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Michigan Redistricting Puts Peters in a Pickle

Michigan’s newly proposed Congressional map puts Rep. Gary Peters in a bind, forcing the sophomore Democrat to choose between running against one of his caucus colleagues or in a GOP district.

The Wolverine State is losing a House seat in 2012 as a result of population decline, and Republicans who control the redistricting process have set their sights squarely on Peters.

Rep. John Conyers (D) and the Congressional Black Caucus are leading the charge in Lansing against the map, leaving Peters and other Detroit-area Democrats to sort out the potential primary situation.

Democrats had hypothesized for months that the Republicans would force Peters to run against Rep. Sander Levin (D), but the map released Friday shows that might not even be Peters’ best option.

The proposal slices up Peters’ current 9th district, putting more of his territory into districts belonging to other Michiganders than into Levin’s current district.

The map folds 33 percent of Peters’ current district into GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s 11th district, according to a detailed breakdown of the proposal circulated among the state’s House Democrats and obtained by Roll Call.

Under the map, Conyers’ proposed 14th district takes almost 28 percent of Peters’ district. And Republican Rep. Mike Rogers’ 8th district takes almost
15 percent.

Levin’s district would pick up only about 18 percent of Peters’ current territory. However, many of the Democratic stronghold areas that voted for Peters in past cycles are within Levin’s district.

Peters and Levin carefully coordinated their reaction to the map, putting out a joint statement a few hours after it was released Friday.

Democratic aides say the two Representatives have a warm and positive relationship in a delegation known for some of the most entrenched and biggest personalities in Congress.

That’s a stark difference with other potential primary matchups following redistricting in other states. In California, for example, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman will likely be forced to face off in 2012. That race would reveal deep-seated, longtime tension between the two Democratic Members.

Even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) sounded as if he were encouraging Peters to challenge McCotter.

“Ultimately, Gary has to make the decision on where to run, but McCotter has always been on people’s lists of someone who doesn’t represent the sensibilities of his district,” Israel said in a Friday interview with the Detroit Free Press. “Running against McCotter, Peters would have the truly moderate voting record.”

But Democratic aides walked back Israel’s comments this week, saying he spoke with the newspaper before the map was released at noon that day.

DCCC aides quickly pronounced their neutrality in a potential primary race between Peters, Levin or any other Michigan Democrat, instead deferring to the delegation.

Peters is considering his options.

“Rep. Peters is working together closely with Rep. Levin and the delegation to fight this map and to get fair representation for Michigan voters,” Peters spokesman Clark Pettig told Roll Call.

“Rep. Peters intends to run for re-election to Congress, and if this map actually becomes law, he will carefully consider how to best represent Michigan families over the next decade,” Pettig said.

Republicans welcomed a potential race between Peters and McCotter. Under the map, McCotter’s district is protected more than any other GOP Member’s in the delegation, with an influx of new Republicans.

“I think it would be great,” former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said in a phone interview.

“I think that McCotter is in very strong shape. I think that district has the current largest increase in Republican votes of any in the state,” Anuzis said. “He’d have a better chance beating Levin in the primary than against McCotter in the general.”

Conyers’ attorney Alan Canady testified about the proposed map Tuesday before the Michigan House redistricting committee.

The Congressional Black Caucus Institute, the political arm of the CBC, has prepared an alternative proposal to redraw the Detroit House districts as soon as possible.

“We’re certainly prepared to file a lawsuit, but that’s not our preferred course of action,” Canady told Roll Call.

“The Congressman would rather not go to court,” Canady said. “He’d rather work with the Legislature to come up with a good plan.”

Canady said any challenges to the map would center on the contorted shapes of the newly drawn 13th and 14th districts, where Conyers and freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke (D) reside, respectively.

The majority of lawsuits challenging maps so far this year revolve around whether minorities are properly represented, but in this case, it’s an issue of the districts not being compact, Canady said.

“We’ll certainly look at that as a possible challenge, but the maps that they put out to a certain extent do comport with the Voting Rights Act in terms of creating majority-minority districts,” Canady said. “They followed it, but the way that they’ve gone about it, there’s a better way to do it that would be consistent with the state’s required standards.”

Conyers also has a stake in changing the current map.

Although the proposed 14th district is heavily Democratic, it includes a great deal of new territory for Conyers. Insiders said the 24-term Democrat would be susceptible to a primary challenge with that much new terrain.

Conyers keeps less than 20 percent of his current territory if the proposed map is enacted. The new Conyers district would include more of Clarke’s district, almost 28 percent, under the proposed map, than of his own.

Michigan Democrats and Republicans caution the Legislature will act quickly to pass the proposed map — perhaps even by the end of next week.

If Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs off on the proposal, opponents have up to 30 days to file a lawsuit protesting the map.

Correction: June 22, 2011

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) as a member of the Blue Dog Coaltion. He is not.

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