So I'm listening to the radio this morning. The woman organizing the recall campaign against Republican Wisconsin State Senator (and Senate Majority Leader) Scott Fitzgerald is talking about their progress. They're ahead of their signature-gathering goals. Yippee!
Then, she talks about the ugly redistricting law passed by the Republicans over the summer and how Fitzgerald has hatched a plan to avoid recall by convincing voters in his district that he's no longer their Senator. The new, gerrymandered districts are not supposed to take effect until the general election in November, 2012, but the legislature's website was recently changed to show the "new" results when using the site's "Who Represents Me?" search function. The recall organizer is convinced that the change was made to confuse voters and discourage petition circulators.
I laid out some details of all this on my blog post on bluecheddar.net this morning, but the short version is I went to the legislature's web site, plugged in my address, and this is what showed up:
My representative in the Wisconsin Assembly is Kelda Helen Roys, but the website shows that my "current" representative is Sondy Pope-Roberts, based on maps that will actually not go into effect for another year, and implies that Rep. Roys was my "previous" representative.
Naturally, I'm a little upset and very suspicious. There are four recall campaigns against Republican state Senators going on right now, and this could easily fool voters into thinking they are not eligible to sign recall petitions.
Wisconsin's election agency is called the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and their website shows the same confusing information when I use their feature that allows me to check my voter registration, but I decide I need to contact them.
First, I call the office of Rep. Roys (my real Assembly representative.) I leave a message on her office voicemail. Then, I send an email to the GAB:
I hope you can help me. My address is --------------. The legislature's website gave me two answers when I attempted to look up my Assembly Representative: Sondy Pope-Roberts and Kelda Helen Roys.
If I want to call my representative today to ask about an issue I want resolved today and having nothing to with recalls or redistricting, which representative should I contact, Roys or Pope-Roberts? I'm not interested in the particulars about legislative districts, I just want to know who my representative is today.
Thank you for your assistance.
Giles Goat Boy
No, I didn't really sign it "Giles Goat Boy" but let's pretend I did.
Later, a very nice woman from the office of Rep. Roys calls me back. She tells me that Rep. Roys is "definitely" my representative through next year. I thank her and I compliment Rep. Roys, who has been very supportive of our struggle to restore sanity to Wisconsin.
Not long after that, I get an email from the GAB:
Mr. Goat Boy,
Both legislators may be able to help you; however, Representative Pope-Roberts appears to be your new Senator after redistricting.
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
Dear Mr. B,
Thank you for your reply. After I emailed your office, I received a call back from a staffer at Representative Roys's office. She said that Kelda Roys was "definitely" my representative until November of 2012, so now I'm even more confused.
Who is my Representative today, December 6, 2011? Not after redistricting takes effect. Today.
Clearly I am not entitled to be represented twice as your email implies, am I?
At this point I'm thinking it's funny, so I forward a copy of all this to a local TV station and I copy Rep. Roys and Rep. Pope-Roberts. The same staffer who called me earlier from Rep. Roys' office soon sends me this reply:
I talked to Rep. Pope-Roberts office about this. While both of our offices are always willing to assist you, you will be officially represented by Rep. Roys until end of 2012.
Thanks – and good chatting with you this afternoon.
Later, I get this jaw-dropping reply from the GAB, my emphasis added:
Your email was forwarded to me.
I’m attaching a memo from the G.A.B. to the legislature that explains what happens during the overlap between passage of new legislative districts and the first elections at which the new maps take effect.
Briefly, the new maps are effective immediately for purposes of constituent service. Members of the Legislature are allowed to spend public funds to communicate with people in the new districts, as well as the old district. However, the maps are effective for election purposes in November 2012. Under the law, the old maps are in effect for any recall elections prior to November 2012.
So, the answer is: both. If you have communicated with the representative under the old map and wish to continue that relationship, feel free to contact her. If you wish to communicate with the new representative, you can do that, as well.
R M, public information officer
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
Let's rewind and play that again:
Me : Which one is my Assembly representative?
GAB: So, the answer is: both.
I have two representatives in the Assembly. WOW! That's not as good as the Koch brothers, who have about 60 or 70, but two is twice as good as one, if I'm doing my math correctly.
The joy wears off quickly because I feel guilty, so I write back to the GAB:
Dear Mr. M.,
Thank you for the reply and the attachment. I'm not a lawyer, but I would never have imagined that my having two representatives in the Assembly is either fair or constitutional, so I'm a bit shocked to hear that "the answer is: both." I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the simple question "who is my representative?" asked of a non-partisan agency in the current political climate in Wisconsin would result in an answer like "both."
Really? Lucky me, I guess.
I've been reassured (twice) by the office of Rep. Kelda Roys that she is my official representative until November, 2012, so I'll just go with that. I don't think it's right that I get to have two representatives while most others get only one. If I want extra representatives, I should be required to buy them like the rich folks do.
It's pretty clear what's going on, and I realize that the Government Accountability Board has no control over what the legislative leaders choose to display on their web site. As a citizen, though, it's very disappointing to see the political gamesmanship being played here. Listing Rep. Pope-Roberts as my "current" representative and Rep. Roys as my "previous" representative is misleading at best, despite the fact that Rep. Pope-Roberts can apparently assist me if she so chooses.
I am disappointed, though, that the GAB has decided to implement the same confusing system of describing current representatives as previous representatives on its own Voter Registration verification page.
That's life in Wisconsin lately, I guess. It doesn't have to make sense.
No additional reply needed. As I said, I'm not a lawyer.
The "attached memo" was a multi-page PDF filled with legalese that I found largely unintelligible. Perhaps that was the point. A simple question - "Who is my representative?" - evokes a response of hundreds of words of confusing legal text and the conclusion that my representative is...whoever I want it to be.
I'm not laughing now. I pay taxes for this shit, meanwhile kids are getting kicked off medicaid, rape crisis services are being defunded, and Wisconsin is bleeding private-sector jobs faster than any other state in the nation.
MAJOR UPDATE Tuesday, Dec 6th, 2011, 10:45 pm CST: Apparently the badgering by some of us concerned citizens made them back down! I saw a comment on bluecheddar.net that implied the format on the legislature's website was changed, so I went there and sure enough, this is the new layout:
Hell, yeah! No more references to "current" and "previous", reps are shown side by side, and the actual current reps are shown on the left. Thanks to Sly in the Morning on WTDY, who encouraged listeners to call their legislators, and to the organizers at RecallFitz.com. This is why, according to the Wisconsin Constitution, our right to petition the government or any department thereof shall never be abridged.