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Wisconsin redistricting realigns voters, lawmakers

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Deciding which candidate to vote for in next year's elections just got harder for St. Croix and Pierce County residents.

First they must figure out if they're living in the same congressional, Wisconsin Senate or Assembly district as last election. For the majority, the answer to at least one of those questions will be no.

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While the focus was on changes in congressional districts, the redistricting bills signed quietly last week by Gov. Scott Walker will have implications for voters choosing state lawmakers too.

Congressional districts

Locally, the major change is the shedding of St. Croix, one of the state's three fastest growing counties, from the Third Congressional District, now represented by Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, to the 7th District.

Critics say the congressional redistricting map aims to protect GOP freshman Sean Duffy, R-Ashland.

Considered one of his party's most vulnerable House incumbents, Duffy represents the 7th District in northern Wisconsin previously held by Democrat Dave Obey, who served 21 consecutive terms in Congress.

The redistricting bill pulls out a Democratic section of central Wisconsin, including the cities of Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point, and shifts it to Kind's western Wisconsin district.

The impact is that Duffy loses one of the most Democratic counties in the state, Portage, while gaining St. Croix, the fastest growing Republican county in the state.

Before Walker signed the redistricting maps, Kind asked the governor to veto them.

Kind, who said he didn't want to lose St. Croix County, claimed the congressional district maps "undermine our communities and go so far as to break long-standing traditions that hold together areas that have been in the same district for over 100 years." He said, "The redistricting maps passed by the state Legislature ... are just another partisan power grab by our state government."

Kind asked Walker "to take the high road, reject the maps and work with both sides on a map that everyone can agree on."

He called for a nonpartisan judicial commission to draw political boundaries.

"A democracy is about voters choosing their representatives, not the other way around," said Kind.

In a statement, Duffy's office said the map "makes modest changes to reflect statewide population shifts, but unlike what the Democrats are proposing in Illinois, doesn't make drastic partisan gerrymandering the goal."

The statement also said that Duffy "didn't draw his own map."

State Senate, Assembly

The redistricting plans adopted by the Legislature last month also have significant implications for a lot of Pierce County residents, many of whom will be in both a new State Senate and a new Assembly district.

The 10th State Senate District (now represented by Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls) - while it continues to encompass the bulk of St. Croix, Burnett and Polk counties - will lose the Pierce County city of Prescott, villages of Ellsworth and Spring Valley and towns of Clifton, Oak Grove, Diamond Bluff, Gilman, Trenton, Trimbelle and Spring Lake.

In fact, the only parts of Pierce County that will remain in the 10th Senate District are the city and town of River Falls. The rest of Pierce County will be in the 31st Senate District, now represented by Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.

"I'm disappointed obviously," said Harsdorf, a Pierce County resident. "It's an area that I've represented for a long time."

Since Harsdorf lives in the town of River Falls, her residence will still be in her district, but she will no longer represent the greater part of Pierce County.

The 10th District is an area of "tremendous growth," said Harsdorf. She said that because the old district had nearly 20,000 people over the optimum number for a Senate district, she understands that realignment was necessary.

On the Assembly level, these are the biggest changes in Pierce and St. Croix counties:

--The Pierce County city of Prescott, village of Ellsworth and towns of Clifton, Diamond Bluff, Oak Grove, Trenton and Trimbelle will move from the 30th Assembly District (now represented by Dean Knudson, R-Hudson) to the 93rd Assembly District (now represented by Warren Petryk, R-Eleva).

--The Pierce County village of Spring Valley and towns of Gilman and Spring Lake will move from the 29th District (now represented by John Murtha, R-Baldwin) to the 93rd District (now represented by Petryk).

--The Pierce County towns of Martell, Ellsworth, El Paso, Hartand, Salem, Union, Isabelle and Maiden Rock will move from the 91st Assembly District (now represented by Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau) to the 93rd District (now represented by Petryk).

--The St. Croix County towns of Kinnickinnic and Warren and village of Roberts that are in the 29th Assembly District (now represented by John Murtha) will move to the 30th Assembly District (now represented by Dean Knudson).

The U.S. Constitution requires that every decade, after the census, congressional and legislative district lines must be redrawn to reflect changes in population

One of the goals of redistricting in Wisconsin this year was to set up state Senate districts each with populations as close to 172,332 as possible and Assembly districts with populations as close to 57,444 as possible.

The bill adopted by the Legislature maintains the number of Assembly districts at 99 and the number of Senate districts at 33.

Barring court revisions to the plan, the new districts will go into effect in 2012.

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Judy Wiff
Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.
(715) 426-1049
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