Census results will lead to redrawn state district lines

When state legislators break out their pens to redraw districts for the Legislature and Congress, it will be about the coloring between the lines.

At least that is what experts say is a likely scenario as a predominately Republican
Legislature begins considering data from the 2010 census for a process that will transform the state’s political districts and apportion its representation in Washington, D.C.

Michigan lost upward of 54,000 residents between 2000-10, census data shows, meaning state legislators this year will be tasked with reconfiguring state district lines to account for the change, said Douglas Roberts, director of MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, or IPPSR.

“It is an item of huge interest in terms of what’s going to happen, in terms of the new lines,” Roberts said.

But much more is at stake than merely lines drawn on a map, Roberts said.

The population loss cost Michigan a seat in the U.S. House, paring the number of representatives down to 14. That means Michigan’s political clout in D.C. is on the way down. But the concerns don’t end there, as census data is used to decide the distribution of federal dollars for state programs and projects.

And, because Republicans hold the governor’s office and both chambers of the state Legislature, the outcome of redrawing the lines likely is tipped in that party’s favor, said Bernie Porn, president of Lansing-based polling firm EPIC-MRA.

“When the Senate and House are Republican controlled, they’re going to control the pen unless they do something that’s in violation of the standards of redrawing the lines, which would enable a court to step in,” Porn said.

Porn, who as a staffer in the 1980s and 1990s state House helped redraw lines in accordance with census data, said the implications of redrawing district lines extend past district lines and can impact, among other things, a state’s electoral college votes.

“It will be a blood sport as you look at taking the census data and deciding how the lines are going to be drawn,” Porn said.

Porn spoke Wednesday at a forum hosted by IPPSR held to discuss the issue of redistricting and apportionment. The presentation was one of four to be held on the matter and touched on which areas of Michigan likely are to be affected most when it comes to redrawing the lines.

Wayne County, which includes Detroit proper, lost nearly 200,000 people between 2000-10, making it a likely target. Based on census data, the forum’s speakers estimated the county could lose as many as two of its 23 state representatives and one of its eight state senators.

On the other hand, areas in Metro Detroit actually might pick up seats in the state House, the presentation said. The Detroit area also will be a likely target for legislators, who probably will merge two of its congressional districts, Porn said.

But Michigan legislators have yet to gather to discuss the impending process.

A staffer for state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, chairman of the House’s Redistricting and Elections Committee, said the committee has yet to meet officially.

But the lack of action so far does not mean legislators are without their opinions on the process.
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said although legislators have not discussed the matter in detail, the ruling party will work to ensure the best outcome.

“We intend to handle redistricting in a responsible manner, like we are other things,” Adler said.
“It is a process that can take some time, if you want to do it right.”

For its part, the Legislature’s Democrats are aiming for a transparent redistricting process, said Katie Carey, spokeswoman for state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.

One way Democrats hope to do this is through meetings across the state and perhaps creating websites to gather input from citizens, Carey said.

“We understand that the temptation is there for Republicans to redraw the districts to protect their incumbents,” she said. “But we think the citizens of Michigan deserve better than that.”

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