Commentary
10:18 am
Mon May 16, 2011

Redistricting Dilemma

When I was twelve years old, Sander Levin, who everybody calls Sandy, was my state senator. When I was eighteen, he ran for governor. He was elected congressman for the district where I now live when I was thirty years old. Next year, I will be sixty.

And Sandy Levin, who turns eighty this summer, will still be representing me in Congress. That’s not to imply that he isn’t still sharp. On the contrary, Levin was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee until Democrats lost control of the House last fall. But he, and the Democrats, have a dilemma.

Republicans are  entirely in charge of the congressional redistricting process this year.  Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, and you know Republicans are going to try to eliminate one of the six seats Democrats hold, not one of the nine held by their party.

Everything I know tells me that they are most likely to throw Sandy Levin in a district with Gary Peters, now serving his second term in the House. Levin has far more name recognition and seniority than Peters.  If the two men are forced to battle against each other in a primary, he’ll almost certainly be the favorite.

Both men also say they are running for re-election, no matter what. But - should Sandy Levin really do this? Might it be better for him - and especially, for his party - if he makes a graceful exit?

Here’s why I say that: Most of Michigan’s Democratic delegation in the House of Representatives are old. Really old.

Next year, John Dingell will be eighty-six. Dale Kildee and John Conyers, eighty-three, Levin, eighty-one. The only exceptions are the just-elected Hansen Clarke of Detroit, who will be fifty-five, and Peters, fifty-three. Does it make sense for the state and the party to sacrifice the career of the fifty-three year old so the guy more than old enough to be his father can have another term?

Within a very few years, all of those lions are going to be gone, one way or another.

Does it make sense to lose all our experience pretty much at once?

Lawmakers drawing the new boundaries face another dilemma. The voting rights act calls on them to make sure minorities are adequately represented. The city of Detroit has shrunken to where it could almost entirely fit within one congressional district.

The odds are that the planners will divide it in half, more or less, and combine each half, the part now represented by Conyers and the part represented by Clarke, with a collection of suburbs. That’s what they did the last couple times. But Detroit is now becoming so diluted there’s a chance that instead of preserving two black seats, Michigan might end up with no minority representation, if the suburbanites unite and outvote the Detroiters.

You could make the case that Detroiters have unique interests more important than skin color, and that it would make more sense to keep almost the entire city united with a single voice in Congress.

It will be awhile before we see what those drawing the new maps have in mind. But if you thought the business of drawing district maps was dull and devoid of emotion….

You just might want to think again.