TABLE OF CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: page 2POLITICAL MAP-MAKING LEAVES MANY VOTERS WITH UNCOMPETITIVE, PRE-DETERMINED ELECTIONS
DETAILED FINDINGS: page 4 SAFE SEATS, A LACK OF COMPETITION, SYSTEMIC PARTISAN ADVANTAGE
REACTION TO OUR FINDINGS: page 8NO APOLOGIES FROM SOME INSIDERS, CONCERN FROM OTHERS
HOW REDISTRICTING WORKS: page 10THE HISTORY AND RULES
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: page 12HOW POLITICIANS TURN REDISTRICTING INTO PARTISAN CHESS
HANDICAPPING REDISTRICTING THIS YEAR page 16
NONPROFITS & WATCHDOGS CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY page 19
POTENTIAL LONG-TERM REFORMS page 20
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: POLITICAL MAP-MAKING LEAVES MANY VOTERS WITH UNCOMPETITIVE, PRE-DETERMINED ELECTIONSBy Susan J. Demas and John Bebow In the past decade, voters decided 664 races for seats in the Michigan Legislature. The majority of those races were never in question. Millions of votes didn’t really matter.
Districts for many state representatives and senators are not competitive. Many seats are engineered for partisan advantage. A consequence is the practical disenfranchisement of many voters. As a result, average voters face an uncomfortable question: are our elections truly representative?
If voters want true competition and choice at the ballot box, they can’t wait until Election Day. Their time for input is now, when the maps are being drawn.
Every 10 years, new Census data is used to draw the district boundaries for state and federal elected officials. In Michigan, the state legislature drives this process. To inform the 2011 Michigan redistricting process that is just getting underway, the Center for Michigan used state elections data to analyze the results of 664 state legislative races since boundaries were last redrawn in 2001.
What we found:
Over the past decade, Republicans enjoyed 43 safe seats in the state House and 19 safe seats in the Senate. • Democrats had 42 safe seats in the House and 11 safe seats in the Senate. None of those seats ever changed hands between the parties. Republicans living in safe Democratic districts and Democrats living in safe Republican districts were essentially disenfranchised – and accounted for almost 1.5 million votes in the 2010 statewide elections. Add to them the significant proportion of statewide voters who label themselves independents and it’s easy to see that in many places voters’ realistic choices at the polls are severely limited.
Only about one out of every seven Michigan residents lives in a swing district – politically competitive • areas where elections are truly up for grabs. These too rare places are where ticket-splitters and politically moderate voters can have more choices – places where the character and ideas of individual candidates are arguably more likely to carry the day.
In the Michigan House, only 16 of 110 districts are swing seats – they either regularly changed hands • between the parties or averaged a 3-percent margin or less over the past decade.
In the Michigan Senate, only 6 of 38 seats ever changed party hands in the past decade. Only two seats • featured consistently close races.
A LOOK INSIDE REDISTRICTING
Now it’s true that Detroit is the most Democratic big city in America. And Ottawa County west of Grand Rapids is known as a GOP bastion. But, collectively, Michigan is a purple state – the electorate is pretty evenly split between the two major political parties.
So why are so few seats in the Michigan Legislature regularly up for grabs?
To a large extent, you can blame the redistricting process -- what Republican Governors Association (RGA) attorney Ben Ginsberg calls “the great passion play of American politics.”
“There’s emotion, the raw power is high,” he said at a nationwide election forum. “(Consultants) get really jazzed up about the magic and voodoo we can do.”
Much of the process takes place behind closed doors between legislative and party leaders. Few voters follow the machinations.
“There are probably 11 of us out there who are total redistricting junkies,” said Tim Story, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “So this is our time.”
Last time around, in 2001, Michigan Republicans owned the redistricting process thanks to their control of the state House, Senate, the governorship and the state Supreme Court. As this report demonstrates, Republicans fared well under the maps they drew 10 years ago, as expected. Democrats followed a similar playbook, with similarly favorable results, when they had the upper hand in earlier decades.
“Redistricting in Michigan is a political process,” longtime Democratic Party insider Rick Wiener said last month at a redistricting forum in Lansing. “It has been when Democrats controlled it. And it is when Republicans apparently control it.”
Lines also are crafted to help particularly powerful lawmakers and to create as many safe seats as possible for the two major political parties.
“You have a situation where the Legislature is picking their own voters,” said Christina Kuo, Michigan executive director of the good government group, Common Cause.
As always, money is an issue. Fewer competitive seats mean both political parties can better manage political fundraising and advertising.
“Both parties want to spend most of their money at the top of the ticket,” said Bernie Porn, president of the Lansing polling firm EPIC-MRA who worked for Democrats during the 1980s redistricting. “They want to spend money on TV and not worry about spending $250,000 or more on each competitive legislative seat.”
This year, Republicans control every leg of the redistricting stool – just as they did in 2001. Many observers expect a repeat of the last go-round.
One key difference this time is citizen-friendly technology. Thanks to Google maps and a wealth of district population information online, citizens can fiddle around with legislative boundaries in the comfort of their own homes. Even redistricting software used by states is much cheaper than it was a decade ago.
Across the nation, reform-minded groups are sizing up their redistricting processes this year. Beyond Michigan, a number of other states use independent redistricting commissions which are somewhat depoliticized. A handful of states require the competitiveness of districts to be taken into consideration as new boundaries are drawn.
In Michigan, large-scale reforms like those are not likely this year. But there is the possibility for increased transparency and citizen involvement through more public hearings. Those are goals of a new Redistricting Collaborative, of which the Center for Michigan is a member.
“Last time, redistricting was a very closely held thing by leadership within the caucuses,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), a member of the collaborative. “But it’s not just about political parties and caucuses. It’s about the voters. This is how we’re represented.”
This report is not intended to question the legitimacy of any individual sitting legislator. And, to the average voter, redistricting might seem like the ultimate act of inside baseball. But it’s important to consider that those little lines on little maps dictate big-time political power.
DETAILED FINDINGS: SAFE SEATS, A LACK OF COMPETITION, SYSTEMIC PARTISAN ADVANTAGE
The last three Michigan elections earned big headlines for big turnover. In 2006, a Democratic wave gave them control of the House. In 2008, the Obama wave helped Democrats solidify that House control. In 2010, Republicans exacted revenge by winning the governorship and reclaiming a convincing majority in the House.
At first blush, those results suggest a state with healthy political competition. Look carefully at the details though, and you’ll find a system stacked to assure only a handful of competitive races – and a system in which statewide voters are not completely in control.
This year, for the first time in a decade, Michigan’s political boundaries will be redrawn. The details of how we elect members of Congress and the Michigan Legislature will change as they do every 10 years in response to population changes indicated by the Census. This process of “redistricting” is, in theory, supposed to assure fair and accurate political representation. In reality, it is a high-stakes, insiders’ game in which true competition is an afterthought at best.
Few of the many people who proudly wear those “I voted” stickers in November will give redistricting even a passing thought this year. Yet the process is fundamental to how we vote and who we vote for.
The accompanying map summarizes our findings. Spreadsheets documenting every race and summarizing the cumulative results from 2002-2010 can be downloaded at www.thecenterformichigan.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/redistricting_spreadsheet_master.xls
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (2002-10 ELECTION RESULTS)
110 TOTAL SEATS
PURPLE = 16 swing seats. Statistically close or regularly changed party. RED = 43 safe GOP seats. Consistent landslides. Didn’t change party. BLUE = 42 safe DEM seats. Consistent landslides. Don’t change party. WHITE = 9 other seats. Usually safe seats, but changed party once.
SOURCES: All election results data compiled by The Center for Michigan from official state elections results. (http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127-1633_8722---,00.html)
SENATE (2002-10 ELECTION RESULTS)
38 TOTAL SEATS
PURPLE = 2 swing seats. Statistically close or regularly changed party. RED = 21 safe GOP seats. Consistent landslides. Didn’t change party. BLUE = 11 safe DEM seats. Consistent landslides. Don’t change party. WHITE = 4 other seats. Usually safe seats, but changed party once.
SOURCES: All election results data compiled by The Center for Michigan from official state elections results. (http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127-1633_8722---,00.html)
Our analysis highlights three key concerns for Michigan voters:
1. LACK OF COMPETITION
Despite those wave elections, few state House and Senate seats ever experience a true power shift. Only about one in seven Michigan residents live in what could be deemed a consistently competitive swing district.
In the Michigan House, only 25 of 110 districts changed party control at least once in the past decade. Only 16 districts are true swing seats. In these seats, one of the following happened over the past decade
They averaged a 3-point margin or less. In other words, the results over the decade averaged no more than a • 51.5 to 48.5 percentage spread for either party.Republicans and Democrats truly split control of the seat, with neither party winning more than three of the • five elections in the past decade.
In the Michigan Senate, only six of 38 districts changed party control at least once in the past decade. Only two districts had average margins of 3 percent or less.
2. ENGINEERED PARTISAN ADVANTAGE
Republicans hold a disproportionate advantage in Michigan elections – an advantage party bosses freely acknowledge they tried to engineer in the last redistricting in 2001. It’s not a new strategy – Democrats sought to do it in previous decades when they had control.
The GOP proportion of statewide seats is consistently higher than the GOP proportion of statewide votes over the past decade.
In the House, the GOP collected 47 percent of the statewide vote and 50.7 percent of the total seats. In the Senate, the GOP collected 49.3 percent of the statewide vote and 60.5 percent of the total seats.
Under current district boundaries, it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – for Democrats to ever gain majority control in the Senate. In 17 districts, Democrats averaged a deficit of at least 10 percentage points over the decade. They averaged no closer than a 7-percent deficit in four other districts. The Democrats’ best showing of the decade was in 2006 when they narrowed the GOP majority to 21-17. Democrats came within 1,200 votes (or less than one percentage point) of carrying two more seats and tying the GOP with 19 seats each. But the rest of the seats remained solidly GOP, with none closer than a 2-point margin and 13 maintained double-digit margins.
3. PRACTICAL DISENFRANCHISEMENT
In the state House, the GOP kept an unbreakable lock on 43 seats over the past decade and the Democrats likewise controlled 42 seats. The outcomes were never in question – the dominant party averaged at least 55 percent of the vote (a 10-point spread is not a close election).
In the state Senate, the GOP held the same systemic dominance on 17 seats while Dems dominated 11 seats.
So, many Michigan voters are arguably disenfranchised because the general election outcomes in their legislative districts are never in question. Many Republican voters and ticket-splitting moderates are trapped in deep-blue districts. Many Democratic voters and ticket-splitting moderates are trapped in deep-red districts.
In November 2010 alone, Michigan residents cast more than 1.4 million votes for legislative candidates who had no real shot at winning, based on historical partisan voting patterns.
REACTION TO OUR FINDINGS: NO APOLOGIES FROM SOME INSIDERS, CONCERN FROM OTHERS
We interviewed nearly two dozen elections and redistricting experts and political party insiders for this report. None disputed our findings. As Michigan Chamber of Commerce legal counsel and redistricting veteran Bob LaBrant quipped, “the statistics is what they is.”
Redistricting experts and insiders from both major political parties are quick to point out that competitive seats simply aren’t part of the game plan. They’re not required by the state election law, redistricting standards, or related court decisions.
At an educational forum in January, Labrant noted the lack of competition by raising the extreme examples of Democrats in Ottawa County and Republicans in downtown Detroit having effectively no voice in elections. In those cases, “you’re going to feel like your vote is wasted,” Labrant said. “That’s just a consequence of the system we have.” But he argued that the 2006 Democratic wave in the state House and the party’s strong showing that year in Senate races shows “there is plenty of accountability.”
Others are troubled by the lack of competition.
Dennis Darnoi, a longtime GOP political consultant and former legislative staffer who worked on the 2001 redistricting, acknowledged he was surprised – and disturbed -- by how few legislative districts are truly competitive.
“Being purely political, I can say, ‘To the victors go the spoils,’” Darnoi said. “The Democrats do the same thing. But from a policy purist standpoint, having so many voters that don’t have a choice violates the underlying principle of voting.”
Competitive districts can be drawn – if competitiveness becomes a priority in Michigan as it is in some states, argues pollster Porn who also worked on behalf of Democrats on numerous redistricting plans. Porn said districts that are competitive often produce high-quality legislators “with a little more common sense.” In his assessment, it wouldn’t take too much work or political sacrifice to make 30 percent to 40 percent of legislative seats competitive – a big improvement over the current map.
Unless and until competitive races become a priority, we “wind up electing people to the Legislature really on the extreme of both parties when there aren’t competitive seats,” said former Lt. Governor John Cherry, a key Democratic point person in the Senate during the 2001 redistricting. “When competing in primaries, people play to the extremes. It hurts bipartisanship.”
Kuo, the Common Cause director, notes that primary turnout is low. As a result of having so many non-competitive seats, she said many lawmakers “are only accountable to 15 percent of the people. In some (House) districts, that’s only 2,000 people.”
Porn agrees and uses the state budget process as an example. He said that lawmakers in the many safe GOP seats can afford to be “rigid” in pushing for cuts-only budgets. Polling shows that Republicans favor that solution, whereas Democrats and independents are more open to new revenues, like closing tax loopholes. But Republicans in safe seats don’t have to listen to those constituents. On the flip side, one could argue that Democratic primaries are dominated by an extreme wing less likely to agree to middle-ground budget cuts.
Insiders on both sides of the aisle – from Democrat John Cherry to Republican Saul Anuzis – freely admitted
that the political parties are the first to push for the highest possible number of safe seats. Money is “absolutely” a big motivator, Anuzis said. A competitive state House seat can run up an expensive tab.
The same goes for interest groups playing in elections, ranging from the Michigan Chamber on the right to the Michigan Education Association (MEA) on the left. Noncompetitive, predictable outcomes in the maximum number of seats are the most cost-efficient way to manage an election for all sides.
“Parties don’t like to play on such a broad field money wise,” said campaign finance watchdog Robinson.
Brittany Galisdorfer, Earhart fellow with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council, notes that academic research has been inconclusive about the effects of more competitive seats.
“The general theory is that competitive districts mean less extreme political candidates, less political partisanship and ensure basic fairness,” she said. “But there’s no consensus that those things actually occur.”
HOW REDISTRICTING WORKS: THE HISTORY AND RULES
Redistricting is “the most partisan thing the Legislature does,” said former Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), one of the architects of the 2001 maps. “You have to understand the process. And if you don’t like it, get the majority.”
A decade earlier, in 1981, DeGrow was on the receiving end of controversial redistricting plans drawn by Democrats then in control in Lansing. “Spare me the righteous crying,” he said. “I’ve been on the other side. … It isn’t personal; it’s just business.”
To understand the 2011 map drawing, it helps to understand Michigan’s past political cartography.
Many districts in the United States used to be mal-apportioned – districts weren’t anywhere close to having the same population base, said LaBrant, who has helped advise and finance GOP redistricting efforts for four decades. Then the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the 1960s and helped put a stop to some gerrymandering. In Michigan, Senate boundaries were frozen from 1925 to 1952.
“So it used to be a lot worse,” LaBrant said. “You don’t have the egregious, goofy-looking districts from the last decade – what I call modern works of art. It was a very different time.”
Change also came with the 1963 Michigan Constitution, which established an eight-member redistricting committee evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Not surprisingly, the committee ended up deadlocking during the 1971 and 1981 battles and the courts had to step in.
In the ‘70s, Democrats held a majority on the Supreme Court, so their redistricting proposal was adopted. In the 1980s, a three-judge panel appointed Bernie Apol, the retired state director of elections, to devise a plan resulting in the state’s “Apol standards.” Apol’s rules direct the state to create state legislative districts that:
Contain roughly equal populations• Feature contiguous and compact boundaries• Maintain respect for municipal and county boundaries to the extent possible• Assure representation for minority groups•
In 1991 and 2001, legislative leaders and the governor ran the process, with input from party leaders and attorneys. Their plans can be (and inevitably have been) challenged in state and federal court. To better guide the process, lawmakers codified the Apol standards in 1999.
When the Apol standards were created, some redistricting veterans, including Michigan Supreme Court Justice Charles Levin, thought there would be only one way to draw a map. Never underestimate the ingenuity of lawmakers, however -- especially when self-preservation is involved. In reality, there are usually about a half-dozen maps or so that would comply with the standards, said Porn.
That comes with its own set of complications, however, as Robinson, the MCFN director points out. “If you nudge the lines this way and that way, you set off a whole string of dominos impacting other seats,” he said.
Republicans, by and large, point to the Apol standards as ensuring a fair process. “Frankly, there’s not a lot of room for politics when you’re complying with them,” said current Senate Redistricting Committee Chair Joe Hune (R-Hamburg).
Democrats like state party Chairman Mark Brewer, would like to see some modifications to ensure more fairness in districts. And Democrats argue that their Republican peers haven’t necessarily followed the Apol standards. In 2001, Democrats claimed their maps followed the standards better as theirs broke up fewer counties. But the GOP had the votes to use their own maps.
This year, redistricting could prove to be a sort of Wild West scenario. Eight years ago, in a redistricting challenge known as LeRoux v. Secretary of State, the state Supreme Court ruled the Apol criteria were irrelevant for congressional districts and said the Legislature was not bound to follow Apol guidelines as written into state law. The court ruled that lawmakers could “repeal, amend, or ignore” the standards “as it pleased.”
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: HOW POLITICIANS TURN REDISTRICTING INTO PARTISAN CHESS
In the heat of mid-summer, Democrats’ anger over the 2001 redistricting boiled over.
“Today’s legislative process, like the proverbial dead skunk in the middle of the road, STUNK TO HIGH HEAVEN!” shouted Rep. Derrick Hale (D-Detroit), calling GOP redistricting plans “a dictatorial and undemocratic process.”
Hale and his Democratic peers complained Republicans had kept their plans hidden then rammed them through the committee process and on the floor with little public input. There was only one House committee hearing and then Republicans popped a 403-page substitute on the floor, according to the House Journal.
Ten years later, key GOP redistricting architects aren’t about to apologize.
As Senate majority leader at the time, DeGrow’s goal was to make sure Republicans had a “bulletproof, failsafe” map to win 20 seats. “The goal is to get majority,” he recently recalled. “I’d rather get three seats at 53 percent than two at 60 (percent).”
Republicans never lost their Senate majority over three election cycles with the 2001 maps. Cumulatively, Republicans gained fewer than half the votes but 60 percent of the Senate seats over the past decade.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
GOP FARES BETTER
Republicans fared well since district boundaries for the Michigan Legislature were last redrawn a decade ago. In both the House and Senate, the GOP ratio of total statewide seats won is considerably higher than the GOP ratio of total statewide votes.
SOURCES: All election results data compiled by The Center for Michigan from official state elections results. (http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127-1633_8722---,00.html)
Gov. John Engler was “up to his eyeballs” in the 2001 redistricting, DeGrow recalled. The governor’s objective for the Michigan House of Representatives was different, said Anuzis, who served as state GOP chair from 2005 to 2009. Engler wanted to maximize the number of GOP seats in the 63 to 68 range, rather than just going for a simple 56-seat majority. That meant when Republicans would win, they’d probably win big.
That strategy left Republicans vulnerable during the Democratic years of 2006 and 2008, although it paid dividends in 2010. DeGrow defends the process.
“When we did it, look -- we drew the lines the way we wanted,” he said. “We took a lot of grief because we lost the House twice and people said we should have drawn a better map.”
There’s more than just redistricting that goes into elections, DeGrow stressed. Candidate recruitment, fundraising and the national mood all are reasons why the Democrats enjoyed some success during the last decade.
Brewer, the MDP chair, argues, “It shouldn’t take a wave year to overcome gerrymandering.”
Anuzis counters: “It’s the nature of power to try to give yourselves a competitive advantage.”
At the 2007 Michigan Republican Party convention, Anuzis was a bit more direct. Brewer sent the media a recording of Anuzis’ speech in which he said: “And we still held on to the (state) Senate, although we lost the (state) House. One of the reasons – it shows how good our gerrymandering plan is. When the Democrats blame us for gerrymandering the districts, they’re right. We did it and we’ll do it again if we can.”
Anuzis said he doesn’t “remember saying the quote quite that way.” He accused Brewer of being “intellectually and politically dishonest.”
“What I referred to as ‘gerrymandering’ – it can be a bad thing, but it can be a good thing, when you’re trying to get a competitive advantage, not draw scorpion-like districts like in other states. … Why would Republicans draw a plan to give Democrats an advantage?” Anuzis said. “He’s trying to make it sound like some nefarious action.”
Republicans have attacked Brewer for doing his own Machiavellian maneuvering – most notably a stealth redistricting reform wrapped into the failed Reform Michigan Government Now (RMGN) efforts for a constitutional amendment in 2008.
Ultimately booted from the ballot by the state Supreme Court, RMGN was roughly the size of a bed sheet. It included proposals to cut the number of senators, representatives and high-court judges. It also called for a new “competitive” redistricting process, with “mirror imaging.” If there was a 53 percent Democratic House district, for instance, there would also be a 53 percent GOP one.
Despite an oft-quoted, big labor PowerPoint presentation declaring RMGN an effort aimed at “Changing the rules of politics in Michigan to help Democrats,” Brewer said the RMGN redistricting plan “didn’t favor Democrats at all.” And he stressed that Democrats always have a shot at winning control of the Legislature, even under the current system.
When Boundaries Get Personal
John Cherry is either a redistricting genius or a concerned brother who may have compromised his caucus, depending on who you ask.
As the Senate Democrats’ chief negotiator during the 2001 process, Cherry knew the odds were against his party, but that also meant that “expectations were low.” Cherry initially won kudos for winning Democrats a better deal than expected, opening up a GOP-held seat in Bay City for a Democratic takeover, for instance. Some Republicans privately grumbled that Cherry, the rare Democrat who could go toe-to-toe with Engler, had outsmarted them.
But there’s an alternate Republican claim that Cherry compromised his own party to secure the 26th Senate district near Flint for his sister, Sen. Deb Cherry (D-Burton), who ultimately served two terms. Dennis Darnoi, former chief of staff for then-Rep. Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski (R-Farmington Hills), was deeply involved in the last redistricting . He recalls John Cherry striking a deal for his sister’s seat that “ensured the Republicans kept the majority.”
Other districts were drawn more favorably for the GOP, like shifting four Republican Jackson County townships into the swing 17th District seat now held by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe). And some more Republican townships were shifted into the 26th on the theory that Democrats couldn’t hold the seat without a Cherry on the ballot. In 2010, that turned out to be correct.
Both Cherrys deny this account. The former lieutenant governor said that the 26th was slotted to be a GOP seat representing more of northern Oakland County, but he wrangled a better deal for the Democrats.
“I feel good about that. I did my job,” he said. “I didn’t want to sacrifice another seat. … I don’t think there was a magical strategy. I don’t think you can guarantee the best outcome.”
Deb Cherry said it’s “nice to think I’m that strong” of a candidate to be able to win an essentially GOP-drawn district. But she said her brother would never have put her or the Democrats in jeopardy like that.
“His job was to get as many seats as we could,” Cherry said.
DeGrow, the former majority leader, spent long nights sparring with Cherry.
“Was there talk about his sister? Sure,” DeGrow said. “But at the end of the day, it helped us. I worked with John. He didn’t hurt the Democrats in redistricting. I would never short a seat for my caucus for him. But if there was something that didn’t hurt my caucus, I would throw him a bone, sure.”
The Cherry episode wasn’t the only story from the ’01 redistricting. It gets awfully personal, especially in an era of term limits when sitting lawmakers are often looking to jump to new offices.
“It’s faction vs. faction, like a (caucus) leadership race,” said Darnoi, the GOP consultant. “‘I’ll give you this section if you help me with this congressional seat.’ I was surprised at how much people personally disliked each other.”
Republicans started drawing their Senate maps a decade ago around Traverse City to help ensure seats for two area representatives who both went on to serve two terms -- Jason Allen (R-Traverse City) and Sen. Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau).
Even though they lived within a few miles of each other and served in neighboring House districts, Allen and McManus were blessed with advantages as they each sought Senate seats. Allen served on the House Redistricting Committee. And McManus’ uncle, then-Sen. George McManus (R-Traverse City), was working on her behalf.
Such highly partisan claims and conspiracy theories over redistricting have been standard political theater for decades.
In 1983, Porn was so stressed out while designing the Democrats’ plan that he had a heart attack. While languishing in the intensive care unit, he got a call from then-Rep. Burton Leland (D-Detroit), as was widely reported at the time.
“He put in a request for how the lines were should be drawn for his district,” Porn recalled.
He fielded a bevy of other requests, including a House member who insisted on having the Burger King where he met with his staff included in his district. Others were adamant about cutting their ex-wives out of their districts and drawing their new girlfriends in, Porn said. And powerful west Michigan Republican Senator Bob VanderLaan loudly complained that Porn’s plan was the work of “sick and demented political operatives.”
Rep. Richard F. Sullivan (D-New Boston) was especially distraught with the new district lines drawn after the Democratic plan was declared unconstitutional in 1984. The House member had a heart attack and died. “There was a request that I not attend the funeral,” Porn recalled.
HANDICAPPING REDISTRICTING THIS YEAR
Senator Joe Hune (R-Hamburg) and Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Township) are two of the most popular guys in Lansing right now. That’s what happens when you chair the powerful legislative redistricting committees.
Lund, who also led the House Republicans’ statewide campaign strategy in 2010, declined to speak to the Center for this report, with an aide saying he is not doing any press this early in the process. Key census data won’t be released in until April 1, so it’s not clear if panels will meet before then. The statutory deadline is Nov. 1.
Hune pledged to conduct a “bipartisan, fair and open process.” But he said he’s already feeling partisan heat. “I’m sure I’ve been accused of bad things already,” he said.
Last month, the ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting and Elections Committee failed in an effort to enact new transparency measures to the redistricting process. Rep. Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) didn’t introduce legislation, but popped an amendment to joint Senate and House rules. That went down on party-line vote, but Byrum said she’ll now introduce a bill.
“It was an attempt to make it open, fair and transparent, of which it is not right now,” she said.
Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc), who also serves on the Redistricting Committee, dismissed Byrum’s attempt as a procedural game, though he acknowledged that puts him “at risk of being labeled a typical, partisan Republican.”
“Saying that you’re left out of the process means they didn’t get their way,” agreed DeGrow, the former Senate majority leader.
Byrum’s plan would have required at least six public hearings across the state, no less than 45 days after census data is released. There would have been online posting of all redistricting proposals and any communication House members and staff have with outside parties on the issue. Proposals and input would have been solicited from Michigan residents. And redistricting proposals would be prohibited from being reported out of any legislative committee until at least 30 days after the final statewide hearing has taken place.
Scott said he’d like to see the committee “get past partisanship, block out all the noise and fulfill our legal obligation.” But he said that Democrats don’t have an interest in doing so.
“The Dems have a lot to gain PR-wise by jumping up and down that the process isn’t inclusive,” he said. “They want to be seen as martyrs. And Mark Brewer has a knack for tapping into the emotion of things.”
LaBrant said he expects Democrats to “pursue a litigation strategy,” because that’s their only real option. Although with a majority of GOP-nominated justices on the state Supreme Court, Democrats’ prospects look bleak.
One wild card in the process is Gov. Rick Snyder, who has kept his pledge to be bipartisan by appointing Democrats to his cabinet. Thus far, the new governor has taken a hands-off approach to the partisan food fight of redistricting.
Brewer, the Michigan Democratic Party chair, shrewdly points out that Snyder could veto a plan if it’s too partisan. When asked if he really expected the governor to go against his own party, Brewer replied, “I hope so.”
Robinson, the MCFN director, shot down that theory. “There are enough hard partisans within the Legislature, even if Snyder is just a neutral observer,” he said.
Byrum is not the first lawmaker to get on the redistricting reform bandwagon. Both Reps. John Walsh (R-Livonia) and Rep. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) tried to make headway last term, but had little success. Democrats held the House at the time and if they truly wanted to make a statement on redistricting reform, they missed their opportunity when they lost the majority last November, Republicans are quick to point out.
Notably, neither Walsh nor fellow reformer Meadows are on the new House Redistricting Committee, although Meadows asked to be. It’s worth noting that he and Byrum could end up in the same state Senate district. Walsh, on the other hand, said he was interested, but his hands are full as speaker pro-tem and Judiciary Committee chair.
Walsh’s bill, HB 5908 of 2010, had six GOP co-sponsors but only one Democrat signed on. The legislation would have had the nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) draw up plans for congressional and legislative districts by May 15. The House and Senate would have to vote on the plan and could only propose technical amendments. If it was voted down, LSB had two more cracks at it. The Legislature would have the authority to amend the last plan.
“I was trying to avoid some of the partisanship,” he said. “Not get rid of all of it. But it didn’t go anywhere last year, so we’re definitely not going to move it this year.”
The bill also would have tightened Apol standards to require state legislative districts be within 10 percent of the ideal population size. And there were transparency safeguards – requirements to post plans and maps online.
Walsh joined his caucus in voting no on Byrum’s rule change. He said he’s open to transparency measures this session, but he “takes comfort” that the process goes through the normal House and Senate process which allows for the public to weigh in.
Meadows’ bill, HB 5914 of 2010, had some similarities to Walsh’s legislation, but didn’t attract any co-sponsors. HB 5914 would have given LSB 180 days after the decennial census data was released to draw up plans. The House and the Senate could not amend them and would have 60 days after delivery to reject the plan. That would have taken a two-thirds vote of members elected and serving in the House or Senate.
LSB would have two more chances to draft plans. But if the Legislature nixed the third plan, under Meadows’ bill, the second rejected plan would then be considered adopted. The bill also had a 10-percent population variance and would have established a standard of keeping cities together.
Both bills had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, which Meadows chaired last session. But he said the committee ran out of time to take a vote. Though he pushed for legislation to be discharged to the floor in lame duck, there was another roadblock.
“House leadership wanted assurances that they would get a vote in the Senate,” Meadows recalled. “The Senate said no.”
So what about the issue of competitive seats in this redistricting? It’s not clear that this is a priority for many influential lawmakers – yet.
Walsh said he wasn’t looking at competitive seats when drafting his legislation – he just didn’t want to see plans bounced to the Supreme Court. But he said a byproduct of his reform could be putting more seats up for grabs, which is an “important part” of the process.
Meadows speculated that the number of ticket-splitters may have grown over the last decade. He agrees with the assessment that more competitive districts could lead to less partisanship.
“I can say that about my own primary, where you have the ideological extremes,” said Meadows, who represents part of Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos and rural Williamston as part of the 67th District.
Many members of the Redistricting committees expressed surprise at the Center for Michigan’s data on the lack of competitive elections since the ’01 redistricting.
Hune said he’s not well-versed in the history. He said safe seats are typically the result of having as few county breaks as possible, pointing to his Republican-dominated home county of Livingston as an example.
“Whatever the criteria is this time, I’m sure I’ll take a heck of a lot of grief,” he said. “But it will be a fair plan.”
Scott said that he hadn’t thought about the issue of competitive seats, but he stressed the importance of meeting guidelines and keeping cultures together.
Byrum called competitive elections “very important in the era of term limits.”
“I think you are more in touch with citizens,” she said, “and more willing to reach across the aisle to get things done.”
NONPROFITS & WATCHDOGS CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY
A new Redistricting Collaborative – a coalition including the Center for Michigan – has been formed to advo-cate for more openness in the redistricting process this time around. This report is independent of the collabora-tive.
Led by the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) and League of Women Voters of Michigan, the collabora-tive of nonprofit groups is preparing a series of statewide meetings. The goal is to ensure that there’s ample explanation of how boundaries are drawn and a public comment period after maps are drafted, so that there’s not a repeat of the closed-door atmosphere of 2001.
“Transparency wasn’t talked about last time,” said Pat Donath, past president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “So we want to talk about it this time before the process even begins.”
Other members include the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), Common Cause, Midwest Democ-racy Network and Progress Michigan.
“The common denomination for all of us is transparency,” said Robinson, director of the MCFN.
Another key tenet of the collaborative is that the redistricting process must be structured to promote fair, com-petitive and representative districts. As this report clearly outlines, there is much long-term work to do to build truly competitive districts.
One hurdle is that many citizens don’t believe that seats are uncompetitive, Robinson contends: “If you ask the average voter, you’ll hear people say that there’s competition in my elections.”
Technology is perhaps the collaborative’s biggest friend. Thanks to big advances since 2001, more Michigan-ders can become involved in the redistricting process if they want. There’s an abundance of voting data avail-able now, down to city blocks.
“I’m not sure (lawmakers) don’t have a choice but to have transparency,” said Doug Roberts, director of the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR). “A lot of people will be looking over their shoul-der.”
In California, citizens are able to try their hands at drawing their own redistricting maps and submit them as part of the process. While that’s not formally a part of Michigan’s process yet, Hune, the Senate Redistricting Com-mittee chair, said he’s already received Facebook messages from people interested in getting involved in redis-tricting. He expects to get “a ton” of proposals and said they will be taken into account.
“You have to be inclusive,” Hune said.
In March or April, Common Cause will kick off a “draw your own map” contest for Michigan’s 14 congressio-nal seats, Kuo said. That’s being done with the help of Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson, the 2010 Democratic nominee for secretary of state nominee.
Benson’s involvement so soon after being on the ballot could easily inspire partisan suspicions, but one of the goals of the contest is to stress the need for competitive seats.
“We want to show that you could draw maps better than representatives in the Legislature,” Kuo said.
POTENTIAL LONG-TERM REFORMS
In baseball, the old adage is: “There’s always next year.” Substantive redistricting reform, however, means waiting until 2020 – or at least a couple years before then. Realistically, nonprofit watchdog groups and reformers in the legislature aren’t organized enough to pressure lawmakers to make sweeping reform this year.
Practically speaking, it helps to have both parties controlling elements of the redistricting process – like a Democratic governor with a Republican Legislature. It’s easier to get buy-in.
If Michigan ever does revamp redistricting, there’s no shortage of ideas on the table. Democrat Byrum, for instance, would like to see a clear definition of what’s a competitive seat by 2020.
Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) last month reintroduced a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution D that would give a nonpartisan commission control of the redistricting process, as is done in Iowa.
The nine-member commission would be composed of two members each selected by the top two vote-getting parties in the last gubernatorial election -- i.e. the Republican and Democratic parties. The House speaker, House minority leader, Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader would be able to pick one member apiece. The last member would be chosen by the other eight members of the committee.
Elected officials and candidates for public office over the last three years would be barred from serving, as would lobbyists. There would be no pay. The chair and vice chair could not be members of the same political party.
Final decisions would have to be made with a two-thirds majority of the commission. If a plan isn’t adopted by the set deadline, the Supreme Court could be petitioned. Anderson’s plan also sets criteria for redistricting, including having each House district fit wholly in a single Senate District. Each Senate District would fit wholly within a congressional district. The commission could not consider voting history data, past election results or incumbent addresses.
If there was any question about the prospects for Anderson’s plan, consider the fact that it wasn’t even referred to the Redistricting Committee. The amendment landed in Government Operations, typically where bills go to die.
Brewer, the MDP chair, also would like to see a “truly neutral” commission, but he thinks the criteria is far more important.
“If you have strict, fair criteria, it doesn’t matter who draws the maps,” he said.
Robinson, the MCFN director, said the “idealized model” is to have the Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) in charge, but he acknowledges even that’s not foolproof. As former Engler adviser Richard McLellan predicts, both parties will maneuver to get representatives into the LSB to get a leg up in the process. Or, as Roberts, the director of IPPSR points out, “No matter which way you cut it, someone will benefit.”
LaBrant, however, doesn’t believe that big changes are in the cards, short of a constitutional amendment or a Constitutional Convention, which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2010. Another route would be an expensive petition drive requiring hundreds of thousands of signatures – another long shot.
Reforms have taken root in other states, however.
Thirteen states have independent commissions that determine redistricting Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Nine states officially consider partisanship or the competitive nature of seats when drawing boundaries, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Like its presidential caucuses, Iowa conducts redistricting unlike any other state. The Iowa Legislature votes on plans for legislative and congressional districts drafted by nonpartisan legislative staff. They do not include any political or election data or the addresses of incumbents.
Texas and Minnesota are models for posting redistricting information online, notes Kuo, the director of Common Cause. And California is one of the most citizen-inclusive states in the process.
One quirky idea is “accountability seats” to more accurately reflect statewide voting patterns. The nonprofit, Maryland-based FairVote organization, which works with groups on redistricting efforts in California, Minnesota, North Carolina and Rhode Island, suggests setting aside about 20 percent of state legislative seats. That would be 22 seats in the Michigan House, for instance.
Voters would vote in their district, but also cast an “accountability vote” to determine overall control of the body. The accountability seats would be allocated to ensure that the party with majority of statewide votes wins a majority of seats. As this report shows, that hasn’t always been the case in Michigan.
One of the biggest roadblocks to redistricting reform is voter apathy.
“I honestly don’t think people care, to be brutally honest with you,” said Darnoi, the Republican consultant. “Especially now, people will be like, ‘What does this have to do with jobs, with the economy? OK, don’t waste my time.’”
Redistricting doesn’t poll well, agrees Donath of the League of Women Voters.
“It’s at the bottom of the heap,” she said. “It comes and goes once every 10 years and it’s inside baseball. We need to talk about it and get people aware that lines don’t just happen.”
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