Private emails that have surfaced in a federal lawsuit indicate the Michigan Republicans engaged in blatant gerrymandering when drawing the current congressional district maps in 2011.
According to Bridge Magazine, one email reveals a Republican aide saying a Macomb County district is shaped like “it’s giving the finger to (incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep.) Sandy Levin. I love it.” Another email came from a GOP staffer who was delighted that the map would “cram ALL of the Dem garbage” into four southeast Michigan congressional districts.
The emails are among evidence introduced in a League of Women Voters lawsuit alleging state legislative and congressional districts are drawn in such a partisan, gerrymandered manner that they violate the U.S. Constitution.
Some of the email content was first reported by The Detroit News but Bridge uncovered messages that were blunt in expressing the motives behind the zig-zagging lines that establish the pro-GOP district boundaries.
One key figure commenting in the emails is Robert LaBrant, former political guru for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and now a GOP consultant. LaBrant, known nationwide as an expert in the art of gerrymandering, now serves as perhaps the state’s most outspoken critic of a November ballot proposal that would take partisan politics out of the redistricting process.
Bridge reports that a LaBrant email which surfaced in the court documents shows the extent to which GOP strategists privately allowed then-Congressman Dave Camp, a mid-Michigan Republican, to choose the lines that would ensure his new district would be safe for his re-election. And that Republicans would control most of Michigan’s congressional seats.
“We will accommodate whatever Dave wants in his district,” wrote LaBrant in May 2011. “We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we (Republicans) have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond.”
These quotes embody the premier criticism of reformers seeking to end gerrymandering: Voters don’t choose their politicians, politicians choose their voters.
The pending ballot proposal, the product of an all-volunteer group known as Voters Not Politicians, would allow Michigan voters to remove the redistricting process from legislators and put it into the hands of an independent citizens commission.
The proposal’s approval for inclusion on the fall ballot depends on an impending decision by the Michigan Supreme Court, which is controlled by the GOP, 5-2.
Another LaBrant email in the court files indicates that one proposed congressional map would have given the GOP an even bigger margin in the Michigan congressional delegation, 10-4 instead of 9-5. But LaBrant advised against it, essentially arguing that the partisan process should be taken to the limit, but not over the limit.
“We needed for legal and PR purposes a good looking map that did not look like an obvious gerrymander,” LaBrant wrote in 2011.
Many of the emails included commentary from one of the key creators of the skewed maps, Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan Republican Party director who now serves as a prominent GOP consultant for the Sterling Corp. in Troy. Timmer argues that the independent commission devised within the ballot proposal – five independents, four Republicans and four Democrats – would result in rampant “corruption,” with “lobbying, politics and payoffs” that would spark court fights.
What Timmer does not mention is that Republicans in recent years, and Democrats before that, have engaged privately in shameless plotting and wheeling-and-dealing to draw the squiggly lines of the districts decidedly in their favor.
The current process is conducted entirely behind closed doors by partisan politicians, many of them incumbents trying to preserve their status, plus their loyal aides and, of course, shadowy figures who work in the field of electioneering, not good government.
In contrast, the commission would consist of volunteers discussing matters at public hearings and operating in full transparency.
If the Supreme Court doesn’t knock the proposal off the ballot, voters in November may want to ponder this question: Which of these two systems, old or new, is the one ripe for corruption and payoffs?