Observer: Redistricting leaves region leaning to GOP, but more competitive

GAYLORD — After Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted plans for voting districts that will determine Michigan's 13 congressional districts, 38 state Senate seats and 110 state House seats over the next 10 years, one observer said the political scene in Northern Michigan will become a bit more competitive but is unlikely to alter the GOP's domination in the region.

"Democrats are in a slightly improved situation but they remain an underdog to Republicans in Northern Michigan," said Scott LaDeur, professor of political science at North Central College in Petoskey.

After months of public hearings, map drawing and discussion, the commission on Dec. 28 selected political maps that feature changes to three state house districts and a state senate district that cover the northern Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula.

The maps approved by the commission could face legal challenges, including whether they violate the Voting Rights Act.

107th House district

This Michigan House of Representatives district, now represented by Republican John Damoose of Harbor Springs, added Charlevoix County from the 105th House district and chopped out parts of Cheboygan County, according to LaDeur.

"It will make it a slightly more competitive district," said LaDeur, "If you were trying to draw a balanced district you could do a lot worse than packing Sault Ste. Marie, Petoskey, Harbor Springs into it."

In addition to those areas the district also includes Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.

"The western part of Mackinac County appears to have been eliminated," noted LaDeur.

The changes make the district friendlier to Democrats but still leaning Republican, said LaDeur.

105th House district

Ken Borton, a Gaylord Republican, now represents this district. The new district configuration eliminated Charlevoix County and most of Antrim County. With the new lines, the district features Otsego County at the top in the north and then heads south through Crawford County and Grayling, Kalkaska, Missaukee County and Cadillac and Roscommon County.

"It will probably remain Republican but Borton will have to make some new friends," said LaDeur.

36th Senate District

This Michigan Senate district had major changes and is a sprawling configuration that runs from the Lake Huron coast to the Lake Michigan shoreline, said LaDeur.

The current district includes Alcona, Alpena, Arenac, Gladwin, Iosco, Midland, Montmorency, Oscoda, Otsego and Presque Isle counties and is now represented by Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The new district extends through Rogers City, Alpena and down the Lake Huron shoreline to just above Bay County. It eliminates Midland but still includes Otsego County and heads west to just south of Traverse City.

Since Midland was cut out, Stamas may choose to move or run in a new district that includes his home base of Midland.

37th Senate district

The current district includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.

The district retains Traverse City, Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Sault Ste. Marie and was expanded to include Leelanau County, but eliminated some parts of the Upper Peninsula.

"This district got a little more interesting for Democrats as it includes Leelanau which went for Biden in 2020," LaDeur said.

The current incumbent is Republican Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, who is term-limited.

1st Congressional district

This huge district covers the entire Upper Peninsula and a majority of the northern Lower Peninsula. LaDeur said it adds some Lake Huron shore communities.

Despite the presence of Democratic strongholds like Traverse City and Marquette, LaDeur believes the district will remain firmly Republican. The GOP's Jack Bergman of Watersmeet is the current incumbent.

Overall, LaDeur the said the redistricting commission, created by a state ballot initiative in 2018, appears to be a success in making the process of redrawing Congressional and state House and Senate districts every 10 years — based on U.S. Census population data — less partisan that it was when the state Legislature handled the task.

"I think they had some hiccups and perhaps shortsightedness when they withheld legal memos (until the Michigan Supreme Court order ordered the material released to the public)," said LaDeur.

"But overall doing this in the open and incorporating citizen comments is a positive. We won't have politics to blame for anything bad that may come out of this and getting bipartisan support will help to insulate the commission from gerrymandering charges," he added.

The 13-member commission was made up of five independents, four Republicans and four Democrats who were randomly selected from thousands of applicants.

Scott LaDeur of North Central College
Scott LaDeur of North Central College

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Observer: Redistricting leaves region leaning to GOP but more competitive