Snyder to redraw Michigan battle lines, but how?

When the results of the 2010 Census are made public, they will undoubtedly show that the population of Michigan has continued to decrease. And, as a result, our allotment of seats in the House of Representatives will also fall. At least, that’s my rudimentary understanding of how things work. According to the current apportionment plan, which was passed in 2001, just after the last Census, Michigan has 15 Congressional districts. And that means we send 15 Representatives to serve in the House each session. (The entire House is composed of a fixed number of 435 elected members.) But, like I mentioned above, our allotment will likely change with the results of the 2010 Census. Depending on how low our population has dropped, we may lose a seat, or possibly even two.

The last time this happened, as I understand it, was in 2001. The 2000 Census had shown a drop in Michigan’s population relative to the rest of the country, and we lost a seat. And, according to law, it fell to our Governor, John Engler, to re-carve the state, so that, instead of 16 Congressional districts, there were only 15. I don’t know much about the law governing such things, but, as it’s been explained to me, Engler, a Republican, took the opportunity to eliminate an historically left-leaning district. Engler essentially combined Michigan’s 13th district, which had been represented by Democrat Lynn Rivers, and Michigan’s 16th, which had been represented by Democrat John Dingell. In 2002, the two politicians faced off in the Democratic primary, and Dingell emerged the winner of what would become Michigan’s new 15th Congressional district. And, Rivers left electoral politics, making things that much better for deregultion-obsessed Republicans.

So, here we are ten years later, with another Republican Governor preparing to enter office, and many of us are wondering whether or not he’ll take the opportunity to kick the Democrats of Michigan yet once again, as they struggle to get up, off the mat… Which brings me to the following comment, left by my friend Murph, in a thread mentioning Tuesday’s close Republican win in Michigan’s 7th Congressional district:

The potential of a Walberg / Schauer re-rematch (in 2012) is pretty interesting to me, since it’s obviously a very marginal seat (as in, one that’s right on the tipping point between parties).

This means it’s probably a district we can expect to change radically before they see such a rematch, though. We can expect to lose at least one and possibly two Congressional seats in 2012, based on the results of the Census (we’ll know in January), which will be followed by some pretty significant re-drawing of boundaries within each State.

So let’s take bets: do we expect the re-districting process to try to cut away at John Dingell’s power by adding Republican areas to his district? Or do we expect the re-districting to expand Dingell’s lead…by slurping up Schauer supporters and solidifying Walberg’s position? I’m guessing they’ll prioritize protecting Walberg over taking a run at Dingell. (The other option for chipping away at Dingell would be pulling in Canton / Van Buren from the 11th – McCotter just won reelection with almost 60% of the vote, so has a little bit more buffer than Walberg.)

At any rate, redistricting means everything in Michigan will look at least a little bit different in 2012, and we get a relatively fresh start at trying to set the stage in each race, rather than just re-fighting the same battles.

So, what do you think? What’s Snyder likely to do, given the hand he’s been dealt?

update: I was apparently wrong about much of this. It’s the Michigan legislature that has the ability to redistrict. The Governor, however, has the ability to veto their proposals. To see more on the subject, check out the comments following this post.

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  1. Mark H
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s the legislature, not the governor, that draws the lines for both congressional and state legislative districts. And the US Supreme Court has upheld, rather consistently, the right of legislatures to draw these lines in any way they see fit, provided that they produce districts with equal population. So, the party in power in the legislature gets to draw partisan districts.

    That said, a governor can have influence on this, and it’ll be interesting to see what Gov. Snyder will do.

  2. Posted November 5, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark. I knew I’d fuck it up somehow. It’s confusing stuff… I did, however, hear on several occasions, from different people, that losing the Governorship would cost us when it came to redistricting. I heard the same thing about the State Supreme Court. I suspect, however, since you’re a professor and all, that you are right. And here’s something that I just found that I believe backs you up.

    Perhaps the most aggressive GOP redistricting (with the exception of Tom Delay’s Texas redraw) came in Michigan. Since the adoption of the 1964 Constitution, the state legislature has controlled the redistricting process, with the governor having veto power over the plan. The redistricting plans offered in 1965, 1971, 1981, and 1991 by the state legislature were rejected by the federal courts, which decried the partisan nature of both the Democratic and Republican plans. Given that the Republicans controlled the State Senate during each of four cycles (and the Democrats controlling the State House), the plans that were eventually approved by the federal courts strived to adhere to the 1964 State Constitution’s demand that districts be “compact, contiguous, and avoid breaking up political subdivisions (such as municipalities).”

    This situation did not repeat itself in 2001. The Michigan Republican Party, which controlled the executive branch starting in 1990 and the State House in 1995, while maintaining its hold on the State Senate, drafted new legislation to guide the redistricting of federal and state legislative districts. MCL 3.61 (PA 221 1996) often known as the Congressional Redistricting Act, guided redistricting of congressional seats, while State Legislative Redistricting Standards Act (MCL 4.261) charted redistricting of the State House and Senate. Both laws largely adopted the standards established by the Michigan Supreme Court during the previous redistricting battles.

    In regards to congressional redistricting, MCL 3.61 establishes the following requirements. First, the principle of “least cost” holds throughout, and states that municipalities should be incorporated within districts if the population of a municipality is smaller than the size of an average Congressional District. Secondly, populations for Congressional districts must be equal, while state legislative districts must not fall outside of the 95% to 105% range of the average district size (MCL 3.63d). Finally, the preservation of municipal and county identity is encouraged, and district lines should be drawn on municipal or county boundaries (3.61g).

    Since the GOP controlled all three branches of the state government in 2001, the Republican drawn redistricting plan upheld by the Michigan Supreme Court in the same year had profound effects on Michigan Congressional Representation. The state lost a seat, and two Democratic incumbents were thrown into one district (John Dingell and Lynn Rivers), while a number of marginal seats were stacked with Republicans. While the Michigan Delegation had 9 Democrats and 7 Republicans prior to the 2002 elections, afterwards the GOP held 9 of 15 seats. Despite two Democratic tidal wave in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the Democrats only gained two seats, and currently hold a 9 to 7 edge in the Congressional delegation.

    As 2010 approaches, it appears that the Democrats will likely control at least one leg of the redistricting chair. The 67 to 43 Democratic edge in the State House is likely to ensure that the Democrats will remain the majority party in the lower chamber. While the gubernatorial race remains an open contest, the Michigan Democratic Party has made a serious effort to recapture the State Senate, something which has not happened since the tax-revolt elections in 1984. Should the Democrats gain four seats (The current margin is 21 Republicans to 16 Democrats with one open seat), the Democrats will be in solid control of the redistricting process. Given that the Michigan State Supreme Court also has a Democratic majority it is likely that a reasonably drawn plan by a Democratic legislature adhering to MCL 3.61 would receive judicial sanction.

    Two previous redistricting efforts have been made on the blosphere redraw Michigan’s congressional districts. Both (rightly so) assume that Michigan will lose one congressional district after the 2010 Census. The first, drawn by Menhen and was first posted on the Swing State Project creates 11 safe Democratic seats and three Republican districts. The second, drawn by ArkDem, and also posted on the Swing State Project, that provides 10 Democratic seats with four Republican districts. With both redistricting plans are ingenious, and do an excellent job at screwing the GOP, both have some flaws that limit their usefulness. First, the vote analysis relies on the Presidential vote percentages from the 2008, which represents the strongest Democratic vote percentage in Michigan since Johnson’s landslide in 1964. Obama’s excellent performance should be viewed as a high watermark of the Democratic vote in 2008, as his opponent has effectively conceded the state in early October. Thus, Obama’s decisive win in Michigan makes the state appears far more Democratic than it really is. Likewise, there is no examination of the Democratic performance in previous election cycles, which hinders a long-term analysis of how stable Democratic majorities are in the proposed Congressional Districts. Finally, voters tend to vote for the candidate for races on the top of the ballot (such as in the Presidential, Senate, and Gubernatorial races) that limits the effectiveness of using this data for determining the underlying partisan affiliation of a proposed district.

    The whole post can be found here.

  3. Posted November 5, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    So, the Governor has the ability to veto.

  4. Mark H.
    Posted November 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Mark M, absolutely: redistricting is done as a legislative process, so the governor has the veto power or the obligation to approve the law, as in most legislative processes.

    This much is clear: there will be little or no consideration of Democratic voters’ concerns when the lines are redrawn. The point of redistricting in American politics, since the earliest days of the Republic, has been to aid political allies and punish political foes. In the days of James Madison, this got the name of “gerrymandering,” and in our day, it is done with scientific precision, based on elaborate data sources and software, that can divide voters’ tendencies by census tracks and other micro units. The GOP will likely draw the lines to greatly maximize its advantages, for both congressional and state legislative districts.

  5. Posted November 6, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    …I wonder if there is a way to put John Dingell and John Conyers in the same district…? Wouldn’t THAT be a campaign to watch!

  6. Mark H.
    Posted November 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Yes, DR, the legislature could put any two congressmen from adjoining districts into one new district. Whether that’d be wise for the state’s Republican party is doubtful, as it’d show the party to be cravenly partisan in all kinds of ways. For instance, Dingell and Conyers are, I believe, the two most senior members of the entire US congress: what good would it do the state to ensure that one or both of them leave congress?

    Conyers, by the way, worked for Congressman Dingell’s staff, back in the early 1960s, before Conyers was elected to congress in, I think, 1964.

  7. John Galt
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Just the thought of a fight to the death between Conyers and Dingell has brought about a painful priapism.

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