Opinion: McCain worked to end gerrymandering

John Schwarz and Rick Johnson

John McCain’s legacy is profound – and includes his opposition to partisan gerrymandering.

One of the last policy actions of his long and rightly recognized career was to sign onto a friend of the court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court last year urging the court to curb gerrymandering by adopting clear tests and declaring that Wisconsin’s redistricting – clearly a partisan gerrymandering, in this case, by Republicans – violates the U.S. Constitution.

In announcing the brief, McCain and his co-signer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, stated, “The American people do not like gerrymandering. It leaves them feeling powerless and discouraged; that their votes are wasted and voices silenced. They see it rigging our political system to favor special interests.”

He was right, as he often was. McCain was a man who put principle above party, and nation above personal or professional gain.

Scwarz and Johnson write: "John McCain’s legacy is long and deep – and includes his opposition to partisan gerrymandering."

That’s why it has been troubling to see so many leaders in today’s Michigan Republican Party misrepresent the efforts of Voters Not Politicians, Proposal 2 on the November ballot, to end partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.

At the recent Republican State Convention, volunteers from Voters Not Politicians were asked to leave by convention organizers as they were handing out fact-based literature about the proposal and engaging convention-goers in discussion about gerrymandering. Inside the convention, with approval from the party leadership, materials were handed out and a video was shown misrepresenting Voters Not Politicians and the process it proposes to end partisan gerrymandering.

The corruption of the current process has been exposed in a series of emails from the 2011 redistricting process. One of those emails shows a consultant working on the redistricting maps promising then Republican Congressman Dave Camp’s staff that the GOP plan (conceived in secret) would guarantee Republicans a 9-5 majority in the state’s congressional delegation, even if they won less than half the state’s popular vote.

But let’s be clear. It’s not that the lawmakers who oversaw this who were doing anything illegal – both parties participated in redistricting.

Voters Not Politicians takes politicians and lobbyists, and their immediate family out of the process. It provides that four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents will have to work together to draw maps, with at least two from each group agreeing before a map is adopted. Proposal 2 requires those maps follow federal law, including the Voting Rights Act, and the same guidelines in state law that are in place today aimed at limiting breaks to cities, townships and counties. The proposal would also prohibit the drawing of maps that would benefit candidates or political parties.

Perhaps most importantly, Proposal 2 will create a level of transparency that was ignored by the political leaders in the last redistricting. It mandates public hearings around the state both before and after the maps are drawn.

John McCain would have been pleased to see that example of putting principle and people first. “As Republicans and Democrats battle each other to control redistricting, the real losers are the American people,” he said in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to address the issue.

John J.H. Schwarz served as a Republican member of Congress from Michigan.

Rick Johnson was the Republican Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives from 2001 to 2004.