When Michigan’s new nonpartisan redistricting commission redrew the state’s electoral boundaries, Debbie Dingell was one of eight U.S. representatives placed in the same district as another incumbent.
Michigan’s population grew 2 percent between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, but the country’s population grew 7 percent, so the state is losing one of its fourteen congressional seats. The thirteen new districts include seven whose residents went for president Joe Biden in 2020, and six that went for then-president Donald Trump. Three districts, in Flint, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, will be much more competitive.
That could change ‘the party dominating the Michigan ‘delegation–and even the party dominating Congress. “We have multiple competitive seats in the state,” says Dingell. “Dave Wasserman from the Cook Political Report wrote that Michigan could determine the outcome of control of the House.”
Dingell’s current district, the Twelfth, was created by Republican state legislators and could serve as a case study of the partisan gerrymandering the commission was created to end. It twists and turns from Dingell’s home base in Dearborn to Ann Arbor to pack in as many Democratic voters as possible–and to give Republicans a better chance elsewhere.
The new boundaries are much less complicated, but the commission drew criticism from Democrats for not creating more majority-minority districts, and Republicans sued in an unsuccessful effort to block its implementation. Asked if the new method did a better job than the previous partisan method, Dingell replies briskly “I’m not even gonna get into that, because I’m gonna accept the outcome.”
The commission placed Washtenaw County in the new Sixth District along with a slice of Wayne County; a panhandle reaches into Detroit’s downriver suburbs. But the Sixth does not include Dearborn, the headquarters of the Dingell political dynasty that has held a seat in congress for eighty-eight years: John Sr. from 1933 to his death in 1955, John Jr. from 1955 until his retirement in 2015, and Debbie, John Jr.’s widow, since then.
Though the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require it, “I believe you should live in the district that you represent,” Dingell says. So she expects to move to Ann Arbor this spring.
It won’t be easy. “It’s one thing to be intellectual about it and do what makes the most sense,” she admits. “But I lived with John, and where we live now, for a long time.” Though he died in 2019, “I haven’t given away his clothes. His belongings are still there.”
The loss hasn’t visibly slowed her down. Like her husband, Dingell has always seemed omnipresent in the communities she represents. They make up 70 percent of her chosen district, and she is already getting to know the rest. “I placed calls to the mayors of all my new communities just to introduce myself,” she says, and she’s holding meetings.
“I drive my staff nuts,” she says. “I’m out, and I wanna know what’s going on.” With a new pandemic wave cresting, though, she is being “super-careful” about avoiding infection.
“Last week I went to a retirement party of a really good friend, but it was indoors, and nobody was masked,” Dingell says. “And I was, ‘I love you and I’m here to tell you how much I love you–but I’m not staying indoors with unmasked people for any length of time!'”