If someone told you that a political party could effectively control who gets into office, what party retains control of the government, and the politics of a state for an entire decade would you believe that person? Well that’s in fact what occurs in Michigan every ten years. After the national census is taken, depending on net population loss or gain Michigan has to revise the congressional districts that make up the state. The process of this revision or redistricting of the congressional districts in a state is called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is not a “sexy” issue; it’s an issue that holds a backseat to many other issues. However, gerrymandering is one of the most important and influential issues that affect our state.
Michigan deals with gerrymandering in the worst most unrepresentative way a state could. What I mean by this is that Michigan’s laws put the sole responsibility of drawing up new districts in the hands of the state’s legislature. Now, some might be wondering why this is a bad thing. When a partisan state legislature has the power to draw up districting plans after a census, the party in control typically doesn’t hold back. Although the parties have to abide by federal and state laws in how big, continuous, and the amount of population are in a district, the parties still can greatly affect the politics of the state via redistricting. They do this by drawing up districts that dilute the political power of certain areas by breaking staunch Republican or Democratic areas up and mixing them with more of the other party’s supporters. The parties in control of the state legislature also can draw up districts that pit two incumbents from the opposing party against each other thus forcing many people to lose one of their popular/widely respected elected officials. In essence, a state legislature when gerrymandering, takes no heed to what the people of the districts want or feel should happen in the process. Gerrymandering only makes the process more partisan, unrepresentative, and unbecoming of any self-respecting legislature. A state should deal with the immensely important issue of redistricting in a manner that is the most representative of the people and the least partisan. Now some of my political opponents might say that the only reason why I bring this issue up is because gerrymandering reform would benefit the Democratic Party. Now I won’t deny this reform could help the Democrats but it could also help the Republicans in terms of political power. But what really matters is the fact that redistricting reform in Michigan is the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter what party benefits if any, what matters is that our constituents are represented in the most realistic fashion and that Michigan residents have a more conducive, reactive, common-sense, and compromising state legislature. Redistricting reform would go a long way to helping repair bi-partisanship and would ultimately result in a more representative legislature that would be able to rid itself of partisan gridlock and be able to pass common-sense legislation that benefit all of Michigan’s residents.
My plan for redistricting reform in Michigan is taken from Iowa’s lead on this issue. If elected I would propose and pursue legislation dubbed the Restoring Democracy Act. This act would create a relatively small state agency called the Michigan Advisory Commission (MAC). The MAC would mimic what Iowa’s LSA does. In essence the MAC would be responsible for general government oversight and would come up with an annual report of the Commission’s findings and recommendations between censuses. General oversight could but is not limited to fiscal analysis of government programs/legislation, increasing government transparency, and legal analysis of legislation. The state legislature would be mandated to take a look at this report and vote on the report after a debate on its provisions/recommendations. However, in addition to general oversight the MAC’s primary job would be to draw up redistricting plans every ten years after the census. The MAC would be responsible for drawing up three different redistricting plans that adhere to any federal and state requirements of districts. After the census the MAC would draw up these plans and submit the first plan to the state legislature for an up-down vote (a vote of approval and thus ratification). If the legislature passes this first plan the plan then goes to the governor for gubernatorial approval. If the plan passes the governor it is then signed into law and thus becomes the new map for Michigan’s districts. In the case the first plan is voted down the MAC would then submit the second redistricting plan for legislative approval, if the second plan also fails to gain approval then the MAC would propose the final third plan to the legislature. If this last plan is defeated and not approved by the legislature and/or governor then the responsibility of drawing up the district maps would fall to the state legislature. Every redistricting plan would be subject to federal and state statutes as well as be subjected to questions of constitutionality by Michigan’s Supreme Court.
The MAC would be a commission made up of non-partisan civil servants committed to the responsibilities and duties entrusted to the MAC. These civil servants would be prohibited from being or ever have been a registered member of any political party, a former/current elected official, lobbyist, contractor, party leader, party committee member, party delegate, and any member of a super pac/pac/caucus. This list of prohibited occupations and connections is not all inclusive; there could be more occupations and reasons as to why one could be refused a position with the MAC.
This plan would bring together both sides of the issue. On one end we would have a more representative and democratic commission producing fair and non-partisan redistricting plans. On the other this plan gives the partisan state legislature the power to vote down any of the plans and offer up its recommendations. This act is a common-sense non-partisan way of dealing with a crucial issue that greatly affects our state. This act would bring citizen controlled government back to Michigan and would only help heal the partisan rifts in our state when our national and state capital is so often gridlocked over petty partisan differences. The creation of the MAC would also increase our state government’s transparency in an era of Michigan politics that have been deemed the least transparent in the nation. Michigan residents deserve to be fairly represented every day every year, not when it’s seen as politically expedient for any one political party. The Restoring Democracy Act is the right thing to do.