Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Jan. 12, 2024 | This Week in Government: How to Grow Michigan’s Population

Jan. 12, 2024 | This Week in Government: How to Grow Michigan’s Population

January 12, 2024
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides 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.

2024 Detroit Policy Conference: Prosperity and Population Growth Can’t Fall Victim To Politics

DETROIT – Michigan must act to reverse the trend of its declining population or the state will only fall further behind, speakers at the Detroit Policy Conference said on Thursday.

“Michigan’s house is on fire,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said during his opening remarks.

The focus of the conference was growing Michigan’s population. Members of the governor’s population growth council discussed the findings of the Growing Michigan Together Report with journalists in front of an audience at MotorCity Casino in Detroit.

Demographic data shows that Michigan’s population is shrinking, getting poorer, getting older and becoming less competitive across a variety of metrics, including income growth and labor force participation.

“This is a crisis. And our prosperity and our population crisis has been in the making for a long time – counted in decades,” Baruah said. “There is no person, persons, political party or sector that we can blame. If anyone has been a part of Michigan for the last 50 years, we all play a role in this.”

Population is a concern, but the state should view population growth as the result of improving the prosperity of Michigan residents, said former Ambassador John Rakolta, co-chair of the population growth council.

During the 1980s, Michigan was in the 117th percentile of the national average income. Now, it’s in the 85th percentile.

“We will be the first state in the nation that will increase our prosperity without population growth,” Rakolta said. “While population growth is the goal, it’s a long ways off. … But all is not lost, because the thing that I saw is that Michigan has the ingredients – all of them, innovation, the smarts, the people, the desire, at least at the general population level – to, in fact, solve this problem. All we have to do is bring a level of urgency to it.”

Rakolta; Shirley Stancato, co-chair of the council; and Hilary Doe, Michigan’s chief growth officer, outlined the findings of the Growing Michigan Together Report and the depth of the state’s challenges.

To improve the state’s prosperity and grow the population, Michigan needs to develop a robust economic growth strategy, improve its educational outcomes and provide accessible and dependable transit.

Stancato said that as the council began to gather data, it became clear that, given the severity of the problems facing the state, members didn’t have time to offer valuable solutions.

Instead, it was more important to clearly define the problem and create a sense of urgency.


“It’s serious,” she said. “We didn’t realize how difficult it was.”

Stancanto said data points underscore how dire the population crisis is, such as the fact that the Upper Peninsula has lost nearly half of its K-12 students. Another fact the council uncovered is that six in 10 jobs in Michigan pay below middle-class wages.

“Our policymakers are going to have to take a deep breath and look at some of the things we can change,” Stancato said.

Both Rakolta and Stancato were critical of those who called the work of the population council cover for Democrats and Governor Gretchen Whitmer to increase taxes.

“That’s an easy way to throw a red herring into the mix and to distract everybody in the press,” Rakolta said. “It isn’t about the loot bags. It’s about the fact that the state of Michigan is broken.”

The council didn’t talk about increasing taxes or even ways to increase state revenue, though that is a concern, Stancato said.

“We didn’t have time to do anything about taxes. We had to clearly define the problem,” she said. “One of the things I said though, if you look at where are kids are going … the taxes aren’t cheaper there, though.”

Still, increasing taxes isn’t even the place to start, Rakolta said. What the state needs to do is a deep dive on whether Michigan’s current tax structure is built for the 21st Century.

“I’m talking about doing a complete review of the current budget and redirecting current spending into some of these areas that are going to be more effective,” he said. “We do a deep review of how we spend our money. We can’t go to the citizens and ask for more money until we are absolutely certain that the money we’re spending today is all being spent as efficiently as possible in getting the kind of return that our citizens are expecting.”

Partisanship will be an obstacle to progress, Rakolta and Stancato said.

The population council was able to put aside politics for the most part, Stancato said.

“We did not lead with politics. We were able to take it, put it to the side – not that we left them – and focus on the issue,” she said.

The vote to approve the report was nearly unanimous, Stancato said, saying that the one dissenting vote was from a member who didn’t participate and engage in the process.

“Really, I consider it a unanimous vote,” she said.

Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) was the member of the council who voted against approving the report.

Rakolta also noted that Senate Republicans would not compromise with the governor on appointing someone to the population council after she turned down Sen. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Coldwater).

“The governor was willing to take anybody else. Any other conservative Republican senator and they refused. … There’s plenty other Republican senators that could have done the job,” Rakolta said. “I would ask Republican leadership, what is the real underlying reason? And I think it’s an election year and they don’t want to give the governor any positive news whatsoever.”

Republicans have been consistently critical of the council and its report. Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) said earlier this year the governor declining to appoint Lindsey showed the council was not truly bipartisan.

The system needs more accountability and sacrifice to address the issues Michigan faces, Rakolta said.

“I don’t see the danger in participating, and that’s what’s not happening. We’re not having these honest, frank conversations,” he said. “We’re avoiding that because nobody’s quite sure where the public is. Well, I don’t care where the public is at, at this point in time, because I know ultimately, they all want to prosper.”

The public needs to show that they care about solving the problems, Rakolta said, because special interests are driving the conversation right now.

“We’ll have to pressure Lansing. … We have to demand action,” he said. “We have to hold them accountable for no action.”

There have been similar population reports in the past, and nothing has been done. The state needs to stop hesitating, Rakolta said.

“We’re no closer today than we were 15 years ago,” he said. “Does our approach have to become more radical than it’s been in the past to get the kind of results that we’re looking for?”

To get results, Michigan needs to become more cohesive, Rakolta said. Currently, the state is too unpredictable because it has unresolved tension between political parties, regions, races and labor relations.

The focus needs to shift to economic progress, opportunity and education, Rakolta said.

“Every four years, every eight years, we completely reverse everything. There’s no predictability of what Michigan will be like,” he said. “I think the best place to start is in the governor’s office and the Legislature They have the infrastructure to begin this movement, but in order to do that, there has to be a cohesion between the Republicans and Democrats. We have to keep out the hate speech. We have to keep out the dialogue that’s not directly involved in this conversation.”

The report is a starting point, Stancato said, because there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“This report is a call for accountability,” Rakolta said. “We need to do something about this now. … The further we get behind, the harder it will be to catch up.”


SCOTUS Dockets Redistricting Case, Fed Court Appoints Special Master

The U.S. Supreme Court has docketed the ongoing appeal to a federal court’s ruling that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created unconstitutional maps for the state House and Senate.

An application to stay the effects of a federal three-judge panel’s ruling in Agee v. Benson was filed by the commission last week. The commission hopes the federal high court will hear the case and potentially overturn the holding. The case was docketed Thursday, taken up by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who oversees the 6th Circuit.

ICRC Commissioner Steve Lett announced movement in the case during the body’s special meeting Thursday to determine how it would build remedy maps by February 2. Lett is the commission’s legal liaison with its attorneys at Baker Hostetler.

Lett told commissioners that Kavanaugh has requested a response from the plaintiffs by January 17, fast tracking the case.

Attorney Richard Raile with Baker Hostetler asked the court to issue the stay while it prepares a direct appeal to the ruling. Raile also hoped the high court would promptly request oral arguments.

With the state’s candidate filing deadline on April 23, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has asked the courts to act promptly to have remedy maps ready soon. The injunction placed on the defendants, both Benson and the commission, prevents the state from holding elections in the House and Senate districts in and around Detroit.

The three-judge panel of U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Raymond Kethledge and Janet Neff held the commission used race as a predominant factor when building Detroit’s districts, a violation of residents’ Equal Protection rights.

Meanwhile, the panel on Thursday issued an order to appoint a special master to draw remedy maps in case the commission fails to complete the task of creating a new House map – and one that meets muster – by February 2.

Michael Barber, an associate professor at Brigham Young University, was appointed as the mapping special master. Barber has until January 16 to notify the court if he can’t participate or if there were any grounds for his disqualification. The court will have him build a House map while the commission attempts to do the same.

Bernard Grofman, a professor at University of California-Irvine, was appointed as a second special master to review the commission’s completed House map.

The panel also issued a ruling in the same order regarding Baker Hostetler’s new role as the commission’s Voting Rights Act counsel after consultant Bruce Adelson terminated his contract with the commission in late December 2023.

There were concerns from the plaintiffs that attorney Mark Braden would offer advice to the commission but could later become a fact witness in any potential future litigation should the new maps pose different legal problems. Jennifer Green of Clark Hill, the plaintiffs’ attorney, thought it would be a conflict if Braden is cross examined by a member of his own firm.

The panel said the plaintiffs’ concerns were “well-founded, but not insuperable.”

“As a rule, attorneys indeed should not testify as witnesses in cases in which they serve as advocates,” the panel wrote. “That said, Braden is a well-respected attorney with long experience with the law relevant to the commission’s upcoming work here. We will therefore permit his appointment as VRA counsel, notwithstanding the plaintiffs’ objection, if Braden promptly discontinues his role as litigation counsel in this case, and Baker Hostetler implements an appropriate mechanism to prevent Braden and his colleagues at Baker Hostetler, going forward, from sharing any information regarding their respective work regarding this case.”

House GOP Wants Shared Power. Dems Say Those Aren’t The Rules.

Republicans angled for a shared power agreement on the first day of session in 2024 while the House is temporarily split at 54-54, but didn’t get very far.

Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) put forward HR 171  to amend the House’s standing rules and give his party equal power to the Democrats for as long as there’s an equal number of Democratic and Republican members serving.

“There’s 54 Republicans and 54 Democrats, which means that both parties have to share power and work together to get things done,” said Jerry Ward, a spokesperson for Hall. “There is shared power, whether there’s a formal agreement or not because anything that gets done has to be bipartisan.”

No action was taken on the resolution. Any sort of shared power agreement is a non-starter, House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said.

“The rules that we all agreed on at the beginning of the legislative session – that’s not shared power,” he said. “It’s a little disappointing that there’s still that conversation around that.”

The House Rules on the subject are the same as those from the previous term when Republicans held control. Only if a 55-55 split occurs with a full complement of 110 members serving would a new election for speaker be held.

Tate said he wants to work on bipartisan issues and thought there was opportunity around lowering the cost of prescription drugs, the budget and community and economic development.

“It’d be nice to get a list from the minority leader in terms of what he wants to do,” he said. “It would be nice to actually govern and actually get things done.”

Republicans have publicly laid out that they’re interested in working on road funding, improving schools and growing the economy, Ward said.

“We want to get things done,” Ward said. “We started that conversation about shared power, and so we’re going to keep having those conversations, I hope, and keep working together on how to tackle those specific issues. … We are in shared power, both parties have an even number, so we’re ready to get bipartisan work done.”

Both caucuses indicated that the ball for bipartisanship was in the other party’s court.

“The Dems set the agenda right now, so they decide what comes up,” Ward said. “We are hoping that we can have a very productive session this month and next month and, in the months ahead, find common ground.”

Tate also said he hopes to be able to move forward with Republicans.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities to work together,” Tate said. “We’ll see how that plays out.”

Redistricting Sets New Mapping Dates For Remedial House Map

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in a special meeting on Thursday set dates for the upcoming mapping sessions that will see the body race to create remedy maps for the state House after a federal three-judge panel tossed the map it drew in 2021 because it violated Detroit residents’ Equal Protection rights.

A federal panel of U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan and 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges Raymond Kethledge and Janet Neff held the commission used race as a predominant factor when building Detroit’s state House and Senate districts.

An injunction is in place requiring the commission to create a new remedy map for the House by February 2, and barring Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from holding elections until new maps are adopted. The panel denied a requested stay of its ruling and set forth that the commission must create a new House map by early February.

Redrawing the Senate map’s challenged districts would come after the commission remedies House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14.

The lightspeed run to begin drawing was expected to begin Thursday, but the commission used the meeting to hear a presentation on Detroit demographic data, enter a lengthy closed session to talk about the ongoing Agee v. Benson appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court (see separate story) and to discuss how it would go about mapping in the weeks ahead.

Commissioners agreed to begin mapping without having racial metrics turned on during mapping to avoid any possibility that it would again use race as a predominant factor. It would instead focus on population and partisan fairness as its constitutional charge prescribes.

The adopted motion from Commissioner Steve Lett (I-Interlochen) also stated the commission would get a Voting Rights Act assessment for its House map once individual and collaborative maps are completed but before they are submitted to the panel for approval.

Collaborative mapping will begin next Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a short break in between. The collaborative mapping process will continue through Thursday, January 18. Those meetings are to be held remotely.

In-person meetings to be held in Detroit would begin the following week on January 22 and January 23. The location of those meetings is to be determined, but ICRC Executive Director Edward Woods III said those meetings would likely be at Huntington Place, formerly TCF Center and before that Cobo Hall.

Meetings on January 24-26 will be held at Cadillac Place.

A public comment period will begin after February 2, concluding no later than February 23.

The court ordered the commission to submit its final remedial House map no later than March 1. Plaintiff objections to the submitted plan must be filed by March 8. Responses from Benson and the commission must be filed by March 15.

An appointed reviewing special master must submit a report on the commission’s work by March 15, as well.

Additional filings commenting on the special master’s review must be filed no later than March 20.

Selfridge to Host Refueling Aircraft Squadron

A KC-46A refueling tanker squadron will be hosted at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County, a move officials said will strengthen the nation’s defenses and the long-term stability of the base.

Members of the congressional delegation have previously asked the U.S. Air Force to locate a squadron of 12 of the refueling tankers at Selfridge, calling it an ideal location (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 20, 2023).

Replacing the existing eight-tanker squadron of KC-135 aircraft would be 12 newer KC-46A aircraft, which are more advanced aircraft and allow for more personnel at the base.

State and federal leaders have been pushing for newer squadrons of aircraft to locate at Selfridge in recent years, including a new fighter mission. The current A-10 fighter mission at the base is eventually coming to an end.

In 2021, the Air Force chose Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Arkansas for an F-35 fighter mission. When making its decision, the Air Force in a release said Selfridge was chosen as an alternate location “in the rare case the environmental impact analysis determines the preferred location unsuitable.”

Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-Saint Clair Shores), chair of the Senate Appropriations Military, Veterans and State Police Subcommittee, said in a statement that Selfridge is his top priority, and it helps fuel the regional economy.

“I’m incredibly grateful that the Air Force has awarded Selfridge this new opportunity – it is truly a win for the state of Michigan,” Hertel said. “I also look forward to continuing working with other state and federal leaders to secure a future fighter mission, and fully cement Selfridge’s standing as a premier base for years to come.”

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller in a statement said the decision is good news for the base now and for its long-term future.

“Selfridge is perfectly positioned to carry out this very important critical mission for the Air National Guard,” Miller said. “It’s critical because the 12 new KC-46A refuelers to be placed here are vital to keeping fighter aircraft flying in the sky all over the world.”

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