City will be grouped with Cedar Springs, Sparta, Walker and Grandville
by BETH ALTENA
For the last ten years the City of Rockford has sat in the center of the 73rd House of Representatives District, served by Pete MacGregor, Tom Pearce and Doug Hart. Census figures prompted a Republican-designed shift of political districts, which, unless ruled improper by a judge, will have Rockford in the 74th District rather than the 73rd, paired with the communities of Cedar Springs, Sparta, Algoma Township, Solon, Tyrone, Kent City, Sparta, Algoma Grandville and Walker. Currently Rockford is in the 73rd District, with Pete MacGregor as State Representative. Although MacGregor lives a stone’s throw away from the City of Rockford’s eastern boundary, as a resident of Cannon Township, he will no longer represent Rockford if reelected in November 2012.
“It is based on populations and very stringent and redistricting guidelines,” said MacGregor. Currently, according to the most recent census figures, his district represents over 100,000 residents. Representatives are supposed to represent about 89,000 residents. “It is because Kent County has experienced tremendous growth. The City of Grand Rapids and the Village of Sparta are about the only two areas who have not grown. Every other area has gained population.”
Redistricting takes place every ten years following census figures, and the party in power draws the lines. It is typical, even expected, the minority party to cry foul and make accusations of germandering—the practice of designing political districts to favor a particular party. This year’s process is no exception. MacGregor said the redistricting begins in the legislature and then goes to the governor. Once the governor signs off on the new district boundaries, typically the minority party will challenge the legality of the new districts.
Ultimately the case could be put forth to the Supreme Court, and if determined to be unacceptable, a judge could choose the challenger’s plan. This is unlikely, MacGregor believes. The entire process has to be completed decided by November 1, this year. “I will be campaigning in the new district next year,” MacGregor noted. He said he was “devastated” when he saw the new district because he feels strong ties to Rockford because of its proximity, his history working with local leaders, because his kids go to school in the Rockford School District (much of which he will still represent). He is also unhappy to loose much of the agricultural area he currently represents in Algoma Township.
Rockford’s new state Representative will be a rookie after the 2012 elections, since current 74th District Representative Dave Agema is term-limited out. Those who share a Rockford address will no longer share a state representative as the area will be divided between the 73rd and 74th district.
He believes members of his party followed all of the rules for redistricting, because they would not want a judge to have cause to throw out the plan and draw up new districts. Rules include trying not to split up counties, breaking up blocks of minority communities, and the rules are designed to keep the process legal and fair. Although the Supreme Court is not supposed to vote along party lines, currently there are four Republicans and three Democrats.
Redistricting can have a profound impact on the political future of each district. “IT was huge we got a majority in the house and senate so we could do the [redistricting] fairly and legally,” MacGregor said. He added that nonetheless, redistricting “Is always political.”
The new 73rd District will be Nelson, Spencer, Oakfield, Grattan, Plainfield, Grand Rapids Townships and the City of East Grand Rapids, as staying in the same district and will gain Forest Hills and East Grand Rapids. The district last changed boundaries ten years ago during the terms of State Representative Doug Hart.