The Gongwer Blog

Tate: Redistricting Process Could Have Been Better

By Elena Durnbaugh
Staff Writer
Posted: January 16, 2024 9:08 PM

The legislative redistricting process wasn't perfect, House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said.

"With the Independent Redistricting Commission, it was the first time that they went through it. It wasn't a perfect process," Tate said on the "MichMash" podcast, a collaboration between Gongwer News Service and WDET Detroit Public Radio. He was asked whether he agreed that the districts as drawn disenfranchised Detroiters.

Last month, a panel of federal judges ordered the commission to redraw 13 House and Senate districts because race was used as a predominant factor in drawing them, which violated the Equal Protection rights of Detroit voters. The lawsuit was brought forward by Detroit residents who argued the districts, as drawn, disenfranchised them.

The House has elections this year, and its seven districts must be redrawn before February 2.

The districts, as drawn by the commission, changed the landscape of Michigan politics, and that shouldn't be overlooked, Tate said.

"Looking at the landscape of the outcomes that came out of it, I think that's something that we should also be looking at," he said. "I'm the first Black speaker in Michigan's history, and part of that, you can argue, was because the lines were drawn by an independent redistricting commission versus a partisan legislature."

The Senate also got its first female Senate majority leaders in the state's history, Tate noted. The Democratic caucus became more diverse through the 2022 elections, Tate said, and that's because the maps were fairer.

"Through that, I think you've seen policies that will have a significant impact on diverse communities across the state, including Detroit," he said.

Tate said he didn't expect that the court-ordered redrawing would hurt the Democratic majority, nor did he see a serious problem with looping together pieces of Detroit with suburbs in Oakland and Macomb Counties.

The commission has taken criticism for districts that drew together places like Birmingham with Detroit that don't appear to match the idea of a community of interest.

Tate pointed to places like Oak Park and Southfield, which have large Black populations, as suburbs north of 8 Mile Road where it could make sense to connect to Detroit in a district.

"I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility," he said. "Prior to representing House District 10, it was House District 2 … I had the lower east side of Detroit, so the majority of the African American working-class families, and then Grosse Pointe, and that was in some ways opposite, but in some ways, there are a lot of commonalities. But if you look at the different parts of Metro Detroit, I don't think it's out of the question when you look at the historical trends and the movement of population."

Tate also discussed his hopes for the 2024 session, saying he was hopeful that there would be opportunities for bipartisan cooperation while the House is split 54-54, but that Democratic leadership hadn't gotten any indication from Republican leadership about what policy issues their caucus would be willing to tackle.

For their part, Democrats are having conversations around paid family leave, expanding access to child care and changes to the no-fault auto insurance laws, Tate said. Economic development will also be important.

"Economic development is going to play a big role," he said. "Going back to some of the work that we have done in the House last year, around the R&D tax credit and some other items that we had, including the budget."

Looking ahead to this year's elections, Tate said that the Democratic Party wasn't focused on the chaos within the MIGOP.

"For my colleagues, my caucus colleagues, I think us being able to tell our story in terms of what we've done this past year for Michigan residents and families is something that we want to continue to communicate," he said. "Our focus is going to be how are we going to continue to govern, at the end of the day."

Polls commissioned of Michigan voters by The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press in recent weeks have shown President Joe Biden trailing former President Donald Trump. Tate said he fully supported President Joe Biden when asked his confidence about Biden heading the Democratic ticket in 2024.

"In terms of what he's been able to do for this country, and the way he's shown leadership, has certainly (been) a positive," Tate said. "For our country and Michigan in particular, just in terms of the work that he's been able to do."

At the state level, Tate said people have every reason to trust that the Democratic Party is working for them.

"What we've been able to do as a House Democratic caucus and the legislation that we've been able to pass – I mean, significant pieces of legislation, whether it's around putting more money in people's pockets or gun violence reduction, something that we haven't been able to do in over a decade – really resonates with people," Tate said. "Michigan residents trust Democrats, and I think that is something that we'll see as we get closer to November."

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