n the late spring of 2011, Dale Schultz walked the short block in Madison from his State Senate office in the Wisconsin Capitol to the glass-paneled building of Michael Best & Friedrich, a law firm with deep ties to his Republican Party. First elected in 1982, Schultz placed himself within the progressive tradition that made Wisconsin, a century ago, the birthplace of the state income tax and laws that guarantee compensation for injured workers. In the months before his visit to Michael Best, Schultz cast the lone Republican vote against a bill that stripped collective-bargaining rights from most public employees. But if Schultz had doubts about some of his party’s priorities, he welcomed its ascendance to power. For the first time in his career, Republicans controlled the State Senate and the State Assembly as well as the governor’s office, giving them total sway over the redistricting process that follows the census taken at the beginning of each decade. ‘‘The way I saw it, reapportionment is a moment of opportunity for the ruling party,’’ Schultz told me this summer.
Inside the law firm’s doors, Schultz took the elevator to what party aides called the ‘‘map room.’’ They asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which he did without complaint. Schultz sat down and was given a map with the new lines for his rural district west of Madison. He and his wife, a former school superintendent, own a 210-acre farm in the area, where they grow corn and beans and hunt pheasants. Schultz noticed that the newly drawn district mostly included precincts he’d won before. ‘‘I took one look at the map and saw that if I chose to run for re-election I could win, no trouble,’’ Schultz remembered. ‘‘That was it.’’
Nearly all of the 79 Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly made a similar trip to the map room, signing the same secrecy pledge to see the new shape of their districts. The new maps efficiently concentrated many Democratic voters in a relatively small number of urban districts and spread out the remainder among many districts in the rest of the state. These are the twin techniques of gerrymandering, often called packing and cracking, which distribute voters to benefit the party that is drawing the district lines.