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Schauer advising new Obama, Holder redistricting group

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Former Michigan Congressman Mark Schauer is serving as a senior adviser for a new Democratic group working to position the party for greater influence when legislative and congressional maps are redrawn following the 2020 census.

He has some notable company: Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been tapped to chair the new National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and it will reportedly be a top priority for President Barack Obama when he leaves office Jan. 20.

Their participation “shows the level of commitment and interest in this work,” said Schauer, who ran for governor in 2014 but lost to incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder. “I’ll be providing not just advice, but support and leadership in putting the national strategy together, which is really comprised of a series of state-specific strategies to increase Democratic power in the redistricting process.”

Democrats have long pointed to district boundaries as a factor in their current disadvantage in state Legislatures and Congress. Redistricting happens every decade, and in most states, the process is led by whichever party controls state government at the time.

The Republican wave of 2010 was a “wipeout election” for Democrats, said Schauer, who lost his congressional seat that year. In Michigan, Republicans drew the most recent maps, which ended up carving Schauer out of the district he had represented.

Among other things, the new group will work to build state-level Democratic majorities in 2018 and 2020. Republicans ran their own “Red State” redistricting project in the run-up to 2010.

When Democrats controlled the U.S. House for several decades after the late 1940s, Republicans used to complain that Democrats gerrymandered or drew district lines to favor their candidates.

Schauer said the umbrella organization will help coordinate Democratic groups and allies already working on redistricting and allow them to “speak with one voice” to donors.

He called Michigan “kind of a poster-child for Republican gerrymandering,” arguing the GOP’s current 9-5 member advantage in the U.S. House does not align with the statewide electorate.

Republicans enjoy a 63-46 advantage in the Michigan House, but all 110 seats are up for election this fall. Democrats are hoping to make gains this year and in future cycles.

“I don’t think I’m revealing any trade secrets to say the Michigan House is a top priority,” Schauer said.

State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, who chairs the House Republican Campaign Committee, said Wednesday he believes less than 16 out of 110 seats will be truly competitive in the Nov. 8 election.

But he attributed that reality to strong candidates, not district lines, touting Republican recruiting efforts.

“In Michigan, we have a fair and legal process for redistricting,” Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said during a Capitol Morning Brew event in Lansing.

“We have clear and specific rules about how redistricting is supposed to happen. They’re supposed to be compact and contiguous and of similar size, and that’s something unlike some other states, here in Michigan we see those nice square-type seats throughout the state.”

State Rep. John Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, said current rules allow “partisan data” to influence redistricting decisions, reducing competitiveness. He has proposed a state constitutional amendment to create a non-partisan redistricting commission.

“I don’t think politicians should be drawing these lines period, whether you have a D after your name or an R,” Hoadley said.

joosting@detroitnews.com