Tag Archives: Michigan

The Danger Zone

Democratic systems vary, but they share certain foundational assumptions. The most important of those is the starting point: We The People are the “deciders.”  Ultimate authority rests with the voters.

In democratic theory, candidates contend for support during election campaigns, voters cast their ballots, and the candidate who garners the most votes wins. (At least if there’s no Electoral College involved).

In order for this process to work, both winners and losers must respect the will of the people.

Losers may disagree with positions endorsed by the winning candidates, and as the “loyal opposition,” they may work in accordance with the rules to defeat the winners’ agenda, but democratic norms require that they acquiesce to the people’s choice.

When that doesn’t happen–when the losers disregard the rules and norms in order to frustrate the choices made by the electorate–governance can no longer be considered either legitimate or democratic.  Political actors who accept authority when they win, but defy the settled norms of democratic behavior when they lose , undermine the public trust and make a mockery of the rule of law.

The visceral reaction to Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented theft of a Supreme Court seat reflected a widespread recognition that this was no ordinary political maneuver–it was the arrogant demonstration of a cheat that he would abide by the rules only when they favored him.

When Republicans in the North Carolina legislature stripped the incoming Democratic governor of powers the office had previously exercised–because they could–it was their middle-finger-to-democracy gesture.

That “in your face” rejection of democratic norms is spreading.

In a newsletter for the Boston Globe, Michael Cohen recently pointed out, “in a normal representative democracy, if you run for office and then lose you let the other party run things for a while. That doesn’t mean a political party can’t oppose those efforts, but it does mean that you have to respect the voters’ decisions.”

That isn’t what is happening in Wisconsin or Michigan.

In these two states, Republican gubernatorial candidates were defeated in this year’s midterm elections. Democrats also won both attorney general races. And now Republicans are refusing to accept the results.

Instead they are trying to use lame-duck sessions – before the Democrats are sworn into office – to weaken the power of the incoming Democrats and put in place policy changes that will benefit Republicans.

Let’s start with Wisconsin, where soon-to-be former governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state legislature have spent the past eight years making a mockery of democracy in the state.  Upon taking office they rammed through a highly controversial measure that stripped collective bargaining rights from the state’s public sector unions. Then they re-wrote legislative maps to give themselves out-sized control of the state government. In the 2018 election, Democrats won 53 percent of the vote, compared to 45 percent for Republicans. Yet, because of gerrymandering, that translates into a 64-36 advantage for Republicans in the state assembly.

But apparently that’s not enough for Republicans. Now they are enacting legislation that would kneecap Democrats once they take office….

For Governor-elect Evers, Republicans would not only force him to enact work requirements for Medicaid, but would also require him to get the legislature’s permission before submitting any request to the federal government to change how federal programs are administered. In effect, Republicans would give themselves a veto over much of what Evers would try to accomplish as governor. Walker has stated publicly that he will sign the bills.

….

Republicans aren’t even being shy about their agenda. In Wisconsin, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scot Fitzgerald defended his party’s actions by saying, “I’m concerned. I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin.”

He’s right. But of course Evers’s agenda is what Wisconsin voters chose.  To put roadblocks in front of it is to, in effect, say to voters that their choices don’t matter. It’s hard to imagine a statement more contemptible in a democracy than a political leader telling a state’s voters, “only the views of the people who voted for me matter.” But that’s precisely what Fitzgerald and his Republican colleagues are doing.

Changing the rules after they’ve lost the game. Undoing the results of a democratic election because they lost.

This behavior is nothing less than an attack on America and its values.

Will We Learn the Right Lessons from Flint?

Inquiries triggered by the Flint, Michigan water crisis have turned up several unpleasant reminders that ideology is no substitute for managerial competence or public ethics.

The most offensive recent discovery was evidence that—at the same time state officials were assuring Flint residents that their water was safe—they were providing clean water to state workers. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

In January of 2015, when state officials were telling worried Flint residents their water was safe to drink, they also were arranging for coolers of purified water in Flint’s State Office Building so employees wouldn’t have to drink from the taps, according to state government e-mails released Thursday by the liberal group Progress Michigan.

A Jan. 7, 2015, notice from the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which oversees state office buildings, references a notice about a violation of drinking water standards that had recently been sent out by the City of Flint.

“While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, DTMB is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink,” said the notice.

Needless to say, residents of Flint did not get a similar choice.

Then there’s this…

In The Public Interest is a think-tank monitoring privatization in the U.S. The organization warns the public when poorly-conceived public-private “partnerships” threaten to enrich private contractors without serving the public interest, or when such arrangements lack sufficient oversight or accountability. According to its recent newsletter,

In February 2015, almost a full year before the news of widespread lead poisoning gained headlines, the world’s largest private water corporation, Veolia, deemed Flint’s water safe. They were hired by the city to assess water that many residents had been complaining about—a General Motors plant had even stopped using Flint’s water because it was rusting car parts.

Veolia, a French transnational corporation, deemed Flint’s water to be “in compliance with State and Federal regulations.” While they recommended small changes to improve water color and quality, their report didn’t mention lead.

The city paid Veola 40,000 for that advice. Apparently, state government lacked the expertise to assess either the water quality or Veola’s competence to test it.

Whether the Governor and/or his aides were criminally negligent is a determination for the courts. That they are responsible for incalculable damage is inarguable.

Let me be clear: I have a bias here. I teach in a school of public affairs, a school that operates on the belief that competent public management requires knowledge of public finance, an understanding of the policy process, and respect for democratic institutions, public law and public ethics. We offer rigorous courses in those and related subjects.

Contrary to what appears to be popular opinion, the average businessman or CEO cannot just waltz into a government office and do a credible job; very different constraints—both managerial and ethical— apply to public service. You cannot do what Governor Snyder did, and simply abort the democratic process, install your preferred puppet to manage political subdivisions in accordance with your preferred ideology, and “hire out” essential responsibilities.

When we elect people who don’t understand the difference between the public and private sectors, and don’t care to learn, we get Flint.

 

About that Dustbin of History….

Indiana culture warriors Micah Clark and Eric Miller cannot be happy campers.

I get Pew Research Center’s Daily Religion Headlines in my inbox. On Thursday, two headlines confirmed what anyone watching the American landscape already knows: gay rights has gone mainstream.

The first headline was from the Detroit Free Press. It read Major Michigan companies want to ban LGBT discrimination against workers. The story highlighted an effort by the Michigan business community to include sexual orientation under the state’s civil rights laws. Note, this isn’t the business community trying to block a mean-spirited measure; it’s an affirmative effort to guarantee civil rights.

The second was a headline from the Christian Science Monitor, in the form of a question. Gay Marriage: Is GOP Tiptoeing Away from Opposition? The article cited a Pew poll  that found 61 percent of Republicans under age 30 favoring the right to same-sex marriage, and it pointed to movement on the issue around the country.

  • Earlier this month, the Nevada Republican Party removed opposition to gay marriage from its platform.
  • On April 19, most of the Illinois Republican officials who tried to remove the state party chairman over his support of same-sex marriage lost their party positions.
  • On April 29, the Washington College Republican Federation announced it had passed a resolution calling for a change to both the state and federal Republican platforms’ stance on marriage to make them more “inclusive.”
  • In January, the New Mexico College Republicans agreed to drop language opposing same-sex marriage from their platform.

The day when Karl Rove could turn out the Republican base by demonizing GLBT folks is over. The party can elect people to Congress by dint of voter suppression and gerrymandering, but if it wants to elect a President sometime this century, the GOP will have to recognize that this battle is over.

The base (in both senses of that word) lost.

The Bully Pulpit

Many years ago, when Chicago’s Second City was the source of then-scandalous satire, I attended a performance. This was during the Cold War (I’m old), and I still recall one skit titled “Kill a Commie for Christ”–a take-off on a widespread attitude of the times.

The more things change….Well, you know the rest of that saying.

In the Great State of Michigan, the state legislature has passed what one State Senator has condemned as the “License to Bully” bill.

The fact that school kids get bullied every day in our nation’s schools and elsewhere–and that gay youngsters are by far the most frequent target–is well-known. Over the past decade, the courts have ruled that the all-too-common “boys will be boys” dismissal of such behavior by school administrators will subject their schools to liability, and many state legislators have introduced bills to clarify the schools’ obligations to provide a safe environment for all students.

In the Michigan State Senate, the GOP amended a bill that would both have prohibited bullying and provided school districts with tools to combat it. They stripped out reporting and similar requirements, and provided an exception for bullying “based upon moral convictions.”

One appalled Senator described the language as providing a “roadmap” for bullying.

This too-clever-by-half strategy was clearly aimed at allowing the continued torment of gay children, but it’s hard not to wonder how these “moral” legislators would feel about children who suddenly demonstrated a “moral conviction” that their Christian schoolmates were evil. (As one of two Jewish students in my elementary school, I know what it’s like to be surrounded by Christian children whose parents had instilled in them a “moral conviction” that I had personally killed Christ.)

It’s obviously very difficult for mean-spirited people who are in the majority to comprehend that the tables might turn when they are no longer dominant.  It is evidently impossible for such people to demonstrate empathy or compassion for anyone who doesn’t belong to their own cramped moral universe.

Appropriate Snark

I see where the Superintendent of Schools of a small district in Michigan reacted to draconian cuts to education in that state with a nice piece of snark: He wrote a letter to the editor proposing to turn his schools into prisons, since spending on prisons was protected from the deep cuts imposed on other state functions.

He had a point.

The Governor of Michigan–one of the current crop of crazed right-wing “true believers”–insists that the state needs to cut spending, which it undoubtedly does. But where does he propose to make those cuts?  He proposes to reduce K-12 spending by nearly a billion dollars (yes, that’s not a typo–a billion dollars), to significantly reduce spending for universities and community colleges, and to make further cuts in Michigan’s already meager welfare payments. Along with his obedient legislature, he also raised taxes on pensions for seniors.

At the same time, he got the legislature to lower business taxes by $1.8 billion. This isn’t even “class war”–it’s insanity.

I understand there is a recall movement underway. For the sake of the people living in Michigan, I hope it succeeds.