State Government and Political News: New districts approved by state legislatureWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin’s proposed new state-and-congressional district boundaries are now headed to Governor Scott Walker – and then most likely to the courts.
MADISON - Wisconsin’s proposed new state-and-congressional district boundaries are now headed to Governor Scott Walker – and then most likely to the courts.
The State Assembly gave final legislative approval yesterday to maps drawn by majority Republicans. All Democrats voted no, as they again argued the new districts were gerrymandered and unconstitutional. And they slammed Republicans for refusing to grant state funds for the minority party to draw up its own maps – which was standard practice until this year. Madison Democrat Mark Pocan said the GOP maps give democracy a quote, “lethal injection.” Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler called the legislative map unconstitutional because it splits and dilutes minority populations – and it creates 59 strong Republican districts and only 40 Democratic ones. Kessler, who has helped draft redistricting plans in the past, called the GOP maps “vicious” and said they were designed to quote, “crush the minority.” GOP lawmakers stayed silent during yesterday’s debate.
Powers Lake Republican Samantha Kerkman, who would have to run against another incumbent in 2012, voted against the new state districts. Manitowoc Independent Bob Ziegelbauer also voted no.
The governor’s office has said Walker would get a good look at the new districts before deciding whether to sign them. Former legislative Democrats Judy Robson and Al Baldus are among a group that has filed a federal lawsuit asking the courts to consider draw the lines.
Wisconsin’s long-term unemployed will have to wait to get more benefits, because of a disagreement over a proposed waiting period for new applicants. The Senate voted on Tuesday to kill the one-week waiting period to receive new benefits that was part of the state budget. But late yesterday, Assembly Republicans re-instated the waiting period. And the house then voted 81-16 to extend jobless benefits for another 13 weeks for up to 40,000 Wisconsinites who’ve already used up their standard 73 weeks. The Senate must now act on the Assembly’s change before the bill can go to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. Andrew Wellhouse, a spokesman for Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald, would not say when or if his chamber would do that. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the matter will most likely be settled, but he said it could take some time. He said it could drag out into September. Assembly Democrats accused their GOP counterparts of killing the extended benefits. Milwaukee Democrat Christine Sinicki said her office was deluged with calls from concerned jobless residents. Markesan Republican Joan Ballweg agreed with her leaders that the waiting period is needed to save the state up to $56-million. A spokesman for Governor Scott Walker said he supports both the benefit extension and the one-week waiting period.
UW-Madison professor said voter turnouts were “amazingly high” in the state Senate recall primaries this month. Charles Franklin said turnouts in nine Senate districts ranged from seven-percent on Tuesday in the Kenosha area, to 27-percent last week in the La Crosse region. In both cases, voters chose finalists to run against incumbent senators who’ve been targeted for recalls. The only senator to have his recall vote so far is Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen – and he easily kept his job on Tuesday with two-thirds of the total vote. Franklin notes that Hansen got 15-percent more votes in his district than the liberal Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg got in April – when more folks were supposedly paying attention to politics. Franklin said the Hansen contest attracted a turnout of over 25-percent. And that was just three-and-a-half percent below the April turnout in the Green Bay area. Voters have been spurred by heavy spending on political ads, get-out-the-vote drives, and the fact that the control of state government is at stake. Eight general recall elections will be held next month, and Democrats are trying to gain three seats to take back the majority in the Senate.
Wisconsin officials have signed an agreement with the State Medical Society to pay back millions-of-dollars the state took from a special fund. Doctors pay into the fund to cover court settlements of medical malpractice cases. The State Supreme Court said it was illegal for former Governor Jim Doyle and the Legislature to take $200-million from the doctors’ fund to balance other parts of the 2007 state budget. Lawmakers voted earlier this year to pay back the fund – and the money was included in the new state budget. The agreement pays back the original 200-million, plus $34-million in interest and almost $700,000 dollars for the Medical Society’s legal fees in the case.