Shenanigans in Michigan's 7th District

Jul 7, 2011

Most congressmen face a big struggle to first get elected, and then stay in their jobs for a considerable period of time. John Dingell, for example, holds the all-time record. He’ll have served fifty-six years before this year is over.

John Conyers has been there forty-six years.

Dale Kildee and Carl Levin have been in Washington more than thirty years. But on the other hand, the seventh district, which spans southeast Michigan’s border with Ohio, has been about the most volatile congressional district in the nation over the last decade.

Starting in two thousand and two, the seventh district has elected a different congressman in every election. Tim Walberg, who holds the job now, won in two thousand six; lost in two thousand eight, and won his old seat back in two thousand and ten.

Odds were that he would have faced another stiff challenge next year, possibly from one, or both, his two main rivals in the recent past. Fellow Republican Joe Schwarz beat Walberg in a primary in two thousand four, and then lost to him two years later.

Democrat Mark Schauer ousted Walberg from Congress in two thousand eight, and was ousted by him last year.

But this year is a redistricting year. Republicans control every branch of government, and one of their top priorities was to draw the lines so as to make re-election safer for their side’s incumbents.

In the case of the Seventh, they replaced Calhoun County, at the west end of the district, with Monroe County, at the eastern end. The counties are almost the same size, and both usually, but not always, vote slightly more Democratic than Republican.

Politically, this looks like an even trade.  But swapping the counties makes a big difference. Both of Congressman Walberg’s most recent foes. Mark Schauer and Joe Schwarz, live in Calhoun County. Now, despite inaccurate press reports, they could still run against him, if they chose. Legally, you do not have to live in a congressional district to run for office there.  Either man could also move there, but that would be sure to invite criticism as a carpetbagger. Besides, they would have to run without their base of strongest support. So while either man has yet to rule out another run, Walberg has to be breathing easier.

Now this doesn’t mean he won’t face a challenge. But there is no one on the horizon with anything like district-wide name recognition. But eliminating opposition to the incumbent wasn’t the only consequence of redistricting. When I talked to Joe Schwarz about this, he was more peeved that his home town of Battle Creek has been put into a congressional district with Grand Rapids.

The two cities don’t have much in common, and he feels Battle Creek is sure to be overshadowed by its larger rival. He feels strongly that his town belongs in the same district as Kalamazoo, a city with which it does share common interests. But that didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, Monroe citizens who were represented by very liberal John Dingell will now be spoken for by very conservative Tim Walberg. The point of elections is to allow voters to pick who will represent them. The point of redistricting seems to be to let the politicians pick their voters. And the result isn’t always pretty.