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History shows redistricting process is riddled with conflict of interest, rigged to benefit special interests

Proposal 2 can fix it, former lawmakers say

 

LANSING – Michigan’s legislative and congressional redistricting process has long been marred by secrecy and a desire to maximize one party’s control over the state’s representation in Lansing and Washington to benefit themselves, their party and special interests – and Proposal 2 can help overcome those problems, a group of former lawmakers who have been involved in redistricting said today.

 

“I have seen firsthand the way the current process puts special interests and political games ahead of the needs of Michiganders,” said former Rick Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House during the 2001 redistricting. “Politicians manipulate the process in secret for their own political gain, both Republicans and Democrats, not for the interests of citizens. It’s time to end this conflict of interest, and give Michigan citizens a transparent process that lets voters pick their politicians, not the other way around. Proposal 2 is the right answer to fixing this problem.”

 

Former state Rep. Barb Byrum, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Redistricting and Elections in 2011, said the only way to make redistricting fair is to keep politicians out of the process – and ensure the public has a voice. 

 

"One of my first recommendations, during the 2011 cycle was that we go on the road and hear from constituents," said Byrum, who is now the Ingham County Clerk.  "Instead, the Republican majority outsourced the decision making to special interest consultants, and refused to give voters a voice. Proposal 2 will get the politics out of redistricting because partisan officeholders and candidates are prohibited from serving on the commission and districts may not be drawn to favor a political party or politician."

 

In 1980, it was Democrats who were in charge, said former state Rep. Mickey Knight, who was a Republican from the Muskegon area. “Democrats drew a map they thought would guarantee them two seats from the county. They didn’t care if communities that shared many interests were split up. They worried about maximizing their power. Proposal 2 will take politicians out of the process, and let lines be drawn in the best interest of citizens and communities, the way it should be.”

 

Copies of the 2011 redistricting committee minutes, journals reflecting actions in the House of Representatives, and internal emails reveal a shady process where political gain was ruthlessly pursued to the exclusion of basic democratic processes including openness, input from the public and informed voting by lawmakers.

 

"I came into the process expecting politics would be played. I was shocked and mortified by what actually happened," said Byrum. "I was disgusted to see public input completely ignored and to watch the Republican majority outsource the decision to a secret group of special interest lawyers. They then introduced at the last minute a bill that had been shown only to a privileged few, and passed that bill into law with very few lawmakers actually knowing what they were voting on." 

 

Bill Bobier was serving as a Republican state lawmaker from West Michigan when the Legislature took over redistricting and approved the Apol guidelines, which call for redistricting maps to try to avoid breaking community boundaries, was passed.

 

“We didn’t expect perfection,” said Bobier. “But what we have now is a perversion. What started as standards intended to uphold the Voting Rights Act and work toward districts that are compact and contiguous has become more and more distorted with the adoption of new technology. We need to make sure the general standards we have now are set into law along with a strict set of criteria a commission of citizens, not politicians or lobbyists, can use to draw maps in a transparent and open process.”

 

Proposal 2 will set up a process to require an open, public process with hearings across the state before and after maps are developed. It empowers a commission with four Democrats, four Republicans, and five members unaffiliated with either party to make decisions. Maps must be drawn to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act; need to avoid unnecessarily cutting up counties, cities, or townships; and can consider communities that share interests. Final maps must be approved through a compromise with at least two members of each group.

 

“Proposal 2 was developed by voters, not politicians or lobbyists,” said Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of Voters Not Politicians. “It ensures the rights of all citizens to have a voice, and will help ensure politicians are more accountable and attentive to the needs of people in their districts.”

 

A live stream of the press conference is available here.

 

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