LANSING – In what has to be record time for ramming a bill through the Legislature, the bills redrawing the district boundaries for U.S. House, the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate were approved by the full House on Wednesday, just a mere five days after the maps were released to the public and Democrats.
The House approved House Bills 4779-4780 on Wednesday, and the actual maps of the districts that will affect the balance of power for the next decade were just released on Friday afternoon. Every 10 years the district geographic boundaries for House and Senate are redrawn based on population data from the U.S. Census, and because the Republicans control the Michigan Legislature they get to draw the district lines. Some states, like Arizona and Iowa, have nonpartisan commission draw district boundaries to ensure the districts are fair and competitive; making politicians more accountable.
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative, a coalition of non-profits from all segments of the community, including business, labor and public interest, believes that redistricting must be more transparent and open, with more involvement from the public, and they trekked across the state gathering input and feedback from the public.
The Senate Committee on Redistricting voted out the Senate version on Wednesday in just over an hour, and everyone who testified – except the GOP staffers who drew the maps – urged the committee to take more time and hold more hearings over the summer, suggesting the committee should go on the road to hold hearings instead of doing it behind closed doors in Lansing.
“Unfortunately, Michigan, unlike other states, does not have a history of providing opportunities for public input on redistricting plans,” Sue Smith, the President of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan and a member of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative, told the committee on Wednesday. “On behalf of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative, we urge you to provide more time and information to allow for adequate public comment on proposed redistricting plans.”
Christina Kuo, Executive Director of Common Cause of Michigan – a member of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative – said the thin attempt at transparency by the Committee is akin to “corporate green washing,” the deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly.
Republican leaders want the maps and the 562 page bill presented to the Governor by July 1 when the Legislature breaks for the summer, even though by law the plan does not have to be signed into law until Nov. 1. When redistricting was last done in 2001, the plan was not presented to Gov. Engler to sign until Sept. 19.
But Dan McMaster, one of the two the Republican staffers in charge of drawing the legislative map, said lawmakers shouldn’t wait until the November 1 deadline to act. They claimed the maps need to be done by July 1 in case the plan is challenged in court.
The process could not be more partisan. McMaster, one of the staffers drawing the district boundaries, was a member of the House Republican Campaign Committee, in charge of getting Republicans elected to the House. In committee testimony when asked to reveal who helped draw the maps, the vague answer was a paid consultant and other groups. When pressed further, the reluctant answer was the Sterling Corporation and Jeff Timmer. Timmer was the former Executive Director of the Michigan Republican Party. It was never revealed who the groups were, but published reports said the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was involved heavily; long a GOP cheerleader.
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative held community meetings in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Livonia and Traverse City. When people were asked about their priorities for how legislative boundaries are drawn, 88 percent transparency was the most important, and only 3 percent said the current process is best.
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative wants the process more open and transparent, and they want more than one committee hearing before the bill is approved, the data and map to be posted for at least 30 days, at least four public hearings outside of Lansing and a statement for each distrait explaining how the boundaries were drawn and how the district has been changed.
“Our request is simple: we are asking for meaningful dialogue on an issue that will impact communities for the next 10 years,” Smith said. “However, for meaningful dialogue to occur, the public must be given the opportunity to provide feedback on the Legislatures’ redistricting plans. We are asking you not to rush this process.”
(Update) The Senate passed the plan, Senate Bill 498, on Thursday; just a day after it was passed out of committee. However, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville did get an amendment passed that changes the makeup of Detroit and Wayne County. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer introduced separate bills for the Senate Democrats redistricting map that includes six majority-minority districts, a distinction that puts it in full compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act, something that is lacking from the Republican maps.