Last spring, the Milwaukee County Board took some heat for a redistricting plan that lacked transparency, oversight, and public input. To make things worse, it also failed to acknowledge a decade's worth of population growth in the Hispanic community.
Several local community groups including the ACLU, NAACP, and the ICC voiced their opposition, but the Board seemed more interested in drawing Supervisor Joe Rice out of his district than complying with the civil rights protections afforded by federal law. As the chorus of complaints grew louder and louder, the Board eventually relented giving the Hispanic community a second majority voting-age district.
The whole process wasn’t exactly a shining moment for the County Board, but revisionist history can have its advantages. The following in an excerpt from a press release issued earlier this month by Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic:
“Supervisor Dimitrijevic worked closely with Voces on Milwaukee County's Redistricting plan. She authored an amendment that created a second, Latino majority voting-age district on the County Board. 'I am proud to have played a leadership role in increasing the representation of Latinos in our local government.'"
Ironically, Supervisor Dimitrijevic and Voces de la Frontera were absent during the county’s redistricting process. Back in May, I wrote, “This raises an interesting question. Where is Voces de la Frontera on this issue? Are they not Wisconsin’s premiere civil rights group that aggressively fights for Latinos?”
The question was obviously rhetorical. We knew exactly why Voces didn’t participate in the county’s redistricting battle. Voces is a partisan outfit that carries a lot of water for Democrats. Since the majority of Supervisors that had voted for the preliminary redistricting map were Democrats, it’s only for partisan purposes they opposed the city’s redistricting plan, but wholly ignored the county’s.
When you think about it, Dimitrijevic’s press release is no small matter. Adding another majority voting-age district means more power for Hispanics to elect the Supervisors of their choice. It means more say in the policy issues of the County. This could certainly be a selling point for any campaign.
When the County Board passed their preliminary plan, it reduced the Hispanic voting-age population (VAP) of the County’s 12th district from 51.8% to 43%. This means that the County’s 12th district had already qualified for a second majority VAP and Dimitrijevic voted to take it away.
Dimitrijevic mentions that her amendment created a second Hispanic majority VAP district. She described it as “increasing the representation of Latinos in our local government.” What she doesn’t say is that her peace offering amendment didn’t even restore the Hispanic VAP of her district to its original number. Remember, the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the voting-age population of Latinos in her district was already 51.8%. Her amendment made it 50.6% This means her amendment was a de facto reduction of Latino representation by 1.2%.
The Supervisor who indisputably played a leadership role fighting for the Hispanic community was Joe Sanfelippo - although you won’t see vainglorious press releases admitting as much.
At the behest of El Conquistador Newspaper, Supervisor Sanfelippo drafted a probative redistricting map showing a second Hispanic voting-age district was at least achievable. This provided the basis for groups like Hispanics for Leadership to make their case to the public.
Interestingly, Sanfelippo met with Dimitrijevic giving her an opportunity to co-opt his plan. His draft would have increased the Latino VAP of Dimitrijevic’s district from 51.8% to 57%. There is no delicate way of saying it. Dimitrijevic wasn’t interested in taking on more voting-age Latinos in her district. Why do something that would increase your vulnerability to a potential Latino opponent? That may be too much risk for an ambitious Supervisor next in line to be County Board Chairman.
If there is one thing that readers should take away from this, it’s that Dimitrijevic voted twice to decrease Latino representation in county government. Yes, her amendment created a second majority VAP for the Hispanic community, but only after three months of bad press and mounting pressure from the Hispanic business community.
Supervisor Dimitrijevic and Voces de la Frontera contently sat on the sidelines while groups like Hispanics for Leadership did the heavy lifting. That’s not leadership. Dimitrijevic likes to talk about being a representative of the Hispanic community. If that’s the case, then why did she try to vote more Latinos out of her district?
As a Hispanic community, we need to hold politicians accountable when they don’t have our backs. If El Conquistador and Hispanics for Leadership had decided to sit this one out, the Hispanic community would have one less majority VAP district. Think about it.