a group or organization could file a lawsuit against the county on a number of different legal and unspecified grounds.  Sources tell us that such a lawsuit is actually being considered.  And third, the State Legislature could compel the County Board to draw out district maps according to its own dictates.  Considering that the county government is a creature of the state, the county may have no recourse but to accept what the states tells them to do.

Perhaps now is a good time as any to make some clarifications.  In response to a previous article, County Executive Chris Abele's office called us to clarify that he did not sign the county board's redistricting plan into law.  There are two ways to give consent: one can either give consent by vocalizing support for something, or one can give consent by simply opting not to oppose something.  Abele did the latter.  He opted not to veto the county board's redistricting plan, which in our books is a type of support.

Second, it should be noted that Supervisor Sanfelippo's redistricting plan did not create a second majority Hispanic district as I initially reported.  It was an oversight on my part, but it should be stressed that Supervisor Sanfelippo does believe that a second majority Hispanic district can still be created without growing the size of the county board, and he will endeavor to prove it.  This is in direct contradiction to the statement of Supervisor Peggy West who believes a second majority Hispanic district is not a possibility.

 

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