Sen. Steve Bieda Takes on Gerrymandering

We tend to look at redistricting as one party over the other, but a lot of the times you’re seeing members of the majority party, and for that matter, members of the minority party putting forward ideas that clearly benefitted them personally.
— Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren)

The last time the district lines changed, state Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) was the minority vice-chair for the Michigan State Senate Committee for Redistricting. That was 2011, when Michigan Republicans took control of the State Senate, State House, and with the election of Gov. Rick Snyder, the executive branch as well. 

“In the minority, of course, you don’t have the votes that a person has in the majority,” said Bieda, whose own district spans the southern portion of Macomb County. “At the end of the day, [the Republicans] came forward, said, ‘this is what we have, and this is what we’re going to do.’”

With the Democrats in the minority, Republicans controlled the redistricting process and were able to draw all three maps in ways that would secure more districts for the Michigan GOP in future elections, even if Democrats get more votes overall, Bieda said.

That’s process to create political security just in how the maps are drawn is called gerrymandering.

When it comes to redistricting, Bieda says there’s another issue at stake beyond political gerrymandering.

Some committee members drew lines to benefit themselves personally, Bieda says, mainly in areas with strong political leanings towards one party or the other.

“They worked out what those districts would like,” Bieda says. “[The Republicans] couldn’t care less because they’d knew they’d have seats that were Democratic, but they would ask them to vote for the plan so it would look bi-partisan.”

Bieda says committee members would draw district lines to cut out incoming political challengers or to include areas where the members grew up. By state law, Michigan politicians are supposed to draw districts that are compact and keep cities and counties together as much as possible.

Densely populated areas like Detroit have to be divided to some extent, but how the city is divided is a matter of interpretation for those on the state redistricting committees. Republicans on those committees declined to speak with WDET due to pending lawsuits over redistricting. 

Susan Demas