Mich. Legislature to start redistricting

The tedious process of redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts kicks off today as lawmakers meet to discuss the process following the state’s census data release last month.

Experts say the process has the potential to be controversial because the redrawn lines typically favor the party in power — however marginal its edge.

In this case, Republicans control the Legislature and, as such, are heading up the process with today’s meeting of the House Redistricting and Elections Committee. GOP lawmakers have said the process will be transparent and within the confines of state, federal and other rules governing the process.

The committee’s chairman, state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, vowed as much in a statement last week announcing today’s hearing. A release from Lund’s office says the hearing will lay out the census data as well as associated — though undefined — issues.

“Maintaining accurate representation for our state’s changing population centers is an essential component of a functioning democracy,” said Lund, who did not return a request for further comment Monday.

Today’s hearing marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy process. State law requires district lines to be drawn by Nov. 1 of the year census data is released.

Michigan’s census numbers showed a drastic population loss in Detroit and what experts call substantial population shifts throughout the state. What’s more, the state’s population decreased by about 54,000 between 2000-10.

That fact will further impact Michigan’s political landscape because, when the next Congress convenes in 2013, the state’s delegation in the U.S. House will decrease from 15 to 14 seats. Experts also say a decrease in the number of Michigan House and Senate districts is inevitable.

In light of this, today’s hearing starts a process that involves many considerations, said state Rep. David Nathan, D-Detroit, a member of the House redistricting committee.

Nathan is a member of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, which has hired lawyers to ensure that the state’s minority population is represented when lines are redrawn.

Census data shows Michigan’s minority population increased from slightly more than 21 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2010. Nathan said because Detroit’s population shifted to other parts of the state, predominately Metro Detroit, it is important to ensure minority representation is strong.

“When (Republicans are) drawing the lines (it is important) that they take into consideration that we are a more diverse state,” Nathan said.

Because lawmakers have until November to redraw the lines, there is little reason to rush the process, said Bernie Porn, president of Lansing polling firm EPIC-MRA. As a staffer in the state House in the 1980s and 1990s, Porn helped redraw district lines in accordance with the census data.

Should lawmakers propose redrawn lines one week then vote on them the next, for example, that is a sign of an opaque process, he said.

Should on the other hand lawmakers hold numerous hearings and release maps to the public and media about proposed changes, the process is transparent.

“The question is, for something as partisan as this, the challenge will be seeing how transparent they are,” Porn said.

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