Meeting Notes for 3/7/18: Flash Survey; Gerrymandering

Harpoon Notes for March 7, 2018

By Ed Hoffman, photos by Fred Beutler

President John struck the Rotary bell gently as Deanna’s superb piano prelude luffed in our consciousness like regatta pennants at sunset. All rose to sing a full-throated “My Country, Tis of Thee” with a gravitas worthy of our speaker and her subject. Barbara Eichmuller then came to the podium and delivered the Inspiration; a thoughtful homily on peace. She began with a prayer of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be…May you be content knowing you are a child of God…and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

John returned to inform us that he would act again as our song leader, since “Ingrid Sheldon has been struck with a sudden flu.” First, the assembly sang “The 4-Way Test, followed by James O. Scott’s “Smile, Sing a Song.” All well done – and get better, Ingrid!

A hugely welcome surprise for members was to see Fred Beutler back at his usual post, as Rotary photographer. He waved in response to John’s greeting, saying “It’s great to be back.” As if that wasn’t enough, Fred informed everyone that Sue, Rotary’s Assistant Photographer, was there also. “She should be coming in any minute now,” Fred remarked to the delighted and astonished crowd.

Then, John let the room know that a sponsoring family has been found for Adele, the Huron High School student athlete. “Adele will now be able to complete her year at Huron and play basketball.” Applause erupted all around.

In response to members’ enthusiastic response to Ed Weir’s marvelous presentation about Detroit’s Tiny Houses, President-Elect Greg Stejskal stood to make an announcement: “We’ve put together a one-time project to help clean up a lot at the building site…I don’t know what we might find in those lots.” Wry laughter, evoking shades of Jimmy Hoffa, circled the room. After two dates were proposed, it became evident to John and Greg that Saturday, March 24th, would attract the most volunteers. “Another way to have a service-based meeting outside of our regular meetings,” John declared.

February’s Rotary Flash Survey results were reported by Carol Sewell. Responses will be furnished to the various committee chairs who, one would expect, will then contact the interested members. Indeed, Tiny House-work, flash surveys, John White’s “Bite-Size Jobs” master list, and Todd Kephart’s Food Drive update and plea for volunteers encapsulate just a few of the service dynamics at work today in RCAA. Oh, a clarification – Those wishing to donate to the Food Drive should make checks out to Food Gatherers, with “Rotary” written on the note line.

Speaker: Gerrymandering cracks and packs legislative districts

Next, Norma Sarkar came to the podium to introduce our speaker, Margaret Leary, Director Emeritus of the University of Michigan Law Library. After Norma’s gracious introduction, Ms. Leary began, “I am here to speak to you about the problem of redistricting in Michigan.” She stated her subject so clearly and deliberately, there was no question in the minds of her listeners that there was indeed a problem. “The popular term for redistricting, of course, is gerrymandering. I ‘m here to represent the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization. We do not support parties, but we do examine certain issues to preserve our democracy.” Ms. Leary noted that gerrymandering, “invented in 1810, has become so much worse in the last few years.” In a nutshell, it is a process used by legislators to guarantee control of a district by their party. Problems arise from the fact that the states “determine rules for drawing district lines according to the latest census.” Leary explained that the states base the legitimacy of these undertakings on the Constitution and the 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision. Michigan, in addition, bases its redistricting on its constitution of 1963, and on Public Act 463 (1996). She then showed a slide of three charts. The first illustrated a fair redistricting, where the district is ‘compact’ (not carved up), reflecting only census results. The second showed a tampered-with district; still compact, but with evidence of augmented populations. The third chart, labeled “Not Compact and Unfair,” evidenced radical absorption of desired voter populations. This is true gerrymandering – custom tailoring a district to deliver consistently predictable electoral results.

“There are two tools used to accomplish this,” Leary declared. “’Cracking and Packing’. Cracking communities results in voters not being able to elect their own representatives. Packing a district with partisans of the preferred party [accomplishes the same thing].” She cited Michigan’s 14th Congressional District as “one of the most gerrymandered districts – [even though] it’s 80% democratic and African-American.” Her audience correctly identified this as an example of packing. “Grand Rapids, on the other hand, is cracked – some voters are apportioned to the 2nd District, some to the 3rd.”

How to spot a gerrymandered district on a political map? Leary explained: “Gerrymandering looks squiggly or step-like in shape. Seats won do not reflect votes cast. This ‘putting the fox into the henhouse’ affects politics,” Leary observed. And, thus, our democracy. The cure: “We’d have to change the Michigan constitution.” Ms. Leary then recommended two organizations: Voters Not Politicians, which was founded in 2017, and the Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission (ICRC). In addition, author David Daley has published an excellent book on the subject, she asserted.

In conclusion, perhaps the first task should be, according to Leary, the administration of the census. “There are many problems with the census. [Adequate] money is a big problem. The past director of the U. S. census quit because of lack of funding from the Trump Administration.”

John thanked Ms. Leary amidst hearty applause then reminded us that next week “will be the induction of new members.”

JET: Join leaders; Exchange ideas; Take action!

Administrator’s Notes (by John White)

The Passing of Former Rotarian Whitmore Gray

Whitmore “Whit” Gray, Professor Emeritus in the U-M Law School and a member of our club from 1968 to 2004, passed away on March 4. He was 85. A memorial service is planned for 10:30am on Friday, March 16 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Click here for his obituary. Note: His daughter, Lisa Tucker-Gray, has entertained us as part of the Wine, Women and Song troupe.

Weekly Meeting Statistics

As a result of Margaret Leary’s informative talk on gerrymandering, we attracted a total of 91 Rotarians. We also had two visiting Rotarians (ADG Anne Nauts of Chelsea and Abdel Mohamed from NC). Abel is now working in Ypsi and is checking out local clubs. We also had two Members-elect (Kati Bauer and Lauren Heinonen) and seven guests. Three committees (International Humanitarian Projects, Membership and Social) met before lunch. A total of 17 members participated. Also reported was a total of 23 sessions at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance at the United Way and four sessions of Staying Closer in Touch at Milan Prison.

Makeup Cards for Roving Rotarians

None this week.