Photo courtesy Rep. Jon Hoadley
Photo courtesy Rep. Jon Hoadley

State Rep. Jon Hoadley feels inspired by the new Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, and sees potential to address other systemic issues with the same energy and enthusiasm.

LANSING, MI — Thirteen ordinary Michiganders from Interlochen to Ypsilanti will serve on the state’s first independent commission, led by citizens, to draw new voting districts following the 2020 Census. 

That’s a dream made reality for state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo).

“Watching the Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission come to life and take back power for just regular people in Michigan … it is inspiring,” Hoadley told The ‘Gander. “It gives me so much energy, excitement, and joy that we can make big changes to the way a rigged system works to make it a little bit more fair for regular people.”

Every ten years, after each Census is finished, every state changes the way its voting and congressional districts are drawn to ensure that each representative is serving about the same number of constituents, so that each vote is weighed roughly equally in the state legislature and the House of Representatives in Washington. But the person holding that pen holds amazing power.

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Prior to the efforts to establish the new commission, Michigan’s voting districts were drawn by legislators and lobbyists. The result was a map radically skewed to helping politicians presently in power remain in power and to maximize Republican control of the state legislature. The new commission takes that power away and intends to create a fairer field for Michigan voters to choose their representatives. 

This resulted in congressional districts designed in particularly egregious ways following the 2010 Census. Emails obtained by Bridge explained how districts had been drawn to reduce the influence of “Dem garbage”, noting that one district looked like it was “giving the finger” to former Congressman Sandy Levin (D-Southgate).

Hoadley, along with state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Ferndale) introduced a plan years ago to accomplish exactly this, to put the pen in the hands of ordinary people and out of the hands of politicians. But the state legislature wouldn’t act. Thankfully, those same ordinary people did. 

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In 2018, the group Voters Not Politicians put the question to the people of Michigan, who passed a constitutional amendment establishing the new process of redistricting — drawing new voting and congressional districts using new Census data — that would be carried out by 13 ordinary Michiganders. Voters Not Politicians also defended the amendment and process against legal challenges from Michigan Republicans successfully. 

Of course, just choosing the commission isn’t the end of the process, Hoadley said. The commission will travel the state of Michigan, holding town hall meetings and seeking input from citizens about how their community should be defined with new district lines. And, of course, the Census itself is instrumental to the success of the commission, giving them the best possible data to work with. 

“You can still fill out your Census online before the end of September,” Hoadley reminded Michiganders. “And we need to resist efforts from the Trump Administration to shorten the length of the Census because every person in Michigan needs to be counted.”

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To Hoadley, though, the biggest victory is the hope this new redistricting commission represents that major changes to systemic problems are, in fact, possible. 

“What are the other big issues that we can tackle?” Hoadley asked. “Racial justice, criminal justice reform, and equity? Those are big systems to fix, but this shows me there’s a path.”

He mentioned other seemingly insurmountable challenges facing Michigan like the influence of money in politics, the way climate change threatens access to clean water and air, or addressing the failings of the American healthcare system laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I think these are the things that are on the horizon,” he said, “that are possible when we come together to call for big change.”