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Shifting regional political power

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08/29/2017 - At one time Detroit was the fourth largest city in the country, boasting a population of 1.8 million people in 1950, and home to nearly 30 percent of all of Michigan's residents. Home to The Big Three automotive companies and the state's economic engine, metropolitan Detroit residents and lawmakers of days past had much of the control over political policy in Lansing.

Now, as the state's largest city finds itself in the midst of bankruptcy recovery and many of its former residents scattered across southeast Michigan, the tri-county's influence in the legislature has greatly shifted to the western part of the state, where vast amounts of special interest money are helping to give rise to a new power structure that appears to favor anti-establishment legislators and far right Republicans.

Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said the population shift away from Detroit, coupled with increases on the west side of the state and pockets in mid-Michigan, is one factor that has changed the state's political landscape.

"Geographically, the population has shifted. Today, there is less than 700,000 people (living in Detroit), according to the last census," he said. "You have had a huge population shift into Livingston and Macomb counties. West Michigan has grown in significance in Grand Rapids and other pockets in the state, like Holland and Battle Creek. That shift in population is also reflected in the shift in political power."

Despite talk of an urban revival in Detroit, the city continues to lose population, down from about 713,000 in 2010 to about 672,000 today. In southeast Michigan, population over the past several decades has shifted progressively from the central city to the surrounding suburbs, and from the larger metropolitan area to the outer-ring suburbs and rural townships.

From 1990 to 2000, Oakland County saw the largest increase in population, with 110,564 new residents, followed by Kent County, home of Grand Rapids (73,704); Macomb County (70,749); Ottawa County; where Holland is (50,564); Livingston County (41,306); and Washtenaw County (39,958). The same six counties from 2000 to 2010 also saw the biggest increases in population, this time with Macomb County receiving 42,860; followed by Kent County (36,644); Livingston County (25,295); Washtenaw County (25,179); Ottawa County (23,417); and Oakland County (12,763).

Population data released by the U.S. Census Bureau show the trend has continued from 2010 to 2015, as Kent and Ottawa counties, including Grand Rapids and Holland, as well as in and around Kalamazoo, gain population, along with the Lansing area; Grand Traverse County; and townships outside Detroit.

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