Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 29, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Mich. GOP gerrymander sets stage for Dems' drama

Here’s what we know for sure about Michigan’s Fourteenth Congressional district, one of the most bizarrely shaped in the entire country: Next year it will replace its current white congressman with an African-American one.

Whoever wins will be a Democrat, and is almost certain to be a respected officeholder with considerable experience.

Those are safe bets, because no white candidates are running this time - and no Republican candidate has even managed to get 20 percent since this district was created.

But its next congressman could conceivably be either Hansen Clarke, who represented some of these voters for a single term in Congress; State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, a state representative who has just about every major endorsement in sight; or longtime Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, the only woman in the race.

This is a hard race to predict, in part because it would be hard to find any district more outrageously gerrymandered than Michigan’s 14th which, on the map, looks like a cross between an old-fashioned scythe and a bent coathanger.

Three years ago, Michigan’s heavily Republican Legislature created it, to fulfill two major redistricting goals: They wanted to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible - and wanted to create two districts with black majorities to comply with their interpretation of what the federal Voting Rights Act required.

They succeeded at both. However, they did so by creating a district composed of people and neighborhoods that have little or nothing in common, even geographically.

The Fourteenth begins with the affluent old-money laden Grosse Pointes - and then takes in heavily Hispanic Southwest Detroit, Hamtramck, and some of the city’s most impoverished slums. It continues on through mostly black, solidly middle-class Southfield.

From there it zigs west to the white suburbs of Farmington Hills, and then zags north through heavily Jewish West Bloomfield, before finally ending with impoverished Pontiac, which is still in the process of emerging from years of state control.

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