A Kalamazoo State Representative is proposing changes to how Michigan’s boundaries are drawn for Congressional and state legislative districts. WMUK’s Gordon Evans reports.
Democratic State Representative Sean McCann says he constantly hears from voters who are fed up with gridlock and a lack of compromise in Lansing and Washington. McCann says one of the root problems is how legislative districts are drawn. What he calls “gerrymandering” creates districts that protect one party or the other. McCann says it leads to both parties having only to worry about their party’s base during a primary.
“An elected official, such as myself, has a district that’s highly representative of one constituency. The election is decided in the primary essentially for all intents and purposes. And then the general election, the outcome is pretty much not in question in many cases”
McCann says both parties are guilty of drawing district lines to their advantage, and says he would still support reform even if the Democrats were able to win control of the legislature in the next election. McCann’s proposal would create a commission made up of 14 people. The two state parties would each choose five members. And another four members would be selected that are not affiliated with either party. McCann says the state Auditor General would create an application process to screen out people who have been lobbyists or made political contributions. Both parties could strike potential applicants. McCann compares that to the way that attorneys can exclude potential jurors at trial.
“It’s basically a big filtering process where you try to carve out as much of the partisan politics as you can, and then you have a board that has the resources provided by the Secretary of State, but it not directed by the Secretary of State, not directed by the Auditor General, the works independently to draw maps”
McCann says other states have adopted non-partisan commissions to draw legislative boundaries. In an e-mail Ari Adler, the Press Secretary for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, objected to the term “gerrymandering.” He says the U.S. Department of Justice and state and federal courts signed off on the current legislative boundaries for Michigan. McCann did have some maps at Thursday morning’s press conference that showed districts with odd geographic shapes. He says some residents in one area outside of Grand Rapids aren’t sure what state House district they are in because of all the contours. Adler’s e-mail also said the proposal appeared to create a convoluted process that would hand over redistricting to a panel of people who are not elected. Adler says under the current system the people who draw boundaries are accountable to the public. But the Director of Local Affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, Eric Lupher says there’s a problem with lawmakers drawing the boundaries for their districts.
“They’re doing what’s in their own best interest. And they’re choosing who they should be accountable too, rather than the people choosing who should be accountable to them”
The Citizens Research Council issued a report two years ago proposing reform to the redistricting process. Lupher says there are some similarities in that report and McCann’s proposed Constitutional amendment. Lupher says one potential problem could be that McCann has proposed a 14 member commission. Lupher says an even number can create deadlock:
“There’s no tie-breaker in there. It kind of hopes that they come to their sense and do what’s good for the state, rather than what’s best for their own parties”
There is another proposal that has been introduced by Democrats in the House to change the system for drawing district boundaries. That one would allow legislative leaders of both parties to pick members of the commission. Lupher says Democrats have reason to propose changes because they are out of power right now. He says Republicans have little reason to want change with control of both the state House and Senate and a majority of Michigan’s Congressional seats. McCann says he doesn’t expect changing the system to be easy.
“There are certainly challenging and daunting things that are the right thing to do and this is one of those things. If it doesn’t get support in the Legislature, then it can go to the citizens, and again that’s how other states have accomplished it”
The proposal would require amending Michigan’s Constitution. That would mean approval from a supermajority of the Legislature to go on the ballot. It could also end up before voters through a petition drive. Voters would ultimately have to approve any change to Michigan’s Constitution.