Editor’s Note: Nonpartisan in name only

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Voters Not Politicians sounds as if it would be an empowering movement, putting people in charge of deciding how our electoral process works and giving self-interested politicos the boot.

Sounds good, but as is too often the case, too good to be true.

The Voters Not Politicians group bills itself as nonpartisan and is pushing a petition drive to turn over to an independent citizens panel the task of redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts.

Its pitch is that removing redistricting from politicians and turning it over to an independent body would create fairer districts that are more representative of voters’ political leanings.

But is the goal really fairness, or is the group’s true purpose to sidestep the current Republican legislative majorities and give the redistricting edge to Democrats?

There’s reason to be suspicious.

First of all, a group billing itself as nonpartisan and independent should either be free of partisan ties, or at least equally representative of both political parties.

Voters not Politicians is neither. As The Detroit News reported Monday, of the 10 members on its board, eight have donated to Democratic candidates and causes. None have donated to Republicans since 2005.

The only board member with ties to the GOP is former Congressman Joe Schwarz, who broke with Republicans and declared his independence after the party’s right wing orchestrated his defeat in 2006.

The group’s director is Katie Fahey, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in last fall’s election. Yet when I asked Fahey during an interview for my radio show whether the group had any ties to the Democratic Party, she insisted it did not.

It smells otherwise. This has all the markings of being a Democratic front group. And it’s pushing the canard that the only reason Republicans hold a majority of congressional seats in a state that leans Democratic in federal elections is GOP gerrymandering.

That theory ignores the reality that Democratic voters tend to be clustered in urban areas, while Republicans are spread out more uniformly across the state. It also doesn’t take into account the Voting Rights Act, which requires the state to maintain its two minority majority districts.

With African-Americans moving from Detroit into the suburbs, finding enough voters to create a contiguous second minority majority district is tougher. So the boundary lines have to snake throughout the Metro Detroit regions to pick up pockets of black voters wherever they can be found.

There may be a better and more representative way to draw districts, and Michigan should be open to ideas.

But prospective petition signers should not be fooled by a group that bills itself as nonpartisan but whose entanglements clearly suggest otherwise.

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