Last week, I argued in a column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the redistricting lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera was flawed and without merit.  Summarily, Voces’ expert testimony failed to show that Republican-drawn maps had deprived Latinos in the 8th Assembly district the ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

They had failed primarily because the state's redistricting did not remove, but rather added 2% more voting age Latinos to the 8th Assembly district than they had in 2000 when they had first elected Pedro Colon.  In addition, the 8th Assembly has kept an unbroken chain of Latino representation for the past fourteen years.

The idea behind the Republican-drawn maps was simple.  They would take a decade’s worth of Latino population growth on Milwaukee’ south side and use it to create a second Latino district.  In theory, this would give Latinos an opportunity to send not just one, but two Representatives to the State Assembly.

Republican legislators could have certainly packed Latinos into the 8th Assembly district as Voces had demanded, but what point would it serve to amass more Latinos into a district already deemed safely Latino?  The only guaranteed result would be a lost opportunity for Latinos to expand their political influence in Madison for the next ten years.

The real question, therefore, is why Voces de la Frontera filed the lawsuit at all.

Partisan Leanings

Voces is not a new player in Wisconsin politics.  They have actively supported Occupy protesters, have aligned themselves in solidarity with labor unions, have been arrested for disturbances at Congressman Paul Ryan’s office, and have been forcibly removed from a Legislative Budget Hearing by state troopers.

Voces’ redistricting lawsuit is just one component of overarching strategy to unseat Governor Walker in the upcoming recall election.   Spokesperson from Voces de la Frontera, Joe Shansky, admitted as much when he said, “The push to remove Walker has mobilized the Latino community; it is our number one goal until the middle of January.  We’ve involved a lot in the Latino community working on the petition process of removing Walker.”

Hispanics for Leadership

Earlier last year, Hispanics for Leadership - a coalition of Latino community leaders and business owners - pressured the Milwaukee County Board to change their preliminary redistricting map to provide Latinos with greater representation.  The result was unpacking Supervisor Peggy West’s Latino district to create two majority voting age districts for Latinos.

The achievement did not go unnoticed in Madison.  Soon after, Republican Legislators reached out to Hispanics for Leadership for feedback and counsel on the state’s redistricting maps.  This did two things: it limited their liability in court, and it ensured that Latinos on Milwaukee’s south side didn’t get the short end of the stick.  This, however, did not deter Voces de la Frontera from filing a lawsuit against the State’s Government Accountability Board.

Beware of the Shell Game

Voces de la Frontera has been playing a careful shell game of words.  In their statement to El Conquistador, they pointed out that even a Republican expert testified under oath that the new 8th Assembly district would not consist of a “majority of Latino voters” until 2018.

This is fascinating.

Why didn't Voces de la Frontera use the population estimates of their own expert?  Could it be that their own expert's numbers - when factoring in Latino population growth - show the new 8th Assembly district as a "majority of Latino voters" by November of 2012?  To bolster their argument, Voces chose to accept the more conservative population estimates presented by a Republican expert rather than using their own.

If any factoid should be remembered, it's this: under the state’s new redistricting maps, the 8th Assembly district would have a Latino population of 66%.  This means that only 34% of the 8th Assembly district can consist of non-Hispanic residents.  If you factor in how many of those are actually of voting age, then that number drops well below 30%.

Plainly, it isn't necessary for Voces to ensure that the 8th Assembly district has a “majority of Latino voters” when the non-Latino population in that district constitute less than 30% of the total voting populous.  This, of course, kindly assumes that all non-Latinos will not vote for Latinos, which we know is not the case.

Latinos in the 8th Assembly District Can and Will Win

During the trial, the expert witness for Voces de la Frontera argued that Pedro Colon would unlikely be elected in the new 8th Assembly district.  However, world-renowned redistricting expert Bernard Grofman testified that Latinos in the 8th Assembly district - under newly configured maps - “can and will” win elections.  Both experts can’t be right.

Grofman’s credentials in redistricting are incontestable.  He has written extensively on redistricting law, assisted twelve countries with their own redistricting efforts, and has been cited as a leading authority by the U.S. Supreme Court in numerous redistricting cases.

Grofman criticized Voces’ expert witness - Dr. Ken Mayer - for a testimony that he said, “completely lacks credibility.”  Grofman testified that the 8th Assembly district was “either identical to or superior to the court-drawn plan of 2002,” also saying that Voces’ plan would delay the time needed to attain a second Hispanic majority district.

Conclusion

It’s important to point out that Voces de la Frontera did not object or threaten to file a lawsuit after Peggy West’s supermajority district was halved by the County Board into two separate majority Latino districts.  This is exactly what happened at the state level.  The difference, however, is that Democrats controlled the redistricting process in Milwaukee County whereas Republicans controlled it at the state level.  I wonder why Voces didn't object when Democrats did the same thing in Milwaukee County?

If Voces de la Frontera wins their lawsuit, it would effectively muzzle the collective voice of the Hispanic community and put their political representation on ice for the next decade.  The ultimate question for us is, do we want to play it safe and pack a supermajority district with even more voting age Latinos, or do we want to expand our political influence in Madison.  Hispanics for Leadership says, “It’s time for Latinos to be heard.”

 

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