Commentary: 14th District follies

Apr 29, 2013

Less than two years ago, Congressman Gary Peters and his supporters spent nearly $2 million to win a congressional seat different from the one he already held, and one in which he did not live. That wasn’t really his fault.

Michigan lost a seat in Congress. Redistricting had largely eliminated his old district, and Peters had to run somewhere. In this case, he ended up running against another Democratic incumbent, Hansen Clarke, in the oddest shaped district in our history.

The current 14th looks like an old man sitting in a chair with his legs tucked under. His head is Pontiac, his neck, Keego Harbor, His body takes in a wide swath of Oakland County suburbs, from West Bloomfield through Farmington Hills and Southfield, before expanding to include many poor neighborhoods in Detroit. Finally, the legs take in the Grosse Pointes, and the feet end up in a Hispanic neighborhood near the coming new Detroit River Bridge.

This doesn’t exactly fit the ideal standard for a district composed of communities with common interests, but it did fit the needs of the Republican legislature, which wanted to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible. Plus, they felt that the Voting Rights Act required them to create two districts that had a majority of African-American residents.

Last year, Peters won by beating Clarke in the primary by about 10,000 votes. Brenda Lawrence, the mayor of Southfield, was something of a spoiler, drawing 11,000 votes that might have gone mostly to Clarke.

But Peters probably would have won anyway. He outspent Clarke 2-1. Republicans are not a factor here, by the way; in the general election, Peters beat a GOP opponent 5-1.

But now, less than a year later, Peters has decided to give up that seat. Oh, he hasn’t publicly said so, but everyone knows he is going to run for the U.S. Senate, to replace Carl Levin.

In fact, the entire Democratic Party is rallying around Peters. Which means there will be an open seat in Congress. But this time, who will come forward to fill it? I called Hansen Clarke, but his wife told me he wasn’t ready to talk to anybody for a while.

Brenda Lawrence, who in the last five years has lost three major races, including county executive and lieutenant governor, is now trying to get her Southfield constituents to reelect her as mayor, despite her repeated attempts to leave them.

Announcing another run for Congress in the middle of running for mayor wouldn’t be politically wise.

But eventually, someone will run, and I thought I’d let you know about this now in case you’ve been wanting to go to Congress.

All you’ll need is to be a Democrat, be able to come up with over a million dollars in funds, and campaign like a maniac for the next 15 months. If you win, you will get to go to Washington as a very junior member of a largely powerless minority party.

And, in two years, you’ll get to campaign for your job all over again.  There are some who think life can’t possibly get any better than that.  As the comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say … What a country.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.