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Redistricting Commission Member Says Public Comment Is Crucial To Drawing New Maps

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The commission held its first public hearing this week in Jackson.

Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission continues to work toward its goal of drawing new district maps for Congress and the state legislature using 2020 census data.

This week, the group held the first in a series of public hearings to get feedback on what people want to see in those maps.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with M.C. Rothhorn. He's a Lansing Democrat who is a part of the commission.

Interview Highlights

On The Public Hearings The Commission Is Hosting

We're affectionately calling these public hearings, it's a listening tour. Before we can draw any of the maps that you mentioned, what we've done is figured out how to run these and how to be inclusive. Radically inclusive for people to know that we want to listen [and] that we want to hear from people. And before we draw any maps, right, we need to get this input.

On What He's Learn Since Joining The Commission

I suppose that the idea that I am qualified, if that makes sense, right? The idea that I'm randomly selected. I don't necessarily have the same qualifications that I would expect that, frankly, our staff or all the consultants that we've hired [have]. And I'm one of 13 decision makers, and I am just as qualified as anyone. And so that's humbling. It's really humbling.

On Why The Commission Needs Public Comment

If we can't hear from them, then we can't really draw it representationally, so the idea that it's an independent citizens-led commission and without the voices of the people, right, we can't actually do our job. We're an interdependent body like we depend on the citizens just like they're depending on us, so that they can actually go out into elections next year to use these maps. I'll say it's crucial.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission continues to work towards its goal of drawing new district maps for Congress and the state legislature using 2020 census data.

This week, the group held the first in a series of public hearings to get feedback on what people want to see in those maps.

I spoke to Commission Member and Lansing Democrat M.C. Rothhorn earlier this week ahead of the second public hearing. We last talked in September when he was first selected to serve on this commission. I started by asking him what he and his team have done since forming.

I feel like we've built a team.

M.C. Rothhorn: We've done a lot. So, it's been about eight months, and I suppose the staff and the policies that we've created as the inaugural commission, some of the discussions around how we set ourselves up when we're running a meeting, or a public hearing. Frankly, we're also participating in town halls, so we've sort of differentiated with many different pieces and how we're going to operate as a commission, like, all 13 of us in each of those places. Again, the policies address some of that. The staff are helping us understand our roles. Yeah, and frankly, I feel like we've built a team, you know.

We're going into the second public hearing [Thursday] in Kalamazoo. We're affectionately calling these public hearings, it's a listening tour. Before we can draw any of the maps that you mentioned, what we've done is figured out how to run these and how to be inclusive. Radically inclusive for people to know that we want to listen [and] that we want to hear from people. And before we draw any maps, right, we need to get this input, and this citizen input is sort of how we have framed it.

I mean, it's the first, it's an inaugural commission, right? We intend to be around, for the system, we hope to set it up for, you know, the next census round in 20...I guess that would be 2030.

Saliby: Is there something you learned serving on this commission so far that you didn't expect to learn?

I'm grateful to the folks, the Michigan residents that voted for this, and the folks who dreamed it up and made it happen and put it into the constitution.

 Rothhorn: I suppose that the idea that I am qualified, if that makes sense, right? The idea that I'm randomly selected. I don't necessarily have the same qualifications that I would expect that, frankly, our staff or all the consultants that we've hired [have]. And I'm one of 13 decision makers, and I am just as qualified as anyone. And so that's humbling. It's really humbling.

RELATED: Lansing Democrat To Be Part Of Citizens' Group Redrawing Congressional District Lines

But it does feel like this citizens commission is like, I'm beginning to understand a lot of how this works. And frankly, I'm grateful to the folks, the Michigan residents that voted for this, and the folks who dreamed it up and made it happen and put it into the constitution.

Saliby: You and your colleagues are asking for more time than originally set to draw maps and hear more public comment due to delays in getting census data. Can you speak more on why you need that extra time?

Rothhorn: The general idea is that we are tasked, we, the commission, have the authority to create these maps. These maps will then be used to draw and administer elections. So if we can, in cooperation with the Secretary of State who's administering those elections, suggest that we can't get the data that we need that is because, right, September 30, is when the Census, the office is going to release the data or suggests that they will be able to release the data that early for us.

There's a 45-day period that we need in order to actually create these maps and have them approved by the people who were essentially giving us input now. There's a second round of public hearings. And so there's a 45 day period, and [when] it ends, we want to have these maps ready on November 1. And because we aren't getting the data until September 30, right? That month of October isn't 45 days. It's only 31! So, we have petitioned the Supreme Court of Michigan to, I suppose, help us make the date.

Saliby: Why should people listening to this conversation right now share their thoughts about redistricting online or at one of these listening sessions with you and your team, your group?

Rothhorn: Because this is where democracy comes in. It's the democracy as well as "independent citizens," right? The citizens are drawing these districts. We are tasked. I am a citizen and a resident of Michigan, lifelong. And we will be drawing these and if we, right, the 13 of us, can't hear from the millions of Michiganders, right, that have their hearts, you know, and really know that this is an important step.

We're an interdependent body. Like, we depend on the citizens just like they're depending on us, so that they can actually go out into elections next year to use these maps.

If we can't hear from them, then we can't really draw it representationally, so the idea that it's an independent citizens-led commission and without the voices of the people, right, we can't actually do our job. We're an interdependent body. Like, we depend on the citizens just like they're depending on us, so that they can actually go out into elections next year to use these maps. I'll say it's crucial.

Saliby: M.C. Rothhorn is a member of the state's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Thank you for joining me.

Rothhorn: Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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