State Senate likely to be less Black under new maps

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The 2020 U.S. Census reported 13.7% of Michigan is Black or African American. 

Overlay that proportionally over the 38-member Michigan Senate and that’s five members. That’s exactly how many Black senators the chamber has today.

That number is projected to go down to three and possibly two in 2023, based on an MIRS and Target Insyght analysis of the new state Senate maps drawn by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) as part of the every-10-year map-redrawing process.

And although the city of Detroit makes up 16% of the state’s population, Michigan’s largest city of roughly 600,000 souls is projected to go from five members living within its borders to two. We have under three months till the filing deadline and about seven months until the August primary. Things can change. 

Minds can change. A strong late-comer could emerge. But if you’re serious about running for the state Senate and you haven’t made that known, yet, you’re probably not winning.

Here’s where things stand. All 38 districts have either at least one incumbent living in each district or at least one current or past House member running. The field is about set and the number of top-tier black candidates in these districts is low.

Based on demographics, voting history and the different candidates involved, only Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing, Sylvia Santana of Detroit and Erika Geiss of Taylor are the frontrunners.

Two current Black senators seeking reelection were put in districts that make them the underdogs.

Sen. Bettie Jean Alexander, D-Detroit, raised less than $1,000 in 2018, but won the Democratic primary in a one-on-one race in a seat that was 50.17% Black against a white suburbanite through a strong network of Black voters in Detroit. This year, her district this year is 29% Detroit, 39% Black. 

She’ll need well over the $2,817 she has in the bank. Rep. Mary Cavanagh of Redford, who filed a campaign committee to run in Alexander’s district, has six times that amount sitting in her state House account. She has the potential to raise much more.

Likewise, Sen. Marshall Bullock ran a community-focused, lower-dollar campaign to win his Senate seat in 2018. The new lines have him paired with Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who defeated a Republican incumbent in one of the state’s most expensive races four years.

The district is 36% Detroit, where Bullock is from. It’s 64% Oakland County, where McMorrow is from. The district is 40% Black. The seat he won in 2018 was 50% Black and 58% in the city of Detroit.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission put a premium on creating districts that give Republicans and Democrats an equal shot of taking majority. Despite the state being roughly split 50/50, Senate Republicans have enjoyed majority since 1983.

To do this, the commission carved up Detroit — the Democrats largest and most condensed voting base — eight different ways. Detroit doesn’t make up any more than 48% of any of these eight districts. In 2012, it had four Senate districts made up of at least 50% Detroiters. Now, it has zero.

In 2012, five of the state’s 38 Senate districts had a Black voting age population of more than 50. Now, it has zero. Only two districts have a Black plurality of voters.

“They’re using the Black community for political purposes. They’re drawing this to achieve more purple district or Democratic districts by splitting up the Black vote,” said Ed Sarpolus of Target Insyght.

Sarpolus is an expert witness in a lawsuit against this map, so he’s not a neutral party. He’s also been involved in redistricting in Michigan for more than 30 years and doesn’t like what he sees.

The ICRC’s out-of-state consultants sold the commission on this idea of creating six Black “opportunity districts” that were at least 35% Black.  Two more are about a 25% black. The make-it-and-they’ll-come theory isn’t materializing, though.

Outside of Anthony, no Black candidates are popping up in either Metro Detroit or anywhere else.

Sarpolus is saying this dynamic violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act and wants the maps overturned. It’ll be up to a court to decide if he’s right.

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