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Jan. 7 | This Week in Government: Detroit Caucus Sues ICRC Over Perceived Dilution Of Black Votes; Detroit Congressional Scramble: An Early Breakdown Of 12, 13

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Detroit Caucus Sues ICRC Over Perceived Dilution Of Black Votes
  2. Detroit Congressional Scramble: An Early Breakdown Of 12, 13
  3. Thousands Of Recent UIA Claims Identified As ‘Likely Fraudulent’
  4. Regional Unemployment Rates Down In November
  5. COVID Hospitalizations Continue To Rise

Detroit Caucus Sues ICRC Over Perceived Dilution Of Black Votes

Maps produced by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission represent a bipartisan racial gerrymander – particularly in the city of Detroit – and, if implemented, would reduce the voting power of minority racial groups to elect their candidates of choice, a lawsuit filed late Wednesday claims.

The commission was created via voter initiative creating a constitutional amendment that charged the body with redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional boundaries. After a year of work, and some backlash along the way, the commission adopted three maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and state House last week.

In Detroit Caucus, et al v. MICRC, the plaintiffs claim the commission fell “woefully short” of its vision to create fair maps and simultaneously violated the Voting Rights Act – a claim based on the fact that the new maps contain fewer and in some cases no Black majority districts.

“Although the commission indicated they planned to protect communities of interest, they produced a U.S. Congressional plan that divided Detroit into eight pieces,” the lawsuit says. “Of those eight pieces, not one district as a whole contained Michigan’s largest Black populous, the city of Detroit, but instead, sections of Detroit’s Black community are apportioned to other, majority-white polities including: Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Canton, Farmington, Madison Heights, New Baltimore, Sterling Heights and Clinton Township.”

Edward Woods III, the commission’s spokesperson, said in an email that it had no comment on the lawsuit other than what it said Monday: that they trusted their Voting Rights Act attorneys’ analysis showing they were on solid ground to unpack the densely Black and Democratic districts forged through deals between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Woods added that he was unaware if the commission had been served with the lawsuit.

As a remedy, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the plans violate the VRA by diluting Black votes in Detroit and that they violated the Michigan Constitution by retrogressing the number of Black majority districts, as well as an order that the commission to redraw their plans accordingly.

Examples of VRA district retrogression are outlined in the complaint, noting that the current U.S. House map contains two majority Black districts and that the adopted Chestnut plan contains zero. The same goes for the Linden Senate map. The current state House map has 12 majority Black districts, though the Hickory House plan has only six.

“(The) defendant’s current proposed plans have been denounced by an entire department of the government of Michigan, in that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a memorandum stating and showing that the proposed maps of Defendant unlawfully dilute the voting power of Blacks in the state of Michigan,” the lawsuit says. “An expert hired by defendant also admits that they were lacking the proper data regarding Black voters in Michigan when they drew up the plans.”

That expert is Lisa Handley, a consultant hired to analyze racially polarized voting in the current maps and in those maps produced by the commission. The data the plaintiffs are referring to is primary elections data for Wayne County, which was not used because the commission used primary data that instead saw the entire state vote for the same set of candidates.

On the issue of primary data, ICRC Chair Rebecca Szetela said Wednesday she had also heard those who said that primary election data would be a better gauge of how Black residents and other minority groups picked their candidates, but the data just wasn’t there.

“There’s just an absence of data on the primaries because we were looking outside of Wayne County to draw these districts, and … some of the data we had was concerning on that point,” she said on WDET-FM. “An absence of data to definitively say, yes, these targets that we aimed within are going to support African American individuals to have the opportunity to elect candidates of choice.”

Still, the lawsuit says that data was obtainable and “absolutely necessary to the commission in order for it to be able to comply with the Michigan Constitution and federal law, as even the law of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires the map-makers to consider certain datapoints that (the) defendant apparently did not have.”

It also contends that a lack of time – a point Szetela made on the radio program “Detroit Today” with Stephen Henderson – was a poor excuse as “the current proposed plans, which almost completely politically silence the Black community of interest, could be easily remedied in short order.”

A similar comment was made by former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo during a Monday news conference announcing the litigation prior to its filing days later. Gay-Dagnogo alluded to the fact that several people following the commission’s work over the last year engaged in their own mapmaking efforts, some of whom submitted maps to the commission, and could do so in less than a week.

Several groups have also surmised that their maps or others submitted to the commission do a better job on the various racial metrics – as well as other constitutional criteria – than those created collaboratively by the group of 13 commissioners.

Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), who chairs the Detroit Caucus, joined Gay-Dagnogo at the news conference alongside Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit). The lawsuit lists the caucus as its lead plaintiff, but does not list members of the caucus individually.

That question became more puzzling as current U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said she would be running in the 12th U.S. House District, while Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) has since November said he was running and was looking at the 13th U.S. House District. The latter representative told Gongwer News Service on Wednesday that he applauded Tlaib’s decision to run in the 12th district.

Meanwhile, Gay-Dagnogo also announced that she was running for Congress but did not say in which district. She lives in the 12th but has a co-op in the 13th, which she said she might move to.

Some of have asked why the caucus was suing if it appeared some of their members were comfortable enough to announce campaigns and in some cases the district seats they’d seek. However, in the Wednesday episode of the “Authentically Detroit” podcast, Yancey said the Detroit Caucus had met Tuesday and voted to join the lawsuit against the commission.

While the group of lawmakers were adamant that the commission has either misinterpreted or outright violated the VRA, the commission has said that it trusts the advice of its legal experts who have said that the commission’s decision making was sound.

Several attorneys who spoke to Gongwer on background said similarly. While it appears that the commission may have unfairly treated or mishandled the way it drew districts for Black Detroit residents in the mapping process, some posited that its analysis of the VRA, and the assertion that Black residents can still elect minority candidates in non-majority Black districts, was likely sound.


Detroit Congressional Scramble: An Early Breakdown Of 12, 13

In the wake of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) announcing her retirement, speculation is swirling about who will throw their hats into the ring for the 12th and 13th U.S. House Districts.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib said early Wednesday, about 12 hours after Lawrence’s announcement, that she is running in the redrawn 12th U.S. House District. Tlaib (D-Detroit) represents the current 13th U.S. House District but much of it now resides in the redrawn 12th U.S. House District. Further, the addition of Dearborn and its large Arab-American population – Tlaib is a Palestinian-American – should bolster her political base. In a statement, Tlaib said at least two-thirds of her district moving into the 12th led to her decision.

“As expected, communities in the current 13th Congressional District were unfortunately split up between the new 12th and 13th Congressional Districts. After much deliberation with my family, residents, and my team, I am excited to announce that I will be running for re-election in what will now be Michigan’s 12th Congressional District,” Tlaib said in her statement. “The new 12th Congressional District contains nearly two-thirds of the people I currently serve. I’m excited to continue to fight for our residents and engage with new neighbors in Wayne and Oakland Counties.”

Tlaib is something of a divisive figure in the Democratic Party. She has clashed with other Democrats on some issues (including a memorable spat a couple years ago with Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and other Detroit Democrats over the Ambassador Bridge) and upset some with her vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Her opposition to a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has angered a number of Jews. But she has strong backing in the party’s progressive wing, is known for her grassroots work and has passionate support from Arab-Americans for her support of Palestinians.

“I think with her history in Congress and her ideological profile she has a lot more enemies than she does natural supporters,” said Josh Pugh of the Truscott Rossman firm. “I have a hard time seeing the field clear for this one.”

There was no word on whether someone would challenge Tlaib in the Democratic primary but a general thought was she would not get a free pass. Her strong fundraising and national fundraising base would give her an edge, particularly if the primary becomes crowded and candidates split up the opposition vote, several watching the situation said.

Among the names speculated as possible Tlaib challengers: Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Wayne County Commissioner David Knezek, but Gongwer News Service could not confirm if either had any interest.

Now that Tlaib is leaving the 13th U.S. House District, there have been rumors of other Democrats aiming for the spot. Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said she will seek a second term in the Senate and not run for Congress. The name of Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) has come up in the 13th but he is said to be focused on reelection and trying to win House control for Democrats. Tate is the favorite to be the next House Democratic leader. Former Sen. Ian Conyers, the great-nephew of the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., is said to be interested. He lost by a wide margin in 2018 to Ms. Tlaib.

Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) announced he was running in November and confirmed he was looking at the 13th U.S. House District in December, but had no intention of booting Tlaib from her seat. In a statement to Gongwer News Service Wednesday, Thanedar said he applauded Tlaib’s decision to move to the 12th U.S. House District.

“Rep. Tlaib and I share many progressive ideas and principles and I look forward to working in collaboration with Rep. Tlaib in the next Congress to bring clean water and air, economic and racial justice to improve the quality of life of the residents in the greater Detroit and surrounding areas,” Thanedar said in his statement.

Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo announced via Facebook that she was also running for Congress but did not specify where. She simply said, “I’m all the way in!” However, when a Gongwer reporter noted on Twitter that she lives in the 12th, Gay-Dagnogo noted she has a co-op in the 13th. She did not indicate with certainty which district she would seek, however.

Pugh said while Thanedar will have money, he’ll be up against far more seasoned opponents than he faced in 2020. It will be a crowded race where organized labor’s influence will be significant, he said.


Thousands Of Recent UIA Claims Identified As ‘Likely Fraudulent’

The Unemployment Insurance Agency found more than 10,000 claims during the past few weeks have been identified as fraudulent, shortly after it was announced in late December the agency had paid $8.5 billion in fraudulent claims in 2020 and 2021.

In the press release Tuesday, the UIA said this time of the year there is an expected hike in fraudulent attempts. The agency encourages residents to be vigilant of any suspicious activity regarding their personal identifying information.

On December 29, a Deloitte report released news the UIA had paid $8.5 billion in fraudulent claims from March 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, with the majority of payments coming from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs. The $8.5 billion is suspected to be largely separate from the $3.9 billion in payments to ineligible claimants.

If it is suspected the claim is fraudulent, the agency will send a letter through mail to the individual on file to confirm if they are trying to receive benefits. If it is deemed as fraudulent, then a second letter will be sent stating the claim is null and void.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established the formation of the Unemployment Insurance Fraud Response Team in her Executive Order 2021-16. Under Executive Directive 2021-14, the UIA will prioritize enforcement of fraud cases through the team. The UIA will continue to do so and collaborate with the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Association of Workforce Agencies to find more fraudulent claims.


Regional Unemployment Rates Down In November

Seasonally unadjusted jobless rates declined in most of Michigan’s labor market areas in November, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget said last week.

All 17 Michigan regions registered employment levels below pre-pandemic November 2019 totals, with a median decrease of 6.8 percent during the two-year period. Fourteen regions recorded workforce gains, averaging a 0.7 percent increase. The northeast and northwest Lower Michigan regions and the Upper Peninsula all had seasonal labor force decreases.

Each of the labor market areas also recorded workforce cuts since November 2020.

“Employment rose in most regional labor markets in November,” Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. “However, seasonal employment reductions occurred in the Northeast and Northwest Lower Michigan regions and the Upper Peninsula.”

Regional unemployment rate decreases ranged from 0.3 to 0.7 percentage points in November. Seasonal rate increases were recorded in the Upper Peninsula and northeast Lower Michigan region. The jobless rate was unchanged in the northwest Lower Michigan region during November.

All 17 Michigan regions exhibited jobless rate reductions over the year, with a median decrease of 1.3 percentage points.

November regional jobless rates remained above November 2019 levels. All 17 labor market areas had jobless rate increases over the past two years, with a median advance of 1.5 percentage points.

The employment advances in the 14 markets ranged from 0.4 to 2.1 percent, with a median addition of 1.2 percent.

Sectors with the largest seasonal job reductions over the month included leisure and hospitality (down 11,000) and construction (down 5,000).

Ten metro areas added payroll jobs over the month with a median advance of 0.5 percent. Nonfarm jobs decreased in the Monroe, Niles, and Bay City regions and remained unchanged in the Muskegon metro area.

Statewide nonfarm employment moved up by 150,000, or 3.6 percent, during the year. Thirteen metro areas recorded payroll job additions since November 2020, with a median gain of 3.4 percent.


COVID Hospitalizations Continue To Rise

The number of individuals in the hospital with the coronavirus increased again after taking a dip last week, data posted by the Department of Health and Human Services shows.

Case rates and positivity rates are also increasing alongside hospitalizations, while death rates have gone down some.

From December 21-27, the DHHS indicated that 476 people died of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the state reported a 27,346 COVID-19 cases for Tuesday and Wednesday, along with 277 deaths (165 during vital record reviews). The seven-day average for cases is now 12,654 – up from 12,442 on Monday.

The agency said the number of cases is increasing in all age groups, but particularly among those aged 20-49.

Currently, there are 4,434 adults in the hospital with confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19. There are also 123 children in the hospital with confirmed or suspected cases. That is a pandemic high for children.

Average hospital admissions increased 20 percent since last compared to a 5 percent decrease the week before. Pediatric hospitalizations increased significantly, the DHHS said.

With schools starting up again and some deciding to go virtual, the department said 35 percent of K-12 districts have mask mandates covering 53 percent of the state’s students.