Is Michigan Meshuggeneh?
There’s something rotten in the state of Michigan. It’s hard to write about what’s happening there in anything less than extreme terms. What’s happening is awfully extreme.
Across America, newly-emboldened Republican state legislatures have been enacting a series of laws that limit voting rights, limit union rights, restrict marriage rights, cut off access to abortion and other healthcare services, and otherwise put in place a far-right agenda of social engineering. (Even Newt Gingrich recognized this tendency on a national level.) In Michigan, they’ve gone several steps further, eliminating democracy in many of their larger cities, and violating their own Constitution in order to do it.
It’s a complicated story, but it starts and ends with the Republican-controlled legislature and with Rick Snyder, the Republican Governor. There were protections put in place to prevent this from happening. But those safeguards are being willfully ignored.
In the early 1960s, Michigan’s Constitution was amended (see Article IV, paragraph 27) to slow the implementation of new laws. This would allow laws to be reconsidered, modified if they needed to be, and even challenged in court before taking effect. According to Michigan’s Constitution, no law can go into effect sooner than sixty days after the end of the legislative session in which the law was passed. Since the Michigan legislature has year-long sessions, this means most laws should not take effect until late March or early April of the year following their passage. An additional provision takes emergencies into account. By a two-thirds supermajority, the sixty-day provision can be waived, and laws can be put into “immediate effect.”
Since Republicans gained control of both state Houses and the Governorship in the election of 2010, nearly everything has been seen as an emergency. Over 96 percent of the laws enacted by the current state legislature have been subject to “immediate effect” — usually by a show of hands of whoever happens to be in the congressional chamber at the time the Republican leader decides to call for a vote.
Five hundred forty-six bills out of five hundred sixty-six — all but twenty — have been enacted under “immediate effect.” Michigan has had a lot of emergencies.
Okay, but so what? State legislatures are usually about road repair and renaming libraries, right? This isn’t a big deal, is it?
Yes, it’s a very big deal. One of the laws enacted under “immediate effect” is a radical expansion of the state’s “Emergency Manager” law. This allows the state to take over cities, counties, or other local governments, firing the duly-elected officials, and appointing a dictator/czar to oversee operations, leaving the people of those areas with no local elected representation.
Another recent Michigan “emergency” law stripped public employees of health care for same-sex domestic partners.
Another forbids research associates at Michigan’s universities from forming a union. In a blatant — and successful — attempt to circumvent the legal process, the bill was signed on the same day that the Michigan Employee Relations Commission was scheduled to rule on whether research assistants should be classified as public employees entitled to collective-bargaining rights.
But the state Constitution allows for these laws to take immediate effect, provided they receive over two-thirds of the legislative vote. So what’s the problem? The problem is that none of these laws were put in place through a legal application of “immediate effect.” The Democrats in both houses of the state government have been voting in a united block, and the Republicans do not have a two-thirds majority. It is mathematically impossible for “immediate effect” to have been used in any of these laws, according to the state Constitution. It has been simply the whim of the Republican chair.
Without the “immediate effect” provision, none of these laws would yet have gone into effect. But the Governor has already used the new — and not yet Constitutionally in effect — “Emergency Manager” law to fire the elected government of the cities of Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse, and the officials in the public school systems of Detroit and Highland Park. The city of Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, only narrowly avoided this fate and still may be subject to it. These jurisdictions are now under the rule of single individuals appointed by the State.
These “emergency managers” can:
- Hire/fire local government employees
- Renegotiate, terminate, modify labor contracts with state treasury approval
- Sell, lease, or privatize local assets with state treasury approval
- Revise contract obligations
- Change local budgets without local legislative approval
- Initiate municipal bankruptcy proceedings
- Hire support staff
… all simply by making unilateral declarations, with no elected official representing the interests or will of the citizens. The decisions are overseen only by the State Treasurer, who is the same person that appoints the “emergency managers.” (If you want to keep that powerful position, you do what the Treasurer wants you to do.)
This breathtaking seizure of power is being challenged in the courts. The ACLU has challenged the revocation of domestic partner benefits. The Obama Campaign has challenged existing Michigan attempts at voter suppression. The Emergency Manager law is also being challenged through a citizen’s referendum drive — which is itself the subject of a challenge due to use of a supposedly incorrect font size (I’m not joking).
Michigan Republicans are fighting back. They are, for example, preparing to enact a law preventing the drive to repeal “Emergency Managers” from appearing on the November 2012 ballot, despite the duly-executed collection of signatures. Almost certainly, this law preventing the restoration of democracy will be itself enacted under the bogus “immediate effect” sham.
Remember when the Tea Partiers were warning us in 2009 and 2010 about the dangers of losing our liberty and of the impending threats to our democracy? This is what it looks like when it happens.
- The rule of law in Michigan (inpropriapersona.com)
- Michigan Republicans Illegally Passed Over 96% of Bills Under ‘Immediate Effect’ (crooksandliars.com)
- Michigan takes voter suppression to unbelievable lengths (dailykos.com)
- Michigan Democrats sue for a return to democracy (leftperspectives.com)
- Mich. emergency manager push suffers setbacks (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Michigan Workers Fight Emergency Managers, Plan Constitutional Amendment to Protect Union Rights (alternet.org)
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson