A former state legislative aide renowned for his knowledge of legal and judicial history has excoriated a Detroit Free Press reporter and the newspaper’s editorial policy that favors establishing an independent commission to draw Congressional and legislative maps.
Bruce A. Timmons, for decades a key committee staffer for both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Lansing, wrote the following Letter to the Editor on April 3, addressed to DFP reporter Kathy Gray, columnist Brian Dickerson, and editors Steve Henderson and Nancy Kaffer:
“Ms. Gray and the Freep Editors:
“I am always intrigued by the amazing assumptions and sometimes glaring hypocrisy of critics of current Congressional and legislative redistricting plans.
“Monday’s DFP article by Ms. Gray about the WSU professor joining the latest effort for an independent commission focuses on the admittedly bizarre shape (“creepy lizard”) of Rep. (Brenda) Lawrence’s (14th) Congressional district.
“IF REPUBLICANS PROPOSED what the professor and other advocates are proposing right now, the media collectively (including all of you), the liberals, and the Democrats would have one word to describe it: RACIST!
“Detroit once had sufficient African-American population to elect two African-American Members of Congress. No more. Barely enough now, if confined to compact districting, to elect ONE MC.
“The migration of African-Americans out of Detroit and Wayne County into Southfield, Oak Park, and West Bloomfield in Oakland (County) makes it impossible to have two African-American majority districts in Metro Detroit and Michigan — consistent with the federal Voting Rights Act — without the kind of snake-like district that looks weird but achieves the objective that the VRA and the media, liberals, Democrats, and African-Americans claim is their due (I fully understand and do not challenge that objective).
“SO WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT AND SUPPORT:
A) Compact districts with nice shapes and ONE African-American (majority) Congressional district?
B) Adherence to the federal VRA, (which would produce) a weird-shaped district following where African-Americans live today and (therefore) TWO African-American (majority) Congressional districts?
“Because right now, the distribution of population in the Detroit Metro area means you cannot have BOTH compact districts and two African-American majority districts.
“If the ‘compactness’ criteria were to apply in 2021 when (national population patterns mean) Michigan is likely to lose one Congressional district (driving us from 14 now down to only 13 for the next decade), the district most likely to be eliminated would be Brenda Lawrence’s.
“Oh, and the bills (introduced in the state Legislature) that call for the Auditor General to be the tie-breaker on a so-called independent redistricting commission? That would immediately politicize that office, and the (Auditor General) would be scrutinized and vetted as thoroughly as U.S. Supreme Court nominees (regrettably) are today — with the role of auditing state agencies becoming subordinate to the bigger prize. Historical precedent: the “Missouri Plan” for appointing judges that transformed a neutral, nonpartisan Missouri Bar Association into a partisan organization where attorneys of the (minority) party were shut out of judicial appointments; and the exact opposite partisan imbalance permeated the Kansas City bar that controlled the appointment of judges in that venue.
“BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.
“Are you aware that until 2001, Michigan had enacted only two legislative redistricting plans that did not fall to judicial challenge since the 1870s — in 1929 and 1943, and clearly 1929 was not after the 1920 census. I agree with (Sterling Corporation legal counsel) Bob LaBrant that the scenario for 2021 is less likely to be an alignment of one party controlling the governorship as well as the state House and Senate (as it is today). I do not share his optimism for a bipartisan solution, however. That is not what happened in the 1960s (Austin-Kleiner), 1970s (Hatcher-Kleiner), 1980s (Apol), and 1990s (Lesinski) when courts drew the lines — mostly to the advantage of Democrats.
“I’ve been following this issue since college in early 1960s and even attended Legislative Apportionment Commission meetings. I was legislative staff involved with (adoption of) the 1996 statutory criteria and a close observer of all but the 2011 plans.
“— Bruce A. Timmons,
(Yes, the same one who has tried to alert you since November (2016) about Judicial Tenure Commission rule changes.)”
Walt Sorg says
Mr. Timmons analysis leaves out an important datapoint: both Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Conyers won with margins of 60% (78%-18% and 78%-19%, respectively). That’s due to the packing of Democrats, especially African Americans, into those two districts. Several of the successful federal court cases on gerrymander have focused on racial gerrymandering utilizing the same tactics. The effect of packing is to dilute the potential influence of African-American voters by limiting their impact to 2 districts.
A non-partisan map could well result in 3 Congressional districts in which minorities were the majority.
The impact of “packing” extends statewide. The median margin of victory for Republicans was 73,279; for Democrats it was 115,274. The same pattern holds true for every congressional election this decade.
C. Moss says
A good rule of thumb is: if Bruce Timmons says it, its true. Great piece.