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Wayne County loses clout in GOP state Senate plan

Kathy Barks Hoffman

A Republican-proposed map of new district boundaries for the 38-member Michigan Senate would reflect decreased clout for heavily Democratic Wayne County.

According to a copy of the map obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the changes would leave Wayne County with seven districts instead of its current eight. The county would lose clout in the plan because the 2010 U.S. Census showed it lost nearly 12 percent of its population in the preceding decade. The city of Detroit has lost 25 percent of its population, while western Michigan has gained population.

House Republicans were scheduled to release new maps for congressional and Michigan House seats later Friday. House Democrats planned to release their own map for the 110-member Michigan House setting up districts for the next 10 years.

Michigan will have 14 seats in the U.S. House, one fewer than it currently has because it lost population. The GOP-drawn map is expected to put Democratic Reps. Sander Levin of Royal Oak and Gary Peters of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township into the same district, potentially forcing a runoff. The map is expected to let Republicans hold onto nine congressional seats while Democrats drop from six to five seats.

The GOP maps have been devised not just by lawmakers but by outside consultants such as Robert LaBrant, general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, further upsetting Democrats.

With Republicans in control of the governor's office, Supreme Court, House and Senate, Democrats and their allies fear the new districts will be designed to give the GOP the upper hand for years, although they were able to regain control of the state House in 2008 for two years despite Republicans controlling how the maps were drawn in 2001.

Lawmakers have until Nov. 1 to pass redistricting laws, but GOP lawmakers want to get the job done by July 1 before leaving for their summer break. Democrats and some nonpartisan citizen advocacy groups have urged Republicans to give the public time over the summer to comment on the maps before making them law.

Under the GOP schedule, the House and Senate will take up redistricting bills next week in committee, giving the public just four or five days before the hearings to study the proposed maps and less than two weeks to comment before they become law.

"We really don't see the purpose of rushing this process," said Christina Kuo, executive director of Common Cause Michigan. "For once, this is something they should take their time doing, since it's going to affect how the state's going to be run the next 10 years. That's huge."

Under the new maps, millions of Michigan residents could find themselves switched to a new congressional, House or Senate district that scrambles the cities, townships and counties now in it.

Michigan is one of 37 states where the legislature has the initial authority to draw the plans for state House and Senate districts, and one of 43 states that has the initial authority to draw congressional districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-one states use an independent or bipartisan commission to draw the lines.

Kuo would like to see Michigan move to a commission. Democratic Rep. Jim Townsend of Royal Oak has introduced a bill to do that, but it hasn't been taken up.

"Having people that are multiple steps removed from benefiting from what a map looks like is much better," Kuo said. "A lot of states are moving toward that model."

The Associated Press