Over the past few weeks, several organizations and coalitions have emerged to oppose the way the Milwaukee County Board has drawn out their redistricting maps. Proving particularly active in the redistricting process are groups such as the NAACP, Hispanics for Leadership, and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council (ICC).
The County Board, however, continues to ignore the groundswell of opposition. Some feel that if they not address these grievances soon, their oversight will turn separate advocacy groups into one powerful redistricting alliance.
The Latino Redistricting Committee - a coalition of Latino organizations - are engaged in a current battle with Alderman Donovan over a district plan that would beef up the Hispanic population in his district. However, Donovan does not want to increase the Hispanic majority in his district, but is instead fighting to keep them at current levels despite population surges in the Latino community.
The Latino Redistricting Committee has argued that U.S. Census numbers show a 44% increase in the city's Latino population, and that creating a super-majority in Donovan's district reflects proportional representation under the federal Voter Rights Act. They argued that accepting anything less is diluting voter power in the minority community.
Hispanics for Leadership - a new and growing coalition of Hispanic business professionals, educators, and community leaders - is taking the fight directly to County Board Supervisors. They oppose the Board's preliminary redistricting map and claim that it keeps Latinos from attaining a second majority voting-age district.
Back in May, County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo told El Conquistador that the County Board could have created a second majority Latino voting-age district, but they didn't. At the time, Supervisors Peggy West and Marina Dimirijevic disagreed arguing that the Hispanic population was too dispersed to create two majority districts. So we put Sanfelippo to the test and asked him to draft a map showing that two majority districts could have been created.
Sanfelippo used the County's redistricting software to draft a county map and was able to create two majority Latino districts as promised. When we asked Supervisor Dimitrijevic to comment on her colleague's accomplishment, she said she would wait until July's Redistricting Committee's Meeting to review it. That was two months ago.
On Thursday, Hispanics for Leadership issued a press release asking the County Board to take into consideration new census figures showing considerable growth in the Hispanic community They also attached a list of co-signatures to their press release of prominent local Latino leaders signaling a rapid upgrowth in their coalition.
Leaders that endorsed their letter include Teresa Mercado and Gregorio Montoto (Directors of Mexican Fiesta), Raul Huertas and Julio Maldanado (President and Vice President of Hispanic Entrepreneurs of Wisconsin), Anselmo Villarreal (President and CEO of La Casa de Esperanza) and Ernesto Villarreal (owner of El Rey Supermarkets). The list suggests that the Hispanic community is coming together to stand up for their collective voice in county government.
Victor Huyke of Hispanics for Leadership said, "Our coalition is gathering momentum from Latinos of all political beliefs. Milwaukee's redistricting is not about being liberal or conservative, but about acquiring an equal voice in our government."
At Wednesday's ICC forum in Whitefish Bay, a group of panelists aired their complaints about the County's preliminary redistricting plan. Unlike past ICC meetings, it was held on the stomping grounds of County Supervisor Joe Rice. Several constituents voiced frustration about how County's Redistricting Committee had strategically redistricted Rice out of the North Shore area. To some, it was seen as a punishment by Chairman Lee Holloway for not sharing the County Board's majority opinion.
Charles Mulcahy, a former County Supervisor and panelist, criticized the board for a lack of "good faith practice." Mulcahy said that of the 19 members of the County Board, all but two of them were consulted for the Board's redistricting plan. Incidentally, Supervisor Rice was one of the two that were not consulted.
At one point, differences surfaced among the six panelists concerning the ideal size of the County Board. Supervisor Sanfelippo favored a smaller board, but stressed that he would opt for an increase if meant making supervisory positions part-time. Mulcahy thought the size of the County Board should be anywhere from 5 to 9 members.
But Chairman of the NAACP's Political Action Committee Nathan Holton warned that a smaller board doesn't always mean more efficiency. He added that pushing their logic to an extreme "lends itself to the argument that we should just have a County Board of one." Holton challenged the notion that a smaller board would adequately represent every County resident.
Supervisor Sanfelippo's redistricting map provided the basis for which Hispanics for Leadership could make their case against the County Board. Since then, Hispanics for Leadership has received ample support by the local Hispanic community to challenge the County Board on their behalf. Also, Milwaukee's local chapter of the NAACP has offered a helping-hand to Hispanics for Leadership to endorse a redistricting plan that reflects current population shifts and opposes the dilution of the minority vote.
Although different Hispanic coalitions are emerging to fight for equal representation, growing support does not come without sacrifice. The redistricting process is inherently partisan because politicians use boundary lines to hedge in their own political careers. Citizen participation is the best way to keep the politicians in check and is the most effective way to protect our community voter apathy.