Updated: Jan. 11, 2022, 1:02 a.m. | Published: Jan. 10, 2022, 10:42 a.m.
MIDLAND, MI — By this time next year, a change in the state’s election power structure could land a Democrat in a U.S. House of Representative seat tied to Republican-leaning Midland for the first time in nearly four decades.
The possibility is leaving leaders there hoping their next Congressional representative can bridge any political ideology gaps that may exist and keep the community out of troubled waters — in some cases, literally.
An independent redistricting commission last month re-drew the state’s Congressional map, with the adjustments set to take effect beginning with the November 2022 election outcome. The move means Midland and much of its county will exit a district that stretched across the center of the Lower Peninsula. There, Midland powered a politically-conservative coalition that most recently elected a GOP Congressman by twice as many votes as his Democratic opponent.
But now the city will fall under the umbrella of the 8th District House alongside two communities with larger populations: the liberal-leaning Flint and Saginaw. With the exception of Midland County’s addition, the district — which includes Bay County — will resemble the voting bloc that elected Dan Kildee five times as its Congressman. The Democrat won one of those terms by a margin larger than Midland County’s population.
“We are very different than those communities,” Midland Mayor Maureen Donker said of Saginaw and Flint. “We are all cities, but we are very different cities. Midland is much more rural.”
Kildee announced plans to seek re-election in the district that now will include the operations hub of global manufacturing giant, Dow. If victorious, the Flint Township politician would become the first Democrat to represent Midland in Congress since the late Donald Albosta vacated his post Jan. 3, 1985.
Before Albosta, the previous Democratic U.S. House member tied to the city served during Grover Cleveland’s presidency.
Midland for much of the last four decades was represented in Congress by powerful figures in the Republican Party. There was Bill Schuette, who later was the state’s attorney general as well as the 2018 GOP candidate in the gubernatorial race won by Gretchen Whitmer. Then there was Dave Camp, who served as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, considered one of the most influential positions in Washington, D.C.
John Moolenaar was elected Midland’s Congressional representative in November 2014. While he still lives in the city, the Republican announced 2022 campaign plans for the newly-drawn neighboring district that encompasses much of the same region set to shed Midland.
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (left) represents a Congressional district that includes Midland. During a Congressional map re-drawing, Midland was shifted to a district where U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (right) hopes to win re-election later this year. Moolenaar will seek re-election in a different newly-drawn district that will not include Midland.MLive file photos
As for the 8th District House 2022 race: Many concede a Republican candidate could be considered an underdog against Kildee.
Others are more hopeful.
“The overall House district is clearly Democrat-leaning, so it favors keeping Dan (Kildee) in there,” said Christian Velasquez, a retired Dow administrator and a Republican supporter who lives in Midland.
“But we’ll definitely fight to have representation, and we’ll fight to make it competitive.”
Midland County Republican Party Chairperson Cathy Leikhim outlined the type of candidate who could animate enough GOP voters to defeat a candidate such as Kildee: “Somebody who has a lot of name recognition and can raise a lot of money in a short amount of time,” she said.
Paul Junge, who lost a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin in 2020, so far is the lone Republican to announce plans to campaign in the new district. The former TV news anchor worked as an official in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Donald Trump administration, earning the former president’s endorsement two years ago.
Junge, a Brighton resident, told The Detroit News
he plans to move to Genesee County in advance of the November election.
Paul Junge announced plans in 2022 to campaign for a Congressional district that will represent Midland. This image was provided to MLive.com by Junge.
Velasquez said whoever wins the seat must spend more time in Midland.
“They would have to get to know us, listen to our needs and fairly represent our needs,” he said.
“If it’s Dan Kildee, I would hope he is slightly less partisan. To continue winning — now that his district is more neutral — hopefully he would change some of his voting habits toward what we need and expect and want out of Midland.”
Donker, now serving her seventh term on the nonpartisan Midland City Council, said the Congressional position plays an important role in addressing one of the community’s top challenges: reoccurring floods.
“(Moolenaar) has represented us very well when it comes to that,” the mayor said. “He lives here and understand the issues, and we need a representative who will continue to do that for us.”
She said Moolenaar was critical to securing federal resources and funding for Midland in response to one of the worst floods in state history in May 2020. He demonstrated that same support during flooding events earlier in his tenure too, Donker said.
Leikhim agreed flooding was a primary concern for residents of the city as well as its neighboring municipalities. Her frustration with the newly-drawn Congressional district map in part centered on how its borders separated Midland County from counties also menaced by Michigan waterways. In fact, the new Congressional map splits Midland County itself at a key junction tied to the 2020 flood.
The region-wide disaster in part was caused by the failure of a dam in Midland County’s Edenville Township, which led to the drainage of a man-made lake in neighboring Sanford. What remains there now is a shallow river and formerly-lakeside homes featuring boat docks eerily propped atop dry land.
The border for the new Congressional district cuts between the two communities. Sanford sits on the side of the map Kildee and Junge want to represent while Edenville Township resides in a sliver of western Midland County within Moolenaar’s reach for his next term.
Personal belongings and furniture were thrown to the curb as trash as residents cleaned out their homes from flooding in May 2020 on Midland's north side. (Jake May | MLive.com)The Flint Journal, MLive.com
Leikhim was critical of the independent redistricting commission’s effort to connect communities with shared issues, considered a top objective in the Congressional map-making process. Leikhim said splitting Edenville Township and Sanford was a move in opposition to that goal.
“We view that whole area as connected to Gladwin (a county north of Midland County) as communities (with shared interests),” she said.
Placing Midland in a Congressional district with cities such as Flint and Saginaw was another example of joining mismatched communities, Leikhim said.
“I don’t think people know how bad this map is,” she said, calling the independent redistricting commission system “partisan” in favor of Democrats.
Michigan voters in November 2018 created the commission to reverse gerrymandering that Democrats and political analysts accused the Republican Party of pursuing.
The previous system tasked state legislators with controlling the map-making process for Congressional elections as well as state House and Senate races. The evidence of gerrymandering, according to critics: The majority of recent regional elections resulted in Republican victories despite Democrats winning statewide battles for offices such as governor, secretary of state, and attorney general.
Donker said she wished the new system kept Midland in a district with its rural neighbors, but accepted where the political currents carried her city.
“I’m a realist; this is what it is,” the mayor said. “Whoever represents us, our expectation will be that they will help us do what we need to do to be successful as a community.”
Below is an interactive map showing the borders for the newly-drawn Congressional district map for Michigan.