The fight to end gerrymandering has led to Michigan’s Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, now underway. One Detroit’s Bill Kubota finds out how we’ll lose a seat in Congress this next election cycle and how district lines might be redrawn. Among the interviewees: MSU public policy expert Scott Grossman, Pleasant Ridge mayor and demographer Kurt Metzger, and Commission Director, Sue Hammersmith.

 

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John Chamberlin Getting the political parties and their officeholders to get up control of this process is hard…

Bill Kubota Well what was the old way of doing it, which was the political way, right?
John Chamberlin Yeah, well the last two times round the Republicans controlled the legislature and the Governorship so the idea is the Democrats might as well go home and watch football or something because they were going to play no part, this is going to be done to them, not by them.

Over three thousand volunteers collected more than 425 thousand petition signatures…

83 counties signed including Republicans, independents, Democrats, and those somewhere inbetween.

Sue Hammersmith I’ve had one commission meeting under my belt, so, um I’m rolling.

Sue Hammersmith This is for the citizens, by the citizens of Michigan so it’s pretty exciting to be part of this historic work.

John Chamberlin The citizens of California were very happy with the outcome of that process despite the fact that they were doing it for the first time. People recognized, Democrats and Republicans alike that you know this was a better way of doing it, we’ll keep it up.

Sue Hammersmith There are four Democrats, four Republicans, five independents that serve on the commission.

Bill Kubota But this is all going on in the middle of a pandemic, how’s that affecting things?

Sue Hammersmith Well it’s going to be much harder in the pandemic to speak directly with people, point in case we’re on Zoom today but in some respects maybe that will open up options for people to speak up.

Rebecca Szetela I was very surprised I made it on the commission but I’m very happy to have this opportunity.

I think the workload is going to pick up in the summer as we get closer and we get census information so that we can actually start possibly start drawing maps but for right now its about every other week or every week of four to five hours of meeting and outside prep.

Kurt Metzger There’s no doubt we’re going to lose another congressional seat, I think we’re pretty much, no matter what happens…

Kurt Metzger We’re now at about 61 of our 83 counties have more deaths than births on an annual basis.

Bill Kubota And none of this is really a surprise. I know there’s a big effort to get the census numbers as close as you can or get the numbers up.

Kurt Metzger Right.

Bill Kubota But there was there was still probably not much hope of saving that seat, was there?

Kurt Metzger No, I mean all the forecasts had us losing a seat and Michigan did as well as one could expect in the census…

Kurt Metzger I think this time around you have a large movement of African Americans into both southern Macomb and southern Oakland.

Kurt Metzger Andy Levin might get upset but I think the 9th District is the one that’s going to have to go. We can’t have as many districts in Southeast Michigan and the 9th District takes in southern Oakland and southern Macomb and I think that’s going to have to, the 13th or 14th whatever they’re renumbered will have to take in a larger section of southern Macomb to get that African American community.

Bill Kubota Communities of Interest… Is that a term you use in your trade?

Kurt Metzger Well I’m learning more and more about communities of interest every day. It has always been one of the factors in redistricting but it’s usually if you look at other states it’s been way down at the bottom.

Matt Grossman You think about who’s a community of interest? Is it a religious group, an ethnic group? Is it an economic group, then you’re starting to make pretty core decisions about who people are and how they should be represented and so all of these become pretty controversial decisions.

John Chamberlin Communities of interest don’t come pre-defined, there’s no directory of community of interest that the commission can go to. They’re going to have to depend on people coming forward either in testifying in public hearing and virtual hearings and I think making the argument, “don’t chop us into pieces”. What their interest is is pretty much open. I mean you can name your interest other than “Our interest is getting our guy re-elected”,

Matt Grossman There are a lot of maps you could draw where Democrats will continue to have large problems in translating a statewide victory into a victory in say the Michigan Senate.

Matt Grossman I’m just telling you that’s very hard to achieve in concert with the other objectives which are you know, we pay attention to communities of interest, we make sure racial groups have the potential to elect their demographic representatives. All of those things can be in conflict with achieving a map that means that a 50-50 vote would go 50-50 in representatives.

Rebecca Szatela We have to have our final maps drawn by November 1 so that is our hard deadline that we’re working with and everything else is just going to fall into place based on when we get the data we need to do our job.

Kurt Metzger The success will be whether people show up for these public meetings and people across the state get energized and engaged in the process.

Matt Grossman It is easy to make a map that is less partisan driven than and less gerrymandered than the current maps so that’s a bar they’ll be able to meet but it’s much harder to satisfy people all with reasonable criteria for drawing the lines.