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Supporters of re-districting ballot proposal target Michigan Chamber of Commerce

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Some supporters of an anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal are targeting the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and particularly board chairman Mark Davidoff, over the Chamber’s support for a lawsuit that aims to get the proposal removed from the November ballot.

Protesters with Represent Michigan, a local affiliate of the national group Represent.Us, gathered outside Davidoff’s office at Detroit’s Renaissance Center Tuesday. Davidoff is the managing partner for the Michigan office of Deloitte LLP, a global financial advisory and services firm.

Chanting “Drop the suit” and “Let us vote!,” the protesters tried to deliver petitions calling on Davidoff and the Chamber to drop the lawsuit. They were turned away in that effort by Renaissance Center security.

The protesters say Michigan voters should get a chance to decide the fate of theballot proposalspearheaded by the group Voters Not Politicians. It would take political re-districting powers out of the hands of the state legislature, and turn that job over to a citizen commission.

Ballot petitions for the re-districting proposal garnered more than 425,000 signatures. The Board of State Canvassers approved itfor the November ballot, and the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously said it met legal standards.

But Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group behind the lawsuit challenging the proposal, is appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court. An analysis from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows that Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution is largely financed by Chamber-affiliated groups.

“We got it on the ballot legally. We should be able to vote on it,” said Emily Wietecha, an organizer with Represent Michigan. “I know that Mark Davidoff has the power to drop the suit today, because he’s one of the lead members of the Chamber of Commerce who’s kind of funding this suit.”

Protester Larry Lipton says that both gerrymandering and “dark money” are threats to democracy, with the challenge to the re-districting proposal being a case in point.

“This lawsuit [is] led by a few people and a few companies with a lot of money,” Lipton said. “The more money that they put into elections, the more they tilt the odds in the favor of people with a lot of money, and against the people who go to the polls and vote.”

The protest is part of an escalating campaign. In the past several days, Represent Michigan has also run ads taking on Davidoff and the Chamber’s opposition to the proposal.

“In response, Deloitte’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been flooded with comments. Davidoff deleted his Twitter account, Deloitte employee profile and the Chamber removed the names of its Executive Committee from its website,” Represent Michigan said in a release.

In a statement, the Michigan Chamber decried the group’s “misinformation campaigns and targeted harassment.”

"The Chamber does not support gerrymandering, as the misinformation campaign suggests; we oppose this specific ballot proposal because it's bad public policy,” said Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley.

The Michigan Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the lawsuit challenging the ballot proposal next week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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