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Losses by Black candidates revive fears about Michigan redistricting

Primary voting on Tuesday revived fears about minority representation in Michigan. (Votebeat photo by Sue Dorfman)
  • The election was 'not a great day for Black representation,' one consultant says
  • Redistricting shrunk majority-minority districts in Michigan from 17 to 5.
  • The districts survived court challenges

LANSING — A string of election losses by Black Democrats on Tuesday is reviving fears that minority representation in the Legislature could dramatically decrease next year because of redistricting.

Currently, 20 Black lawmakers serve in the Legislature: five in the Senate and 15 in the House.

The number could decrease to three in the Senate next year after Tuesday’s primaries, and while a final tally in the House won’t be known until after November elections, “it's not been a great day for Black representation,” Democratic consultant Adrian Hemond said Wednesday. 

Most Black incumbent candidates standing for election won their primaries. But in three metro Detroit seats, Black candidates lost in open competitive primaries, reigniting fears that new districts splitting Detroit into districts that stretch into Macomb and Oakland counties would decrease Black representation.

“Redistricting has really screwed things up,” Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo said. “Those folks that are going to represent us don't look like us.”

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The maps drawn by an independent citizens’ commission — created by voters in 2018 — have survived court challenges, but faced months of criticism for dramatically reducing the number of districts in which people of color comprise the majority of residents.

Before the 2021 redistricting process, Michigan had 17 majority-minority districts — two in Congress, five in the Michigan Senate, and 10 in the Michigan House.  The new maps now have five majority-minority districts total, and all of them are in the state House.

Members of the redistricting commission have claimed minorities could still be elected in the new districts even though the percentage of people of color dropped below 50 percent.

Some stuck to that argument in the face of renewed criticism on Wednesday.

Commissioner Anthony Eid, a nonpartisan member of the commission, said it’s too early to jump to conclusions without an analysis of who voted on Tuesday.

“Candidates of choice can be any race — they don't necessarily have to match up with the race of the community,” he said. “Once we do have those numbers, we'll be able to see if the communities were able to elect their candidates of choice or not.”

But there were a string of high-profile losses.

Incumbent Sen. Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit, lost by double digits to Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak in the Senate’s 7th District, while Black candidates lost in open House Districts 5 and 8.

In Detroit, residents are poised to lose Black representation in Congress for the first time in 70 years, after Indian-American businessman Shri Thanedar defeated several Black candidates in the 13th District and incumbent Rep. Rashida Tlaib retained her seat in the 12th District against Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey.

“The redistricting committee won and Black folks lost,” said Keith Williams, who chairs the Black Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party.

“Psychologically, what it's saying is that we don't control our destiny anymore.” 

To be sure, there were successes Tuesday among Black candidates — especially Republicans, including primary victories by John Gibbs over Rep. Peter Meijer in west Michigan and John James in the Macomb County-based 10th Congressional District.

Incumbent Rep. Helena Scott, D-Detroit, beat challenger Melanie Macey, Detroit resident Donovan McKinney won the Democratic primary in the 14th state House District as the only Black candidate and political unknown Kimberly Edwards defeated incumbent Rep. Richard Steenland, D-Roseville.

Although some Black candidates outside of metro Detroit will retain seats in the Legislature come November, there “aren’t a lot of pickup opportunities” that would make up for prospective losses in southeast Michigan, Hemond said. 

The issue could be exacerbated in future cycles as current candidates leave the Legislature due to term limits, Hemond said.

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