As the fate of Wisconsin’s new maps still hangs in the balance of the courts, La Crosse area leaders and community members rallied on Friday to speak out against gerrymandering.
Holding green and yellow signs reading “DON’T GERRYMANDER WISCONSIN” in single digit temperatures, about two dozen people huddled in Cameron Park near downtown La Crosse to collectively call for fair maps.
“The fact that it is so dang cold really says a lot about the intensity of the belief in our state, in democracy,” said state Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, who spoke at the rally.
It was a coordinated rally with over a dozen different locations around the state, according to RepresentUs, which co-organized the rallies with the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition.
Earlier this week the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments from several groups that have submitted map proposals, and a decision is expected in the coming weeks.
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The court has already ruled that it will try to deviate from current maps as little as possible, which would align with the maps presented by the GOP-led Legislature. Democrats have characterized these maps as a continuation of those drawn 10 years ago that give the majority to Republicans in a state that is often purple in statewide elections.
Speaking at Friday’s rally, state Sen. Brad Pfaff, D-Onalaska, made an example out of his own district, saying it was the most “politically balanced state Senate district” in Wisconsin.
“I was elected in 2020 by sixth-tenths of a percent. Five hundred and eighty-two people out of close to 99,000 people that voted. Huge turnout, people got out, they were engaged,” he said.
Pfaff said this made his campaign more engaged. “It made us go to every single corner, nook and cranny in this state Senate district. Sit down at kitchen tables, to stand in dairy barns, in cheese plants, to be in diners, to listen,” he said.
“To want to bring out, have people engaged in their community, in their government, in the process — that’s what we need,” Pfaff said. “We need more of that.”
Doyle, who is also a La Crosse County supervisor and served on the county’s redistricting committee, made similar arguments.
“We all know the argument,” Doyle said, adding that people understand the definition of gerrymandering. But he said that on top of unfairly benefiting one party, gerrymandering creates echo-chambers of Wisconsinites that only divides them more.
“If I’m in a Democratic-gerrymandered district, I’m going to become more liberal, I’m going to become more Democratic. If I’m in a Republican-gerrymandered district, I’m going to become more conservative or Republican,” Doyle said. “We don’t even speak the same language and that is what makes our society much poorer.”
Both Pfaff and Doyle voted in favor of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ map proposal and against Republicans’ proposal last year.
La Crosse Common Council member Rebecca Schwarz also spoke at the rally, advocating for community engagement in the redistricting process at all levels. Schwarz served on the city’s redistricting committee that drew and approved new maps last fall.
“There’s a deep need for community involvement and input in all of these proceedings at every level,” Schwarz said. “People all over Wisconsin have mobilized around this single tenet: People pick politicians and not the other way around.”
Pastor Libby Howe of the La Crosse Area Synod ELCA also spoke at the rally, as well as Connor Glassen of RepresentUs.