Here are three examples of how messed-up and dysfunctional Michigan government has become.
First, last fall the Democrats had a candidate for state representative who had been convicted of eight felonies, charged with three more, and who had cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 thanks to a sexual harassment suit filed against him by an aide.
Any sane observer might conclude he should have been defeated. But he was reelected easily, thanks to extreme gerrymandering, which meant no Republican can win that seat, ever.
Example two: Three years ago, more people in this state voted for Democratic candidates for Congress than Republican ones. But we ended up electing nine Republicans and five Democrats, just as we do every two years. Nobody in power has to worry much about losing their seat – thanks to extreme gerrymandering.
The legislature is even worse.
Almost the same number of people voted for Democrats for the state Senate as voted Republican. But Republicans got 27 seats; Democrats, only 11.
Finally, consider Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
They probably have a vast range of common interests. They share an airport; they share bus transportation. They should have the same member of Congress, and for many years, they did.
But that didn’t suit the needs of those who wanted to make sure the districts were rigged to produce as many entirely Republican districts as possible.
In our system, the Legislature redraws the districts, both state and federal, every 10 years after the census results.
The only checks on what they do are the governor and Supreme Court, and Republicans controlled all those branches last time the lines were drawn. Now, Democrats might well have produced something just as unbalanced if they’d had the chance.
But what is clear is that this sad state of affairs is terrible for the citizens and for democracy in Michigan.
Not only do some votes count more than others, this, along with term limits, means that our lawmakers often can be completely unresponsive to the people.
Last week, on the 180th anniversary of Michigan becoming a state, two state representatives, Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo and Jeremy Moss of Southfield, introduced legislation to end gerrymandering by creating a Citizens’ Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission.
Their bill spells out a process by which a group of ordinary citizens would be chosen to make sure districts complied with the law, were geographically relevant and not drawn to protect incumbents. They’ve introduced similar legislation before. Trouble is, they are both Democrats.
Republicans, who control still everything, have a vested interest in the way things are now. I asked Hoadley yesterday if he thought his bill had any chance.
“Of course not!” he told me. “But we both felt we need to offer something. We’re saying: Here is our plan. If you have a better one, let’s start there. But the one thing we won’t accept is that this is working well for the people of Michigan.”
He’s right, of course. But doing the right thing will almost certainly take a massive citizens’ movement, and a drive for a state constitutional amendment.
That will be anything but easy – but may be the only way to once again get government that works. Hoadley and Moss are trying. It will be interesting to see if anyone pays attention.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.