Last week, a federal panel of judges ruled that Republican Legislators must modify a line that divided the 8th and 9th Assembly Districts. What does this mean? Last year, Voces de la Frontera joined in a lawsuit against Act 43 - a statewide redistricting map crafted by Republicans - based on several premises. All in all, nine claims were filed in the joint lawsuit, five were abandoned during trial due to being frivolous, and only one claim had enough merit to be upheld by the court.
Voces de la Frontera called the court's decision to uphold their one claim to be a "momentous decision," but the result was hardly momentous. Yes, the federal court agreed that the voting efficacy of Milwaukee's south side Latinos was diluted, but the changes mandated by the court were minor by their own admission. This momentous ruling also presumes that Republicans won't appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. If that were to happen, Voces' win could be overturned, expunged from all legal memory, and relegated to partisan politics as usual. If there is no victory, there are no bragging rights.
More interestingly, Voces tipped their hand this weekend in a not so trivial way. Last year, they said their lawsuit was on behalf of all Latino voters to ensure they weren't disenfranchised. However, after the court ruled that only minor modifications were to be made in the 8th and 9th Assembly Districts (Milwaukee's south side), Voces stood together with Democrats asking the federal court to redraw more districts under the opportune presumption of a butterfly effect. By filing a motion to redraw districts well beyond Milwaukee's south side, Voces revealed their lawsuit wasn't about fighting for Latinos as much as it was acting as the litigious arm of the Democrat Party.
Switching gears to last spring, the County Board - with minimum public feedback and plenty of backroom deals - passed a preliminary redistricting plan that ignored the explosive growth of Latinos on Milwaukee's south side. Hispanics for Leadership opposed the County map citing concerns it would violate the Voter Rights Act. After pressuring the County Board for months to change their map, they relented and created a second Latino voting-age district.
Last spring, El Conquistador initiated an investigative series discovering that Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic's district had grown into a Latino majority voting-age population (VAP). For the first time, Latino voters in her district could play a dominant role in electing a candidate of their own choosing. Despite Hispanic growth, however, Dimitrijevic voted to remove voting-age Latinos from her district.
Ironically, Dimitrijevic told a Bayview audience during a debate that Latinos should be represented adequately. What she neglected to say is that her effort to carve Latino voters out of her district was an attempt to limit their voting efficacy. Without that ability, there can be no adequate representation.
Although Supervisor West didn't stand to gain as much as Supervisor Dimitrijevic, she also consented to a map that prevented the Hispanic community from attaining a second effective majority district. When we questioned her about it, she said the only way to create a second Latino district was to increase the size of the County Board. But with a growing public demand to reduce the County Board's size, it was a non-starter.
West also said that the County Board's preliminary map was non-negotiable and could not be altered to create that second majority district. We will give her the benefit of the doubt and say she was misled, but since the County Board reduced its own size and created a second effective majority district, both of West's claims were shown to be false.
We asked Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy West's opponent, what she thought of the County's redistricting efforts. She called it a blatant attempt by West and Dimitrijevic to draw district lines to benefit themselves at the expense of the Hispanic community. Ortiz pointed out that when West and Dimitrijevic had amended the County's preliminary map, they had also confirmed their error in judgment.
The problem Ortiz has with County Supervisors participating in their own redistricting is that it contributes to a hyper-partisan process whereby Supervisors contrive of ways to strengthen their own incumbency. Dimitrijevic's attempt to shave off more voting-age Latinos from her district is arguably a good example of that. Ortiz suggested that redistricting should be planned out by an independent committee consisting of community members. This way, such powers are taken away from those who have the strongest motives to play partisan politics.
In retrospect, the redistricting efforts by State Legislators and County Board Supervisors were substantially similar in scope. In an attempt to create broader representation for Latino voters, both processes resulted in divvying up a Latino supermajority district to create an additional majority Latino district. After feeling pressure from community groups, the County Board did the right thing and gave Latino voters the ability to elect the candidate of their choice. The State, however, was stymied by Voces de la Frontera's federal lawsuit and is still hung up in federal court.