For Milwaukee County redistricting, the past few months has been mired in controversy as politicians made cynical decisions to protect and promote their own careers. Summing it up, Supervisor Peggy West had the only Latino majority Voting Age Population (VAP) in the County, but new census numbers now show that we now have two majority VAP districts.
This means that the Hispanic community - more now than ever before - has the power to choose County Supervisors that best reflect the community's values, beliefs, and political philosophies. The problem, however, is that the County's preliminary plan - formulated months ago - shaved off 8% of Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic's Latino base from 51.8% to 43%. The passage of this plan would effectively diminish the voting influence of Latinos removing a second seat at the Milwaukee County table.
Here comes the good part. Community advocacy groups in Milwaukee County pushed back against the County Board because their preliminary plan was forged with little oversight, no explanation, and little public input. The County had no workshops, no easy access to Census data, and made no real effort to answer their constituents. Elected municipal leaders, the NAACP, and Hispanics for Leadership all criticized the County Board for the manner in which they conducted their redistricting process. An amendment to the County's tentative plan was made on Tuesday to preserve two Latino voting age districts. No matter how you slice it or how we delve into the corruption of the County's political process, the result was a major victory for the Hispanic community.
The credit or glory shared in the grand Latino victory gets a little more confusing. No doubt, Supervisors Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic deserve some credit for adding an amendment - one sustained by the County Board's Redistricting Committee - that preserved two majority Latino districts. Their amendment hedged the political influence of Latinos in Milwaukee County, but West and Dimitrijevic should have never been in the position to make an amendment if they had only voted the way they were supposed to months ago. The credit they deserve is for undoing something they had already done wrong.
When it concerns the County Board, the real credit should go to Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo for giving El Conquistador the necessary evidence to press forward on behalf of the Hispanic community. Back in May, at the behest of my public information request, Joe Sanfelippo accessed the County's redistricting program and created a map showing that two majority Latino voting age districts could have been created.
El Conquistador was reassured by Supervisor Peggy West that two majority Latino voting age districts could not be created since the Latino population was "dispersed across the County." Referring to Dimitrjevic's district, West said, "District 4 has the second largest Hispanic influence, but the population is not enough to be a Latino majority." West was wrong, and the amendment she made to the County's map on Tuesday was a testament to that fact.
Sanfelippo's redistricting map not only gave Milwaukee County Latinos a second majority voting age district, it showed us that Dimitrijevic's district could be beefed up to 57% VAP, which was 15% more than the plan Dimitrijevic originally voted for months ago and 7% more than the plan she had just endorsed on Tuesday. One of the nagging questions she has yet to answer is why she thought a 50.6% Latino VAP district was better for Latinos than Sanfelippo's 57%. Clearly, Sanfelippo's map gave Latinos more voting influence in Marina's district than the one currently endorsed.
El Conquistador did a three-month investigative series, week after week, exposing what politicians were doing to advance their own careers. By keeping the pressure on the County, El Conquistador created an excellent backdrop for groups like the ICC, NAACP, and Hispanics for Leadership to champion the cause for fair representation. Following our lead, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel joined in to criticize the County Board for plan that largely neglected population shifts in the Hispanic community. El Conquistador led the coverage and precipitated the triumph in the Latino community.
Many thought nothing could be done to change the County Board's redistricting plan. We were assured by Supervisor Peggy West that creating two Majority Latino districts was impossible and that the plan submitted was "non-negotiable." But taking the words of politicians is not the duty of the media. Our public duty is to dig, investigate, and discover a truth buried somewhere underneath the surface.
Preserving two majority Latino districts - pending the approval of County Executive Chris Abele - is a major victory for El Conquistador, Hispanics for Leadership, and for the Latino community as a whole. And a special thanks should go out to Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo for challenging Peggy West, producing the first map giving Latinos two majority districts, and putting the onus on Supervisors West and Dimitrijevic to correct a wrong.