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gerrymandering

John Aucher / AuchterToon.com

All of our money (as in United States of America legal tender) has the motto, "In God We Trust." Our coins also have "E pluribus unum" (out of many, one) and "Liberty." They are there, I believe, as reminders of who we are and would like to be as Americans.

It may get a little crowded (especially on the dime), but I humbly submit that we should add one more:

"We are a country of action; lies do not become us."

A legal battle over redistricting in Michigan could soon be underway.

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Letters are being sent to some 60 attorneys, legislators and ex-legislators, staffers and ex-staffers, Governor Rick Snyder, and many others, telling them: Anything you have related to the 2011 redistricting process, you better keep it. We’re talking drafts of maps, emails, instructions, and confidential analysis.

MATTHILEO / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

This week, Republicans and Democrats in Lansing seem to agree that it’s time to expand the state’s open record laws to cover the governor and the Legislature. Michigan is one of only a couple states that don’t already require all lawmakers to be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Ken Sikkema, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and a former Republican legislative leader, along with Vicki Barnett, a former Democratic legislator, joined Stateside and said it might not be smooth sailing to the governor's desk. 

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.


Michigan Republican Party

His only opposition bowed out of the race last weekend. Now, University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser is in line to succeed Ronna Romney McDaniel as chairman of Michigan's Republican Party.

McDaniel is the new head of the Republican National Committee.

Weiser was state party chair from 2009-11 and he joined Stateside to talk about the job, the state of the Republican Party and why it was "duty not desire" that drove him back to the chairman role.

J. Albert Bowden II / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In March of 1812, the Boston Gazette printed a political cartoon that showed the bizarre and twisted shape of a newly-redrawn election district.

The paper was responding to redistricting of the Massachusetts state Senate districts pushed through by Governor Elbridge Gerry. The redistricting certainly benefited the governor's Democratic-Republican Party.

Ken Sikkema expects the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing to be even more conservative in 2017.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan's House Democrats are looking to take control of the chamber this November, but that won't be easy.

The Democrats need to win at least 56 of 110 seats to have a House majority. They currently hold 46.

The Associated Press reports that the Democrats do have some advantages that should spur optimism going into the November election. 

More from the Associated Press:

There's a new book out about gerrymandering, but it's so much more than that. 

And it's getting a lot of attention.

Jodi Westrick/Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, we sipped Brewery Becker’s “historic” ales and lagers while discussing a similarly historic topic: public trust in state government.

The Flint water crisis, gerrymandering, term limits, campaign money and more were on the minds of audience members and panelists at our Issues & Ale event.

Gerrymandering allows political parties or groups to gain some political advantage by manipulating district boundaries. Some critics argue that it distorts the real views of the voters.
wikimedia user Jeremy Kemp / Public Domain/http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There's an argument that Michigan's system of redistricting - the decennial redrawing of legislative districts - distorts the voters' will.

Groups such as Common Cause and, recently, the League of Women Voters have made efforts to find a better way to redraw the congressional and legislative maps. That most recent effort died quietly earlier this month. 

Ken Sikkema expects the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing to be even more conservative in 2017.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

An article in The Free Press reported 2016 is "shaping up as a raucous and competitive election season with incumbent politicians facing strong challenges up and down the ballot, and a presidential race that could influence the control of every race."

Rick Pluta and Zach Gorchow join us to talk about upcoming State Representative races, voter turnout, and how the Michigan legislature might change after this election year.

As we head into the final month of 2015, campaigns in Michigan are already ramping up for Election 2016.

user jdurham / morguefile

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss how student growth will be a big part of teacher evaluations this year, why redistricting won't happen, and what will happen to the political careers of Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat after the sex scandal


This political cartoon was printed in 1812 in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts Legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry.
Elkanah Tisdale / Boston Centinel, 1812

Michigan Radio and Public Sector Consultants conducted a poll of 600 likely voters from Aug. 4-8 about how they felt financially, possible changes in redistricting, and the potential legalization of recreational marijuana.

In terms of those saying they're better off, Jeff Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants says things look relatively "rosy" for Michigan. More than half say they're "about the same," and around a quarter of them say they're "better off."

Non-partisan commission would make more Michigan votes count

Jul 27, 2015
Michigan House Republicans

A counterpoint to this essay can be found here

The Next Idea

Everybody who sets foot in a voting booth wants to know that their vote counts just as much as the vote of the next person in line. Faith in our democratic system rests on fair and representative elections.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s political map has been manipulated to the point that not all votes count the same. Politicians have drawn political districts so that in many places around our state, who wins or loses is a foregone conclusion long before the end of election night. They created the political map this way in order to give themselves and their party a head start in an election, much to the detriment of our democracy and your vote.

Michigan House Republicans

A counterpoint to this essay can be found here

The Next Idea  

If the Michigan AFL-CIO or the Michigan Chamber of Commerce were each drafting a proposed constitutional amendment to “reform” redistricting, it would be met with media derision, with each eventual proposal seen as favoring one political party over the other.

But, when the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network announce that they are part of a Collaborative working to draft an amendment, no similar skepticism has yet arisen. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow voters to take the authority to draw congressional district lines away from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions has many Democrats and progressives in Michigan very happy.

There’s been lots of rejoicing among those who’ve hated gerrymandering – the drawing of district lines to benefit one party over the over.

State AG Bill Schuette wants to make sure no one can vote straight-ticket this November.
Personalincome.org - http://www.personalincome.org/vote/ / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Hahaha! No. We're just kidding. 

It's really hard. 

But we were serious about there being only two steps. 

We looked into this question as part of our MI Curious project - people send in their questions about Michigan or its people, questions are put up for a vote, then we look into the winning question.

This time, the winning question came from Michael Bieri.

"What would it take to realistically end gerrymanding in Michigan?" 

There’s been a lot of attention paid to Michigan’s bizarrely gerrymandered 14th Congressional District, drawn to pack as many Democrats as possible together.

But there has been even more strangeness in its mirror image to the left, the 11th District, similarly designed for Republicans. Shaped something like an irregular claw, the 11th begins with Birmingham and Troy in the east and arcs over to take in Milford and Novi in the west and Livonia and Canton in the South.

This was meant to be GOP territory. But it is not nearly as Republican as the 14th is Democratic. President Obama carried it once, and some think it could send a Democrat to Congress. And it hasn’t been short of controversy.

Two years ago, longtime Congressman Thaddeus McCotter’s career ended after his staff filed fraudulent ballot petition signatures.

That left Republicans with Kerry Bentivolio, a Tea Party supporting reindeer farmer. He won and is trying for a second term.

Less than two years ago, Congressman Gary Peters and his supporters spent nearly $2 million to win a congressional seat different from the one he already held, and one in which he did not live. That wasn’t really his fault.

Michigan lost a seat in Congress. Redistricting had largely eliminated his old district, and Peters had to run somewhere. In this case, he ended up running against another Democratic incumbent, Hansen Clarke, in the oddest shaped district in our history.

The current 14th looks like an old man sitting in a chair with his legs tucked under. His head is Pontiac, his neck, Keego Harbor, His body takes in a wide swath of Oakland County suburbs, from West Bloomfield through Farmington Hills and Southfield, before expanding to include many poor neighborhoods in Detroit. Finally, the legs take in the Grosse Pointes, and the feet end up in a Hispanic neighborhood near the coming new Detroit River Bridge.

This doesn’t exactly fit the ideal standard for a district composed of communities with common interests, but it did fit the needs of the Republican legislature, which wanted to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible. Plus, they felt that the Voting Rights Act required them to create two districts that had a majority of African-American residents.

Here’s something to think about: Michigan is pretty clearly a moderate to liberal state. We haven’t voted Republican for President for a quarter-century. Democrats won 12 out of the last 13 contests for the U.S. Senate. More people voted for Democratic than Republican candidates for Congress and the legislature last fall.

Yet guess what. We sent only five Democratic congressmen to Washington compared to nine Republicans. And the GOP still has a solid majority in the state House of Representatives. That’s because of outrageous gerrymandering two years ago by the previous legislature, which was also Republican.

At the Republican National Convention.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State House Republican leaders say they have no plans to scrap discussions about splitting Michigan’s Electoral College votes between congressional districts.         

Both Governor Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville have said they’re not on board with the idea. Snyder says it would be better to consider changes closer to the next census, when congressional lines are re-drawn.

But House Speaker Jase Bolger said there’s no reason to wait that long.

Office of Governor Rick Snyder / Wikimedia Commons

Two top Republicans in Lansing say they’re not on board with a plan to split Michigan’s Electoral College votes.

Lawmakers have been expecting a bill that would divide the state’s electoral votes by congressional district.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said that would make the state less important in presidential elections.

“At this point in time, I’m still sticking to my guns. I think the bigger package of votes for the winner brings more attention to the state and keeps us united. So I haven’t been convinced otherwise yet,” Richardville said.

States could make sweeping changes to Electoral College

Jan 22, 2013
At the Republican National Convention.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In his commentary this morning, Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry pointed to what he is calling a Republican plan to rig presidential election results.

Currently, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, all of a state’s Electoral College votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in that state.

We’re used to some level of dirty politics in our elections, even presidential elections  -- in fact, smears, nastiness and exaggeration have been around since the time of George Washington.

But we draw the line at trying to actually rig the election results. When the verdict is in, it’s in, and everybody accepts the result.

Except now certain Republicans around the country have a plan to rig presidential election results to virtually guarantee that any Republican would win the presidency, even if they really lost.

Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus has endorsed this plan, members of his party are actively pushing it in Pennsylvania, and Governor Snyder says it is worth thinking about in Michigan.  The truth is that it is not only unfair, but has the potential, if adopted, to make Michigan less relevant in presidential elections.

The Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments tomorrow over a state law allowing Republicans to draw county commission boundaries in Oakland County.  

Just released emails seem to show Oakland County Republicans tried to circumvent the rules to maintain control of the county commission.

“Clearly there has been a collusionary attempt on the part of the Republican legislators in this body from Oakland County," says Vicki Barnett, a Democratic state lawmaker from Farmington Hills. 

Barnett says it’s a “major breach of trust in the government system”. 

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld part of a lower court's ruling involving redistricting in Oakland County.

The court ruled Wednesday that the law passed last year by the GOP-controlled Legislature was a local act affecting only one government and needed to pass with two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to meet state constitutional requirements.

A judge has overturned a state law that scrapped Oakland County’s new commission map and gave Republican elected officials the power to draw a new one.

The challenge was filed by Democrats who say the law was simply a GOP power grab.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a struggle for political power in the former Republican bastion that’s now a battleground county.

Governor Rick Snyder has approved measures that redraw Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts. The new maps were approved by the Legislature’s Republican majorities in an intensely partisan battle. But this may not be the final word on the state’s new district maps. 

Michigan loses a congressional seat in the new maps to reflect the loss of population in the most recent census. The new lines throw at least two incumbent Democrats into the same district.  

Redistricting, then and now (audio)

Jun 29, 2011
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.

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