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Redistricting reform and frustration

Oct 29, 2015

The League of Women Voters has been holding a series of forums on redistricting reform. Everyone who has studied the issue and has any sense of fairness knows that our present system of gerrymandering has badly crippled democracy in this state.

Peoples are frustrated, angry, disillusioned, and less and less likely to vote, because they think their votes don’t matter and nothing they can do will have any effect.

What’s even worse, they are mostly right. In Michigan their votes mostly don’t matter, not for state government, anyway. Though more voters chose Democratic candidates for Congress and the state house of representatives last year, Republicans once again won huge majorities.

Twenty-five years ago, that would have meant a government that might have been unrepresentative, but which would at least been able to get things done. We don’t even have that. The combination of term limits and one-party districts has resulted in a legislature full of craven extremists who have no interest in bipartisan cooperation or solving long-term problems.

For proof, you have only to look at what’s happening with our roads.

The legislature is close to passing a horrible package of bills which would require future lawmakers to strip $600 million dollars every year from the state’s battered general fund, money that virtually has to come out of things like education. And it really won’t fix the roads the way they need to be; the money it adds will be too little, too late.

But those passing this bill don’t care.

They are in safe districts, and by the time the bad effects really hit, many of them will be off working for the special interests they served in the legislature. Redistricting reform would go a long way towards helping restore democracy and functional government. That was very clear to those at a forum the League of Women Voters held near Lansing yesterday. But that forum also revealed why nothing is likely to happen.

Nobody has been willing to grab the ball, lead this campaign, and put a name and money behind it.

League officials told the Gongwer News Service that they haven’t been able to generate the money needed to collect signatures to put an amendment on the ballot to move to some form of independent commission to draw new district lines.

We know it’s possible – in Arizona, voters bypassed their own corrupt legislature and did exactly that, something the U.S. Supreme Court this year ruled was perfectly legal.

I thought that ruling would lead to a serious effort here, but I was wrong.

Democrats want groups like the League to do their work for them. Those who have prominent names are content to run for office instead, ignoring the fact that they are about as likely to get anywhere as a pet hamster on an exercise wheel.

What’s needed is a strong charismatic figure behind this cause, with the financial support of somebody, say, like Pat Stryker and the organizational skills of Center for Michigan.

That’s how George Romney got us our present Constitution, and launched his own political career. But no one has come forward, and the Center is too timid.

And so here we are, waiting for Godot to save us, and instead dooming ourselves to more of the same.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.