Voter Initiatives Died Yesterday
I started working on this article about a month ago. Rather than publish it, I held back in the spirit of a positive campaign. Yesterday the Republican House finished the work of the Republican Senate and destroyed voter initiatives in Michigan with party politics and dirty tricks. Civic minded lawmakers like Jeff Irwin (D) tried their best to stop the tide, but the Republican majorities in the Senate and House overwhelmed him and the other voices for the people of Michigan.
The Michigan Constitution is written/amended in such a way as to make lawmaking a deliberate, contemplative practice subject to the review of the PEOPLE. Laws passed in a session were to take effect April 1 of the following year. This gave time to review, challenge and even hold a ‘People’s Initiative’ to overturn the proposed law. It also gave people and businesses a chance to ‘gear up’, change practices and procedures, and in general get ready for the law to take effect.
In the event of an EMERGENCY situation, there was a means to make a law take effect immediately, to respond to the EMERGENCY- a fiscal crisis or public health issue. To make sure the crisis was apparent to all and required such drastic action, a 2/3 majority was required. The implication was that BOTH parties would work together to achieve the necessary ‘super majority’ to take immediate action. A 2/3 majority is required to overturn a voter initiative- reflecting the serious nature of going against the will of the voters. Putting a law into immediate effect, in direct opposition to the deliberate process outlined in the State Constitution, is reflected in the requirement for a 2/3 majority as well.
Under a Voter Initiative, a proposed law can be put directly on the ballot by the Citizens of Michigan. The people enact the law at the polls directly. This is a very powerful tool that was given to the people of the state, one that put them on equal footing with our elected representatives. If people felt strongly enough about an issue they could propose a law, gather signatures, and submit it to the voters directly. The legislature would then need a super majority to make any changes to the initiated law.
The danger occurs when one political party obtains supermajority status in the Senate and/or House of Representatives. Then the Constitutional deliberation and checks and balances are in jeopardy.
The Republicans took over the State of MI in 2010
A wave of fundamentalist Republicans took over the State of Michigan in 2010 on a platform of running the state like a business. They used terms like ‘family values’, opposition to medical marijuana (calling it ‘law and order’), and ‘Republican Values’. They obtained what is referred to as a ‘Super Trifecta’, controlling the House, Senate, Attorney General and the Governorship. They obtained ‘supermajorities’ effectively in both Houses. The result was emergency managers and other draconian measures were all rushed into immediate effect with any Democratic opposition brushed aside.
Another example of this abuse of power is a proposed rule change on citizen initiatives. Currently petitioners have 180 days to collect signatures, but can continue to use older signatures if they can prove they belong to currently registered voters. Republican lawmakers are attempting to limit the collection to 180 days. See this article in the Free Press which goes on to note that this rule change seems to be directed at petitions to decriminalize marijuana and to stop fracking in the state.
It is my sad duty to report that the House voted yesterday to restrict petition drives to 180 days, with no extensions. The vote was 57-52 along party lines, and 97th District Representative Joel Johnson voted with his Republican colleagues. Then, with a non-roll call ‘standing vote’ they declared 2/3 majority to put the bill into ‘Immediate Effect’. This ended hope for the petitions, signed by some 500,000 Michigan Residents, to appear on the ballot this Fall. Now all to be done is for Gov Synder to sign the measure.
How Does This End Voter Initiatives?
To get on the ballot, a voter initiative must collect around 250,000 signatures. While there was a provision to confirm ‘stale’ signatures, those over 180 days old, the process was so tedious it has never been done. The procedure was to go to each county clerk and confirm, by hand, a voter that signed a petition 7 months ago was still registered to vote. Computers have come on the scene since the 1980’s and these voter databases are readily available to officially confirm that ‘stale’ signatures are still registered voters.
MiLegalize, one of the petitions being circulated, discovered this and presented it to the Election Board, getting tentative approval. The anti-Fracking petition also noted this and was planning on doing the same. When this became known, those opposed to the petitions hired high power election lawyers to counter it, and have apparently succeeded in suppressing the petitions to protect their interests.
Unfortunately, this has had the effect of removing ‘grass roots’ initiatives run by volunteers. Future petitions will only succeed if enough money is paid to collect the petitions (generally at least $1 per signature) and well paid organizations coordinate this rush to get the signatures needed in 180 days. Thus the citizens are gone and the corporations and special interests get a way to bypass the legislature with their well funded initiatives. Essentially the Republicans turned all the power of Voter Initiatives over to well funded lobbyists and took them away from the average citizen.
Should Immediate Effect be Reserved for Emergencies?
If don’t think we should violate the spirit of the Michigan Constitution due to party politics, you should really consider voting Democrat for the House of Representatives. Not just in the 97th (where I am running) but in every district of Michigan. Please take a moment and look at this video clip (the second half will be posted at the bottom of the page). Look at this clip and you will see this process in action.
Why I choose to Run
There are obviously matters that are important to me, Healthcare, Criminal Justice Reform, the Economy and Education. These are solid planks to a political platform, and other candidates can and will adopt them as well. The reason I choose to put the time, effort and distraction from my busy medical practice into running for the House was the matter of ‘Immediate Effect’. With a Democratic majority in the House, we can stop these back room political games, played by the Republicans at the expense of Michiganders.
When One Party has a Super Majority
These checks and balances go RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW when one party has a super majority itself. No longer does ’emergency action’ require both parties to come together and agree an ’emergency’ exists. It simply becomes one party exerting its dominance over the other and doing what it wishes to do. By having a super majority in the House, in the Senate and Governor’s office, the other party no longer can force compromise or ‘protect’ the people from the agenda of the dominant party.
The Republicans currently have this kind of dominance, and have exercised it VIGOROUSLY. The vast majority of bills are voted for immediate effect. The Governor signs them and the Republican Attorney General enforces them. We have democracy threatened with ‘Emergency Managers’ in many communities (including Flint- how did that work out?) that have the power to remove elected officials, nullify union contracts, and even sell the art in our museums to ‘fix the bottom line’.
These Republicans are Term Limiting Out
This has to stop. We need to work together to ensure the Democrats take the House this year. The Fundamentalist Republicans elected in 2010 are term limiting out. We can replace them with more Republicans or we can send a clear message, one district at a time, that this kind of power needs to be checked. Currently 5 Republicans are vying for the 97th District. Every one of them seem like decent, civic minded individuals- a police officer turned veteran’s advocate, a banker, a career politician and mayor, and two ‘family value’ Republicans. But sending ANY of them to Lansing will just will continue the problem. The 97th needs to send a Democrat to break the hold the Republicans have on Democracy in Michigan.
The second part of the video–
And another example: