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Congressional Redistricting in Michigan: Playing Musical Chairs in 2012

by: Neon Vincent

Sat Dec 25, 2010 at 01:02:59 AM EST

Michigan Congression Districts Current 1

Bid the above map farewell.  In 2012, that map will look very different, as it will have one fewer congressional district.

As Jack Lessenbery explained on Michigan Radio:

Well, we finally have the official census figures, and for the first time in history, Michigan lost people in the course of a decade. Worse, we'll have fewer members of Congress.
Join me over the fold for a reasonable solution, what will likely happen instead, and other bad news for the Great Lakes State from the 2010 U.S. Census.
Neon Vincent :: Congressional Redistricting in Michigan: Playing Musical Chairs in 2012
Crossposted to Daily Kos.

Jack Lessenberry had more to say in Dome Magazine.

Michigan was the only state in the union to actually lose population. Hardscrabble West Virginia, bleak North Dakota and backwards Mississippi added people. Even Washington, D.C., which has been shrinking for decades, grew this time.

But not the state that put the world on wheels. The U.S. Census counters found 54,804 fewer Michiganders than a decade before. While that's the first decline in state history, it doesn't look large - only about half a percent of the state's population.

The falloff from mid-decade, however, was much sharper. Michigan had several hundred thousand more people before the bottom fell out of the auto industry two years ago, after which the unemployed left for Texas - and new college graduates headed for Atlanta, Chicago, Portland, or wherever jobs could be found.

Less people means less money from Washington, and it also means less national clout.

Watch this segment from WOOD-TV8 in Grand Rapids for what "less national clout" means.

Scary, but pretty much unavoidable, given what happened to the state.

As for the loss of a congressional seat, that was foreseen well in advance.  Craig Ruff of Dome Magazine not only predicted it back in 2009, he even decided to see what kind of sane redistricting plan would best deal with the situtuation.

Following the 2010 census, Michigan likely will lose one of its 15 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state legislature and governor or courts will decide how to collapse 15 districts into 14. It is, therefore, anyone's guess as to which congresspersons see their districts remain pretty much intact, somewhat reconfigured, greatly reconfigured, or evaporate.

Having dabbled in the past with redistricting options, I can hardly resist taking a premature stab at how boundaries could change following the 2010 census.

My criteria in sketching out 14 new congressional districts are:

  • Follow U.S. Census Bureau 2008 estimates of county population. In the case of Detroit and other cities, the last estimate took place in 2006.
  • Protect the two minority-majority districts held by African Americans (Conyers and Kilpatrick) in the Detroit area.
  • Split county lines as infrequently as possible.
  • Keep districts relatively compact and, to the extent possible, provide some coherence to a single media market.
  • Avoid partisan bias, but attempt to make some districts more competitive.
  • Retain some semblance of existing districts to afford residents a basis of familiarity.
Here's the map he came up with.

Michigan Congressional Districts 2012 Hypothetical

This is a fairly even-handed redistricting, as it negatively affects both Democrats and Republicans.

Among the Democrats who will face hardship, Sander Levin loses his base in southeastern Oakland County to Conyers and has to compete in Macomb County, which is much more Republican.  Also, Dale Kildee's district would be much competitive.  Both could lose in 2012

The Republicans would also face their share of problems.  Thaddeus McCotter would have had his district torn asunder and have had to compete with John Dingell in a much more Democratic district.  Marc Walberg's second term might have been his last as he tries to win in a district that included Ann Arbor.  While Mike Rogers would have kept his safe seat in Livingston County, the district that would have included Lansing would have been much more competitive, and could have elected a Democrat (Lance Enderle would have had a shot).

Of course, all the above makes too much sense, and just is not going to happen.  As Sarah Kellog wrote in Dome Magazine:

As the state legislature begins redrawing Michigan's electoral maps, Democrats will feel the frustration that comes with being out of power during redistricting. Michigan's congressional Democrats may feel the pain even more acutely.
Folks, this is why state legislative races matter, especially in a year when the decennial census occurs.

More on what will actually happen in Lansing.

While the work is done on the state level, members of Congress have always played a crucial advisory role in deciding how their districts will be drawn. That will be especially important this cycle since Michigan is expected to lose a seat, dropping from 15 to 14.
The Republicans not only have the majority of the Congressional seats, they also have both houses of the state legislature, the governorship, and the majority of the state supreme court.  This means that redistricting will favor the GOP, and one of the current Democratic incumbents will lose their seat.  This happened in 2002, when both Lynn Rivers and David Bonior lost their seats, Rivers to John Dingell and Bonior to either Sander Levin or Candice Miller, depending on how one wishes to count the event.

On Michigan Radio, Jack Lessenberry outlined the scenarios.

Most likely, they will combine the southeastern districts now held by Gary Peters and Sandy Levin, forcing them to run against each other in the 2012 primary, unless one steps down.

They could also put John Conyers and John Dingell into a seat where they have to run against each other.

Elsewhere, they will try to pack as many Democrats as possible into as few districts as possible, while strengthening Republican incumbents.

Other possibilities include combining combining Levin and Conyers or making Kildee's district more competitive, both of which were outlined in Ruff's Dome article.  A dangerous one would be combining Clarke and Conyers, which could run afoul of legal challenges.  It might be easier to add more Republicans to Clarke's district.

Of course, the GOP-majority legislature might surprise all of us.  They might try every single one of the above.  I wouldn't put it past them.

So, which scenario do you think will happen?  Be sure to vote in the poll.

Which scenario do you expect will happen during reapportionment?
Peters and Levin placed in the same district
Conyers and Dingell placed in the same district
Conyers and Levin placed in the same district
Conyers and Clarke placed in the same district
Kildee's district will become more Republican
Peters' district will become more Republican
Clarke's district will become more Republican
Levin's district will become more Republican
Dingell's district will become more Republican
Conyers' district will become more Republican
Some combination of the above-explain in comments
Republicans will fairly slice the electoral pie


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Tips for redistricting
The above diary was inspired by this thread on a front page story on Michigan Liberal.  After some discussion, I posted this comment.

I'll post a diary with a poll.  That way, I can have the wisdom of the crowd here at Michigan Liberal take a stab at the answer.
Four days later, here it is.

Greetings from Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future!

Peters v. Levin
Hey, this is Silvan Elf from Dkos...saw you'd posted this over here and wasn't sure if you'd still see comments on the Dkos version, so I moved over here.

Today in my free time (I can't believe I have that right now!) I tried using Dave's Redistricting App that I found on Swing State Project a year or so ago (http://gardow.com/davebradlee/redistricting/davesredistricting2.0.aspx) to start toying with mash-ups of the Peters and Levin.  The results were not pretty...for the Republicans.

Here were the principles I tried to follow:  1) split county/municipal lines as little as possible; 2) keep districts as geographically compact as reasonably possible; 3) maintain two VRA compliant districts based in Detroit/Wayne County; 4) protect every Republican incumbent, new and old, as they're going to try to do (and don't force any of them to move); and 5) match Peters (current 9th) and Levin (current 12th) together.  Now, with the GOP controlling every lever of state government, they may be able to ignore or very much stretch #1 and #2, but the others make things hairy.

I first tried putting Peters and Levin entirely within Oakland County, thus shifting the 13th (Clarke) north into Macomb County a bit to take in the southern tier of the county that Levin would be giving up.  You can just barely get a VRA-compliant district with this bit of Macomb + eastern Wayne, as Conyers' district takes up most of the rest of Detroit and other bits of Wayne Co.  I then put Dingell in a safe D district composed of Dearborn, southern Wayne, and Ann Arbor/Ypsi.  This left Monroe Co. to be placed in the 7th, which shifts substantially east.

The bottom line with that configuration is that you end up with absurd results for many of the GOP incumbents.  Candice Miller still gets more of southern Macomb then she'd probably like and loses most of the Thumb area in the process.  McCotter gets a much safer district taking in more of the GOP areas of Oakland Co.  Rogers and Walberg get screwed in different ways.  Rogers' district can't go west anymore if you try to shore up Walberg, and as a result ends up in a district stretching from the Thumb to his home in Brighton while bypassing heavily D areas like Flint and Saginaw.  Walberg ends up with a district that avoids Lansing, but is still pretty swingy.  There's really no good way to protect the guy; he'll be safe in Republican years, but in neutral or D years, he's in trouble.

Keeping Kildee in a heavily D district was easy enough:  Flint + Saginaw + Bay City and a few odds and ends.  The problem is that you end up with other areas of the state that no Republican will want in their district (Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Lansing), but have to go somewhere.  The map will end up looking ludicrous.

I'm going to play around with a Peters + Levin district that stretches east-west from Macomb into Oakland to see if that works any better for the GOP, as well as a Conyers/Dingell match-up.  Bottom line:  they are going to have to thread the needle carefully to avoid putting 1 or possibly 2 of their incumbents in danger by mashing Democratic incumbents up.  Guess that's what happens when you have to gerrymander an already gerrymandered Republican map...

Guess that's what happens when you have to gerrymander an already gerrymandered Republican map...

That's really kind of it, right there, huh?  How much more  blood can they squeeze from this turnip?  With a stagnated population, currently, and a state that's grown more slowly than most since the 80's, they've kind of maxed out their advantage.

Walberg's district -- if they want to keep it in the general area -- will always be a swing/competitive district.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him lose in 2012 given its nature, and given that Walberg was never particularly loved or feared.  I aso think the the Republicans have to be very careful when they get around to the fastly changing inner suburbs of Detroit.  McCotter is going to be safe, forever, unless they start moving his district westward to include parts of Livingston County, which would then put Howell-based Rogers in danger in the 8th.

I guess what we're saying is that this seems to be about as good as it gets, for them.

[ Parent ]
Kind of veering a little off topic, but media coverage of this has been kind of annoying to me.  They have short memories, or they are just being sensational or both.  Michigan could have grown modestly over the decade and we would have still lost a seat.  Michigan's not losing a seat directly because it lost negligible population (three-fifths of one percent), but because it and other Midwest and Northeastern states haven't been growing fast enough for decades.  Short of some major restructing of the national economy -- you know, actually supporting manufacturing instead of selling it down the river -- there is no reason to have doubted that this downward reapportionment wouldn't continue.  

Hell, Michigan wasn't even close to holding all of its seats, I don't think, even if it had shown population growth.  Someone can do the math, but I'm pretty sure Michigan wasn't even close to being on the bubble.

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