Washington, D.C. – The effort to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines in Michigan may be upended after two alleged “independents’ serving on the 13-member of the commission overseeing the remap were exposed as Democrats.
Anthony Eid and Rebecca Szetela, both claimed to be political independents when seeking slots on the Michigan Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission but, according to a Washington Free Beacon review of their social media and campaign contribution, the two appear to be partisan Democrats.
Normally, such things would be considered trivial, but an initiative approved in 2018 by Michigan voters marketed as providing a way to take the politics out of the redistricting process specifically created seats on the MICRC for four Democrats and four Republicans while setting aside five spots to be filled by non-aligned voters.
Eid’s social media includes posts supportive of Democrats including one that asserts he is “proud to live in a state that voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary” but not Republicans. Szetela has a history of contributing to Democratic candidates and reportedly addressed the Muskegon County, Mich., Progressive Democratic Women’s Caucus.
These activities are helping cast suspicion on the work of the MICRC which the voters who approved it intended to be an independent and balanced commission whose recommendations must have the support of at least seven of its members — including two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents – before a new map can go into effect. According to The Center Square, a news website covering state politics, more than 9,300 Michigan voters applied to serve on the committee.
After the partisan history of Eid and Szetela became known, Tori Sachs, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, quickly called on both to resign. “The staggering dishonesty of these commissioners is now tainting the hard, important work of the other 11 members,” she said in a statement. “It’s time they resign before they fully shatter voters’ trust in this critical process as well.”
But trust in the process may already be on the verge of breaking. The group that spearheaded the petition drive to get the initiative creating the MICRC on the 2018 ballot, Voters Not Politicians, was, The Center Square reported, “funded mostly by liberal nonprofit organizations.”
Nearly two-thirds of the money donated to VNP came from two organizations: the Texas-based Action Now Initiative gave $5.1 million and The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington-based social welfare organization, contributed $6 million, The Center Square said, citing figures obtained from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Other donors identified by the news site included the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers ($500,000); the Open Society Policy Center ($100,000); and the National Redistricting Action Fund ($250,000), an affiliate of the Democratic Party chaired by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder.
The stakes are high. Michigan lost a seat in the latest congressional reapportionment, conducted after the 2020 Census was complete. With the U.S. House of Representatives almost evenly split, control of Congress could again come down to a handful of seats in the 2022 elections, making every seat count.
The ability to place a thumb on the redistricting scale in a state where the total number of seats will change could have a dramatic effect on the partisan balance of a state delegation. In Illinois, which also lost a seat in reapportionment, most of the population loss has been in the heavily Democratic Chicago area but the proposed remap currently under discussion would see at least one and perhaps more seats coming out of the Republican column thanks to a process known as gerrymandering.
The initiative that created the MICRC was supposed to prevent the districts in Michigan from being gerrymandered. The alleged presence of partisan Democrats on the commission masquerading as independents violates the spirit of what the voters appeared to want to do and deserves further investigation.
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