While the Michigan legislature begins to consider redistricting of congressional and state legislative districts, counties across the state must also redraw county commission districts. The deadline to pass plans is much sooner than it is for the state legislature, so some counties have already completed the process and others are about to. Kalamazoo County adopted its new plan on Tuesday.
Kalamazoo County board's size will go from 17 to 11 districts in 2013
Apportionment committee created a 'well-balanced plan' for downsized Kalamazoo County Board, chairman says
Political landscape changes as Kalamazoo County board shrinks to 11 districts
The plan is decided by the county apportionment commission, which consists of the county prosecutor, treasurer, and clerk and the chairmen of the county Republican and democrat parties. In Kalamazoo, that’s Jeff Fink, Mary Balkema, Tim Snow, Al Heilman, and Dave Pawloski. The first four are Republicans. Fink was elected chairman of the commission at an earlier meeting.
There is a law governing how districts must be drawn. It sets forth a number of general standards but is fairly vague about how exactly to measure them and how much deviation is acceptable. Probably the only inviolable standards are that districts must be contiguous and must have roughly equal population. We will examine these standards in more detail below.
Unlike congressional or legislative redistricting, the number of county commissioners is not fixed. It can vary, with the range depending on the population of the county. The apportionment commission gets to set the number of commissioners.
At an earlier meeting, the Kalamazoo apportionment commission decided that it wanted to reduce the number of commissioners. The number of commissioners is currently 17, which the apportionment commission felt made the county commission meetings too unwieldy. This was an increase from 9 commissioners in the 1990s.
It isn’t entirely clear why the number had been increased. There was speculation that then-prosecutor Jim Gregart thought that it would help Republicans win a majority. If so, it had at best mixed success, with Republicans winning a 10-7 majority in 2002, 2004, and 2010, while having an 8-9 minority in 2006 and 2008.
Any member of the commission was free to submit a plan. Snow submitted plans for 7, 9, 11, and 13 districts. Balkema submitted plans for 9 and 11 districts. So did Pawloski. After a bit of discussion, the commission settled on 11 districts. Balkema’s 11-district plan was supported by Heilman, while Snow was unhappy with the fact that the map split Oshtemo between two districts. Pawloski wasn’t thrilled with the map but was willing to support it if he could modify the districts in the democratic areas of Kalamazoo city and township.
Snow and Pawloski presented their own 11-district maps. Other members of the committee criticized these plans for having districts that contain parts of both Kalamazoo and Portage. After some discussion, the commission adopted the Balkema plan with Pawloski’s amendments. The vote was unanimous, though Snow voiced displeasure with some aspects of the plan.
Here is Balkema’s original plan.
Here is the revised plan, which was adopted by the commission.
Here is the statute governing county commission redistricting.
Consider the standards for the final plan.
A. All districts shall be single-member districts and as nearly of equal population as is practicable.
What is practicable? There is some ambiguity here. Republican Michigander has stated that a court case found 11.9% deviation to be the maximum allowable. Certainly some deviation is allowed to avoid breaking precincts or city/township boundaries.
The plan adopted complies well with this standard. The lowest deviation is -3.68% in district 11, and the highest is +3.74% in district 3. The total range of 7.42% is quite reasonable. Based on playing around with various maps, this blog found it quite difficult to get below a 7% range.
B. All districts shall be contiguous.
C. All districts shall be as compact and of as nearly square shape as is practicable, depending on the geography of the county area involved.
This is ambiguous. What is ‘practicable’? How do you measure compactness? There are multiple possible mathematical definitions of compactness and ‘squareness’, and the statute does not specify a standard.
The districts in the map all appear to be reasonably compact, with no outrageous gerrymandering in evidence.
D. No township or part thereof shall be combined with any city or part thereof for a single district, unless such combination is needed to meet the population standard.
Again this is somewhat ambiguous. There are four cities in Kalamazoo County: Kalamazoo, Portage, Parchment, and Galesburg. The final map has five districts that contain territory from both city and township. Balkema’s original plan had only three, but it had a slightly larger population variation (7.63%).
E. Townships, villages, and cities shall be divided only if necessary to meet the population standard.
Again it is ambiguous exactly what is ‘necessary’. Both the Balkema and final plan divide four jurisdictions, Kalamazoo, Portage, Kalamazoo Township, and Oshtemo. These are the four largest jurisdictions. Balkema’s plan had one district that contained part of Kalamazoo city and the rest in K Township, one district that contained part of Portage and four townships, and Kalamazoo and Oshtemo townships each split between two districts. Pawlowski amended this so that there are four districts that split K Township, three of which contain parts of Kalamazoo and one contains part of Oshtemo and Alamo.
F. Precincts shall be divided only if necessary to meet the population standard.
No precincts are divided.
G. Residents of state institutions who cannot by law register in the county as electors shall be excluded from any consideration of representation.
There are no state prisons in Kalamazoo County, so this is a moot point.
H. Districts shall not be drawn to effect partisan political advantage.
No one would ever dream of such a thing.
Now let’s consider the plan passed in detail. What follows are descriptions of the districts, which incumbent commissioners live in the districts, and who is most likely to win in the future. To get some idea of the voting histories of the districts, this blog picked three past competitive countywide races and computed their outcomes in the districts. The races are the 2010 Secretary of State race (Johnson v. Benson), the 2008 county treasurer race (Balkema v. Kaufmann), and the 2006 state senate race (George v. Lipsey).
Kalamazoo city 1, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17 and Kalamazoo Township 10, 13. Basically this is downtown, Northside, Eastside, Edison, and Douglas. This is the minority-majority district, with 43.3% white and 56.7% minority, including 40.3% black.
Carolyn Alford and Robert Barnard are the incumbents here. Alford is black, so she is likely to continue to dominate this district.
Kalamazoo city 3, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24 and Kalamazoo Township 11. [Milwood, Crosstown, Edison]
David Buskirk, Jack Urban. Buskirk is heavily favored here, as this greatly resembles the district he held in the 90s when there were 9 commissioners.
Kalamazoo city 2, 4, 12, 19, 22, 25, 26, 28 [Westnedge Hill, Parkview Hills, Oakwood, Winchell, Knollwood, WMU campus]
John Taylor. This resembles Taylor’s current district, with WMU and Westnedge Hill added.
Kalamazoo city 5, 6, 10, Parchment, and Kalamazoo Township 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, 15 [Arcadia, Westwood, Northwood, Parchment, Spring Valley]
Brian Johnson, Michael Seals. This district contains more of Johnson’s old district, so he would be favored if he runs for reelection.
Kalamazoo Township 3, 6, 9, Oshtemo 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, Alamo [Westwood, northern and western Oshtemo, Alamo]
Open. This district contains part of four districts currently represented by Iden, Buchholz, Johnson, and Seals.
Cooper, Richland, Ross Townships
Deb Buchholz, Jeff Heppler. Heppler represents somewhat more of this district and would likely be favored if he runs for reelection. He might be interested in running for Sheriff instead. He ran in 1998 and applied for the position in 2002.
Comstock, Galesburg, Charleston, Climax, Wakeshma
Ann Nieuwenhuis. This contains all of her district and half of John Gisler’s. It is safer than her current district.
Portage 2, Pavilion, Brady, Schoolcraft, Prairie Ronde
John Gisler, David Maturen. This has all of Maturen’s current district, and half of Gisler’s. Geography favors Maturen if he runs for reelection. But since Maturen is somewhat moderate, Gisler could have an ideological advantage in a Republican primary.
Oshtemo 4, 5, 7, 8, Texas Township
Tim Rogowski, Brandt Iden. Rogowski has a geographic advantage and a bigger partisan geographic advantage, since most of the Republicans in the district are in Texas. Rogowski could potentially be vulnerable to a more conservative challenger. Iden could conceivably move to the open district 5.
Portage 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21 [Western Portage]
Phil Stinchcomb. This contains all of his current district and pieces from Ansari and Rogowski. It is a bit safer than his current district.
Portage 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 15, 17, 20 [Eastern Portage]
John Zull, Nasim Ansari. This has all of Zull’s district and half of Ansari’s. Zull is expected to retire at the end of his term, leaving the district to Ansari. Ansari could conceivably run for drain commissioner, which he applied for in 2007.
Overall, this map appears quite likely to lead to a 7-4 Republican majority for the next decade.