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Letter: Current redistricting system is broken

May 25, 2018
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Editor:

As a longtime Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce member, I was disheartened to learn the GR Chamber is opposing the proposal to create a citizens commission to draw future voting districts in Michigan. While I respect the well-intentioned people on the GR Chamber’s public policy committee and understand their rationale for opposing the proposal, I disagree with their decision.

I believe this proposal will significantly improve state and national government in a way that will improve life for all Michiganders, including Michigan businesses. A government that is more responsive to the needs of all its citizens is good for business.

It’s not hard to see that our state government is broken in some pretty fundamental ways — and our current redistricting system that encourages partisan gerrymandering is a big reason.

Whether it’s our crumbling roads, bridges, sewers and water systems, a K-12 system that is failing students and employers, or the refusal of the Legislature to let cities address the growing costs of government retirement benefits, we see an inability of lawmakers to compromise in order to move our state forward. And that’s bad for business.

One reason our state is broken is that too many of our elected officials don’t know how — or lack the political will — to compromise and work together. Thanks to our current redistricting process, we end up with politicians who seem to care more about power rather than improving our state. We give one party — whoever happens to have won the elections in decadal years — extensive power to draw election districts for the next decade. The result: that party creates legislative districts aimed at perpetuating its power, not reflecting the interests of voters.

So, we end up with a lot of one-sided elections that are effectively decided in the primaries, where the farthest right or farthest left candidates too often win. We need to change our redistricting system, so we can get elected officials committed to fixing our state — not perpetuating their power.

Let’s be clear: right now it’s Republicans who drew our current voting districts where, even though voters split about 50-50 in their support for Congressional members, Republicans won nine of the 14 seats. But Democrats would love to do the same thing and create maps that empower them, not voters.

Our current system lets the political party in charge go behind closed doors and work with consultants paid for by special interests to draw up district maps for Congress, the state House and the state Senate. The maps are supposed to avoid breaking city, township and county lines, but there is no requirement that they actually do this. That leaves plenty of room for politicians in power to choose their voters rather than the other way around. And the party in charge then pushes its maps through the Legislature without any open discussion or testimony.

That’s no way to run a government. Or a business.

Voters Not Politicians has a better way. We (I was one of the thousands of volunteers who circulated petitions) are a grassroots organization of Republicans, Democrats and Independents that has developed a system that is “FIT” for Michigan. It is Fair, Impartial and Transparent (all the things our current system is not.) Fair because it allows Michiganders to participate in the process. Impartial so that no one group of influencers gains control of the process. Transparent all the way through, so the rationale for decisions is visible for evaluation.

The Voters Not Politicians proposal creates an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and a process so that interested individuals (who are not lobbyists or politicians or their close relatives) can get involved. It sets up criteria that include following federal law, avoiding cutting up cities and counties, and letting the commissioners consider communities of interest, like school districts, as they make their decisions. The one major difference from today’s process: The districts shall not provide an advantage to any political party.

It also requires the 13 commissioners — four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who identify with neither party — to hold public hearings and compromise when they agree on maps. You need a majority of at least seven votes to approve any map, but of those seven, at least two must be Democrats, two must be Republicans and two must be from the nonaffiliated members.

This is not a complicated process. More than 425,000 people signed the petition (circulated entirely by volunteers) to get the proposal on the fall ballot, a great many of them from West Michigan. Perhaps some of them also are GR Chamber members, like me.

Hugh Hufnagel
Grand Rapids

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