Redistricting Commissioners Discuss Criticisms Ahead Of Public Hearings
Just days before the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission begins a thrust into public hearings through the rest of October, select members of the body said Monday that they hear resident fears about their newly proposed legislative and U.S. House maps loud and clear and will do what is necessary to augment them based on public comment – as long as the changes requested comport to federal law and the constitutional criteria guiding the process.
However, commissioners present during a media Zoom call Monday said the process is and continues to be data-driven and that their mapping decisions have been based almost solely on input received from residents online and at in-person meetings and from a cadre of staff consultants. Furthermore, commissioners said they trust the advice of their consultants but are willing to challenge them because it was their job to do so.
Criticisms abounded once mapping began in late summer and increased since the body voted last week to release 10 maps for public hearings. The first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at the TCF Center in Detroit.
Much of that criticism has been aimed at the partisan fairness metrics, with key groups on both sides of the political aisle arguing that the maps are not fair as drafted and could have better scores. Those groups have said a multitude of maps submitted to the commission online and in-person are better than those drafted by the body and should be considered as well. Chief among those detractors regarding partisan fairness is Voters Not Politicians and others who volunteered with the organization to pass Proposal 2 of 2018 to create the commission.
Another prime target of criticism has been the commission’s Voting Rights Act attorney, Bruce Adelson, and its racially polarized voting consultant, Lisa Handley, over their insistence that Michigan may not need majority minority districts in places like Detroit to comply with the federal act. Several have questioned the advice that has moved the commission to reduce the percentage of Black voters within districts across Detroit to in some cases less than 40 percent. The commission was told that these districts were previously packed with Democratic and Black voters by the GOP-led Michigan Legislature in 2011, and that they needed to be unpacked to meet muster.
Many onlookers balked at that advice as either being a misinterpretation or at least a poor interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. Last week, several members of Detroit’s legislative delegation gathered to say they were unimpressed by and skeptical of the proposed maps and that the commission’s decisions have diluted the Black vote. Several stakeholders have said that the maps have the potential for a white non-resident suburbanite being elected to represent one of the most highly concentrated Black cities in the nation.
Others have questioned the odd shapes of some districts, which on first blush appear to be as odd-looking as the allegedly gerrymandered districts found in the 2011 reapportionment.
Those concerns and more were addressed during Monday’s press call, with Vice Chair MC Rothhorn saying commission members hear them loud and clear.
As they weighed the top-ranked criteria in order – compliance with federal equal population and Voting Rights Act standards, communities of interest and then partisan fairness – commissioners said that some negated others in the pursuit to produce not only fair but compliant maps. On why the commission chose to continue drawing districts that appear spindly and remind some of classic examples of past gerrymanders, Chair Rebecca Szetela again said the shape of district mattered less than following the guidelines of the ranked criteria.
Mr. Rothhorn also said that those classic gerrymanders happened behind proverbial closed doors and smokey back rooms, and that this process has been driven by citizens and has been open and bare to the public, warts and all.
“We applied for this job but were randomly plucked out of our lives and put into this position to do this in a transparent way to draw these fair maps, and it is that process that is redistricting (now),” Mr. Rothhorn said. “It’s not done in a back room. It’s not done by professionals. We are citizens just like everyone else, and we’re not professionals, but we do have experts and a lot of data. … It’s not the shape of a district that makes a gerrymandered district, it’s the process.”
Regarding partisan fairness and communities of interest concerns, Mr. Rothhorn, Ms. Szetela and commissioner Doug Clark each said in different ways that partisan fairness was important but lower in the ranking of criteria laid out by the Constitution. It was, though, still top of mind heading into public hearings.
Voters Not Politicians officials said again in a press call last week that there were plenty of maps in the commission’s public comment portal that score far better on partisan fairness and do a better job of respecting communities of interest – some of which were busted up in the pursuit of Voting Rights Act compliance and greater degrees of partisan fairness.
When asked what kind of deference the commission would give those submitted maps over the ones it created, Ms. Szetela said if there was such a map out there that not only complies with all of the criteria and not just partisan fairness, they’d be more than happy to consider it.
“There are many criteria we have to meet and partisan fairness is quite a ways down on the list,” she said. “And so, we have to look at the other criteria first as well as partisan fairness.”
Asked about concerns over Mr. Adelson’s and Ms. Handley’s advice on majority-minority districts, Mr. Rothhorn said that advice was driven by past election data. Those analyses could change, however, once the commission receives real voter turnout data being collected by staff. The plan is to receive that data following the public hearings and to make necessary adjustments based on both inputs.
Mr. Rothhorn and Mr. Clark said they both trust the advice from Mr. Adelson and Ms. Handley despite the public outcry.
“I have the utmost respect for … Mr. Adelson and the advice he’s given us at this point,” Mr. Clark said.
During the press call that Mr. Clark, along with commissioner Anthony Eid, had challenged Mr. Adelson directly during a mapping meeting about the quality of his advice. When asked how Mr. Clark could in one breath express doubt about the advice and then say he was completely comfortable with it, he said it was his job to challenge any suggestion by consultants in any given situation.
“It’s our job to … get a better explanation from and it’s our job to challenge Dr. Handley on the partisan fairness and the other advice she’s given us,” he said. “I look at that as: We’re doing our job.”
In preparation for the public hearings, Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research drafted a report analyzing each of the maps to be presented to the public for the state House, Senate and U.S. House.
Among its findings, the report notes that many of the commission’s maps score appropriately on the metrics associated with the constitutional criteria.
However, the report asks commissioners to, among other concerns, reevaluate the approach to complying with the VRA to ensure Black voters can elect candidates of choice.
The institute also asks commissioners to repair some census blocks that remain unassigned to districts; identify and follow a more systemic way of choosing communities of interest (rather than following generic requests or public comments); and to embrace a broader set of partisan fairness metrics that incorporate comparisons against the full universe of potential maps.
The Next COVID-19 Debate: Vaccinating Your Kids
The President Joe Biden administration announced today it stockpiled 28 million COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5 to 11 and word could come from federal regulators as early as Nov. 2 on whether that is a go.
For Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail this is personal.
“I have a 7-year-old granddaughter, and I am ecstatic over the fact that she can be vaccinated,” she glowed.
Not sharing the same glow is the other side of the debate expressed by Tudor Dixon, mother of four and Republican gubernatorial candidate.
“I’m going to wait to see if I vaccinate my children. I want to wait and see what the vaccine does in the next several years,” she said.
The Biden White House wants this program, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the final word.
Regardless of what those federal regulators conclude, Dixon has talked with her “doctor friends who have said the children are not in a crisis. The children are not dying from this and they have low levels of the virus. They are not necessarily spreading the virus.”
To this, Vail countered that while kids may not be getting ill, if they carry the virus they could transmit it to older adults.
“When we continue to get more and more people vaccinated in that age group, it contributes to the overall immunity that we have in our community. It can do nothing but help,” she concluded.
Suffice it to say, as with everything else about how to fight COVID-19, unanimity is not to be found.
Advocacy Group Calls On DIFS To Reevaluate Auto Insurance Refunds
The consumer advocacy group CPAN is calling on Department of Insurance and Financial Services Director Anita Fox to investigate whether auto insurance premium refunds are owed to drivers.
Doug Heller, insurance expert with the Consumer Federation of America, said the CFA found auto insurance rates were still being based on 2019 expectations, essentially becoming excessive overnight.
“I think everybody knows that when you’re stuck at home because of the pandemic, the risk of causing an accident has fallen dramatically,” Mr. Heller said. “However, you couldn’t completely get rid of your insurance because you still needed to go to supermarket at least once a week. You can’t drop it.”
A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that by the first half of 2020, miles traveled by vehicle was down 17 percent nationally. People drove roughly 264.2 billion fewer miles compared to the first half of 2019.
DIFS and Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered state auto insurers to issue refunds or premium waivers to consumers May 28, 2020, and a second order was issued June 8, 2020.
Laura Hall, DIFS director of communications, said DIFS regularly continues to review the costs versus premiums, checking if drivers should receive more money back.
“We issued our orders to quickly provide relief to drivers and ensure all insurers were consistently issuing appropriate refunds or premium waivers to their customers,” Ms. Hall said. “In our regular regulatory oversight, we continue to review insurers’ costs versus the premiums they receive and determine if larger refunds or rate reductions are appropriate.”
Ms. Hall said insurers submitted formal reasonings for their refunds.
“Those orders resulted in nearly $95 million going back to Michigan drivers in the form of direct premium refunds, credits, and payment accommodations,” Ms. Hall said. “In those filings, insurers were required to actuarily justify the refunds issued.”
In a statement, Erin McDonough, executive director of Insurance Alliance of Michigan, said their members have assisted policyholders during the pandemic.
“Our members stepped up throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by providing significant premium refunds to drivers, offering payment relief, suspending policy cancellations, waiving fees and extending some coverages — all to support their customers who were facing economic hardship,” Ms. McDonough said.
Ms. McDonough said CPAN should focus on their own members and consider refunding drivers for medical costs under the previous mandatory unlimited personal injury protection system. CPAN members include several medical and consumer groups, including Spectrum Health System and Brain Injury Association of Michigan.
“If CPAN is so concerned about customers receiving rebates, perhaps their members should consider refunding drivers across the state for decades of overcharging,” Ms. McDonough said. “After all, prior to the implementation of a medical fee schedule, it was their overcharging and overutilizing procedures that drove up the cost of auto insurance in Michigan to the highest in the nation. According to a Citizens Research Council report on the medical costs of no-fault insurance, medical claims in Michigan cost 57 percent more than claims for similar crashes in other states.”
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