Emails: Michigan Republicans brag that redistricting ‘protects incumbents’

A series of studies and reports have shown that Michigan is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation.

April 25, 2019: Michigan’s political districts illegally gerrymandered, court rules​
Update: Expert testifies gerrymandering in Michigan is worse than almost anywhere
Feb. 4, 2019: New emails show Michigan GOP used maps to consolidate Republican power
Feb. 1, 2019: Federal court scuttles Michigan gerrymandering deal, rejects trial delay
Jan. 23, 2019: Gerrymandering settlement would give Michigan Dems hope, GOP despair​
Nov. 30 update: Michigan gerrymandering trial on for February; court cites ‘profound’ bias

Republican incumbents worked with consultants to solidify GOP power during the 2011 redistricting process that helped make Michigan one of the nation’s most gerrymandered states, emails filed late Friday in a federal lawsuit show.

The emails show both state and congressional officeholders and staffers were heavily involved in redistricting. They not only used political makeup and voting histories to draw political lines, but consulted Republican donors on the process.

And when the lines didn’t sufficiently protect GOP incumbents, some said they were “beyond pissed” and “just hated” the proposed redistricting, prompting the consultants to scramble to accommodate their desires while trying not to make Republican bias in the maps too obvious, the emails indicate.  

“Republicans weaponized the restricting process in order to target and dilute Democratic votes throughout Michigan,” reads a motion filed Friday in the lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters alleging that Michigan’s 2011 redistricting process was unconstitutional and requesting the lines be redrawn.

“The results have proved durable and powerful for Republicans, but they have meanwhile undermined the most fundamental and cherished rights in our democracy.”

The lawsuit filing, filed after 11 p.m. Friday, includes dozens of pages of emails and depositions and seeks to preserve the lawsuit against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, whose attorneys have asked a federal judge to dismiss it.

The evidence paints a fuller picture of the negotiations and often brazenly political process that occurs every 10 years after the U.S. Census that attorneys for Johnson have insisted is entirely apolitical. That process allows whichever political party that is in the majority in Lansing to control the drawing of state and congressional legislative lines. In recent election cycles, that has been Republicans.  

The filing comes just weeks until the  “Voters Not Politicians” ballot initiative goes before state voters on Nov. 6. The measure would take mapmaking decisions out of state politicians’ hands by creating an independent redistricting commission.

In one email, a top GOP donor, Jon B. Cotton, passes along a request to then-Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak.

“Can we still have the map makers draw a favorable Republican district with the Pointes all together?” Cotton, a healthcare executive who lives in Grosse Pointe Farms, wrote on July 14, 2011.

In another email, GOP consultant and former Michigan Chamber of Commerce executive Robert LaBrant counseled another GOP consultant, Jeff Timmer, about pressure from elected officials over congressional districts.

“Your map protects all nine incumbents and it looks good,” he wrote Timmer on May 16, 2011.

The maps, which evidence in the lawsuit shows were drawn largely in secret, have helped state Republicans maintain overwhelming majorities in Congress and the state Legislature, despite getting about as many or fewer statewide votes as Democrats.

Defenders of the process have said the districts are legal and reflect a state where Democrats are naturally clustered in the southeast portion of the state. Lawyers for Johnson, the secretary of state, note that redistricting will occur again in just two years following the 2020 Census, and question the value of a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate seven years of political history.

During the 2011 process, Michigan lost a seat in Congress because of population losses documented in the 2010 Census, and many districts changed to reflect that. Ultimately, much of Michigan’s 9th Congressional District in southeast Michigan –  which was then represented by Democrat Gary Peters (now a U.S. senator) – merged with the 12th District represented by another Democrat, Sander Levin.

In a series of emails, a chief of staff for then-U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland blasted proposed changes to his district.

“This latest draft is a complete non starter for Camp,” Jim Brandell wrote to Republican consultants on May 17, 2011.

“I had to walk him back from a cliff to be honest. He just hated it. … He just doesn’t want to lose a Republican county like Grand Traverse.”

LaBrant, who helped create a nonprofit that raised $1 million to pay for consultants and legal fees to benefit Republicans during the 2011 redistricting, replied the next day.

“We will accommodate whatever Dave wants in his district,” LaBrant wrote, in an email that was first made public this summer. “We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond.”

Aides to then-U.S. Reps. Candice Miller, Mike Rogers and Thaddeus McCotter, all Republicans, also howled about proposed changes, complaining they would be hurt politically, the newly filed emails show.

“Response from Rogers’ office was not good,” Jamie Roe, then chief of staff to Miller, wrote to GOP map makers on May 16, 2011.

The email refers to Michigan vote tallies from Republican John McCain’s run for president in 2008, and the loss of prospective voters from proposed maps.

“Thad gets beefed up at our expense once again. They lose good stuff in Rochester Hills and get the ‘bad’ part of Clinton County, Bath and Dewitt,” Roe wrote. “Rogers loses a full 1 % on the McCain number and Thad picks up 1.5%. This is going to be difficult.”

A few days earlier, Roe made other suggestions about how to draw political districts for Republican U.S. Reps. Justin Amash and Tim Walberg, who represent west Michigan.

“Amash's seat on this map is still the second best seat in the state. I would say the priority would be to beef up Walberg,” Roe wrote to Timmer and LaBrant on May 11, 2011.

Part of the challenge, according to the emails, was that redrawing districts that met legal standards of being roughly the same population created a cascading effect that upset other Republican incumbents.

“Take a look at the attached,” GOP consultant Timmer wrote on March 5, 2011, to LaBrant, the Michigan Chamber executive.

“It captures the bulk of what we heard the co-del [congressional delegation] indicate they’d like to see. The only significant exception being I do not think it will be possible to (a) provide Miller with the district she indicated while (b) doing the same for Mccotter (see below}. The reason: keeping both West Bloomfield and the Farmingtons out of Thad's seat completely screws Walberg ….  Or it requires giving Candice territory in Macomb she does not want.”

Pressure was constant from Republican state lawmakers to draw favorable districts.

State Sen. Tanya “schuitmaker is beyond pissed about her district,” GOP consultant Steve Linder wrote in an email to Timmer on June 2, 2011.

“Really bitched Randy out,” an apparent reference to then-Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville.

Timmer and LaBrant repeatedly wrote emails objecting to what they considered Republican requests to draw districts in ways that would invite lawsuits. In one, LaBrant rejects a plan that looks like an “obvious gerrymander.”

“Bob's feeling is that if these guys want to play dumb games and jeopardize the plan's legal standing, they can use their own money to pay the legal bills,” Timmer wrote back to Linder.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Doreen Onthank
Sat, 10/13/2018 - 1:15pm

"Lock them up" disgraceful.

Lee Griffin
Sat, 10/13/2018 - 2:52pm

Thank you, Bridge, for bringing these emails to light. I hope they help educate the public about how much damage gerrymandering does to democracy. All the more reason to vote yes on Proposal 2!

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 6:16pm

Thanks to Bridge for bringing transparency to this manipulation.
It's just gross that this process would be so these people want to have a democracy or not?......clearly not.

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 8:20pm

This just confirms what we’ve known all along.
Vote ‘Yes’ on Proposal 2 so we can undo this Republican soiling of our democracy.

Bill Frey
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 1:49am

It is customary in athletic competitions to have the games refereed by umpires who are fair to both sides. The team that won last time does not get to select them. In something as important as selecting the boundaries of our legislative districts, the very least we should do is insist on a system in which there are safeguards against gerrymandering for partisan advantage. To ensure a fairer redistricting process in the future, vote YES on Proposal #2.

Daniel Schifko
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 7:30am

But if the democrats had been in the majority they would have consulted with the GOP to ensure that they were happy. Give us all a break Mr. Power, yours is a one way bridge; your articles are always attempting to lead to the left. As time has passed you have moved with the herd even further to the left. Any application of logic would reveal this story for what it is: a non story.

Bob Potocki
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 1:04pm

Well Dan-
Coming from a Livingston County insider where absolutely everything is rigged against the residents.
Where the 1100 member chamber of commerce decides who gets which permits, who gets what property assessments and tells the developers which contractors to use regardless of price.
We know what a banana republic looks like.
and its time for fair competition. Like any ball game.
Livingston's Grand River Gang is nothing but racketeering at the expense of the community.
Its shameful your Sandilla Estates has no emergency exit while right next to the airport.
And isn't connected to a sewer just yards away.
Corruption is not the norm. Its just been a way of business in Brighton Township/Livingston County since Dick Chrysler in 1980.
Go ask Dick. He is rumored to be in Belieze selling development bonds for an airport or something.
Seriously. A true Banana Republic.

Garnet Lewis
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 8:05am

Vote “yes” on Proposal 2.

Barry Matthews
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 1:31pm

So Mr. Shifke, Because the Democrats would do it if they held the power (which they have not for most of my 70 years), that makes it OK for the Republicans to do it now. Why cannot you accept that an alternative to much reduce the political shenanigans should be in place. I Voted YES on 2.

John Q. Public
Sun, 10/14/2018 - 7:56pm

"Defenders of the process have said the districts are legal..."

Another in the unending list of items supporting my favorite mantra: It isn't the illegal things politicians do that you should find bothersome; it's the legal things.

They place into statute behaviors that no honest person would even contemplate, much less commit, then thump their chests with pride under the cover of the faux legitimacy they bestow upon themselves.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 10/15/2018 - 8:11am

Question for Mr. Kurth: Can you please explain how replacing one form of gerrymandering, with another form of gerrymandering, will actually fix the problem with gerrymandering?

It's no huge secret that VNP has an unusual amount of support from the democratic party, both monetarily and with manpower, for an truly "independent" proposal and I've yet to hear an adequate explanation on how Prop 2 is really a solution.

Joel Kurth
Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:51am

Hey Kevin: Thanks for asking. We've taken a critical look at the Voters Not Politicians, and there certainly are legitimate questions as to whether it would solve anything. One story in particular last week took a look at all the arguments about Prop 2: 5 concerns about Michigan’s redistricting proposal and what to make of them 

Another from GOP consultant Tony Daunt laid out the case against the initiative. Opinion: Redistricting proposal is confusing and bad for Michigan

Thanks again

Kevin Grand
Tue, 10/16/2018 - 4:52am

Thank you for the quick reply.

Jesse Ynclan
Mon, 10/15/2018 - 1:09pm

The fact that the lawmakers themselves are not drawing boundaries is a great improvement! The people chosen to be part of the independent commission will have to work together in a bipartisan manner, which is better than the current winner take all strategy. Neither party should pick the citizens they want to represent!

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 5:06am

Looking at who is supporting Prop 2 this Commission will be anything BUT independent!

If it were truly "independent" not only would there be safeguards in place to punish those caught lying (VNP backers conveniently left that out...I wonder why?) BUT protocols put in place to nullify anything made by the Commission and sending everything back to the drawing board (another problem the VNP backers would've included if they were serious about this being "independent").

I agree 100% that the parties should have no say in the matter. They shouldn't have a say is most of the happenings in Lansing and DC.

Prop 2 fails miserably in that regard.

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 7:19pm

If "anonymous" can identify a single word in Prop 2 that supports his position, I would be happy to consider his argument.

Thomas E Graham
Mon, 10/15/2018 - 8:55am

This is an obvious political stunt by the people who support Proposal 2. The timing of this "lawsuit" is obvious. Last minute allegations seem to have become a standard operating method of the Democrats . All of these allegations have been made again and again and there is absolutely nothing new here. The 2018 and 2020 elections are going to use the same district maps so what is the point of this?

Gerry Donaldson
Mon, 10/15/2018 - 1:40pm

Why are Republicans SO opposed to allowing the citizens to vote their free will?

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 6:13pm

The biggest problem with this prop is that it rely s on some vague undefined promise that it will make elections "fair" but never really says what "fair" is and how this "fair" will lead to an improved functional government, which is at base what voters claim to care about. Unless this just means more Democrats vs. Republicans? Which its supporters have vehemently and unconvincingly denied. But our experience with tightly divided government is that it is anything but functional , leaving ever more unsatisfied and cynical voters. This prop I suspect is parade to nowhere and an unfortunate joke on voters.

Jeffrey Prusi
Tue, 10/16/2018 - 5:28am

Actions always speak louder than words. ALWAYS. It is not just this president or just this administration, it is the Republican party in general. They built Trump. Brick by brick. Stone by stone. Policy by policy. Lie by lie. Smear by smear.They enable him to this day. They aid and abet his criminal activities day by day. He and way too many of them attack our institutions every day.
Our education system is under attack.
Freedom of the press is under attack.
An independent judiciary is under attack.
Our National Intelligence and Security Agencies are under attack. 
The EPA and our environment are under attack.
The independence of our Department of Justice is under attack. Social Security and Medicare are under attack. By the way they are not entitlements, they are earned benefits paid for by taxes assessed just for that purpose. They add nothing to the debt nor the deficit.
Our national electoral process is under attack and this administration and this Republican-controlled Congress do nothing except attack those who are trying to find out the truth and fix the problem.
The only thing #45IsIllegitimate had right during the campaign (and since) is that the election was “rigged”. It WAS rigged, just not as he implied. AND NOT JUST BY FOREIGN POWERS. Todays republican party believes that “the ends justify the means” and will do “whatever it takes to win”. The use of Extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and Crosscheck Purging by one of our political parties to deny American citizens of their constitutional right to vote and to gain and maintain power is unAmerican. If YOUR party has to use these unAmerican tactics what does it say about YOUR party and their agenda? If YOU support these unAmerican tactics what does it say about YOU?
Today’s Republican Party has become the party of lies, fear, and hate. Today’s Republican Party is ‘A Clear and Present Danger’ to our country and our way of life.
Vote like your life depends upon it, because it does.

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 7:17pm

My god, why are you still here? Canada!

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 3:21pm

My god, why are you still here? Somalia!