Meet the 13 residents who will draw Michigan’s new political districts

VNP

Some of the commissioners supported Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the ballot measure behind the commission. (Bridge file photo)

The 13 people selected Monday to draw the political boundaries for Michigan for the next decade include a lawyer, real estate agent, bank manager, a tech specialist and others. 

They’re from Interlochen, Lansing, Battle Creek, Ypsilanti, Detroit and elsewhere and range in age from 27 to 73. By design, their demography mostly mirrors Michigan: 10 are white, two are Black and one identifies his ethnicity as Middle Eastern. They have no significant political history outside of voting. 

But that’s about to change: The state’s new citizens’ redistricting commission, selected randomly Monday from a pool of applicants, will spend the next year hosting town hall meetings and soliciting input from residents before drawing new political districts using Census data that will shape state politics for the next decade. 

“This is history,” said Assistant Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler following the drawing Monday afternoon. 

The commission was approved by more than 60 percent of voters statewide in the 2018 November election and will replace the traditional process in which district lines are drawn every 10 years by the political party in power in the state Legislatures. 

For the last two redistricting cycles, that has been Republicans and produced a set of lines that consistently gave the GOP a majority in the state Legislature, even though they often received fewer votes. 

In an opinion last year that was later set aside, federal judges wrote that Michigan’s districts are a “political gerrymander of historical proportions.”

The new panel includes four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents. Applicants reported their own political affiliation and signed statements saying they didn’t have a background that would exclude them from serving, such as running for partisan office or working as a lobbyist in the last six years.

Nearly 10,000 people applied to serve on the commission. That pool was narrowed down to 200 in June and 180 people in July. They will meet for the first time by mid-October and have until November 1, 2021 to finalize the maps.

Some of the commissioners supported Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the ballot measure behind the commission. 

MC Rothhorn, a 48-year-old Democrat from Lansing who was selected, donated $100 to the group in April 2018. Anthony Eid, a 27-year-old Independent from Orchard Lake in Oakland County, posted on his Facebook in August 2018 that the initiative “may end up being the most important proposal on the whole ballot in November” and urged his friends to support it.

Dustin Witjes, a 31-year-old Democratic product support specialist in the Ann Arbor area, was selected to serve on the commission as a Democrat. He told Bridge he didn’t expect to be picked and was “just floored” when he got a call from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson telling him he was chosen.

“I voted for [the commission] to become law, so I always thought it was interesting,” Witjes said. “I feel like it’s a civic duty to try and better the state if I can.”

Besides Rothhorn, Eid and Witjes, commissioners include:

  • Douglas Clark of Rochester Hills: A 73-year-old Republican who wrote on this application he plans to bring to approach the job with “objectivity, an ability to work with others and an honest and sincere approach.”
  • Juanita Curry of Detroit: A 72-year-old Democrat who said she’s a pastor. “I would like to get a job where I can be of good service to my community as well as help my church in the process,” she wrote.
  • James Decker of Fowlerville: A 59-year-old independent who wrote he feels Michigan has become too politically polarized. “As a society it is easier to complain and castigate and much harder to work and find solutions to problems,” he wrote. “I prefer to solve problems.”
  • Brittni Kellom of Detroit: A 33-year-old Democrat who runs an advocacy organization for child survivors of trauma and wrote that she believes ““in the power of everyday citizens to effect change.”
  • Rhonda Lange of Reed City: A 47-year-old Republican who said the commission “would be a way for me to serve my community and state.”
  • Steven Lett of Interlochen: A 73-year-old independent, a retired attorney who used to represent labor unions. He told Bridge “given today’s politics, redistricting is going to require a lot of hard work” and he’s looking forward to it.
  • Cynthia Orton of Battle Creek: A 54-year-old Republican who wrote she takes voting seriously. “I would like to participate in the process of making sure individual votes count and that elected officials represent the will of the majority of their constituents.”
  • Janice Vallette of Highland: A 68-year-old independent who wrote that it’s important “all votes are counted and not wasted” and that districts shouldn’t favor one party over another.
  • Erin Wagner of Charlotte: A 54-year-old Republican who wrote she “believe(s) in the process” and wants to ensure districts are representative of the people who live there. 
  • Richard Weiss of Saginaw: A 73-year-old Independent who wrote it’s his duty to serve if chosen “because I am an American.”

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians said the group is “ecstatic,” adding “it’s exciting to see that the fair, impartial, and transparent process voters envisioned is working as it was intended.”

The semifinalist pool of 200 was chosen using a weighted formula to reflect the demographic and geographic makeup of the state based on Census data. It included 78 percent of people who identify as white, 13 percent as Black, 4 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 3 percent as Asian, 0.5 percent as Indigenous and 4 percent as two or more races. 

Legislative leaders of both parties in the House and Senate were allowed to strike 20 people total from the pool. The final draw was random. 

Each commissioner will be paid just under $40,000 per year. They’re required to conduct all of their work at open meetings and aren’t allowed to talk about redistricting outside of the public meetings unless it’s in writing. 

They’re allowed to hire statisticians and other nonpartisan experts to advise them and will have to consider a number of criteria, including “communities of interest” and political makeup, to draw the districts. The constitution requires they hold at least five public hearings to get input. 

The public will have at least 45 days to review the maps the group comes up with. Then, the commissioners will vote on the maps. For a plan to be approved, it will have to receive a majority vote of at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two Independents. If no plan received the required balance of votes, they will use a ranked-choice voting system to determine the winners.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Anonymous
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:08pm

Blind dogs would make our districts more fair.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 7:42am

"But that’s about to change: The state’s new citizens’ redistricting commission, selected randomly Monday from a pool of applicants, will spend the next year hosting town hall meetings and soliciting input from residents before drawing new political districts using Census data that will shape state politics for the next decade. "

And that's EXACTLY the line to use to fool the masses.

Speaking of fooling the masses, meet Manchurian Candidate No. 1:

"Steven Lett of Interlochen: A 73-year-old independent, a retired attorney who used to represent labor unions. He told Bridge “given today’s politics, redistricting is going to require a lot of hard work” and he’s looking forward to it."

mw
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 10:53am

The committee selection criteria and data is all online for review. The committee will be posting all redistricting info online and: "For a plan to be approved, it will have to receive a majority vote of at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two Independents. "

The commission selection and redistricting process has been structured to eliminate as much bias as possible and make the maps based on factors other than partisan lean. The only people calling the process into question are the GOP because they find it "unfair" that they don't get to give themselves an unfair advantage in future elections. I wonder how many of these Republicans will change their tune on redistricting if there is a blue wave this November.

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 6:20pm

Kevin,

Where is this definitive proof that Mr Lett is a Manchurian candidate? Where is any proof of what you claim as being biased? And will it be anywhere near as biased when Republicans aren't gerrymandering middle fingers to flip off a Democratic legislator?

Are you claiming all the independents are closet liberals? LoL! Most independents lean conservative. They did this after George W Bush when they stopped calling themselves Republicans, and started calling themselves conservatives. Then came the Tea Party. Now we have Trump.

If this is the best you can come up with............I look forward to many decades of non gerrymandered representation in our State!

MfrmGR
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 7:54am

Bravo! It is hopeful to hear this Initiative coming to reality. MI can do better for MI by breaking the stranglehold of partisan gerrymandered-representation. I wish them all well.

Mich Mex
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 2:14am

I wish them well too. We should be supportive and let them do their jobs.

Just Facts
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:11am

Now it is the Citizen's duty to closely investigate each one of these people for potential bias. We know that the federal jury pools are being rigged, the pool that these people were selected from could have been rigged too. Better safe than sorry.

I call BS
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 11:38pm

Yet you don't have a problem with lobbyists with biases paying our politicians to draw lines that favor themselves.

Mich Mex
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 1:53am

That's why there's thirteen commissioners. They can police each other for bias. Transparency to the public also helps. As for the maps, optics mean everything.

mw
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:16am

I'm happy Michigan now has an independent redistricting committee. Now we just need to get on board with ranked-choice voting and maybe I'll finally feel like my vote actually matters.

Mich Mex
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 2:13am

Your vote always mattered and will continue to do so. From what you're saying, it looks like your currently gerrymandered district will be changed to better reflect where you live by geography. You may not be any happier with who gets elected State Representative, State Senator and Congressman/woman, but it's a safe bet those people will be more reflective of where you live whether you vote for or against them.

EB
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 12:03pm

Many prefer compact districts. Others want districts to be drawn along county, township and city boundaries.

It's not the 1800s, where you would need to either walk or use a horse to get to the polls, so I don't see much advantage to compact districts. Most townships are an anachronism tailored to the horse and buggy days, so drawing federal house and state house and senate district lines along these boundaries doesn't seem advantageous either.

I've no clue how'd you determine what a "community of interest" is.

If I was on this commission I'd have only one goal, creation of competitive districts, districts where the winner is decided in November, not August.

Mich Mex
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 2:06am

Competitive districts are great, but given the political lay of the land, that's not always possible. What's more basic is that districts should be drawn as squared off as possible, given constraints for population, geography and political borders. Some districts will never be competitive (Detroit) whereas others certainly can be. One thing I believe the commissioners should absolutely ignore is where these Congressional and State legislators live. The Commission simply cannot cater to any of them to assure their re-election. As it is, Michigan may lose one Congressional House seat which will force at least two current House members to run for the same seat in 2022 (Southern Oakland County?). Also, Macomb County could have the optimum population to be a Congressional District just by itself. It will be an interesting exercise, as it's likely each commissioner has an idea already as how these maps should look once the Census data becomes available. It will be more interesting to witness the process of becoming a consensus.

Susan Moilanen
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 4:03pm

Re. The the new redistributing commission. Shocked to see the salary they are being paid for their patriotic service. ($40,000). Having just retired from years of service in my community, the latest -a position for 16 + years - and only recently just barely earning over $15/hr., I find it repulsive our tax dollars (?) will start paying them that salary “out at the gate “. I am assuming this will not be a full time position 40-hour work week? Even so, at $15/hr, 40 hr weeks, 52 weeks, that comes to $31,200/year. This is, of course, a basic calculation, but it phelps with perspective. Is this OK with everyone but me? Tell me what I’m failing to take into account...

Geez Louise
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 11:42pm

Grow up! If you think the pay is so great, you should have applied. It's an important job and we shouldn't pay them like a greeter at Walmart. Do you want them susceptible to bribes?

Mich Mex
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 1:51am

1) That it's in the Constitution,
2) The voters overwhelming approved this measure in 2018.
3) That independent redistricting is important enough to the voters that the price tag is worth it.
4) This is a one time only process with these commissioners. Before the end of 2021, they're done. In 2030, the process starts over with a different thirteen people.
5) Being paid assures commitment and it's important that people can at least afford to take off their jobs for a year.
6) You sound more than a bit envious. Remember, envy is one of the seven deadly sins.

Mich Mex
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 6:17pm

The selection is complete and we have our thirteen commissioners. Now the real work begins.
No doubt it was done fairly. It was a totally random selection and the CPA firm did its job well. Face it though, not all districts are going to be competitive. It's very likely that the entire City of Detroit will be 80 to 90 percent of one Congressional District, which will likely include Highland Park and Hamtramck, and possibly the Grosse Pointes, River Rouge, Ecorse, Melvindale or part of Dearborn. It will be overwhelmingly Democratic, but it won't be gerrymandered like today's 14th District. The appearance of the maps will be likely the most important factor, as odd shaped or oblong districts will be eyed with suspicion.

Sick AND Tired
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 11:45pm

Well, we will finally see an end to total GOP domination. That's for sure. Now we have to dump the electoral college. I heard Biden could win the popular vote by 5 million votes and still lose the presidency to that jerk Trump. It's unconscionable.

Lars Gomoski
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 3:57pm

There is a way to dump the electoral college. All that needs to be done is draw up a new constitutional amendment, and get it ratified by 2/3 of the house and senate, and then 3/4 of the states. If we hurry it can be done by November!

LT
Fri, 08/21/2020 - 2:14am

Won’t happen because the small and midsize states will never go for it. Besides, changes to the Constitution take YEARS to happen, not months, and a lot of proposed changes never do. Both parties know the landscape going in and it’s up to them to campaign accordingly.

LT
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 4:05pm

If the Dems play their cards right and avoid the mistakes they made in 2016, they’ll win the Electoral College too. Remember, this year there were no superdelegates and there’s no Jill Stein on the ballot.

Orice Walters
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:12pm

Once again the Upper Peninsula of MI is not represented. At least one person from the UP should be on this Commission.

LT
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 4:02pm

Yes, I’m sorry about that too. I’m also disappointed that there are no Hispanics or Asians, and also that there’s no one from Macomb County on the Commission either. However, for the UP, there are only three State House districts and part of a fourth, one State Senate district and part of a second, and the First Congressional District of Michigan contains the entire Upper Peninsula and an increasing part of the Northern Lower Peninsula. Presently, the First District includes Traverse City, Gaylord, Grayling , Alpena and extends south almost to Higgins and Houghton Lakes. If we lose a Congressional seat as a result of the 2020 Census, the First Congressional could even be extended as far south as Clare or Midland. As much as UP representation would have been nice, almost all of the gerrymandering issues from the 2010 redistricting exist in the southern lower peninsula, particularly in the Detroit Metro Area. Stay tuned and there are ways you can make your opinion known. All the best to you and stay safe.

Ben W Washburn
Thu, 08/27/2020 - 6:42pm

I am gratified by the 23 previous comments. At least 90% are constructive in voicing the need for a stronger sense of fair representation. There is absolutely no way to draw new lines which will not unintentional favor one party or the other. But, that is still better than the present system which enables the current majority in power to extend their power even after the mass of voters have swung the other way. As a former member of the Detroit Board of Education, and as legal counsel for 25 years to the Wayne County Commission, I played a key role in drafting proposed boundaries for the districts of both School Board members and County Commissioners. In 1982, the Wayne County Charter Commission recommended a Charter which provided that each Commission district be as square as possible and also recognize the boundaries of municipalities within the County as much as possible. I have found that guidance to be more than a practical means of making decisions which would invariably become controversial. I have not seen any specific proposals by which this new body could make decisions, but I would suggest that these simple requirements of the Wayne County Charter, do provide some tie-breaking principals for this new State-wide body.

Ben W Washburn
Thu, 08/27/2020 - 7:14pm

To add a point to my previous comments: It is important to the most of us to be able to relate to the district in which we have been placed. It may not have a long established configuration , but it should have boundaries to which the most of us can relate, meaning State and Federal major highways and subdivision borders. This more basic need to be able to relate is actually very important to us gaining a feeling that our vote really counts.