Jan. 17, 2019: Michigan secretary of state wants to settle gerrymandering lawsuit
Jan. 11, 2019: Will Jocelyn Benson defend Michigan gerrymandering tactics she once fought?
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.”
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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.