The Dexter Forum recently hosted a point/counterpoint presentation of Proposal 2 which addresses the practice of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing political districts by the party in control so as to give themselves a numerical advantage in a majority of the legislative districts. Proposal 2, if passed this Nov 6, will end the practice of gerrymandering and instead rely upon a 13 member commission made up of 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 5 Independents.
Republican Bill Gordon spoke out against the proposal. Chris Vandenbroek of Voters Not Politicians, the group who sponsored the proposal, spoke in favor of it.
Each speaker had 5 minutes to state their case. Bill Gordon took to the stump first and presented his case against Proposal 2. Here’s what he had to say:
“It (Proposal 2) gives too much power to the Secretary of State. It is based upon a 13 member non-elected commission that has no accountability to the voters. It claims it’s going to get rid of gerrymandering but in fact it is probably going to increase gerrymandering depending upon how you define that term.
“First off, the Secretary of State gets to choose the 13 member commission. That gives ultimate power to the Secretary of State. Not the governor, not the legislature where you have a body that can come to a consensus. One person, the Secretary of State, is going to pick the people that will be on the commission.
“The commission is made up of, as the proposal says, self-identified four republicans, four Democrats and five people who are self-identified as independent. The secretary of State gets to pick those people. It makes the Secretary of State the monarch of Michigan in the future because the Secretary of State is the person who gets to influence how the lines are drawn for those who get elected.
“The commission is a 13 member commission. It’s made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, except the Republicans and Democrats can’t be Republicans and Democrats because nobody elected to office or nobody in the same household of somebody elected to office can serve on the commission. So I don’t know who is going to be self-identified but they are not going to be people who are involved in the politics as we know it. For myself, I can’t serve on the commission because I’m a precinct delegate. Precinct delegates can’t be on the commission.
“My feeling is you’re going to have a whole bunch of activists probably on both sides. You’re going to have all the people who are on TV interrupting the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, all those people are going to send in applications to the Secretary of State to be on the commission as Independent. It is an invitation to activist to try and influence the process.
“The idea of gerrymandering the VNP (Voters Not Politicians) website talks about cracking and stacking and how people draw lines to favor one group or another. The criterion is laid out on the website for VNP. There are 7 things listed. The 7 things listed are geographic boundaries. The third thing on the list is ‘communities of interest’. If you’re not sure what a community of interest is, it’s because it’s not defined in the law anywhere. So what it means is a ‘community of interest’ is whatever the commission says it is, which means really what seven members get together and vote for a majority what it is.
“The VNP website has a list of different states that use the phrase ‘community of interest’ and several of them say ‘not limited to, but included are racial, ethnic, and geographic’, and so on. Communities of interest include ethnic cultural economic trade areas may include economic factors, social factors, cultural factors.
“So you see in a lot of these descriptions racial and ethnic groups are being featured as a ‘community of interest’. This is encouraging drawing district lines by racial groups and maybe religious groups and basically dividing. This encourages the division of districts into groups of people that separate themselves from groups of other people.
“The current system has a basis in geography and one of the high priorities is keeping communities like the city of Dexter and the township of Scio together. Do those get split? I’m sure they’ll get split with the new proposal. Nothing says they won’t because the geographic boundary is the seventh criteria on the list. It says they have to use the criteria in the order they present it.
“Lastly it’s portrayed to be an independent non-partisan group putting this forward. The reality is that the founding members of the VNP are Democrat Party activists and donors. They’ve got a few people who say they’re Republicans to endorse it I guess. The reality is the Republican Party is against this and people active in the party are against this.
“So if you say to yourself well he’s a republican of course he’s against it – how to use the constitution of Michigan to change the government in Michigan from Republican controlled government to Democrat controlled government. That’s what this is all about. It’s bypassing the voters with unelected people to change the rules using the Constitution. If you don’t like this experiment, it’s going to be very, very hard to undo it.”
Chris Vandenbroek of Voters Not Politicians took the stump to present his view to the Forum. Here’s what Chris had to say:
“I am with Voters Not Politicians, so I’m going to take the opposing view of my colleague. I’m going to do my best to talk you all into it.
“A little background first: ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’ … anybody heard that phrase before? Sounds good. We all kind of buy into that. We were taught it in grade school. ‘We the People to form a more perfect union …’ Where did that come from? The United States Constitution. We all buy into the idea that people are supposed to run things.
“Well, there are only about 10 million people in Michigan, so we can’t get all the people under one roof to hash things out, so we have to have representatives do that work for us. I want to put this in two parts: The first one I just want to say a little bit about how insidious and evil gerrymandering really is.
“How does it work in Michigan? We don’t have that ‘by the people, for the people’ in Michigan. What we have is a system for the Legislature, behind closed doors, every 10 years draws lines. ‘So what?’ you say.
“Let’s say, I got in power in Michigan. I want to get reelected, everybody wants to get reelected. So what I do is I hire the gurus, I’m a politician. To draw the maps … I hire the geeks to do that. We find out exactly where all the people who voted against me live and we draw line around it. We give them that district and they win that one. The district that is adjoined, being depleted of my opposition, I win those handily. Now, just in case some of the people in Michigan here or from the majority party think I’m picking on them, let’s take an example, Maryland.
“Maryland has a population about 60% Democrat 40% Republican. They have eight congressional seats. Guess how many seats in Congress the Democrats have? Seven. They sequestered their opposition into one district; concede that, and all the rest of them they win. You can’t tell me all the Republicans in Maryland were so excited about the Democratic candidates that they all popped up and voted for them. That’s how gerrymandering works.
“What that does is disenfranchises the voters. The people who are (elected) in get a little lazy because they know they will be reelected easily. They don’t necessarily make the best case to the public. The people who are out are angry because they feel disenfranchised.
“Michigan with a population almost split exactly down the middle 48% Republicans 47% Democrats and we have a lopsided legislature. The minority party has only 11 of the 38 seats in the state legislature. Again I don’t think all those Democrats popped up and voted for the Republicans. Because the Republicans, terms of intellectual capacity, they’re probably pretty evil.
“That’s the insidious part of it. What we have then is a system where the politicians in power are choosing their voters. Every 10 years they get to redraw the maps and choose their voters again. It disenfranchises the voters and creates laziness on the part of the politicians in power because they don’t have to make a good case to the public to get reelected. It makes the people who are out, disenfranchised because they don’t have a voice.
“The Voters Not Politicians managed to get a proposal on the ballot to fix this whole thing. And again Voters Not Politicians does not promote or disparage any particular politician. What we do is disparage the system that allows this to mess to occur in the first place.
“A little bit about the commission now: My colleague is correct it is 13 people. He is incorrect – the Secretary of State does not choose those people on the commission. It is 13 people that cannot be aligned with politics in any way. He is required by law. Read it on the ballot. The ballot is already too long, over 300 words. You want to be a little familiar with it now. There’s a whole line behind you in the voting booth.
“The fine print is the Secretary of State sends out random 10,000 applications. If you don’t get an application from the Secretary of State, you can apply yourself. That gets whittled down to a pile of 200 people to represent the demographics of the state. That is to say, you can’t have 200 people all from Saginaw. It’s got to represent the State. Then, at random, you pull out the people who had professed to be Republican, the people who have professed to be Democrat and for people who say they’re not affiliated.
“You can have a non-affiliated person claim he’s not affiliated, be an arch liberal. He could be. But it is a random process. So in the end result, what you have is good as you can do to get a totally independent commission. Plus, the majority and majority leaders of both parties get to kick out (people they don’t approve). It’s a little bit like paneling a jury for a jury trial. At the end of the day you get a truly independent commission.
“Now they are no more qualified to draw district maps than a politician. What makes me qualified if I’m a politician to draw district maps? Instead, I supervise the drawing of those maps. The guys who actually draw the maps are the computer geeks.
“So then what we want to do is shift the power from the legislature back to the people so that we can all recite these nice phrases like ‘about the people, for the people, by the people’ again. Thank you very much and if you’re interested in voting for this whole thing and you want to be more active there’s signup sheets out front.”