Will Detroit Keep Congressional Seats After Tuesday’s Election?

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    Once the 2010 Census figures are analyzed and examined some congressional districts will be redrawn to reflect current population demographics. political consultant Eric Foster said Detroit will keep its two seats.

    “The key question is the distribution of those seats and what the geographical territory is for those seats,” Foster said, adding that congressional seats can cross county lines.

    “You might see a situation where Congressman Conyers’ seat may end up picking up portions of Oakland or Macomb county on the southern edge,” he said. “You might see Sen. Clarke’s seat go up into Macomb County, or you may see it swing down deeper into the Downriver Wayne County community. That’s more than likely the two options you’re going to see.”

    The University of Michigan–Dearborn will host a symposium Nov. 11 at the Fairlane Center South –Dining Room D from 4-5:30 p.m. to address the issue of congressional redistricting resulting from the latest census report.

    The forum, which is free and open to the public, is part of UM-Dearborn’s “Issues in Diversity and Social Change” lecture series and will mark the first constructive discussion around congressional redistricting since the end of the census. The forum will be moderated by Chronicle editor Bankole Thompson.

    Congressman-elect Hansen Clarke, who will  speak at the UM-Dearborn forum, will succeed Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick as the representative for Michigan’s 13th District come January. John Conyers represents the 14th District.

    Other speakers at the forum include Eric Lupher, director of local affairs at the Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan, Republican strategist Paul Welday and Vince Kountz from the Detroit Census Bureau.

    Foster said these two seats will still have physical impact and physical boundaries in Detroit, but their suburban content will increase significantly, due to population shifts.

    “Now, overall, will Michigan lose a seat?” Foster asked. “I don’t think so. I think Michigan’s population has been fairly stable.”

    He said the state has had population loss, but not to the degree where the state lost the seat belonging to former Congresswoman Lynn Rivers in 2000.

    “We’ll see definitely a redrawing of the maps, but we may be able to hold on to the 15 that we have,” Foster said, adding that both seats in Detroit will stay Democratic leaning.

    “If, for example, Sen. Clarke’s seat goes into southern Macomb County or goes deeper Downriver, those are still Democratic cities,” he said. “St. Clair Shores traditionally votes Democratic. Eastpointe votes Democratic. And then if it goes Downriver into Trenton and Wyandotte and those communities, they vote Democratic.”

    Vince Keenan, director of the non-profit, nonpartisan voter information website Publius.org, said it’s a distinct possibility that the two districts could extend down into Downriver or into Oakland and Macomb county.

    However, federal civil rights provisions of redistricting need to be taken into account, because these are majority minority districts. And because of that, a new district couldn’t be drawn containing all of the city except Southwest Detroit, with a second district containing Southwest Detroit and all of Downriver.

    He also said a couple of factors will make redistricting of particular interesting.

    “Certainly Detroit has lost population, but Michigan has lost population,” he said, adding that we’ll know when the numbers come out if there’s a more dramatic exodus from Detroit to other portions of the region than there is from the region in general.

    He also said there there’s the question of whether you can lose a district out of Detroit.

    “What will the legal ramifications be of redistricting in terms of the districts that are currently minority districts?” Keenan asked, adding that questions of that nature will come up, and that it won’t be as straightforward a matter as “Detroit’s lost X amount of population.”

    One definite change, according to Foster, concerns issues of concern to voters. He said if the 13th and 14th districts each pick up a larger suburban content, the issues voters in those communities want and expect will be different from what Detroit voters want and expect.

    “So you’re going to have to run multiple message campaigns to cover the divergent voter issues for both of those communities,” Foster said. “The real key is going to be in Congressman Conyers’ seat, if it picks up more of Wayne or starts picking up some of Southern Oakland or Southern Macomb County.”

    He said the voters in those communities are used to their representatives in Congress bringing home earmarks and other programming.

    “Congressman Conyers does not do that,” he said. “He’s more of a social, civil rights advocate. That’s not going to work with those voters. Those voters in those communities, they’re used to a return on their congressional

    person. They’re going to want a return. That is not positive for Congressman Conyers, because his message of social activism won’t sell well in Southfield; won’t sell well in Livonia or Westland if he picks up those cities.”

    He said people in those communities aren’t motivated on social activism. They’re motivated on economics and return out of government.

    Foster also expects that should Conyers’ seat be redistricted in the way he described, he would face a primary challenger.

    He also said it won’t be an issue about résumés, though some may say that if someone runs against Conyers in a primary they’re trying to wrestle control from African Americans and/or Detroit.

    “The reality is this is an economics issue, and voters are looking more on the return on investment of that elected official,” he said. “Are they able to retain spending and rein in the size of government? If they’re able to keep taxes at a manageable level, and if they’re able to bring back some economic benefit to that community, that’s what they want to see. In 2012 you will see a (primary) challenge against Congressman Conyers, and that will be the main narrative or theme of the election: What is the return that you get?”

    Foster also said Conyers would have a timetable in which he would have to start bringing home earmarks and programming. If he doesn’t, he can go out and sell the message of what he’s done historically and what he’s doing on the social agenda; that will help him in  Detroit and hurt him in all the other cities he represents.

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