In 2012, Michigan voters re-elected Barack Obama by a wide nine-point margin of victory. The also re-elected Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in a landslide, gave more votes to Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, and voted for a Democratic state legislative candidates by an eight-point spread as well. So why did Republicans maintain their dominant grip on Michigan politics, with majorities in both the state legislature and U.S. House? Because they’ve rigged its electoral and political institutions to their benefit, through gerrymandering and anti-democratic “emergency manager” laws.
After his initial victory in 2010’s GOP wave gave Republicans total control over state government, Gov. Rick Snyder and his party set out to insulate their political power from popular dissent. To that end, Republicans once again passed aggressive gerrymanders of congressional and legislative districts, solidifying their already tight grip on the electoral process.
Here's a vivid illustration: In the seven elections since 2002, Democrats have won the popular vote for the state House five times. But thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans won majorities in the chamber five times. Even in 2014, another huge year for the GOP, Michigan voters still gave more votes to Democratic candidates for the state House. And this pattern could easily continue through 2020, meaning that over the course of two decades, Republicans would have failed to win the popular vote nine out of 10 times, yet kept majorities all but two times.
Rendering legislative elections almost meaningless still wasn’t enough power to satisfy Republicans, since many key cities with large minority populations have remained Democratic strongholds, such as Detroit (which voted 98 percent for Obama) and Flint (90 percent). Republicans therefore concocted a scheme to circumvent elected local governments by having the state appoint so-called “emergency managers” to take control of local financial decisions. It was a perfect display of cynicism: Republicans in the state capital have spent years starving Detroit and other cities financially, thus paving the way for these emergency managers to swoop in and undermine pensions, promote education privatization, and dismantle public services.