Michigan could lose two of its 15 seats in the U.S. House after the 2010 census. And the loss of one seat has been a foregone conclusion for some time; Michigan isn't growing fast enough to maintain its slice of the 435-seat House "pie."
This contraction will leave Michigan with a smaller voice in Washington. First, though, it will set off a whirlwind of partisan maneuvering in Lansing as the two major parties redraw election lines for their own advantage.
It doesn't have to be this way. Michigan can make its so-called redistricting process less political, which should lead to more competitive elections and districts that better reflect Michigan's communities.
Take, for example, how the current map treats the tri-county area.
Ingham and Clinton counties are the western end of the 8th District -- a district that stretches to the northeast corner of Oakland County. In other words, the folks of Maple Rapids are grouped with the suburban dwellers of Lake Orion.
Eaton County's alignment is even odder. It is a northern appendage to a 7th District whose center of gravity is the Interstate 94 corridor.
Where are the communal interests? Lansing serves as the center of an economic region that picks up Charlotte and St. Johns and Eaton Rapids. Yet, this region was sliced and diced for political convenience. The interests that have dominated this process are those of political insiders, such as 8th District Congressman Mike Rogers.
Such political distortions and incumbency protection schemes reduce competition and weaken voter control. Only unexpected or undetected shifts in community preferences (read Eaton County becoming much more Democratic in its voting than the historical norm) upset the apple cart.
Of course, it's easier for the Legislature and governor to engage in such schemes when the number of seats is stable. When they decline, though, the combat for advantage intensifies.
Were Michigan, however, to adopt Iowa's system of using a commission to draw lines, irrespective of partisan affiliation or incumbent status, the pressure eases. Congressmen and legislators can't fight over or trade for advantageous lines when the lines themselves are determined without consideration to the political landscape. Voters stand to gain with more competitive elections and less-distorted political districts.
Time's running out, though. As a practical matter, Michigan needs new rules before the 2010 campaign goes into overdrive. Get reform started.
Lansing State Journal