LANSING — Because of the region’s growth, West Michigan can expect to tack on at least one new seat in the State House, and maybe two. In contrast, Detroit can expect to lose a few seats in Lansing when the 2002 elections roll around.
That potential shake-up of political influence comes courtesy of the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, which show that West Michigan grew while Detroit shrank.
“Now that we have the actual data it basically means the serious work of redistricting can begin. Up to this point it’s been pure speculation because you can’t begin the process of redistricting, obviously, until you have the actual census numbers for local jurisdictions,” said State Senator Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville, a member of the Redistricting Committee in the Senate.
Even though the detailed growth patterns haven’t been released yet, Sikkema said the current census data provides legislators with enough information to make reasonable assumptions to redistrict the political boundaries across the state.
Sikkema noted that the numbers show Kent County grew by 14.7 percent, while the four-county West Michigan region — comprised of Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties — had a population growth of 16 percent.
“What that means is there is at least one new State House seat that will come out here. As I recall, the average State House seat represents 90,000 people and Kent County alone grew by 70,000, so there will be a new State House seat created for West Michigan,” said Sikkema.
“What those lines are remains to be seen,” he added. “But that’s good for West Michigan. That means our influence as an area and political clout increases.”
The senator added that Detroit, which lost 7.5 percent of its population, may lose one State Senate seat and possibly two House seats.
“Maybe even more. It could be two Senate seats out of Detroit,” said Sikkema.
Although this region’s two Senate seats may have their jurisdictions slightly redrawn because of the census data, Sikkema added that despite the growth it was unlikely that West Michigan would gain a Senate seat from the numbers.
“It’s hard to speculate because the redistricting plans have to be statewide plans. So you can’t just look at one area and say let’s try to get a new Senate seat here. There are very strict guidelines as to how to draw these lines. But it doesn’t look like the growth here is enough for a brand new state Senate seat.”
As for the redistricting effort, the law calls for Gov. John Engler to sign the bills that outline the new House and Senate boundaries by Nov. 1. If lawmakers miss that deadline, then the matter goes to the State Supreme Court.
Michigan’s top justices will have until April 1 to redistrict the state so candidates can have enough time to register for the November 2002 election, and the court has done that the last three times, in 1972, 1982 and 1992.
“I’d prefer that we would do it,” said Sikkema of having lawmakers draw the lines. “It’s basically a job that is in our hands.”