Update: Drawing District Maps No Different Than Drafting Bills
What we've learned: District maps are like other pieces of legislation and can be hashed out in caucus.
Update, 5:30 pm, Feb. 8: Patch made some inquiries and we learned something about redistricting maps; turns out, drawing the maps and the work that went into them is not different from other pieces of legislation.
What that means is that the work that goes into bills is typically done in closed caucus sessions, and it's not different for the redistricting maps. Once the map bill was introduced, it was then subject to the same approval process as any other bill; a trip through committees, public hearings, debates on the floors of the Senate and Assembly followed by a vote and then possibly a signature by the Governor.
What remains unclear, however, is why the secrecy documents were needed when anything pertaining to attorney-client privilege simply means the attorney can't talk about anything discussed with the client and not what the client can discuss with parties other than the lawyer.
Patch is hoping to continue the conversation with Wanggaard about the documents and has a message into his office with follow-up questions.
Update, 9 am Feb. 8: Both State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) say they signed an agreement to not discuss redistricting maps in public.
Wanggaard was not a member of the redistricting committee but said he signed the agreement to prevent violating open meetings law since he does not believe drawing the maps had to be done in open session.
"I understand the agreement was to protect the attorney-client privilege because drawing the maps did not have to be done in open session," he told Patch on Tues., Feb. 7. "I think we would have violated open meetings law to have public discussions and possibly, even if we didn't mean to, actually have a quorum if there were enough of us there talking."
Vos issued a written statement while he was out of town, "I signed the agreement under the assumption that there may be court cases and attorney-client privilege may be needed."
Patch is waiting for a response from Vos' office about his participation in the redistricting committee.
Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) is shaking his head over it all.
"I don't know which is more outrageous, the fact that we have documents that should be open to the public and we have Republicans signing secrecy oaths to circumvent open meetings law or that taxpayers are paying for the secrecy with their consultants," he told Patch. "Either way, the Wisconsin tradition of open government is seriously damaged by what Republicans have done with this redistrciting case and I hope the federal courts hold them accountable for it."
Patch is researching whether or not open session or properly noticed closed session meetings are the appropriate venue for drawing redistricting maps. We will update the story as we get more information.
Original Story, Feb. 7: If you thought secret pacts were a thing of your childhood, think again. It appears that state Republicans put pen to paper agreeing to not discuss publicly - out of concern they could be called as witnesses during legal challenges - what they talked about while new district maps were being drawn in a Madison attorney's office last year.
States are required to draw new maps every 10 years, based on Census data. Lawsuits in federal court were filed before the maps were even released. Closer to home here in Racine County, the new maps would create two new Senate districts: the first would, roughly, include the City of Racine, parts of Mount Pleasant and Somers and the City of Kenosha while the second would cover the rest of both counties.
In the Assembly, the districts would basically flip, making Cory Mason (D-Racine) the representative for some of the City of Racine, most of Caledonia and some of Mount Pleasant, and all of Raymond and Norway while Robin Vos (R-Rochester) would take most of Mount Pleasant, and all of Sturtevant, Rochester, Burlington and Union Grove.
In a story that first ran in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was then picked up by The Associated Press, documents have come to light proving that Republican legislators signed an agreement to only discuss points raised in private strategy sessions. Further, the agreement was also signed by Eric McLeod, the same lawyer who gave free legal services to State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
McLeod, apparently, provided legal advice while the maps were being drawn in the offices of Michael Best & Friedrich, the firm where McLeod works. Apparently, Republicans thought this would grant them attorney-client privilege, but Voces de la Frontera say legislators broke open meetings law and have filed a complaint in Dane County Court.
Patch is waiting to hear from State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) for comment on how the new district maps were drawn.
We will update this story as we learn more.