By Scott Bauer
The Associated Press
Madison – Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature are hiring a pair of law firms to help advise them with the redrawing of political district boundaries and not allowing Democrats to do the same.
Democrats said the move was a blatant power grab designed to shut them out of the once-a-decade redistricting process that could give those who draw the lines a political advantage for years, if not decades.
“This is not what the people of Wisconsin want,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. He and Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, sent Republican leaders a letter asking them to reconsider their action.
“We can only conclude from the partisan nature of your actions that your intention is to gerrymander legislative districts to gain an unfair political advantage,” they wrote in the letter.
Barca and other Democrats say hiring the Troupis Law Office and the Milwaukee firm of Michael Best & Friedrich amounted to a payback of political favors at the expense of taxpayers who will foot the bill for millions of dollars in fees for legal advice that won’t be made public.
There was no estimate available from Republican leaders about how much the law firms will be paid before redistricting is done later this fall.
Barca asked Republicans who control the Assembly Committee that approved hiring of the law firms on a 5-3 partisan vote Jan. 4 to instead use in-house legislative attorneys. But Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon said they were not experts in redistricting, while the attorneys to be hired were.
The law firms’ work will be made available only to him, Fitzgerald said. Likewise, legal advice in the Senate will only be available to Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said his spokesman Andrew Welhouse.
Scott Fitzgerald said that legal counsel was hired to ensure the maps drawn comply with state and federal laws.
Last year when Democrats controlled the Senate they approved the hiring of law firms for both parties. Assembly Democrats didn’t take any action.
Upon taking control this week, Senate Republicans fired the firm hired by Democrats. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the $120,000 already paid to that firm – O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing.
The Legislature is charged with redrawing the lines for 99 Assembly seats, 33 Senate seats and all eight congressional districts based on population data from the U.S. Census. Once it approves the new map, it heads to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.