State Rep. Sean McCann proposes independent commission to draw state's legislative districts
KALAMAZOO, MI -- Saying that voters should pick their politicians, not politicians their voters, state Rep. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, introduced legislation Thursday that would change the way Michigan draws legislative boundaries."Independent" commissions gerrymander just as much as legislatures.
McCann proposed creating an independent commission that would be charged with drawing legislative districts in the state. Under his plan, the commission would be comprised of citizens rather than elected politicians, party officers or lobbyists. He said it would help eliminate the issue of gerrymandering, in which district lines are redrawn to favor a particular political party or candidate.
"Michigan voters deserve political districts that are contiguous and competitive, not districts that are drawn to ensure one party always has a political edge on Election Day," McCann said. "When voters head to the polls, they should be picking their politicians. Unfortunately, we now have a system where politicians pick their voters."All the districts are already required to be contiguous. Most natural geographic districts will not be competitive. If you want a lot of competitive districts, you have to gerrymander to get them. I explained this in my criticism of the Center for Michigan report on redistricting.
Analysis and Rebuttal of the Center for Michigan Redistricting Study
Gerrymandering -- aside from being a perennial on spelling bee lists -- exacerbates partisan gridlock in both Washington and Lansing, McCann and supporters of the measure said at a press conference in Kalamazoo Thursday morning.Quoting the CFM report:
When districts are drawn to create "safe" seats, the real election happens in the primary, catering to the fringes of both parties, he said. McCann argued that gerrymandering also discourages lawmakers from working across the aisle on legislation, creating gridlock and "a cycle of broken relationships."
Brittany Galisdorfer, Earhart fellow with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council, notes that academic research has been inconclusive about the effects of more competitive seats.Continuing the Gazette article...
"The general theory is that competitive districts mean less extreme political candidates, less political partisanship and ensure basic fairness," she said. "But there’s no consensus that those things actually occur."
While the term may be somewhat arcane, it's something voters know when they see, McCann said, showing maps of five of what he called "the most egregious examples" of gerrymandering in the state. These included what he dubbed "The Roy Schmidt special," Grand Rapids House District 76, which was created during the last cycle.District 76 is a competitive district (won by a democrat), which McCann was just claiming to want. If you want a competitive district in Grand Rapids, it has to be drawn this way. The other district in Grand Rapids (75) is minority-majority. Does McCann want to change this?
McCann's plan would establish a pool of applicants overseen by the state auditor general. It employs what he described as a system of filters to exclude people who, within the past 10 years, have held elected office, been appointed to a party committee position, worked as a lobbyist or donated more than $2,000 to a campaign. Each party would have a right to veto potential commission members -- in a manner similar to jury strikes employed by prosecutors and defense attorneys, he said.So basically both parties would put their effort into recruiting stealth members pretending to be independent.
The two highest vote-getting parties would each have five members on the 14-member commission, with four seats set aside for nonpartisan members, McCann said.Let's review these.
Creating the commission would require first amending the state's constitution and then a vote by the legislature.
Other states -- Washington, Iowa, Arizona and California -- have set up similar commissions, he said.
Washington: This is a bipartisan commission, not an independent commission. The rules require both parties to agree to a plan. This leads to a bipartisan gerrymander, where each side protects its own incumbents. This is the opposite of what McCann claims to want.
Iowa: This is not a commission at all, it is a nonpartisan state agency. The legislature has veto power over the maps it produces. This is nothing like what McCann proposes.
Arizona: Here we have a commission with an independent tie-breaker, similar to what McCann wants. So how did this work out in practice? The democrats recruited a stealth candidate, Colleen Mathis, who was the wife of a democrat donor, to be the tie-breaker. She voted for the democrat gerrymander, which had 'competitive' districts designed to elect democrats. The state legislature impeached her from office for violating the rules, but this was overturned by the state supreme court. The gerrymander resulted in a democrat majority in the Arizona congressional delegation, despite the Republican lean of the state.
California: This is a citizens' commission which tries to screen out partisan candidates, similar to what McCann wants. Democrats worked heavily to influence the commission by creating bogus independent groups that would lobby to skew the map in their favor. This resulted in a map that favored democrats, and Republicans lost four congressional seats in 2012.
Independent commissions can gerrymander just like politicians, as they have in Arizona, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Courts can also gerrymander. There is no particular reason to believe that they will produce 'competitive' districts, either (which is difficult to define, anyhow). The difference is that elected legislators are accountable to their constituents, which 'independent' commissions are accountable no nobody. What McCann proposes wouldn't fix redistricting, it would slant the process to his side.
Now may be the best possible time for the state to tackle the issue, since district lines won't be redrawn until 2020, after the next Census, Clark said. Most of the current legislators would be term-limited out at that point, so they would personally be unaffected by any changes. However, people don't tend to pay serious attention to the issue until right before it's time to redraw district lines, he added.Anyone who pays attention to redistricting knows that the public never pays attention to redistricting.