No voices to be heard: U.P. residents excluded from Michigan’s new redistricting commission
LANSING — The state of Michigan announced its first Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission with one glaring omission: no Upper Peninsula residents were included on the commission.
According to mi.gov website, of 200 randomly selected applicants to the commission, “60 will affiliate with the Republican Party, 60 will affiliate with the Democratic Party, and 80 will not be affiliated with either party.”
The Office of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson stated that nearly 10,000 Michigan residents had applied to serve on the commission during a months-long application process. In accordance with the state constitution, the pool was narrowed to 200 applications by a previous random selection before the state Legislature removed 20 more applications. The 13 commissioners were selected randomly by an independent accounting firm, Rehman LLC, from the final pool of 180 applicants. But, according to three U.P. Republican lawmakers, the process felt far from random.
A Wednesday release from the House Republican Policy Office stated that State Reps. Beau LaFave (Iron Mountain) and Greg Markkanen (Hancock), along with Sen. Ed McBroom (Waucadeh Township), expressed deep disappointment and frustration that not a single U.P. resident was selected to serve on the commission, which will redraw the boundaries of Michigan’s state and Congressional election districts.
The U.P. legislators said that in the past, the Michigan Legislature has overseen the redistricting process, ensuring at least four U.P. residents – and up to six – were involved in the process.
“This new process is supposed to be fair and independent, supposedly improving on the past – but we fail to see how taking away representation and accountability from residents in the Upper Peninsula is fair,” LaFave, Markkanen and McBroom said in a joint statement. “The closest representative we have is in Interlochen – more than 100 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge, and six hours from Ironwood.”
The trio also expressed frustration that Democrats in the Michigan Legislature used two of their 10 allotted strikes to remove Upper Peninsula residents from the pool of semifinalists for the commission, reducing the odds that a U.P. resident would be selected to serve. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, struck both John Gudwer of Rapid River and Karen Gullan of Ironwood from the pool.
“This is just the latest example of the Upper Peninsula getting the short end of the stick at the hands of downstate Democrats,” the trio said. “The U.P. may only have a small portion of the state’s population, but it makes up about 30 percent of the state’s land – and no one is going to know this land better than a citizen of these communities. We deserve to have a voice in the drawing of our election districts. It’s quite demeaning that the rest of the state seems to think we’re good enough to serve as a tourist destination, but not to have representation on the redistricting commission.”
In November, 2019, Michigan voters decisively supported the “Voters Not Politicians” Constitutional amendment that created a 13-member, randomly-selected citizen commission, and not elected politicians, consultants or lobbyists, responsible for drawing fair and representative election districts for the Michigan Legislature and the U.S. Congress.
The Secretary of State’s Office was responsible for using statistical weighting methods to ensure a pool of 200 semi-finalists mirrors the geographic demographic makeup of the stated, as specified by the state constitution, the SOS website states. It was this pool from which Democrats in the Michigan Legislature used two of their 10 allotted strikes to remove U.P. residents from the pool of semifinalists for the Commission, the three U.P. Republican lawmakers said.
Woodtv.com of Grand Rapids reported that in the Lower Peninsula, Cynthia Orton, of Battle Creek, is the only person from West Michigan on the commission. A majority of selected commission members are from the southeast section of the state.
Other members of the commission include:
• M. Rothhorn of Lansing (Ingham County)
• Juanita Curry of Detroit (Wayne County)
• Dustin Witjes of Ypsilanti (Washtenaw County)
• Brittni Kellom of Detroit (Wayne County)
• Erin Wagner of Charlotte (Eaton County)
• Douglas Clark of Rochester Hills (Oakland County)
• Rhonda Lange of Reed City (Osceola County)
• Janice Vallette of Highland (Oakland County)
• James Decker of Fowlerville (Livingston County)
• Richard Weiss of Saginaw (Saginaw County)
• Steven Lett of Interlochen (Grand Traverse County)
• Anthony Eid of Orchard Lake (Oakland County)
• Cynthia Orton, of Battle Creek (Calhoun County)
Of the counties represented, only Osceola and Grand Traverse Counties are not in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.