Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
As August draws to a close, so, too, does my estival hiatus from the world of blogging. After a couple of weeks off, it’s time to get back to work.
During my vacation, Mr. Greg McNeilly authored an op-ed column (published on the editorial page of the Detroit News on August 20) criticizing the renewed interest in legislative redistricting reform. Among other things, he claimed that any ongoing effort to establish a redistricting commission in Michigan is “a raw partisan power grab” designed to “rig the system” and shift power “to an unelected commission selected by Lansing elites and special interests.” How sad it is that Mr. McNeilly felt compelled to resort to such fear-mongering and outright distortion.
Primary among Mr. McNeilly’s contentions was that Michigan’s legislators should continue to apportion their own seats and draw their own districts because they are elected by, and therefore directly accountable to, the people of our State. What Mr. McNeilly failed to mention, however, is that the people of the State of Michigan never intended for the Legislature to apportion itself or draw its own districts.
The Michigan Constitution, as adopted by the people in 1963, specifically established a framework under which a bipartisan apportionment commission—rather than Michigan’s lawmakers—would apportion and redistrict the Legislature every 10 years. This is what the people wanted. This is what the people intended.
In the early 1960s, the Michigan Legislature was controlled by Republicans. Nevertheless, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1961-1962, predominantly Republicans, devised the aforementioned bipartisan apportionment commission—a structure that would take the redistricting power away from their own party in the Legislature. Why did they do this?
Simple. The delegates believed in good government. They also understood that leaving the redistricting power to the legislators, themselves, was fraught with political peril. As Republican Constitutional Convention Delegate John A. Hannah (also Chairman of the Committee on Legislative Organization and President of Michigan State University) noted, “We became convinced that it’s totally unrealistic to expect the Legislature to reapportion itself.” How true these words ring today! (Check out President John Hannah’s remarks at the 16:36 minute mark in this video.)
In ratifying the new Michigan Constitution in 1963, the people established a redistricting commission and declared their intent to keep the apportionment process separate and independent from the Legislature. True, the Michigan Supreme Court ultimately struck down the apportionment commission on other grounds in 1982. But this is no reason to disregard the original intent of Michigan’s electors, expressed through their fundamental charter of state government. By reestablishing an independent redistricting commission in Michigan (here is one way to do it), we can give renewed effect to the will of the people.