congressional districts

When you talk to State Senator Bert Johnson about running for Congress next year, the first thing he’ll tell you is that “this is not about John Conyers,” the man he‘s taking on in the Democratic primary next August.  That‘s true, in a sense.

The newly configured Thirteenth Congressional District is slightly more than half Detroit; the rest is mainly blue-collar Wayne County suburbs. Conyers, who has been in Congress since nineteen sixty-five, doesn‘t live in the district, not yet, anyway.

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?

Michigan House of Representatives

Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that sets new congressional district boundaries. The maps were designed and passed by the Republican legislature earlier this year.

Today we take a closer look at the implications of the new district boundaries with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow for Public Sector Consultants.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Demas and Sikkema about who wins and who loses with these changes, as well as what voters should know before they head to the polls in November. 

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to soon sign the redistricting plan passed by his fellow Republicans in the legislature. Assuming  he does so, and there are no last-minute changes, the future careers of four Democratic congressmen will suddenly be thrown into doubt.

Since last December, everyone has known that at least one Michigan Democrat would lose his job. The state is losing a seat in Congress as a result of national population shifts. Since Republicans control the process, everybody knew the odd man out was bound to be a Democrat. And as expected, they threw suburban Detroit Congressmen Sander Levin and Gary Peters into the same district.

If the two men do, in fact run against each other in a primary. Levin is almost certain to win. He has one of the most famous names in politics, and has been in Congress far longer.

Additionally, eighty percent of the new ninth district is territory that Levin has been representing up to now. But strange boundaries in two other districts have added other complications.

There have long been two seats represented by African-Americans and based in Detroit. But redistricting radically changed those districts. Freshman Congressman Hansen Clarke was given new boundaries that include slightly more than half of Detroit, and a collection of mostly blue-collar down river suburbs.

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.

Wikimedia Commons

The new redistricting maps drawn up by the Republican majorities in the Michigan Legislature are unveiled and Democrats are not happy.

Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry gives some historical context to the upcoming fight over redistricting.  He spoke to Michigan Radio's Jenn White.  You can here the interview here.

The rules are different than they used to be, but basically all districts should have the same population, for congressional districts, exactly the same, according to Lessenberry. State legislative districts can have up to a 5% variation.

He says this was not the case in the 1960's.

"Before the U. S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960's there was no requirement that they have the same population. So you had, in the case of Michigan, both congressional districts and legislative districts that were several times larger than one or the other one, and they each got one representative."

Lessenberry gives us a lesson on gerrymandering and explains the origin of the term. In 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts presided over the drawing of a district that was shaped as a salamander.

Thetoad / Flickr

Update 11:41 a.m.:

Democratic Congressman Sander Levin will testify at a state Senate hearing in Lansing this afternoon about the proposed redistricting maps. The Congressman is set to testify at 2:30 p.m..

Original post 6:59 a.m.:

Michigan Democrats have drawn a new congressional map that would pit Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia against Democratic Congressman Gary Peters of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township, according to the Associated Press. A copy of the map was obtained by the AP from the Michigan Democratic Party.

Michigan is losing one of its 15 congressional seats due to a loss of population in the past 10 years. From the AP:

Republicans control the redistricting process with majorities in the state House and Senate. State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer says the map shows how Detroit's two black-majority districts can be extended into Detroit's northern suburbs while remaining compact. Democrats say they'll introduce their map as a substitute to the Republican plan during a Senate hearing Tuesday. The GOP map pits Peters against fellow Democratic incumbent Sander Levin.

Representatives Peters and Levin issued a joint-statement after the GOP map was released:

“Voters in Michigan have never before faced such a shamelessly partisan redrawing of congressional boundaries. Instead of drawing fair lines that follow community and county borders in a logical way, the Republican legislature has drafted a map so skewed that it exploits every trick in the book to gerrymander districts in ways that benefit Republican incumbents. The Legislature and Gov. Snyder should reject this gerrymandered map and draw congressional boundaries in a way that puts Michigan voters’ interests squarely ahead of flagrant partisan advantage."

Michigan Geographic Framework

States must redraw congressional and legislative maps to adjust for the shifts in population when the census numbers are released every ten years.  This time Michigan lost population while other states gained.  That means Michigan will lose a representative in Congress.  But there were also shifts of population within the state which means the state house and senate districts will have to be redrawn.