What’s Next In Michigan’s Gerrymandering Debate?

Bridge Magazine’s Joel Kurth explains how Republican emails suggest gerrymandering was a strategy … and what’s next on the issue.

The “Voters Not Politicians” proposal to change how redistricting is done in Michigan will appear on the November ballot — that was decided by the Michigan Supreme Court. But there’s also a lawsuit in federal court that’s been filed by the League of Women Voters against redistricting.

Bridge Magazine, WDET’s reporting partner in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, published an article about what discovery in that case has yielded: emails suggesting Republicans gerrymandered Michigan to weaken “Dem garbage.”

WDET’s Sandra Svoboda talked with Bridge Magazine’s Joel Kurth about the interplay of the ballot initiative and the suit — and other developments in Michigan’s gerrymandering debates.

Click on the audio link above to hear their conversation. An edited transcript is below.

Other WDET Work on Gerrymandering:

Policy Meets the People: Introducing the Issue of Gerrymandering

LIVE STREAM: Policy Meets the People – The Redistricting Issue Special [VIDEO]

Redistricting 101: Your District, Your Politicians, But Does Your Vote Matter?

Policy Meets the People: Introducing the Issue of Gerrymandering

Sandra Svoboda: What’s the interplay of the case and the ballot proposal?

Joel Kurth: They are coming at separate but parallel tracks. The Voters Not Politicians initiative will be on the ballot in November. That would seek to create a 13-member commission, a non-partisan group that would draw political lines after the U.S. Census. The League of Women Voters’ lawsuit, which is really interesting, in federal court alleges that in 2001, when Republicans redrew the districts, they did so in an unconstitutional manner because it diluted the power of Democrats.

Sandra Svoboda: As we’re seeing documents being filed and basically discovery going on in that lawsuit, what are we learning about the redistricting process in Michigan?

Joel Kurth: There are emails that have emerged from Republican power brokers, many backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, that are really intriguing and really pull back the curtain and have a frankness that has shocked many people.

There’s email between GOP consultant and aides, for instance, guaranteeing that the districts will deliver a 9-5 majority for Republicans for years to come, which indeed has happened in Michigan.

There’s also emails about blatant gerrymandering of districts including one, a former aide to former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, who suggested, “Cramming Dem garbage” into southeast Michigan districts to weaken their power.

There was another email from a former GOP aide that suggested drawing a district that went up Van Dyke Road in Macomb County that would “give Sandy Levin the middle finger.”

They’re blatantly political and they sort of give the lie to this notion that districts are drawn to respect political boundaries and there’s no politics involved in them whatsoever.

Sandra Svoboda: In your reporting at Bridge Magazine, have you contact the authors or recipients of any of these emails and what are they saying about them?

Joel Kurth: There’s a federal lawsuit so there’s a lot of mum. What’s interesting about them is some have said, “Oh, we don’t remember.” Others have said, “These are just snippets, they’re filed in lawsuits, and you should see the whole interplay of the conversations.”

Again, this does demonstrate the real Oz behind the curtain which is the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, whose former executive Bob LaBrant is sort of the Svengali of redistricting in Michigan. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has bankrolled opposition to the Voters Not Politicians movement. They’re also heavy contributors to the Republican Supreme Court justices.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is under a lot of heat over this. They’re saying, “Hey, this is a long time ago. We’re neutral on this issue but we also do not support Voters Not Politicians.”

Sandra Svoboda: In Michigan, the gerrymandering issue is drawn that the Republicans are doing it, but it’s a nonpartisan in states, right? Would the Democrats be doing this if they were in power?

Joel Kurth: I’m sure given the chance Democrats would love to gerrymander districts despite their protestations against otherwise. I think everyone agrees that this is kind of an equal opportunity sin of democracy.



  • Sandra Svoboda
    Recovering Bankruptcy Reporter/Blogger looking forward to chronicling regional revitalization on-air, digitally and through community engagement.