Newly released state House district maps would group lakeshore communities from New Buffalo to Saugatuck in one district spanning three counties.
The Michigan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission published three possible state house maps for 45 days of public comment on Thursday, titled Pine v5, Magnolia and Hickory. Michigan voters in 2018 created the commission to perform redistricting. The process, which previously had been done by the Legislature, is required after every 10-year census.
Southwest Michigan districts are fairly similar from map to map. Hickory and Magnolia are exactly the same, and differ from Pine v5 in how far east the district covering much of Allegan County extends.
The major difference in these maps is the creation of a shoreline district, which includes municipalities along Lake Michigan. New Buffalo, Bridgman, St. Joseph, Stevensville, Benton Harbor, South Haven and Saugatuck would all be included in this district. The only incumbent House member currently living in that proposed district is Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, but she cannot run again because of term limits.
The Twin Cities currently are in a district that goes only as far south as Bridgman and stops at the northern border of Berrien County.
Each map would mean State Rep. Pauline Wendzel would no longer represent the Twin Cities, as she currently does. Wendzel, R-Watervliet, would be in district 61 or 39, which covers much of Van Buren County.
The representative would not face an incumbent from her own party, as Rep. Beth Griffin will reach the end of term limits by the coming election. Griffin is a Republican from Mattawan.
The district currently represented by Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles, would lose the western edge along the lake and gain territory in Cass County.
An earlier map that was considered but not approved by the commission put Wendzel and Paquette in the same district. Wendzel said she has no plans to move if district lines change.
“I’m born and raised in Watervliet, Coloma, Bainbridge area, and I don’t see right now that I would need to move,” Wendzel said. “I know Van Buren very well. I’ve been representing not just Berrien County, but Southwest Michigan. I’m always very cautious and sensitive to that and proud of that, actually.”
Wendzel said in the meantime, these maps won’t affect her representation of the current district.
Tiffany Bohm, a political science professor from Lake Michigan College, said the maps make the southwestern districts, all historically Republican, more competitive. Statewide, the map is also more competitive, but Republicans still have an edge, Bohm said.
Bohm specified the shoreline district and the district containing Niles as house seats which would be more purple as a result of the redistricting.
“Incumbents are not safe,” Bohm said.
In her opinion, the purpose of a shoreline district would be to have a representative focused on Lake Michigan-specific concerns, like erosion and tourism, Bohm said.
“They want to keep people who are along that area, who have vested interest in home values from being diluted from when their district is pulled further eastern,” Bohm said.
No one on the commission is from Southwest Michigan, which Wendzel said makes an already complicated process more difficult.
The representative said the shoreline communities do share being on Lake Michigan, but not much else, expressing concern about breaking up county lines would affect that district.
“There is a community of interest, but I think it’s broke up a lot of others,” Wendzel said.
Bohm said this map has high efficiency – there are few “wasted votes.”