Commentary
9:23 am
Mon June 20, 2011

Redistricting Woes

You have to admit that in Michigan, Democrats have been supremely unlucky when it comes to redistricting. For the last fifty years, Republicans have controlled the governor’s office whenever it was time to draw new districts.

This time they control everything - house, senate, and a majority on the state supreme court. That means they can impose  whatever plan they like, as long as it does a couple things.

First of all, all districts have to have more or less equal population. For Congress, that means exactly equal population. Based on where the census showed people lived, each Congressional district has to have seven hundred and five thousand, nine hundred and seventy-four people, give or take one.

There’s more wiggle room for legislative districts, but still, each one has to have within five percent of the target number of roughly ninety thousand per house and two hundred and sixty thousand for senate. There’s also the Voting Rights Act to consider.

Courts have held that means that a certain number of seats have to include a majority of voters who are members of the dominant minority group. Other than that, Republicans had a free hand. They finally unveiled their work at the end of last week.

And on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised. Naturally, since Michigan has to lose a seat in Congress, they combined the seats of two Democrats, Sandy Levin and Gary Peters, meaning one has to go. They also redrew the legislative lines to make it harder for Democrats to win back the state house and senate.

But some of what they did in terms of Congress is actually an improvement. For example, they took Calhoun County, which includes Battle Creek, out of the Seventh District, and put it into the Third, based on Grand Rapids. In terms of uniting communities of interests, Battle Creek would have been better off in the Sixth District, with Kalamazoo. But it is better off than where it was.

Now the Republicans perhaps did this because Seventh District Congressman Tim Walberg’s biggest threats, Mark Schauer and Joe Schwarz, live in Calhoun. But it still makes sense. They gave Monroe County to the Seventh instead.

And, they are putting a bunch of blue-collar downriver suburbs back into John Dingell’s district, which is anchored by the Democratic towns of Dearborn and Ann Arbor.

However, one district they’ve created is a true monstrosity. The new fourteenth, now represented by John Conyers. It stretches from the Grosse Pointes and Hamtramck through poor Hispanic southwest  Detroit up to Farmington Hills -- but not Farmington -- West Bloomfield and Pontiac. These communities have little or nothing in common. They created this district, and the companion thirteenth, now represented by Hansen Clarke, partly to keep two districts where more than half the registered voters are black.

However, the black majorities in both are so slim it is conceivable that they might elect white congressmen. And it may be time to consider whether creating bizarre districts for racial reasons is still necessary. After all, we have proof that a significant number of white voters will vote for black candidates: Think Barack Obama.

The world has changed since the civil rights struggles of half a century ago. Perhaps those concerned with reapportionment ought to recognize that too.