No Black Representation in Detroit After Redistricting, Crowded Primary
Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) won the Democratic primary for the 13th U.S. House District on Tuesday. Born and raised in India, Mr. Thanedar is the first non-Black person to solely represent the city of Detroit since the 1950s. While this is somewhat of a shock, there were multiple factors that went into Mr. Thanedar’s win.
One significant factor was going from 14 to 13 U.S. House seats to reflect the state’s decrease in population. The 14th District was represented by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), whose district was split up. Both she and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) represented major parts of the city, allowing for Black representation in Congress for Detroiters to continue even after Ms. Tlaib succeeded U.S. Rep. John Conyer’s Jr.
Another factor is that Mr. Thanedar is a name well-known in the metro-Detroit area. He has spent millions of his own money over at least two campaigns of his campaigns, and is now a state representative in the city. He was all over the airwaves his campaign for governor in 2018 and his most recent campaign for U.S. House. In fact, Mr. Thanedar garnered the most votes from Detroiters the 2018 gubernatorial race.
Mr. Thanedar also prides himself on having similar life experiences to Detroiters, especially those in struggling pockets of the city. He grew up poor in India, working as a janitor before making it big as an entrepreneur. In an interview Wednesday with Gongwer News Service, Mr. Thanedar told a story about meeting with Detroiters who asked what he was doing on their side of town, simply replying "I grew up in a place like this."
However, these is still some understandable hesitation for being represented by someone who is not Black in one of America’s largest populaces of Black residents. Ms. Lawrence spoke with Gongwer on Friday, saying everyone she talked to knew Mr. Thanedar from his ads, but she said they did not know his politics.
"He, I feel, is in a position to prove to the voters that he’s going to be there for them and fight for their issues," Ms. Lawrence said. "He definitely has the opportunity. He served in state House, so now going into Congress, it’s going to be a whole different world for him."
She added that as much as Mr. Thanedar would like to join the Black Congressional Caucus, this was reserved only for Congress members who identify as Black.
Out of the eight Black Democrats, Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) was anticipated to come out on top just days before the election. He came in second and on WDET-FM’s Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on Wednesday, Greg Bowens, a columnist for Deadline Detroit and a political and communications consultant, said if one was to add up all the men in that race and give their votes to Mr. Hollier, he would have beat Mr. Thanedar by 38 percent.
"If it would have been just Adam, Shri and Portia Roberson in there and give all the women to Portia, give all the men to Adam, Adam still would have won and Shri would have been in third place," Mr. Bowens said on the radio show.
Mr. Bowens went on to say it was both a combination of the latest redistricting and the failure to get behind one candidate that helped seal victory for Mr. Thanedar. EMILY’s List was also sucking votes away from Mr. Hollier by endorsing Ms. Roberson, he added.
That shows that certain candidates should not have been in the race, Mr. Bowens said, noting his belief that if they were committed to the idea of Black representation for the blackest city in the country, then they should have supported the most likely candidate among them to win rather than thinking of their own ambitions.
"Too many people put their own ego and their own self-interest ahead of the interest of the community as a whole," Mr. Bowens said.
Ms. Lawrence also said that there were too many candidates in the primary, and that she talked with four candidates to let them know the challenge of a congressional race.
"We really can’t split the vote, but again, you can’t tell someone not to run," Ms. Lawrence said.
She said she had high expectations for Mr. Hollier based on the amount of support he had leading up to the race. She also said the outcome was, as she saw it, a result of redistricting, and that the 13th District was not the majority-minority district for Black voters that it should have been.
"The lines that were drawn denied the opportunity to a majority Black district to an African American representative, not only on the federal level but on the state level as well," Ms. Lawrence said.
Mr. Hollier called Mr. Thanedar after the election, congratulating him on his victory. Mr. Hollier also spoke with Gongwer on Wednesday and was asked his thoughts on the outcome of state and congressional primary elections. He said he had spoken previously about concerns over the latest cycle – which was completed for the first time by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2021 – as it related to Black candidates’ abilities to win one of those seats and especially when the lines were being finalized.
"Those concerns have been met out in the U.S. Congress, the state Senate and the state House maps," Mr. Hollier said. "Ultimately though, voters have to decide and voters pick the person and the people across a variety of districts that they felt we’re going to serve their best interests."
If folks wanted something different, they would have voted something different, he added.
Asked if he thought there were too many candidates in the race, especially given each candidate had so many personal connections throughout the Detroit community, Mr. Hollier said it was impossible to say what the outcome would have been if there were fewer candidates.
"I think what we have to do is we have to encourage folks and people have to make the tough decision to elect the person that they want and when people do that we have to respond to the electorate," Mr. Hollier said.
There is another odd aspect about the U.S. House races. The three Black congressional candidates left in the running are all Republicans: John Gibbs in the 3rd, John James in the 10th and Martell Bivings in the 13th.
Gongwer asked Ms. Lawrence if there is a growing trend of Black conservatives or if it was individual actors. She said it was clearly not the norm as there are only five Black Republicans in the Black Congressional Caucus compared to the 57 Black Democrats.
"It is a win that we need to pay attention to but understand that the Republican Party is more about the politics of being a Republican," Ms. Lawrence said. "They care more about that than almost any other factor."
She added that she "doesn’t know how we got here," in reference to no Black Democrats up for election, especially in Detroit.
"I’m analyzing this as well," she said.
Voter turnout in the Black community, especially for midterms is typically low, Ms. Lawrence said. She said the primary is usually the deciding factor for Detroiters, but because it was a primary in a midterm election, there was not a high turnout from Detroiters.
"So now we have the challenge of, were our voices even heard at the ballot?" Ms. Lawrence said.
Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) in an interview Wednesday told Gongwer that Black representation in the 13th Congressional District and in the Legislature was something Black residents would continue to grapple with.
"Those that we do elect, especially to the role of being a congressional representative representing us in D.C., having a reflection of the community and those commonalities and shared experiences, race and ethnicity play a role in that, I think this is something moving into the future that we have to grapple," Mr. Tate said, noting the importance of going through the democratic process of voting.
With Tuesday’s elections, Black representation in the Legislature is likely to go down slightly.
The Legislative Black Caucus currently numbers 20, five senators and 15 House members, about 13 percent overall and in each chamber. That is in line with the percentage of the state’s population that is Black, 13.6 percent.
After the elections, the Senate appears poised to have three Black members next term: Sen. Erika Geiss, Sen. Sylvia Santana and current Rep. Sarah Anthony.
The House could have as low as 14 or as high as 16, depending on some competitive matchups in November.
When asked about the concerns that redistricting would minimize Black representation in the Legislature, Mr. Tate said those critiques certainly played out in the primary.
"We know this process is not going to be perfect," Mr. Tate said. "However, as we continue to move forward, we have to keep this idea of having elected representation. In our case, southeast Michigan and in Detroit, ensure that Black voters voices are heard in the process that we do have and representation plays a big part in that."
Both Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Tate said they believed there could be lawsuits after the November election. In January, the Black Legislative Caucus filed a suit saying the maps violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The Michigan Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, saying no elections with the new maps had yet been held.
"I wouldn’t be surprised," Mr. Tate said of future court action. "Now that we’ve gone through an election process, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were suits that would be brought forward. We have to figure out moving forward what’s going to be the best way to ensure representation is going to be a central or significant component as we move forward with our democratic elections."
Sources watching the fallout of the redistricting cycle told Gongwer this week that despite the shock, the outcome of the 13th District primary did not appear as one that blatantly violated the Voting Rights Act or as ripe evidence a challenge to the new maps, and that any such challenge would need more data from subsequent elections over a longer period of time to show any real causation. Notwithstanding, some who followed the redistricting cycle closely are examining that very issue in the wake of the primary.
Mr. Tate also said he believes there are still strong Black voices in the Legislature returning, but the question will be with the number of members being diminished how is going to look moving forward.
"I’m optimistic that we will get to a point where that representation reflects the population of the state of Michigan, of African Americans. We’re just going to have to have those conversations to figure out what’s going to be the best course of action," Mr. Tate said.
Ms. Lawrence told Gongwer she would not only remain active in her community, but would also be very active on a potential redistricting lawsuit.
"I know firsthand the damage that’s been done and it needs to be fixed," Ms. Lawrence said.
Bishop & Bolger Names Floated as Possible Dixon LG Picks
Several sources who spoke to Gongwer News Service on background said that list could include former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop and former House Speaker Jase Bolger, showing that Ms. Dixon’s attention could turn to someone who can help her govern over the next four years as opposed to a campaign charmer as she seeks to beat incumbent Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Another note highlighted by sources who spoke to Gongwer on background was that the nominee’s considerations have not turned to any of her former opponents from the gubernatorial primary, and that while she may need their support moving into the general election stage, she has not courted the idea of joining forces with them – and for various reasons.
That said, some sources also said that the candidate does not have a shortlist in a traditional sense, but rather a list of potential qualities her running mate would need for her to definitively tap that person to embark on what could be a grueling three months.
The decision must come relatively soon as he Michigan Republican Party nominating convention is scheduled for the last weekend in August.
Until her campaign makes a formal announcement, speculation will likely continue to abound, but some have pinpointed a few candidates who might make the most sense.
Mr. Bishop’s name was floated by several sources as a potential frontrunner due to his time in Congress serving the 8th U.S. House District, serving in the tail end of the Obama administration and in the first two years of the Trump administration. His tenure in both the state House and Senate, of which was the majority leader of the upper chamber, could also help Ms. Dixon navigate the legislative process, although some sources said she was already involved learning as much as she could from her allies in state government.
Former President Donald Trump has made it clear who he likes and doesn’t like in the Michigan Legislature and the state’s GOP framework writ large, and while he may not be guiding the choice Ms. Dixon must soon make, his feelings on the subject could play a role in the final decision as his endorsement of Ms. Dixon undoubtedly helped her get over the finish line.
In that sense, Mr. Bishop is standout because Mr. Trump had previously praised his work on tax policy. Mr. Bishop had endorsed Mr. Trump when he was a candidate in 2016 but also appeared to distance himself from him when scandals that would follow the former president throughout his tenure started to emerge. Mr. Bishop had told the Detroit Free Press in 2016 that he was troubled by his conduct and statements about women.
Just prior to Mr. Bishop losing his seat to current Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin in 2018, Mr. Trump had endorsed him on Twitter, saying the congressman was doing "a great job" and had helped pass his signature tax reform package.
Ms. Slotkin’s election helped seal the Democratic Party majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and Mr. Trump was voted out of office two years later, and with his ouster the Democrats also took control of the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Bishop, despite shouldering those loses later in his career, could still be a formidable lieutenant governor option for Ms. Dixon because, experience aside, the party apparatus and its voters know him well.
He is against abortion, voted to ban the procedure after 20 weeks and co-sponsored legislation that stated the belief that life begins at conception. That aligns with Ms. Dixon’s thinking on abortion. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2016, which could play well with the anti-Obama and pro-Trump bloc in Michigan and is a strong supporter of gun rights (he received A and A+ National Rifle Association ratings when he was in office), which could also play well with grassroots voters fearful of the growing establishment influence in Ms. Dixon’s campaign.
That said, some sources said they had spoken with Mr. Bishop and that he had shot down the idea and had instead said he thought Ms. Dixon’s pick could be Mr. Bolger.
Like Mr. Bishop, the former House speaker is well known among the party’s establishment class and continues to have a presence in politics among the consultant class (he founded Tusker Strategies after being term limited in the House).
Mr. Bolger is seasoned in campaigning and has a history of winning tough elections against Democrats. His team helped lead House Republicans to majority in 2010 and he was he last speaker to serve in the role for four years.
The former speaker also has a history of making tax and education reform a priority, expanding school choice options, which could tie in well with Ms. Dixon’s messaging on schools, although she has focused more on curriculum and parent-driven activism than expanding charter schools.
Ms. Dixon has expressed interest in tax reform and gradually weening the state of personal income tax revenue, and Mr. Bolger has a record of effectively changing the state’s tax structure in an attempt to create an improved business environment.
However, several sources told Gongwer that Mr. Bolger could be seen as too much of a denizen of the Lansing political swamp due to his close ties with the DeVos family and the fact that he had an election integrity scandal of his own in 2012. The speaker had then worked with Rep. Roy Schmidt, a Democrat, to switch his party affiliation at the candidate filing deadline due to Mr. Schmidt’s growing distaste for the party’s leaders. That helped assure that the Republicans would take the seat as the candidate Mr. Schmidt helped recruit for the Democrats – Matt Mojzak – was hardly a challenger and did not mount a robust campaign.
It was later reported that Mr. Schmidt had offered Mr. Mojzak money to run and then later withdraw his candidacy and that Mr. Bolger had been involved in the scheme. The House speaker was later exonerated of wrongdoing through independent investigations and a grand jury review, but he later wrote an opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press offering voters an apology.
Given the current interests of the Republican Party, and with an emphasis on election integrity, Mr. Bolger’s history here could be reason to pass over him. The party had an internal meddling scandal as recently as 2020, when then-Chair Laura Cox accused current-Chair Ron Weiser of offering party figure and Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot money to drop his bid for secretary of state in 2018.
Mr. Weiser denied the allegation but later paid a $200,000 fine to the Department of State to resolve the payoff complaint.
Some delegates have expressed fears that because the megadonor DeVos family has pledged money and material support for Ms. Dixon’s campaign moving forward, the elite would have the biggest hand in her decision making.
Not necessarily so, said some race observers, who have stated that the campaign appears to be forging its own path without letting the party’s grassroots leaders – like Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock – weigh in heavily nor the establishment forces they appear to despise.
There were concerns about the party delegates choosing former House Speaker Tom Leonard due to his establishment ties and instead opted for outsider and Trump true-believer Matthew DePerno when it came time to endorse a candidate in April. That also possibly puts Mr. Leonard out to pasture as a potential lieutenant governor choice.
Delegates also nominate the lieutenant governor at the party’s August convention, but typically go with whomever is chosen by the gubernatorial nominee. That could be challenged, however, if the party’s activists are unhappy with the decision and could mount a campaign to pick their own nominee in an act of defiance.
Such was the case when the GOP’s tea party activist launched an offensive to push former Lt. Governor Brian Calley off former Governor Rick Snyder’s ticket during the 2014 cycle, opting for grassroots figure Wes Nakagiri, who ultimately lost as Mr. Calley was nominated and later reelected along with Mr. Snyder.
As to whether that means someone with establishment gravitas or a grassroots figure that speaks to the base, some sources said the priority was likely to find someone she can work well with. Also gone are the days when a single state legislative figure could command respect across the state for their time in one of the two chambers, as opposed to the present, where term limits have made it improbable (but not impossible) for a state representative or a state senator to be well known among the party’s voters outside of their own districts.
Former Governor John Engler had that advantage when he first ran for the office about a decade ago, tapping former Lt. Governor Connie Binsfeld, who not only served long, pre-term limits tenures in the House and Senate and was well known across Michigan at the time.
With the absence of such a figure, Ms. Dixon will likely have to trust her own instincts and the instincts of for campaign team to chart the best course for her – which could potentially go against the instincts of both the establishment and grassroots classes.
As to why she may not choose either Ryan Kelley, Kevin Rinke or Garrett Soldano as her running mates, several sources said that it appears that Ms. Dixon doesn’t view them as viable options.
Mr. Kelley faces federal misdemeanor charges for his alleged involvement in the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, but he has also kicked up dust clouds over Ms. Dixon’s primary win, calling the election illegitimate and demanding a full recount – a move that is potentially an option if he ponies up the millions of dollars necessary for that to occur.
Sources said that Mr. Soldano doesn’t present as a good choice either because, despite his popularity among the GOP base, did not prove to be a strong campaigner outside of his own social media presence. Whereas some said Ms. Dixon had a strong work ethic and a boots-on-the-ground approach, other sources said that Mr. Soldano didn’t meet with enough new or undecided voters throughout the cycle and that was ultimately his downfall. Additional sources also dispelled speculation that had been floated indicating Mr. Dixon was talking with Mr. Soldano’s camp, calling it pure rumor mill.
Mr. Rinke is out, several sources said, due to his previous lawsuits in which it was alleged he made racist and sexist comments to former employees at his automotive dealerships, and that there were concerns about Mr. Rinke having the temperament to work underneath a strong woman to whom he’d have to play second fiddle.
MDOT Releases Plan for EV Infrastructure Buildout
Building a network of fast chargers across the state will be a key focus of MDOT’s electronic vehicle infrastructure development plan, which was submitted to the state on August 1. The plan aligns with the National Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program’s focus on developing a network of fast chargers across the country to encourage motorists to use EVs.
The funding will allow the state to contract projects to install at least four chargers with at least 150 kilowatts of power and combined charging system ports at intervals of 50 miles or along each of the state’s designated alternative fuel corridors.
These projects would take place between 2022-26, and contracts will be open to public and private organizations. The infrastructure must also be publicly accessible.
Any remaining funds would be used to further develop EV charging infrastructure across the state.
For NEVI projects, the federal cost share is 80 percent. Contractors must seek community engagement prior to building, and installation must be performed by licensed professionals certified to work on EV charging infrastructure.
Projects will be scored based on their use of Michigan labor and the prevailing wage.
By 2026, the state aims to deploy 127 direct current fast chargers to complete the buildout of the designated alternative fuel corridors, according to MDOTs plan.
From there, once the corridors are certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the rest of the funds will become discretionary and allow for EV infrastructure buildout on any other public road or public area.
Once the Federal Highway Administration grants approval for the plan, which is expected to come by the end of September, the procurement process will run through the end of 2022.
During 2023-26, contracts for projects along the alternative fuel corridors will be awarded and completed yearly. During that time, projects will be monitored while additional stakeholder engagement is undertaken and additional corridors are considered.
In the EV plan, MDOT pointed toward the state goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan.
"The NEVI Formula Program will help Michigan make early progress towards deploying the DCFC infrastructure needed to support the goals in the MI Healthy Climate Plan," the plan stated.
There are existing and proposed alternative fuel corridors in the state along with existing NEVI-compliant chargers. The plan also states there are 15 existing direct current fast charging station in the state with a total of 55 chargers of over 150 kilowatts.
"Installing EV chargers along these AFC routes will improve environmental and public health by promoting the use of low-emission fuels and vehicles and contributing to the development of electric and alternative fueling sites in Michigan," the plan stated.
The plan was developed through coordination between several state agencies over the course of 26 meetings involving more than 200 stakeholder groups.
Several state-level initiatives are already underway to build out EV charging infrastructure to allow for long-distance trips throughout Michigan, according to the plan. These developments include infrastructure along major highways, at state parks and in urban areas.
The plan also outlines potential challenges in building out EV infrastructure. These include planning concerns, such as finding viable locations, dealing with property ownership and lack of use or loss of profitability at certain locations. Other challenges include the supply chain, permitting, infrastructure capacity and reliability. Having equipment that is compatible with multiple types of vehicles and that has vendor support are also concerns.
Shortly before the release of the plan, a coalition of groups urged MDOT to increase stakeholder input and work to develop a broader plan for additional funding for EV infrastructure buildout
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