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Redistricting Reform and the Labor Movement

Thumbnail image for bruce.jpgAs we approach Labor Day, it is with a recognition that working people have suffered at the hands of the Republican dominated state legislature. These Republican legislators have enacted "right to work" along with a long series of bills that limit rights to collective bargaining and interfere with the ability of public unions to do business. They operate at the beck and call of the DeVos family and the Mackinaw Center, an extreme right wing think tank. And the worst of all this is that the enactments are a result of minority government where a minority party, through temporary control of the legislature, changes the rules through gerrymandering to guarantee its continued stay in power.

gerrymandering.pngIt seems like a long time ago when the labor movement in Scholle v. Hare established the 'one person one vote rule" in Michigan. Prior to 1962 districts were drawn to give geographic representation so that trees and bushes had almost equal voting rights as human beings. Now, in spite of this important rule, we do not have majority control in politics due to the evils of gerrymandering. The party in power, every ten years, can draw districts for the election of all public officials in the legislature and Congress in such a way as to guarantee that their party stays in power.

I believe that the labor movement cannot hope to be successful in the state unless it creates majority control of government. Majority control works in state wide contests where Democrats and labor do well. There is of course no guarantee that majority government will work to the advantage of labor in all cases, witness the sad result that produced Governor Snyder. Ultimately the determination of who wins, in a fair system, should depend on politics, namely the will of the people. If we do not have the programs and candidates that work for the majority we are not entitled to win.

President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Michigan by about 10,000 votes. That is a small lead. But Republicans nevertheless captured 9 out of 14 congressional seats. In our last state-wide election, the total the Democratic vote slightly exceeded the Republicans. In spite of that Republicans gained a 63 to 47 advantage in the State House of Representatives. Other examples can be given.

So how to find a way out of this situation. At the present time there is a case before the United States Supreme Court coming out of Wisconsin that seeks to challenge unfair gerrymandering as unconstitutional. The former chairman of the State Democratic Party is planning to bring a similar suit. I would not want to discourage legal efforts but I do not trust this Supreme Court to come down on the side of majority rule.

Voters.pngIt appears that there is a new game in town. A group of citizens, acting on a non-partisan basis, have formed "Voters Not Politicians", a grass roots effort to gain enough signatures to put a citizen controlled non-partisan commission in charge of drawing district lines on the ballot to amend the Constitution. This idea has been put into effect in California and Arizona and the commission approach has been approved by the Supreme Court. VNP has not yet released language. They hope to have an amendment that will take the drafting of districts out of politics and insure majority rule.

I have looked over their materials and they seem to be an honest straightforward group. And assuming that to be the case, they are in for a very tough fight. The dark money will flow like water to light up the networks in an anti-campaign of immense proportions. And this small underfunded group will not have a chance on their own. If they flounder, it will set back this movement for decades to come.

This is an opportunity for the labor movement, Common Cause, The League of Women Voters and other community organizations to check out this group and if it is what it looks like give a hand. It is a fight which, if won, can change the political landscape in the state and give progressive forces a new lease on life.

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