When it comes to communities of interest in northern Michigan, the congressional redistricting draft being floated by Republicans -- who now control the three branches that have the deciding clout -- the GOP map makes more sense than the current alignment.
While Democrats have a case for criticizing aspects of the statewide plan, there are positive aspects for the northland in the GOP draft of the every-decade redistricting required by the latest Census.
Because it lost population in relation to other states, Michigan loses one congressional seat, going from 15 to 14. Ten states will lose a total of 12 seats (Ohio and New York each lose two). Among the eight states that gain seats, Texas is the biggest winner, adding four.
Michigan's 1st District -- long represented by nine-term Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and now by freshman Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, now includes the Upper Peninsula's 15 counties and 16 below the bridge -- is geographically almost half of the state and the second-largest district east of the Mississippi.
The problem is that some northwestern Lower Peninsula counties -- particularly in the Grand Traverse Region -- that had been in the district and share Lake Michigan and other interests are now split asunder and the district extends down the east side of the state all the way to the northern part of Bay County.
As it is now, if Benishek were to drive from Keweenaw County, the northern tip of his sprawling 31-county district, to its southern boundary north of Bay City, he'd log about 500 miles.
Second District freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, might cover a third of that in a drive from Benzie County, his northern limit, to the northern part of Allegan County, his southern limit.
So would 4th District 10-term Rep. Dave Camp drive about 150 miles from Leelanau County to Shiawassee County.
On May 28, The Detroit News published a redistricting map being reviewed by GOP lawmakers, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Attorney General's office.
For the 1st District, with some changes, it essentially would return to the alignment that previously prevailed. It would include all 15 U.P. counties as well as Alcona, Alpena, Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Montmorency, Oscoda, Otsego and Presque Isle.
The 2nd and 4th districts would lose their northern tier of counties.
The downstate political stir centers on the plan's proposal that would put two Democratic incumbents in the same district -- 13-term Sander Levin, of Royal Oak, and second-term Gary Peters, of Bloomfield Township.
In reaction to the GOP map, a joint statement by Democrats in the Michigan congressional delegation said:
"Never in Michigan's history has a redistricting map been gerrymandered to be so overtly partisan and disrespectful of community interest to build a partisan political advantage. By not representing the demographics of the state, this map disenfranchises voters.
"The people of Michigan deserve a Congressional map produced by the state legislature and signed by the Governor that will ensure fair representation in keeping with Michigan's history of competitive districts that respect communities of interest. The people of Michigan deserve to choose their Representatives in Congress -- this map clearly was drawn to let the Republican Representatives choose their voters."
It should be noted that over the decades, the party that has a partisan advantage in Lansing has tried to build a partisan political advantage in redistricting.
Also of note: About a half-century ago, back when Michigan had 18 districts, the Upper Peninsula had two congressmen. Twelfth District Rep. John B. Bennett, R-Ontonagon, represented eight western U. P. counties. Eleventh District Rep. Victor Knox, R-Sault Ste. Marie, represented seven counties in the eastern U.P. and seven below the bridge.
Venture in explanatory journalism
Veteran northern Michigan journalists/public policy commentators will have key roles in a new online magazine that the nonpartisan Center for Michigan will launch in September.
Given CMF's success with its Michigan Truth Squad and other watchdog activities, the "Bridge" e-magazine should make a valuable contribution in providing space and resources in covering Michigan public policy and economic challenges all too often lacking these days in other news outlets.
CFM's executive director is John Bebow, who began his journalism career at the Traverse City Record-Eagle before 16 years at newspapers in Chicago and Detroit.
The "Bridge" Board of Advisers includes Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame who teaches political science and journalism at North Central Michigan College and at Michigan State University.
Regarding coverage of state government, Winter laments that "much of the coverage has turned into rewriting press releases and letting blogs lead the Lansing news cycles in more recent years. There is so much that is missed and left unchecked ... Journalism is not leaving us, but most certainly the platforms have changed."
Also on the board is Tom Baldini, who worked in the Upper Peninsula for Gov. James J. Blanchard and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak. A former co-chairman of the International Joint Commission, he is on the board of Michigan Technological University.