It’d be easy to spike the football. I could say my July 21, 2021, column about the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s being a train wreck was correct and spend the next 600 words gloating.
But I’m not doing an end zone dance. Honestly, I wish I’d been wrong.
I warned that this inefficient, rudderless entity was wasting too much time to draw effective, well-researched maps correctly, and that is what happened.
The MICRC spent much of their 2021 diddle-dallying with bureaucratic busywork and then rushed through the drawing of the Metro Detroit legislative districts in order to meet its constitutional deadlines.
Now, they must redraw 13 Metro Detroit legislative districts because a federal judicial panel ruled them unconstitutional.
The judges ruled a couple of weeks ago that the MICRC purposely created race-based districts that carved up Detroit and its suburbs like a pizza pie. Birmingham and Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood were part of one district. St. Clair Shores and Jefferson-Chalmers were included in another.
None of it made any sense.
The commission’s adviser, Bruce Adelson, told these neophytes that their Detroit-based districts not only didn’t have to have a majority of Black voters, but SHOULDN’T have a majority of Black voters. Past legislatures didn’t do this because they didn’t want to get sued for violating the Voting Rights Act.
The MICRC followed Adelson’s bizarre theory. The courts said this violated the Voting Rights Act.
The redistricting commission could appeal. They could defend Adelson’s belief that Detroiters don’t need districts with more than 45% Black voters, but what’s the point?
Adelson mercifully resigned. And taxpayers shouldn’t spend one more penny defending his position that Black voters in Detroit shouldn’t have legislative districts in which they make up the majority.
It’s time to move on. The courts need to honor our constitution and give the commission another crack at these districts. This time, let’s bring in a Republican and a Democrat with some experience in drawing Michigan maps that will hold up in court, not something based on sketchy legal theories.
Say what you will about the Michigan Legislature’s old legislative maps. At least its maps complied with the Voting Rights Act, at least in recent years.
While we’re at it, it’s time to shape up this unaccountable commission with some commonsense rules.
We have 13 members who were paid $55,755 a year to literally do nothing for the entirety of 2022 and 2023, except attend a few Zoom meetings. Even that, shockingly, was too much of a commitment for a few of them.
Three of them moved out of state. When Commissioner Rebecca Szetela called them out on it and basically exposed Adelson as a fraud in a court hearing, she was ostracized for not being a team player.
Speaking of a being a team player, we still have one commissioner — Erin Wagner — who has attended zero meetings in person. WTF?
Look, the MICRC is not a unilateral failure. It needs some strong leadership, some accountability and some strong rules to serve as a framework for 2031 and beyond (when the next redistricting commission will start doing its work).
Once Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson picks replacement commissioners, this crew needs to all get together, in the same room, FOR THE FIRST TIME, and start some team building. Now.
Anyone who can’t meet this very basic requirement must be removed. No more Zoom. The COVID crisis is over. Every meeting from here on out must be in person. No more meetings where commissioners walk off camera and literally disappear, or click in when it fits in with their schedule.
In-person meetings work for the Legislature and nearly every other government body in Michigan. It can work for them. Any meeting missed means they don’t get paid. It works in the real world; it can work here.
We need the redistricting commission to succeed because, like it or not, this is what we got. We voted this into our constitution. It can work.
If the commissioners aren’t willing to make these rule changes, Secretary of State Benson may need to get involved. If not her, the Legislature needs to draft some accountability rules.
Prove my train wreck column of 30 months ago wrong. Please.
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at email@example.com.)
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