For the Record: Wis. Supreme Court reverses course; longtime Dane County lawmakers retiring amid high turnover

Also on For the Record: A new report from Wisconsin Policy Forum finds lagging state aid for higher education

MADISON — A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision breaking late on Friday is all but certain to both set the legislative maps for the state’s August and November elections–and draw a slew of legal challenges impacting elections to come.

The court pivoted from an earlier decision this year selecting Gov. Tony Evers’ maps as those that most closely followed the “least change” approach that the court had already adopted for making a decision, after the GOP-controlled legislature and Democratic governor couldn’t agree on a new redistricting map.

RELATED: Maps, districts, and Wisconsin’s political future: A redistricting primer

The U.S. Supreme Court challenged the state court’s decision on the governor’s map last month, and on Friday, Justice Brian Hagedorn switched his earlier position and joined conservative justices in selecting maps put forward by legislature Republicans instead.

University of Wisconsin Law School professor Rob Yablon joined Naomi Kowles on For the Record to break down the decision’s momentous impact. The U.S. Supreme Court had questioned whether there was enough evidence to adding a seventh Black-majority district in Milwaukee under federal voting law, which allows race to be considered in limited conditions when drawing political maps. The GOP map decreases the existing six Black-majority districts to five instead.

“The only districts that the U.S. Supreme Court called into question were those handful of districts in the Milwaukee area. And so it would have been entirely sufficient for the Wisconsin Supreme Court simply to adjust those districts and leave the rest of the map it had previously adopted in place,” he explained. “It’s a bit like if you have a flat tire in your car; you add air to the tire, you don’t get a new car. They got a new car here.”

The maps expand Republican advantage in what critics say is already a heavily-gerrymandered state, where Republicans have controlled the legislature for the last decade under maps drawn in 2010 while Democratic presidential candidates have taken the statewide vote in two out of three general elections in that time frame.

“I think that it does open the door to that possibility,” Yablon said of how the selected maps push Republicans closer to a veto-proof majority in the legislature. “If 2022 is a strong year for legislative Republicans, they could cross that veto-proof threshold.”

Rising retirements: Dane County Reps. Sondy Pope and Gary Hebl on legislative turnover

Joining several others in announcing their departure from the state legislature this week, Reps. Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb) and Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) joined For the Record to weigh in on the high turnover this cycle while reflecting on a combined nearly-40 years of representing Dane County in the Assembly.

Nearly a quarter of the Assembly has now announced they will be leaving or retiring at the end of the current session, alongside a rising number of state senators as well.

Together, Pope and Hebl–Assembly seatmates and longtime friends–remembered a different time in the legislature in the early 2000s. It was still Republican-controlled, but it was also a time when “hearings had meaning”, Rep. Pope said. Both parties would come together for legislative baseball games, and the atmosphere of bipartisanship was different.

Pope recalled one Republican bill in particular brought to the education committee around 2004, a bill she and many others disagreed with and families came to testify against.

“The committee that brought it forward and wanted it passed actually changed its mind. Hearings had meaning. And debate happened, and made sense, and people thought about what they heard, and the bill did not pass. That would not happen today,” she said.

RELATED: Candidates line up for seats left by retiring legislators

New report finds lagging state aid for higher education

A Wisconsin Policy Forum report published this week finds state and federal aid to college students in Wisconsin has lagged over the past decade after nearly doubling in the first decade of the millennium.

Forum research director Jason Stein and UW-Parkside Chancellor Dr. Deborah Ford joined For the Record to break down how lagging aid can impact declining enrollment and workforce shortages in Wisconsin.

“Downstream, we’re not going to be as competitive as a state,” Dr. Ford said of the link between financial aid and a lagging workforce. “Downstream, we’re not going to be able to provide the talent that our employers are saying they need and want.”

“We need nurses, we need programmers, we need engineers, we need these workers in our economy,” Stein said. “If we don’t have them, we are going to be less productive, in some ways potentially even less healthy as a society.”