GOP senators could see terms cut in half under gerrymandering settlement

By: - January 24, 2019 6:33 pm

Susan J. Demas

At least three Republican members of Michigan’s Senate are concerned their terms could be cut in half should a proposed settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging gerrymandering move forward.

Sens. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) and Lana Theis (R-Brighton) each filed briefs on Tuesday in League of Women Voters v. Benson.

Jim Stamas (left), Lana Theis (middle) and Ken Horn (right)

The three senators represent districts that are alleged to have been drawn in a way as to favor Republicans, which led a number of Michigan Democrats and the League of Women Voters of Michigan to sue the state.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat and the suit’s defendant, has moved to settle the case, angering Republicans.

Stamas, Horn and Theis, in court documents, allege that the proposed settlement would lead to “mid-term” elections in 2020 violating the state’s Constitution and “would act to truncate [each of their] Constitutionally established terms of office from Senators from four to two years.”

That raises an issue under Michigan’s 1992 term limits law, which states that senators can only serve for two terms. Article IV § 54 reads:

“No person shall be elected to the office of state senate more than two times. Any person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy in the house of representatives or the state senate for a period greater than one half of a term of such office, shall be considered to have been elected to serve one time in that office for purposes of this section.”

Jocelyn Benson

The GOP-led Michigan Senate on Wednesday voted to allow Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) to seek legal counsel and file a motion on behalf of the legislative body, as the Advance previously reported. Other Republicans, including House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and several members of Congress, are already parties to the case. They are fighting Benson’s efforts to settle.

Peter Ruddell, a Lansing attorney for Honigman LLP’s government relations and regulatory practice group who is not involved in the case, told the Advance Thursday that anything that could shorten lawmakers’ terms would go against the will of voters and the case needs to be left to the courts.

“I think it’s ultimately a question for the courts and I think it’s ultimately something that needs to be contemplated in the proposed settlement,” Ruddell said. “And it’s something that the intervening defendants [GOP lawmakers] maybe don’t want included in the settlement. I just think once you start going down this path of shortening individuals’ terms outside of the scope of a constitutional amendment, there’s going to be massive unintended consequences.”

Mark Brewer, who filed the suit on behalf of the League of Women Voters and Democrats, could not immediately be reached on Thursday for comment.

As the Advance has reported, court documents indicate that Benson and the plaintiffs were negotiating a “compromise in which fewer than the 34 challenged [state legislative and congressional] districts would be redistricted.”

However, it’s not clear how many districts bordering the targeted districts could also be impacted, something Ruddell noted on Thursday.

“Let’s say Ken Horn’s district, for example. If he’s one of the one districts to be redrawn, how do you take Ken Horn’s district and change it in a way that doesn’t impact all of the surrounding districts?” Ruddell said. “So this number of 34 [that’s been raised in court documents] seems to be kind of a red herring. If you’re going to redraw [some] districts, then in all likelihood, you’re going to have to redraw a majority, if not all [all] the Senate districts.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.