Thursday, February 18, 2010
GOP says Dems gerrymandering
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
Officials have completed the first step toward chopping the county Board of Commissioners from 26 members to 13, with the Republican and Democratic parties each submitting new district maps.
The redistricting process carries high stakes as the commissioners will battle with colleagues for survival in the upcoming elections.
The Macomb GOP has offered two potential maps that would reapportion the county board, and the Democrats have submitted one. Reapportionment is required because of the downsizing of the board that's required by the county charter that voters approved in November.
But the Republicans have come out swinging, claiming that the Democrats' map is a blatant attempt at gerrymandering, with district lines drawn to benefit Democratic candidates in the 2010 elections.
"I fully expect that the Democrats will jam this gerrymandered plan down the throats of the people of Macomb County,"
said GOP Chairman Jared Maynard. "This is an affront to every citizen of Macomb County and they should be outraged. We're supposed to be entering a new era in county government and (the Democrats) are using the same tired, old politics."
Democrats counter that Maynard's remarks are hyperbole and that the GOP plans are out of synch with state rules on drawing new districts.
The controversy will be decided by the five-member Apportionment Commission, which is dominated by four Democrats — Prosecutor Eric Smith, Treasurer Ted Wahby, Clerk Carmella Sabaugh and Macomb Democratic Committee Vice Chair Michelle DeBeaussaert. The membership is established by state law, leaving Maynard as the only Republican on the panel.
The Apportionment Commission could make a decision on new legislative districts as early as March 3, when their next meeting is scheduled. The districts need to be in place well in advance of the mid-May deadline for candidates to file for office.
The GOP could take the issue to court, as they did when the current districts were drawn in 2001. In that case, the courts may have to weigh priorities and previous precedents.
The Republicans' two potential plans are largely devoid of the usual squiggly lines associated with partisan-minded maps. For example, Shelby Township is enclosed in a single district. The tier of the six northernmost townships also encompasses a single district.
Maynard argues that his two plans are superior because they are square and compact, as required by law.
But Democrats say the GOP plans rely so thoroughly on straight lines and square districts that they violate the rules for population variance between districts. Under the "one man, one vote" principle, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that county board districts must be equal in population, plus or minus 5.9 percent.
The Republicans apparently violated that principle, which is the top priority, according to the high court, when drawing districts.
"I think ours is a very fair map," said DeBeaussaert, a Clinton Township resident and wife of former state senator Ken DeBeaussaert. "There are restrictions you have to work with due to the Supreme Court rules, so there are not a lot of options."
Democrats say they used the current map with 26 districts as a starting point and combined two adjacent districts wherever possible.
DeBeaussaert is sitting in for the Macomb Democrats Chairman Ed Bruley, who agreed last year that serving on the Apportionment Commission would be a conflict of interest because he sits on the county board. But Maynard said he's convinced that Bruley drew the Democratic map behind the scenes.
Maynard said the strongest evidence that DeBeaussaert was merely a go-between is the fact that the Democratic map that was submitted spelled the party vice chair's name incorrectly.
To view the three maps proposed for the new county board districts, log onto macombcountymi.gov/clerksoffice/apportionment/.