Politics
11:32 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Musical chairs in the 14th Congressional District

Michigan has six congressmen from the Democratic Party. Their ages are 85, 82, 82, 80, 54 and 52. One of the 82-year-old guys is retiring.

But Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, and so it has to lose another of these men. Our state has no women Democrats in the house, by the way. So, logically, which one should go?

Should the 85-year-old, whose own party stripped him of his committee chairmanship last year, retire? He has already served longer in the house than any man in history. Should the other 82-year-old retire? He sometimes appears confused in public; his office is chaotic and has been the target of ethics investigations.

What about the 80-year-old, who was his party’s nominee for governor before most of today’s citizens were alive?

Well, as of today, it appears that none of the octogenarians are going anywhere. Instead, it now appears that the two comparatively young guys, Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke, will try to knock each other off. And they are both abandoning the districts they now represent, and trying to win a new district meant for another man.

Here’s how this all came about. The Republican majority in the Michigan legislature drew the new boundaries to make sure the seat being lost would be a Democratic one. (Democrats would have eliminated a Republican seat if they’d had the chance.)

They also needed to draw two districts that had majority African-American populations. They did that, though the black majorities in both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth districts are relatively small -- less than 60 percent of the population.

The Thirteenth District, now represented by freshman Hansen Clarke, includes a little more than half of Detroit, plus some adjacent Wayne County suburbs, like Romulus and Wayne.

But the Fourteenth District is a true gerrymandered monstrosity, which runs from the devastated east side of Detroit to leafy Sylvan Lake, with everything from the rich Grosse Pointes to the financially ruined Pontiac thrown in. John Conyers lives in that district, but most of the territory he represented is elsewhere.

Gary Peters was thrown into the Ninth District, with Sander Levin. There’s no way he could defeat Sandy in a primary.

Hansen Clarke announced recently that he would run in the Fourteenth District, leaving the Thirteenth to John Conyers, for whom he used to work. Conyers hasn’t said what he intends to do.

But the new Thirteenth ought to be more winnable for him. However, yesterday, after weeks of ducking questions, word filtered out that Peters also plans to run in the Fourteenth, against Hansen Clarke. This ought to be an extremely interesting race.

While the district is majority black on paper, whites have far better turnout rates, especially in an August primary. And there are rumors that other candidates may get in, who might sap the strength of one or both contenders. This should be a fascinating race.

But also a sad one, because at least one of these vibrant and energetic lawmakers will now see their careers end, while men more than old enough to be their fathers feebly hang on.

In the long run, this race may cost the Democrats more than they now know.