By Ruth Conniff on July 19, 2011

Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee summed up the Republicans' rush to pass their redistricting maps in Wisconsin during a special session on Tuesday, July 19: "This is a straight-up power grab," he said.

"We've had ten days to look at something that is going to impact the next ten years," Larson added.

"This is the only day we're here, in special session, and the only reason is to lock in power."

The rush to redistrict, Larson and other Democrats charged, is all about this summer's recall elections against Republican state senators who have sidedwith Governor Scott Walker's divisive policies.

"The leadership has no confidence in the ability of those senators to hold their seats," Larson said. "So the last vote those senators will take today is a no-confidence vote in themselves."

Shortly afterwards, the redistricting law passed the senate on a straight party-line vote, creating serpentine new voting districts that will limit competitive elections, lock incumbents into safe seats, and, in a few cases, leave Democrats who are likely to take office in the fall living outside their own districts.t

The impact will be particularly powerful for Milwaukee, Latino and African-American voters are losing representation thanks to the new maps.

"You are not listening to the voice and will of the people of Wisconsin," Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee said. "I'll say it. I believe it is about race."

After reading provisions of the federal law aloud, Taylor declared the redistricting plan: "a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

As Jessica VanEgeren reported in the Capital Times, the state's Latino community has jumped by more than 130,000 people since the last census, yet the new maps water down Latinos' political voice.

In Milwaukee, minority districts will be broken up and added to largely white, outlying suburbs.

"I believe you have repressed and fractured the Latino community and minority communities," Taylor said. Then, addressing herself to Latino and African American voters she said, "I stand with you. . . . We will support each other."

Senator Kathleen Vinehout, a dairy farmer from Northwest Wisconsin, also criticized the new districts. "In my area and in Western Wisconsin we have a population that is very much proud of voting for the person, not the party," she said. "When I look at this map, what I find is the effect of the map is to dilute the influence that the people have and what it does is it strengthens the influence of the special interests."

Vinehout pointed to ten historically competitive districts, where Democrats and Republicans have vied for power each election, that will now be locked in for one political party.

"What I fear is the effect of all this is the exact opposite of what the people of Western Wisconsin want," she said. Namely: "a legislture that's more affected by special interests

Notably absent from the debate over redistricting were the people who drew the maps. State Republicans hired the law firm Michael Best and Freidrich, at taxpayer expense, to draw the new voting boundaries. In a private conference room at the firm's downtown offices, the lawyers there labored in secret for the last year to draw up the elaborately convoluted maps. Only in the last few weeks, as the results were rolled out for the hasty special session vote before the recalls, did the taxpayers get to see what they had paid for.

The Republicans' redistricting plan not only outsourced the whole process to a private law firm to draw the maps behind closed doors, they pulled funds from the Democrats to draw up their own, competing maps, and rejected the usual process of coming to an agreement between the two political parties.

Even more significantly, they ran roughshod over local municipalities right to draw their own districts, ignoring the plans and timetables local governments were already using to draw their own districts and adding a provision to the new law that allows the state to pre-empt local control of voting districts.

As Senator Chris Larson put it, "It's an attack on local control."

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "ALEC Exposed--How Corporations Are Taking Over Our Democracy."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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