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State reps facing new districts

Rashida Tlaib, John Olumba, Jimmy Womack

By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — As the political party in control of the legislature, state Republicans spearheaded the redistricting process following the 2010 census.

A 2011 federal discrimination lawsuit resulted, headed by the NAACP, citing violations to the voting rights of African American communities across the state.

In Detroit, the redrawn lines extended some districts deep into neighboring suburbs. Other districts were reconfigured so that incumbents would be forced to run against one another.

The U.S. Department of Justice ultimately threw the case out.

As a result, this Aug. 7 primary, Detroit legislators and residents are facing drastically altered districts for the state representative races.

The Michigan Citizen interviewed Democratic state representatives now running for office in the newly forged third and sixth districts. These two races feature prominent local political figures — incumbents strong in their former districts — who must now face off against each other.

The Michigan Citizen questioned incumbents Rashida Tlaib and Maureen Stapleton on the challenges of campaigning in brand new territory and how Public Act 4 has affected the political climate in Detroit. Their answers, in abridged form, are presented below.

East meets west in the new sixth district

Detroit state representative districts 12 and 4 were realigned to accommodate the new district 6, which now stretches from southwest Detroit, across downtown and into the lower east side. It also includes parts of Ecorse and River Rouge.

Rashida Tlaib is currently finishing her first term as state representative of the 12th district, located in Detroit’s southwest side. She cites her Neighborhood Service Center as the heart and soul of her community engagement.

Maureen Stapleton represents the near east side of Detroit, the 4th district, including the historic East Grand Boulevard corridor that leads to Belle Isle.

Rashida Tlaib

There are many Detroiters still unaware of the redistricting process and the issues it raises every census. What are the challenges to campaigning in a completely new part of town, before folks who are meeting you the first time?

I’ve always run a grassroots campaign — I’ve never had name recognition before I ran. In 2008 I was the odd one out. But I was the one that was able to run a door-to-door campaign and was able to get elected by a huge margin because of that.

I think redistricting hurt district 6 the most because they took very unique, distinct neighborhoods and put them together. You’re going to need somebody who works really hard to bring everybody together and make sure to represent them all equally.

Can you address the crisis of democracy that has fallen on Detroit in the form of the emergency manager and the Consent Agreement? Is there any recourse now for dealing with Public Act 4 though the legislature?

I truly believe that if we can’t move the legislature to repeal Public Act we’ll have to continue to fight it through the court system. You see some of the progressive organizations, including Sugar Law Center, moving in that direction and continuing their partnership with labor organizations that see this as having a direct impact on the people to vote for their representation.

We fought hard even though people say we should have fought harder. We are in the minority and I don’t think people understand that we don’t carry the gavel — (Republicans) control everything.

When we filed a lawsuit against immediate effect, they freaked out and retaliated against us, from holding off from us hiring anyone to not letting anybody speak.

It’s about filing those complaints and approaching the federal government and giving them evidence that the emergency manager is violating federal protection laws for our citizens and our kids.

What about the new bridge to Canada? What’s the effect of Gov. Rick Snyder going around the state legislature and making a deal directly with Canadian officials?

These are Detroit residents that had opened their arms to the possibility of a partnership on a project that directly impacts them and they have been excluded completely. We’ve testified that we have serious problems with the agreement because it doesn’t touch on the guarantees for community benefits agreements like we had hoped for.

I’m not opposed to a bridge. I’m opposed to building a bridge without inclusion of the people’s decision in how they’re impacted. We’re talking about the most poverty-stricken community of minorities in the city of Detroit, that’s going to have this massive infrastructure placed in their backyard. And no real concrete guarantees or protections.

There’s no real talk or conversation about who will get the jobs. There’s no talk about air quality in the neighborhood. There’s no conversation about the families getting displaced.

Editor’s note: After numerous phone calls, the Michigan Citizen submitted e-mail questions to Rep. Maureen Stapleton, at her request. Answers to those questions were not received by the time this story went to print.

Womack and Olumba in new third District

Incumbents Dr. Jimmy Womack (District 7) and John Olumba (District 5) have been thrown together in northeast Detroit’s newly-drawn third district. Womack and Olumba, considered front-runners in the race, answered the following questions posed by the Michigan Citizen.

John Olumba

What challenges are you facing now that your district is comprised of 75 percent new residents, many of whom may not know your name?

Across Detroit two underlying, key issues are rising to the top above all others: the work ethic and the integrity of public officials. The people know that the jobs question and the economy are linked to whether public officials are acting in a righteous manner … Everything I’ve done up to this point involves addressing corruption, including the initiation of the probe into the (Wayne County Executive Bob) Ficano administration. I’ve introduced 60 House bills — that’s the largest number of any freshman legislator.

You were at the center of the argument that Democrats didn’t do enough to prevent Public Act 4 from passing with “immediate effect.” Why is that important?

I’ve been at the forefront of this issue since before day one. A bill takes effect depending on when the end of the session occurs. The failure of Democratic leadership in that case means PA4 wouldn’t have taken affect until March of this year, after the end of last year’s house session …

The Democrats, who didn’t fight this harder, act like it’s inconsequential. We could have done a filibuster or walk out or record statements in the official journal — I was the only one to oppose it in the journal.

Without that nine month difference, none of this — the Consent Agreement, the closing of public schools, the EAA — would be going on …

They (Republican Party) had to have immediate effect on PA4 or they would be dealing with this right now, in 2012. They would be talking about it in the middle of an election year. All of these things are layers that could have swung the pendulum in favor of the Democrats. The timing of the “immediate effect” changed the entire political landscape.

Dr. Jimmy Womack

How will geographic changes to your district affect campaigning in the next two weeks?

The districts, historically, are pretty balanced in terms of demographics — education, cost of housing, income. One difference between the other races is that my race includes territory from three incumbents, so there are two new areas for me to cover.

I’m running my campaign the same way I ran it before — with honesty and based on merit. I believe just doing what I’ve always done will result in the same outcome — I want to inform my voters based on information they can document in the public record.

What is it that you’ve always done? Give us a specific policy measure you’ve enacted that your constituents can document as part of that record.

Sen. Virgil Smith and myself are the only lawmakers out of Detroit that actually had legislation signed into law that brings real jobs to Detroit — temporary jobs in the construction and redevelopment component of the State Fair; and then the jobs from the expected commercial businesses that will be located there … In addition, the Gateway project finally broke ground after that legislation was passed.

What is your position been on Public Act 4 and, now that it is state law, what can be done during your next term to address the affects it has had on Detroit residents?

I’ve always opposed an emergency manager, or a financial manager, when Robert Bobb was appointed, even when some grassroots people — that includes Agnes Hitchcock — supported the appointment of Bobb because they thought Bobb was going to catch crooks. I opposed it then, I opposed it when they changed the law, I oppose it now. In terms of what’s happening now, we’re in litigation, and for anybody to suggest that something could have stopped Public Act 4, before, is only fooling the public. The “immediate effect” could only delay the effect of PA 4 by months. Because any bill signed into law goes into effect three months after…

This whole argument about immediate effect shades the reality — the reality is, we need to control the House or the Senate to control this process. I think it’s unfair that citizens are being given the impression that one person over another person stood up longer or better — it’s political grandstanding….

I have always stood up to the emergency manager. There was nothing we could do on the floor to stop it. It was gaveled in and then voted on by the majority. We did it when we were in control, they are doing it now.

Filibustering is not allowed in the House of Representatives. We did everything legally possible and we’re still doing it.

There are more things we should be worried about other than this emergency manager — there are other rights being taken away.

Contact Eric T. Campbell at ericcampbell@michigancitizen.com

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