The Republican party in Michigan is not doing itself any favors with the power grab antics on display during the lame duck session of the state legislature in Lansing.
Smarting from some substantial losses in the November election – with Democrats making gains, albeit minor, in both the House and Senate, and taking the positions of governor, attorney general and secretary of state – one would think that party leaders would focus their energies on figuring out why the GOP suffered the losses it did in the November general election and address those issues in advance of the election coming just two years from now.
Instead, what we have witnessed post the November election has been a series of desperate legislative moves by Republicans to hamstring the incoming administration. Far from what we have always heralded as one of the basic underpinnings of our democracy – the peaceful transfer of power – what state voters have been given is a raw attempt by the GOP to maintain power even though the Michigan electorate clearly cast ballots calling for a change in leadership and direction for the state.
Why the desire for change? That's anybody's guess. Some say the November general election was a referendum on Donald Trump, even though his name appeared nowhere on the ballot. Others suggest that voters have tired of the far right potentates that have controlled for nearly a decade what goes on in Lansing – whether the topic is taxes, lack of attention to deteriorating infrastructure, environmental issues, civil rights, you name it.
As to the power grab taking place, Michigan is not alone, almost as if there is some national playbook the GOP is reading. Republicans in the state of Wisconsin since the November election have been writing laws to restrict the power of the governor and attorney general because Democrats were elected to those offices. The move to rig the system first started in North Carolina in 2016, when a Democrat was elected governor; Republicans set out immediately to weaken the power of the office, although the courts there are still deciding whether the legislative dilution of power is constitutional.
Here is what's at play in our state, ignoring the attempts to manipulate the ballot issues that were passed by voters, which we address at the back of this edition in our editorial opinion Endnote page.
Let's start with the attempts to diminish the role of the State Attorney General which includes a House bill that allows members of the House or the Senate to decide to intervene, with legal counsel paid on our dime, in any lawsuit involving the state. Tradition generally holds that decisions to defend, or not, Michigan laws have been made by the attorney general or the governor, not lawmakers.
Neutering the Secretary of State position with a bill that moves oversight of campaign finance to a six-person commission that will be appointed by the governor from nominations made by the state's two political parties. Mind you, Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), the author of this bill, is the chair of the Senate Elections Commission and is operating under a cloud caused by his own campaign regulation violations. Further, legislation is now moving that would make it a crime for a public official to require “non-profit” charities and political action group to disclose their donors, effectively preventing the Secretary of State or the new commission from addressing the problem of “dark money” that is becoming more prevalent in Michigan elections. How convenient.
Then there is the attempt to effectively sideline the elected State Board of Education which now has a four-four partisan split but will be controlled, six-two, by Democrats come the new year. Republican lawmakers are pushing for a parallel Education and Accountability Policy Commission that will be named by the outgoing GOP governor and Republican Senate and House leadership. The new commission will not be beholden to the State Department of Education, nor the governor or the elected state Board of Education; answerable only to the commission. Under the new set up, school districts will be able to apply for “innovative district” status, which would leave them free of most state education rules.
As for the office of Governor, at press time legislation was pending that would place tight restrictions on gubernatorial power to appoint a director of the Michigan State Police. Specifically, the legislation dictates the years of service and department rank that must be met to be named to the post, rules clearly written to force the appointment of one specific department veteran now on the payroll.
There's hope that incumbent Governor Rick Snyder could decide to reject any or all of the bills that basically show a contempt for democracy – but I would not bet on it. Only on a couple of occasions during his eight years in Lansing has Snyder stood up to Republicans who on major issues have run amuck, sometimes in direct contrast to what the governor suggested should take place.
So that leaves state voters with a government framework that basically thumbs its nose at the electorate – the same group of voters who have already shown that they have had their fill of what has paraded as good government here in Michigan. Hence, the results that brought change in the November election.
The electorate has already shown it is energized to bring about change, and I don't think they will forget that Republicans attempted to maintain control after losing the popular vote. An already wounded party has moved one step closer to irrelevancy as the GOP will discover when voters return to the ballot box in 2020.