By Jim Ellis
Jan. 5, 2022 — One of the biggest complaints most commonly aired about redistricting is that it favors incumbents, but such is not the case with the recently completed Wolverine State congressional map. In fact, the members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission appear to have gone out of their way to upend the state’s sitting federal office holders.
The current 14-seat map features seven Democrats and seven Republicans with two of the seats converting from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 election. Michigan loses a seat in reapportionment, and it became apparent from the start that the Republicans would absorb the loss because a great deal of the population growth deficit was coming from the middle section of the lower peninsula.
That proved to be the case, but the cut was a bit different than expected. Considering the population deficit and Michigan’s geography, i.e., being surrounded by lakes, Canada, and other states, the most logical district for collapse appeared to be Rep. John Moolenaar’s (R-Midland) 4th District because it sat in the middle of the area that the population change clearly affected.
While the Moolenaar district was certainly altered in a significant manner, it was the western district of Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland) that was broken into small pieces.
While true that Moolenaar was technically paired with Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flushing/Flint) because his home city of Midland was placed in the new 8th District, a new safe Republican 2nd CD that contains much of the current Moolenaar district lies available for him to the west. While Rep. Kildee sees his home Flint/Flushing area remaining intact, he finds himself in a more competitive seat and may be facing a challenge from former congressman, attorney general, state appellate judge, and ex-US Senate and gubernatorial GOP nominee Bill Schuette in a seat that can now conceivably elect a Republican.
The final draw also created a new 4th District that captured Rep. Huizenga’s home town of Holland on the north, and GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s St. Joseph residence to the south. Moving east, the commissioners added the Democratic town of Battle Creek to the Democratic stronghold of Kalamazoo thus completing the district. Though we see more Democratic votes coming into this district, the eventual victor of the Republican incumbent pairing should be able to hold the seat. But, the 4th District general election will likely be competitive.
Remaining in western Michigan, the commissioners also made life very difficult for freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids). Here, Grand Rapids was kept whole in the new 3rd CD, but the draw drove west to Lake Michigan for the first time, and then north to cut into Ottawa County for purposes of adding the Democratic city of Muskegon.
The draw makes re-election a much more difficult prospect for Rep. Meijer in a district that the FiveThirtyEight statistical site rates as a D+3 from a previous R+9. President Biden would have carried this new district by a 50-47 percent spread according to the Daily Kos Elections site calculations.
The commissioners’ anti-incumbent flare wasn’t reserved only for Republicans, however. In the eastern part of the state, we see a Democratic pairing in the Detroit suburb of Oakland County, where Reps. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township) and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) are paired in a new Democratic 11th District.
Part of the current Levin 9th District now comprises a new 10th District that could easily elect a Republican, particularly if former gubernatorial and US Senate nominee John James (R) were to run for the open seat. Reports suggest that James is seriously considering running. The presidential numbers favored Biden by a bare 49-48 percent cut, but the underlying numbers suggest that Republicans might fare better. The FiveThirtyEight projection rates it as R+6.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) is technically paired with freshman Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce) in a solidly Republican new 9th District, but to the west a Lansing-anchored new 7th District, though politically marginal in nature, is a place where the Democratic congresswoman is likely to run. She can expect a strong challenge in a district that could swing toward either party, however.
Wayne County’s Dearborn area that the Dingell family, in the person of John Dingell, Sr., John Dingell, Jr., and Debbie Dingell, has represented consecutively since 1933 is no longer in a district that a family member can win. Technically, Rep. Dingell is paired with Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) in a seat intended for the latter member. To the west, though not including the Dearborn area, is a new 6th District where Ms. Dingell can run and easily win, however.
Though Republicans are absorbing the reapportionment seat loss, more of the Democratic incumbents face competitive re-election campaigns. Of the state’s 13 new districts, at least four will be hotly contested, and eight incumbents find themselves either in a paired situation, displaced from their home residence, or in a highly competitive re-election battle.
The new Michigan map is a radical departure from the previous set of boundaries and will likely set the state on a new and different political course.