Legislative thuggery and dirty tricks have replaced democracy in Lansing
This is the story about how the GOP subverted the voter-initiated ballot question process in Michigan. Last week, they launched yet another attack on democracy through legislative action.
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer was a member of the coalition Stand Up for Democracy, which successfully repealed Public Act 4 of 2011 — Gov. Snyder’s first version of the enhanced Emergency Manager Law. Prior to that short-lived victory, the validity of our petitions was unsuccessfully disputed in what became known as “Fontgate” — a scheme devised by an attorney named John D. Pirich.
In March of 2012, a conservative Super PAC calling themselves Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility wished to challenge the validity of the 226,637 petition signatures submitted in February that year by Stand Up for Democracy. Since the minimum number of valid signatures required by law was 161,305, the task of invalidating 40 percent of those was, as a pratical matter, simply impossible — without invoking some kind of evil political juju, that is.
Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility employed the services of Pirich, who specializes in election and campaign law. They asked him to find some way, any way, to invalidate the petitions and thereby silence the voices of over a quarter million Michigan voters.
Pirich, not wishing to let his client down, decided instead to let his ethics fall by the wayside. He erroneously found the font size of the heading on the petition to be out of compliance with the legal requirement. He claimed it was too small.
Only thing is, it wasn’t. In fact, it was exactly the correct size — font 14. The law does not state what style font must be used — it could be printed in comic sans and be perfectly legal. Each font style produces a slight variation in overall letter size even though the font number size is the same, as demonstrated here by Eclectablog. Additionally, there was a legally-approved printer’s affidavit obtained when the petitions were produced.
Pirich was proven wrong, but I get ahead of myself.
His name popped-up in the news again this week. He’s acting as counsel for U. S. Rep. John Conyers (D), whose name was recently removed from the ballot after it was revealed that he lacked the necessary number of valid signatures to qualify. It seems two of his petitioners were not registered Michigan voters. Pirich argued the following on behalf of his client’s cause:
“Every voter who wants to sign a petition to support their desired candidate and political position should be able to do so.”
This is in stark contrast to what Pirich asserted two years ago when he claimed the font size was too small on the referendum petition, a claim that the Michigan Supreme Court rejected. Pirich argued:
“It’s not supposed to be an easy process. It’s supposed to be a process that’s precise and accurate. It’s a standard of procedure that the legislature has enacted, and that’s what they’ve done here.”
The evil, like cancer, grows.
He’s certainly right about one thing. It ain’t easy — in fact, it’s become nearly impossible.
Michigan’s GOP-led legislature have devised devious ways to subvert the will of the state’s voters by denying them the power of the ballot question process through dirty tricks.
In the case of the successful repeal of the emergency manager law, our coalition held weekly conference calls during the signature gathering process in which we invariably discussed the rumor that GOP lawmakers were poised to thwart our effort by repealing the law and rewriting it with an appropriation attached– rendering it referendum proof. Something they never did. Their inaction was likely the result of another rumor that was making the rounds — that we wouldn’t get enough signatures.
A few weeks after the repeal though, in a lame-duck legislative orgy, GOP lawmakers simply rewrote the law with a few cosmetic changes, threw-in an appropriation, and reinstated emergency managers — an act that is in itself illegal.
Michigan’s legislature has since sunk to even lower levels of thuggery against the will of the people. Their behavior is an insult to democracy and the office they hold.
Last week, in a move becoming all too commonplace with this legislature, Senate Majority Leader, Randy Richardville (R-17) offered a bill (SB-934) that would repeal the current minimum wage law in Michigan with a new law to raise the wage to $8.15 per hour, $2.93 for employees receiving gratuities, and only $6.93 for minors. The Republican lawmaker’s plan is to obstruct the petition drive of a group called Raise Michigan, whose ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 is based on amending the current minimum wage law. Richardville’s repeal of that law would negate their citizen-driven initiative.
This isn’t the first time Republicans have played that trick.
A year ago, lawmakers enacted legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-38) that similarly rendered moot a ballot initiative by the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. While that question will still be on the ballot, it is now toothless. The citizen’s group then did the near-impossible when they, for a second time, gathered enough signatures for a re-worded ballot question to be placed before Michigan voters.
Last year, Republican lawmakers once again denied Michigan’s electorate the right to express themselves on the matter of allowing health care plans to cover abortion. A ballot initiative to require women to purchase special “rape insurance” successfully collected enough signatures to put the question to Michigan voters, but GOP lawmakers instead swiftly enacted the veto-proof law, even though polling indicated voters would not have supported their position. And in that particular case, neither did the governor.
Lawmakers who play these kinds of games clearly don’t trust their constituents and have no respect for the democratic process. It’s time they find themselves unemployed.