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New, compacted political maps in Marathon County boot long-time legislator from old district

Source: Ballotpedia via The Badger Project

New, compacted political maps in Marathon County boot long-time legislator from old district

Republicans had drawn Wausau’s state Assembly district to include state Rep. Patrick Snyder’s Schofield residence. Democrats left him out.

May 17, 2024 1:59 PM CDT

By: Hina Suzuki / The Badger Project

Since 2016, state Rep. Patrick Snyder has represented the 85th Assembly District, consisting of Wausau and some surrounding areas.

So the Republican was probably surprised earlier this year to find that new maps that would eventually be enacted moved his Schofield house just a few blocks outside the boundaries of the district.

An angry Snyder accused Gov. Tony Evers, who submitted the new maps to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, of “gerrymandering me out of the community,” in a post on X (formerly twitter) in January.

Snyder’s home was included in the old 85th because Republicans who drew the previous maps included an appendage that reached out and grabbed it. Evers’ maps separated the towns of Schofield and Rothschild from the new 85th and put them into the 87th, and Snyder with them. State Rep. James Edming, another Republican, holds that seat, so Snyder would have to run against him to win there.

Like most current legislative Republicans, Snyder has only ever run for office under maps drawn by his own party, maps designed to give itself maximum electoral advantage.

“The party that draws the map protects its incumbents,” said Ed Miller, a political science professor emeritus at UW-Stevens Point.

The new legislative maps significantly altered the district boundaries across the state, resulting in many more competitive districts, experts say.

The old legislative maps, drawn by the GOP, are some of the most flagrant gerrymandering in the country, many experts have said, facilitating Republican control of both chambers of the state legislature since 2011. The new maps, drawn by Evers and approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature, include an almost even split between Democratic- and Republican-leaning districts, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

An image of Ryan Weichelt, UW-Eau Claire geography professor
Ryan Weichelt, UW-Eau Claire geography professor who specializes in redistricting

“Wisconsin is not a red state or a blue state,” Evers said in February. “We’re a purple state, and I believe our maps should reflect that basic fact.

Among the 99 state Assembly districts, 45 are Democratic-leaning, 46 are Republican-leaning, and eight are considered competitive, according to the newspaper’s analysis. Additionally, the number of Republican-leaning state Senate districts has decreased from 22 to 15 out of a total of 33. Democratic-leaning districts now stand at 14; the remaining four districts are classified as competitive.

State Republicans drew the legislative districts in the Wausau area without consideration for the principles of Communities of Interest, said Ryan Weichelt, a geography professor at UW-Eau Claire who specializes in redistricting. The Communities of Interest concept is a redistricting guideline used in many states that identifies and consolidates geographical areas that share common interests and concerns affected by legislation decisions. They can be based on shared histories, economic interests, and cultural commonalities, Weichelt said. 

“Partisan maps often break Communities of Interest because they are focused solely on political interests,” Weichelt wrote in an email to The Badger Project. “[The areas around Wausau] were clearly drawn by the GOP to ignore Communities of Interest to seek out partisan support.” 

85th Assembly District

Before the 2024 redistricting, the 85th Assembly District in Marathon County had a slight Republican lean. Republican candidates have consistently won there for the past decade.

Under the new map, the 85th consists of a nearly equal distribution of Democratic and Republican voters. So far, Snyder and Yee Leng Xiong, a Democrat, have announced their candidacies for the seat.

The new Assembly map allows representatives to have a stronger connection to their district, Weichelt said.

The old 85th consisted of Wausau and Schofield as well as the rural eastern half of Marathon County. The new district has been significantly scaled down, now only covering Wausau and the village of Weston.

Snyder’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment, but he has said publicly that he will rent a studio apartment in the newly-drawn 85th District.

According to Wisconsin’s residency law, legislators do not need to live in a district to run for office there. However, they must have an address in that district by the time they take the oath.

Legislators have been accused of not actually living in the district they are representing, but the Wisconsin Elections Commission has generally not involved itself when an elected official has addresses both inside and outside their district.

The 29th State Senate District, held by Republican state Sen. Cory Tomczyk, used to run from Marshfield to Wausau and all the way up to Hayward. Now, it mostly consists of Marathon County. Maps courtesy of Ballotpedia.

The new 29th Senate District, encompassing the city of Wausau, the village of Weston, the village of Kronenwetter and the city of Marshfield, maintains its Republican-leaning status, Weichelt said. However, the reshaping took into account the shared characteristics of the individuals in that area, he noted.

The old 29th extended over 150 miles diagonally from Wausau all the way to Hayward. That was a strategy by the Wisconsin GOP to diminish the heavy Democratic vote in Wausau by including surrounding rural Republican areas, Weichelt said. By consolidating Marshfield in the new 29th with Wausau, the district keeps together these neighboring cities that share histories rooted in dairy farming and transportation networks, he added.

The district is currently held by state Sen. Cory Tomczyk (R-Mosinee) and he will not have to run again until 2026.

“The results of these maps will at least create closer elections and hopefully provide debate between candidates,” Weichelt said. “It will be exciting to see how the new maps shake out this November.”

This story was funded in part by a grant from the BA Esther Greenheck Foundation.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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This article first appeared on The Badger Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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