It took about five seconds after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that commissions independent of state legislatures can draw the boundaries for U.S. House districts for seemingly every Democrat on my Twitter and Facebook feeds to say Michigan needs a ballot proposal to establish such a commission in this state.
And while nothing is definite, it seems highly likely that Democrats, their allies or some other entity will seek to gather the necessary signatures in Michigan for a constitutional amendment putting an independent entity in charge of drawing the lines for not only the U.S. House, but also the Michigan House, Michigan Senate and the Court of Appeals.
For decades, the Michigan Supreme Court produced the maps because no one political party had full control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in the term when redistricting takes place following the census (1961-62, 1971-72, 1981-82, 1991-92, for example). In the 1980s and 1990s, especially, this produced maps that led to fiercely competitive battles for the Michigan House and (gasp) the Michigan Senate.
That all changed in in the 2001-02 term. Republicans controlled the governor’s office and the Legislature, making it the first time in 70 years one party could control the map-making process. The impact on the U.S. House seats was enormous. The state’s delegation went from 10-6 Democratic to 9-6 Republican (though it eventually became 8-7 Democratic for a bit). The impact on the Legislature was more muted initially, with Democrats gaining seats in the Senate in 2002 and 2006, and in the House in 2004, 2006 and 2008 – even controlling the chamber from 2007-10. In 2010, however, the Republican tsunami produced big GOP majorities in both houses.
The 2011 map, also drawn solely by the GOP, has been more solid, though unlike the previous decade that featured a mostly unpopular Republican president for Democrats to use as a foil, there’s now been a mostly unpopular Democratic president, instead helping the GOP cause. Republicans have controlled both houses under the 2011 map.
Democrats can do the math on the next reapportionment in 2021. Even if Democrats elect a governor in 2018 and/or control the House in the 2021-22 term to prevent Republicans from having total control, the odds of the party somehow winning total control of the process are very small because
the Michigan Constitution forbids the party from controlling the Senate the 27-11 Republican majority in the Senate is too steep to overcome in 2018.
So that means either Republicans would still have total control or a divided government would lead to an impasse, kicking the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court, which … has a 5-2 majority of justices nominated by the GOP now and will likely still have a GOP majority during the 2021-22 term.
That gives an “independent” entity – and just how any proposal defines independent would be its most important element – much appeal to Democrats and ignites worry among Republicans. The Arizona system, which was before the U.S. Supreme Court, uses a commission with two Democrats, two Republicans and has a chair that is supposed to be a political monk, totally independent of political ties. There are several criteria that the commission has to follow when drawing the maps.
Would the Democratic funders who care enough about this proposal to put millions into it be willing to put up all that money for a process that will likely only improve the party’s chances of legislative control to 50/50?
What kind of maps might an independent commission produce? The most intriguing aspect would be how it would handle the current boundaries, which are a mess that split communities of interest, for the U.S. House in metro Detroit. How would an independent commission maintain two majority-minority districts, as the U.S. Voting Rights Act requires, and clean up those boundaries at the same time?
No district in the state was drawn more weirdly than the 11th District, now held by U.S. Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham) to maximize Republican voters and prune away Democrats. How would a commission handle that district?
As for the Legislature, the House districts in the Jackson, Port Huron and Battle Creek areas as well as the Senate districts in Genesee County – all carved up to improve Republican chances –could change considerably.
Who would lead the charge on a ballot proposal? That is a delicate matter. The Yes side will have to run a campaign for a proposal that has a political purpose using an apolitical message.
If it is unions and other Democratic interests that push the proposal, and it surely will be, it would make it easier for Republicans and their allies to paint it as a union/”special interest” power play.
The same holds true for the opposition, however. If business interests pour money into the campaign to defeat the proposal, and they surely will, the Yes side will counter that “corporate special interests” are trying to keep their hold on the Capitol.
Nothing is more openly political and ruthless as the redistricting process. Usually it happens every 10 years, and voters utter a collective yawn.
But in 2016, it looks like voters will have to confront redistricting in a big way.
Now that Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson has made it official that he’s resigning to run for Congress, and now that Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) has made it official that he hopes to succeed Mr. Johnson, there’s an interesting ripple effect to note.
One of the unknowns going into 2018, when the Michigan Senate is next up for election, was which Democrat – Mr. Dillon or Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) – would be the party’s nominee for the 29th Senate District. That’s the very competitive seat that covers Grand Rapids and several suburbs and other Kent County communities.
In 2018, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell) cannot seek re-election because of term limits, and this seat will be a top priority for both parties.
Prior to the surprising decision of Mr. Johnson to resign and Mr. Dillon to eye the post, the seat might have presented Democrats with an awkward situation. Both Mr. Dillon and Ms. Brinks would have been first-rate candidates. Mr. Dillon would have been out of the House for two years, and Ms. Brinks can’t run for her House seat again in 2018 (presuming she wins re-election in 2016), so both would likely have been tempted to run.
And both have experience running and winning difficult campaigns, Mr. Dillon in 2010 in a much more competitive seat than the one he now has in a bad Democratic year, and Ms. Brinks in 2014, when she had to stave off a ferocious Republican challenge in another bad Democratic year.
Now that potential conundrum for the Democrats is surely gone. Mr. Dillon will be busy, presuming all goes as expected, with his new job at the Hart-Kennedy House (MDP headquarters), and Ms. Brinks has the right of first refusal for the Democratic nomination in the 29th.
As to the Republicans, there are now two House members who live in the 29th Senate District – Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township) and Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto). And there’s always the possibility of someone else from the area’s robust Republican network not currently serving in the Legislature deciding to run.
The sorry state of Michigan roads, and that said roads’ state is getting sorrier still, is no mystery to anyone who travels Michigan roads or to people who debate the issue. And debate especially that nagging question of how to pay for fixing said sorry roads.
Which brings us to Yemi Kolapo.
Ms. Kolapo is a Nigerian journalist and former government official who has traveled several times to the Lansing area. She was part of a program at Michigan State University in 2007 for Nigerian government officials and journalists, and returned in 2008. She has remained in contact with Gongwer News Service since then.
Ms. Kolapo was back in town this week for a visit before she returns to Lagos to help start a new newspaper. She asked what the big issues were in Michigan these days and listened with interest to the discussion on roads.
As it happened, this reporter needed to pick up his car from the dealer after some routine maintenance. Ms. Kolapo tagged along as the dealer van took us down the freeway to the dealership and then we drove city of Lansing streets – which included a few rough sections, at least we would think they were rough – back to downtown.
“If you think these roads are bad,” Ms. Kolapo said as we drove along, “You should see the roads in Nigeria.”
Could this be the slogan we need to express both reality and hope to Michigan motorists and visitors? Should we post at each border crossing: “Welcome to Michigan, Our Roads Are Better That Nigeria’s”?
Well, it …it might…it…it gives me a headache, but if there’s no more money for roads, might be some loose change be hanging around for some new signs? Maybe we can compare our roads to those in other lands. What are the freeways like in Mali, one wonders.