Who better to tell the story of how Michigan election district maps have been rigged in favor of politicians than former lawmakers?
Former Republican House Speaker Rick Johnson, former Republican lawmakers Mickey Knight and Bill Bobier, and former Democratic lawmaker Barb Byrum sat down to discuss the history of gerrymandering in Michigan and their experiences as elected officials.
Cracking and Packing by Democrats and Republicans
Mickey Knight, a former Republican State House Representative from 1981 to 1992, recalled how Democrats drew lines around Muskegon County to draw him out of his home district and into a new one. The African-American communities in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights were also cracked between the two districts so that Democrats could more easily win in those districts. The other district became highly competitive, switching parties almost every election. When Republicans took control and drew the lines in 2011, they packed Muskegon and Muskegon Heights back together to make a formerly competitive seat a safe Republican seat.
“The equality of vote just doesn’t matter,” Knight said. “Some people’s votes just don’t count because the districts are drawn based on voting history to create safe seats,” for the majority party.
“[Gerrymandering] completely eliminates the minority vote,” he added. “They just simply don’t count. In this country, everyone’s vote should count.”
Current Apol Standards Still Allow Gerrymandering
Bill Bobier, a former Republican State House Representative from Ferry Township in Oceana County, was in office when former elections director Bernie Apol created the redistricting standards - known as the “Apol Standards.” The Apol standards were supposed to outline criteria for drawing election district lines, but they never defined key terms such as what “compact” or “contiguous” meant. So while the standards looked good on paper, politicians and lobbyists were still able to manipulate lines in their favor.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Bobier, explaining that the set of maps that were drawn using the Apol standards still showed signs of gerrymandering.
Bobier added: “There was early dialogue that lawmakers shouldn’t be the mapmakers. History has proven itself that that is true…It’s time for somebody else to do this.”
Former Republican House Speaker Johnson is, “sick and tired of the entire process.”
Johnson witnessed the 2001 redistricting cycle and was charged to make sure the election district maps followed laws to keep the maps out of court. He actively worked to ensure districts had close to equal populations and did not split city or county lines. Still, politicians from both parties asked for favors to protect incumbent seats or to target seats they wanted.
“There was a lot of taking care of each other’s friends,” he said. “It was not about the people.”
2011 Redistricting in the Minority Party
Former state Representative and current Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum experienced the impacts of gerrymandering at a young age when her mother, who served as a State Representative and State Senator, was drawn out of her district by the Republican Party. Barb’s family uprooted their home to move to a neighboring district so that her mother could run for office again.
Byrum was later elected to the State House of Representatives in the 67th House District, where she witnessed the 2011 redistricting cycle first hand as the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Redistricting and Elections.
Byrum advocated for open town halls across the state so that voters and community organizations could give feedback and input on the maps (much like the 10 required before maps are drawn and 5 required after the maps are drawn laid out in Proposal 2), but those town halls never happened. In the public hearings that did happen, community leaders were silenced and asked to sit down, while special interests sat in the background drawing maps using voting record data to manipulate maps in favor of politicians.
“It was shoved through,” Byrum said. “It was the most partisan thing I think we did. Something that should have been so nonpartisan because it’s the future of Michigan - it’s how the voters are going to choose their elected officials - should not be the elected officials choosing their voters. But that’s exactly what it was. We were choosing who we wanted as our voters.”
She added: “It was the downward spiral of the partisan back and forth that I saw in my last term.”
Bipartisan Support for Proposal 2
All four panelists endorsed Proposal 2.
When asked why she supports Proposal 2, Bryum responded: “I grew up when Democrats and Republicans worked together. But I served when Democrats and Republicans stopped working together. I think the way we draw our maps is one of the causes of that.”
The Republican lawmakers on the panel agreed with their Democratic panelist, saying that gerrymandering is responsible for much of today’s divisive partisanship.
“The seats aren’t competitive anymore because of how the maps are drawn,” said Bobier. Candidates win primaries by drawing out the far left or the far right. “You can almost correlate the way the maps have been drawn precisely with the amount of partisanship.”
Knight added: “Now if you compromise with the other side, you lose the primary.”
When asked why the Republican Party opposes Proposal 2, the three former Republican lawmakers blamed power and control.
“When you’re in control, you want to keep control,” said Bobier. “Elections are more expensive. Look at the people who are raising that money. It comes from the party, or it comes from dark money and special interests.”
All agreed change is coming, and that change is welcome.
“We need change. This might not be the only change coming, I hope, but this is one change that is coming. Because this country and this state can’t continue down the road we’re on right now because we’re going to all be broke. Real simple. There won’t be a legitimate unit of government that can stand this stuff that is going on,” said Johnson. “You can’t continue down this road.”
If you agree that we need change, here's how you can help us pass Proposal 2:
Pledge to Vote // Michigan voters will have the opportunity to pass Propsoal 2 on November 6, 2018! Pledge to vote YES on this vital reform here.
Donate // the politicians and special interests who benefit from the current system will spend millions defending and protecting their unfair advantage. We have to fight back, and that will include advertising and putting together hundreds of local events across Michigan to educate voters on their rights. Donate to Voters Not Politicians here.
Volunteer // we are recruiting volunteers to spread the word about an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to help us end gerrymandering in Michigan! If you are interested in being a part of this vital part of the process, please click here.