As featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A redistricting lawsuit filed on behalf an immigrant rights group named Voces de la Frontera will take center stage this week in federal court. Media reports have already framed the case as an issue of Latinos versus Republican Legislators.
However, the Hispanic community is not a monolithic group that’s ideologically driven or firmly set in their ways. No single group can rightfully claim to represent such a culturally rich and politically diverse community. So, when a Latino group files a federal lawsuit against the state on behalf of Wisconsin Latinos, it raises eyebrows and causes confusion.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit - Voces de la Frontera - contends that the state’s new redistricting maps, let’s call them Act 43, disenfranchises Latinos on Milwaukee’s south side by denying them the ability to form an effective voting majority. The state’s redistricting plan shifted Latinos from the 8th Assembly district - a densely Hispanic area - into the 9th Assembly district. The intent was to unpack a populous supermajority district and create two Latino districts with a clear majority voting age population (VAP).
The desire to create two majority VAP districts for Latinos wasn’t strictly Republican. Legislators consulted with Hispanics for Leadership - a coalition of Latino leaders in Milwaukee County - to ensure that districts were drawn in ways where Latinos could elect candidates of their choice.
Earlier last year, Hispanics for Leadership successfully provoked the Milwaukee County Board to alter their preliminary redistricting map and provide Latinos with more representation. The result was unpacking a supermajority district to create two majority VAP districts for Latinos in Milwaukee County. The achievement did not go unnoticed in Madison. Republican Legislators soon reached out to Hispanics for Leadership for their counsel on Act 43.
Shifting a part of the 8th Assembly district Latino population into the 9th district created a point of contention with Voces de la Frontera. They contended that dividing Latinos on Milwaukee’s south side into two Assembly districts deprived them of their full voting strength. Interestingly, they showed no interest when the same thing was done in Milwaukee County months earlier.
The critical question here is whether shifting Latinos from the 8th Assembly district into the 9th dilutes their ability to elect a candidate of their choice. The preponderance of evidence regarding expert testimony in the case makes it clear that the plaintiff’s claims are unsubstantiated.
For the past fourteen years, Latinos in the 8th Assembly district have successfully elected a candidate of their choice. In 1998, the 8th Assembly district elected Pedro Colon who went on to win four more elections consecutively until he chose not to run for reelection in 2010. In 2010, Hispanics in the 8th Assembly district again elected a candidate of their choice when JoCasta Zamarripa - a Latina of Mexican-American decent - took the seat.
If it could be shown that Republican Legislators, by transferring Latinos from one district into another, created two ineffective voting districts for south side Hispanics, then the plaintiff would have a legitimate case. Act 43, however, increased the 8th district’s Latino voting age population from 58% to 60% and increased the 9th Assembly district VAP from 22% to 54%.
Under Act 43, there are more voting age Latinos in 8th Assembly district now than there were when they had elected Pedro Colon both in 1998 and in 2000. If Act 43 truly disenfranchises Latinos of the 8th Assembly district, then redistricting maps drawn under Democrat control back in 2000 had also disenfranchised the Hispanic community.
Instead of filing baseless lawsuits that divide our community, Latino leaders should be working with the community to increase our representation in the halls of Madison. Since the last Census, our community in Wisconsin has grown by 74%. Despite explosive population growth, Voces de la Frontera has waged a court-based battle to keep our community packed into a single Assembly district.
The goal of any leader who has the Hispanic community’s best interest at heart should be to increase Latino representation directly proportional to their population growth. Possessing a single Assembly district for the length of twenty years does not reflect growth, but stagnancy.
For sure, the Republican-led redistricting plan is not perfect. Hispanics for Leadership did not endorse all component parts of Act 43 nor did they approve of the way the maps were fast-tracked. Yet, with respect to redistricting on Milwaukee’s south side, Hispanics for Leadership worked with Legislators to ensure a best case redistricting scenario reflective of the fastest growing ethnic group in the country.
For the first time in Wisconsin History, Latinos have an opportunity to send two candidates of their choice to the State Assembly. Forcing Republicans to redraw maps will undermine Latino influence in state politics for another decade. Voces de la Frontera’s lawsuit, for good intent or not, is not in the best interest of Wisconsin’s Hispanic community.