September 30, 2022
How Michigan Became the Biggest State Legislative Battlefield of 2022

When Curtis Hertel Jr. became one of just 10 Democrats in the Michigan state Senate in 2014, the idea that his party might one day gain control of the state legislature was beyond far-fetched. Republicans have held a firm majority in the state Senate since 1984 and in the state House of Representatives since 2011. In the final round of redistribution, the GOP surrounded the body to the point that it was essentially impossible for them to lose.

But everything has changed ahead of this year’s midterm competitions. In 2018, Michigan voters engaged an independent redistribution commission to map the new district. Last year, the commission approved maps that were significantly more competitive than their predecessors, a change that has fueled Democratic hopes that a state Senate majority — and even possible control of the state House — would eventually be up for grabs in 2022. Is.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel like we’re playing on an equal playing field,” Hertel told HuffPost. “We’ve been playing a rigged game here in Michigan for three decades, and finally for the first time ever, it’s not rigged. We have maps that are even.”

Democrats have been regularly hammered at the state legislative level over the past decade: Between 2010 and 2018, the party lost hundreds of state legislative seats across the country, and successful Republican gerrymandering plans saw many reach majority almost entirely. kicked out. In 2020, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a party’s political arm, poured a record amount of money into such races, but failed to overturn a single state legislative chamber.

The Independent Redistribution Commission, however, has suddenly given Democrats a way forward in Michigan, turning it into the biggest state legislative battleground of the 2022 cycle.

“We see Michigan as a huge opportunity because of the newly created unbiased maps,” said DLCC President Jessica Post. “It’s at the top of our flip list.”

The creation of an independent redistribution commission has fueled Democratic hopes that issues such as abortion access and voting rights could help them gain control of the Michigan state legislature, which Republican gerrymandering practices have long kept out of reach. was.
The creation of an independent redistribution commission has fueled Democratic hopes that issues such as abortion access and voting rights could help them gain control of the Michigan state legislature, which Republican gerrymandering practices have long kept out of reach. was.

Jeff Kowalski via Getty Images

Republicans currently hold a 22–16 majority in the Michigan State Senate and a 56–53 majority in the State House, where one seat is held by an independent.

But other developments have bolstered Michigan Democrats’ beliefs that they could flip one or both chambers: Roe v. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, appears to be a midterm scenario that seemed too tilted. GOP.

michiganders will Vote on Abortion Rights Referendum In November, the state Supreme Court ruled against efforts by the Republican legislative majority to block it from appearing on the ballot.

The issue is driving the Democratic campaign from atop the ticket, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has made the defense of abortion rights the central focus of her re-election message, to the bottom: in May, just a few of the draft Supreme Court decisions. Days later reversed cry leaked, Democrat Carol Glanville Upsetting a GOP Rival in a particular state legislative election. The victory may have portended a major change: Michigan is among the states that have seen Surge in female voter registration Roe’s decision, according to Democratic strategist Tom Bonnier.

The abortion fight is a lens, say Democrats and progressives, about how the unlawful legislature protected the GOP majority even when it was out of step with public sentiment. Polls show a majority of Michiganders support legal access to abortion; In an election that can be defined by that issue more than any other, better maps mean that the composition of the state legislature – and the Senate in particular – will be reflect potential Most of the votes cast in such races across the state.

“Instead of a state legislative majority focusing on banning life-saving health care or looking the other way while toxic water flows from household taps, with better districts for the first time in decades, the legislature may have a majority that represents the views of Michiganders — not right-wing extremism,” said Simon Leroe, a spokesman for the States Project, a progressive organization that focuses on state legislatures and also prioritizes Michigan in 2022.

Despite the Democrats’ enthusiasm for it, the Independent Redistribution Commission’s effort to promote him specifically did not result in a result. Instead it evolved from a Facebook group of voters who were frustrated with a legislature that over the past decade had turned into a Heaviest Garrimanded Body in the Nation.

In 2014, noted non-profit news outlet Bridge Michigan, Michigan Republican Won 27 of 38 state senate races Even though the total vote count was almost equally divided between the parties. Two years later, the Michigan Democrats won all State House races with a modest majority of the votes cast. But at the end of election night, Republicans Controlled 63 out of 110 seats,

“No voter in Michigan, regardless of party, thought politics and politicians were working for them. It was an issue that brought voters closer together in the political realm.

– Nancy Wang, Voter Not Politician

As of 2017, Voters Not Politicians, a grassroots organization that grew out of the original Facebook discussions 425,000 signatures collected On a petition seeking the adoption of an independent redistribution commission. The campaign took advantage of a quirk in Michigan law that allows the citizens’ petition campaign to propose a constitutional amendment directly to voters if they receive the required number of signatures.

The group argued to voters that rampant gerrymandering practices had created a set of districts in which lawmakers were left untouched by real threats to their seat, unless it came from a member of their own party. It created a legislature that was unresponsive to voters and their needs, and helped the GOP govern without fear.

“Despite party affiliation, it was very clear that our politicians were not working for the voters,” said Nancy Wang, a law professor at the University of Michigan who co-founded Voters Not Politician, a grassroots organization, in 2017 The group that pushed for it. An independent redistribution commission. “They were using their political power to serve special interests and to keep themselves in power.”

That November, 61% of Michigan voters voted to approve the creation of a 13-person redistribution commission, which would consist of four Democrats, four Republicans, and five nonpartisan commissioners.

“No voter in Michigan, regardless of party, thought politics and politicians were working for them,” Wang said. “It was an issue, gerrymandering, that brought voters across the political spectrum closer together.”

The new maps are significantly more competitive, as their different analyzes make clear. The commission itself used data that showed they would still be of little benefit to Republicans. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, however, sees both state senate And Rajya Sabha The maps are a little favored by the Democrats.

“In the past, we used to identify a handful — maybe half a dozen — of frontline seats that were winnable,” said state Representative Rachel Hood (D), whose Grand Rapids district became more competitive. “Now, with the flood of more middle seats, we have an arguably 5-point plus or minus margin between 15 and 25 seats in the game.”

Wang argued that this has already changed Michigan politically, regardless of who controls the state legislature after the November elections.

“That’s what happens when you cancel your elections,” she said. “You see a lot of candidates have to fight for votes, they have to persuade voters to vote for them. And there are much more competitive districts. ,

The independent redistribution process was not free from controversy or criticism, even from Democrats who are happy with the overall result.

The new maps reduced the number of majority-minority districts in the state legislature from 15 to 10 in the Rajya Sabha and from five in the state Senate to just five, According to Bridge Michigan, There is not a single black-majority district in the state Senate. The changes will hit Metro Detroit especially hard: New maps map the state’s most populous city in a way that could make it very difficult for black candidates to win legislative seats.

Before the maps were finalized, black lawmakers and voting rights groups accused the commission of misinterpreting the data and called for new districts to be redrawn. Marshal Bullock, State Sen. Marshall Bullock, a Democratic member of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said the commission’s maps “undermine the voice and representation of black people and our issues,” said in a statement last December. “This is unacceptable and must be addressed and corrected immediately.”

A coalition of lawmakers and outside groups eventually sued this year, alleging that the maps violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The commission defended the maps and argued that they were in compliance with federal law. michigan supreme court dismiss Suits in February

Democrats in Michigan and nationally are still widely upset about the state House map, almost all of them attuned to the otherwise enthusiastic praise for the work of a cautionary commission.

DLCC’s post also cautioned that an independent redistribution commission is not necessarily a comprehensive solution to gerrymandering. Democrats have raised issues with the independent redistribution process in Arizona, and concerns about black and minority representation in Michigan are evidence, she said, that independent commissions do not automatically guarantee fully fair representation.

With the new maps in effect, Voters Not Politicians has continued to campaign about free redistribution, encouraging voters to hold the first elections under them.

“There’s a new world here in Michigan, because we took power away from politicians and now that power is in the hands of the electorate,” Wang said. “This is going to be our first election under a fair map, where the vote of the electorate will determine who gets elected. And we feel that energy on the ground.”

Democrats hope energy will pay dividends for the party The candidates, who have addressed issues where the GOP’s stalemate on the legislature has allowed Michigan to run on the right: a Democratic majority, they have argued, protect abortion access, implement new gun control measures, back You can ask to roll. Michigan’s anti-union “right to work” law and expanding voting rights.

“What we want to do is do what the people of Michigan want,” Hertel said. “These are all policies that are protected by a gerrymanded majority. They are majority opinions that are stuck because of a non-government legislature. And I think this is the year we change it. Roe is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot.” It is on the ballot paper. The rights of our friends and neighbors are on the ballot paper.”

That doesn’t mean Democrats are assured control of the state Senate or the State House in November. But at least now, he argued, he has a chance.

“Under the old maps, we can fix everything and still lose,” he said. “Under these maps, I firmly believe there is opportunity, and we are in a fair fight.”

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