Lennox: Michigan’s influence dwindles
Overnight, as the clock strikes 2015, Michigan will lose its status of having one of the most important congressional delegations when the 114th Congress convenes.
Despite the Wolverine State’s hard power dwindling with the changing economic and industrial realities over the past 30 years, the amount of soft power levied by the state’s members of Congress increased over time. In the halls of government, seniority is everything.
All that will end with the retirement of Michigan’s senior senator, Carl Levin, whose 36 years in the upper chamber of Congress continued the formidable legacy of predecessors Robert Griffin, Phil Hart and Arthur Vandenberg.
The Democrat from Detroit, perhaps best known by constituents for his trademark glasses, chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee. While an unabashed liberal, he was willing to buck the party line, including during a teary-eyed farewell speech on the Senate floor when he condemned Democrats for changing the chamber’s rules to allow the so-called nuclear option.
Then there is Dearborn Democrat John Dingell, the dean of the House. Dingell will be succeeded after 59 years of service by wife Debbie, who will have minimal influence. Democrats are unlikely to reclaim the majority for years.
On the Republican side of the aisle, Michigan loses two senior congressmen in Mike Rogers and Dave Camp — both heavily influential committee chairmen.
Camp, who rose through the ranks after replacing fellow Midlander and now-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who opted against re-election in 1990 to run against Levin, has been front and center on issues of health care and tax reform his last two terms as chairman of the all-powerful House Ways & Means Committee.
As chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, Howell’s Rogers has been a familiar TV face on matters of national security, the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi and, most recently, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s publication of a report on the CIA.
Camp and Rogers are being replaced by capable legislators — State Sen. John Moolenaar, also of Midland, and former State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, of Rochester, respectively — but it will take the GOP freshmen years to climb the seniority ladder in Congress.
But what hurts the influence of Michigan’s incoming congressional delegation the most are simple demographics.
Michigan’s population and, by extension, its economic might, has declined so much that native brands such as Cadillac and Pulte Homes feel the need to leave for greener pastures.
Detroit is the best example. In the last U.S. census, its population of 713,777 was barely enough for a single member of Congress, if redistricting laws would allow the city to be its own district. Four years later, estimates have the population at 688,701, which is significantly lower than the threshold for a single vote in the House of Representatives.
This surely means Michigan will lose another congressional seat — as it has every 10 years since 1980 — come the next census in 2020.
Dennis Lennox is a columnist for The Morning Sun of Mount Pleasant. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.