Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Needs Democracy?

Rachel Maddow has been sounding the alarm about how Michigan Republicans have been systematically dismantling democracy in their state for quite some time now. Oddly, it seems to be a story that makes the rest of the mainstream media yawn in boredom. I have often asked Republicans: "what would the country look like if you totally got your way?" The answer, I think, is Michigan.

Essentially, the Emergency Manager law allows the governor to appoint an EM for any town or school district he deems in trouble. Thanks to the economy there are many governmental entities in financial straits in Michigan, providing rich pickings Governor Rick Snyder and his jolly band of pillagers and plunderers.

The law says that an Emergency Manager "may exercise any power or authority of any officer, employee, department, board, commission or other similar entity of the local government whether elected or appointed". The Emergency Manager's power was expanded under Governor Snyder. They may takeover governance in place of the Mayor and City Council members, overrule school boards, rewrite pension plans and abrogate collective bargaining contracts. After an EM has been put in place, the elected officials of the town or school boards are allowed to do exactly three things: 1) call meetings to order, 2) approve minutes and 3) adjourn. That's it.

Does this sound more like a dictatorship than democracy to you? Yeah, me too.

It probably will not surprise you to discover that the infamous Koch Brothers, the Walton family and Dick DeVos have been active behind the scenes in supporting Snyder and these draconian new measures via a group called the Mackinac Center which strongly supports privatization of almost all governmental responsibilities (other than calling meetings to order, approving minutes and adjourning, of course). .

Michigan's constitution states that new laws must wait until after the next election to take effect to give voters the opportunity to voice their disapproval (ironically, this was passed under the governance of Mitt Romney's father, George, one of that breed of moderate and respected Republicans that are now almost extinct). In order for a law to go into effect immediately, two-thirds of the state legislature must approve it doing so. You can see in the link to Rachel Maddow's video above how arbitrarily the Michigan Republicans handled this minor inconvenience. They simply had a voice vote and declared a 2/3rds majority had voted aye, although everyone knew the Democrats voted no en bloc which would not have given the Republicans the number needed. No matter, they declared victory and rolled on.

Of course, some Michiganders are outraged by what has been happening in their state. They collected more than enough signatures to put a recall of the EM law to a referendum. The State certified the results. Okay, here we go! But, no. A suit was filed asserting the signatures were invalid because the font on the recall petition  was too small. The freakin' font size was too small! And guess what? One of the canvassers who would vote on whether to allow the recall to proceed owns the same law firm which is home to the group that filed the suit to deny it. You would think this would be a clear conflict of interest and that particular gentleman would have to recuse himself. Ha!ha! You're not thinking like a Michigan Republican. He did not recuse himself. He voted, unsurprisingly, for tossing thousands of his constituent's signatures into the garbage as did his fellow Republicans. So much for the recall attempt.

You might be able to make a case for the Emergency Manager law if it worked. There is no doubt that many of Michigan's communities are experiencing economic hard times and something needs to be done. But has stripping voters of their constitutional right to elect their own representatives been the answer? Nope, most of the cities and school districts (and there are many, including Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse, Highland Park, etc.) are worse off now than they were before. Emergency Managers are the Bain Capital of state government. They go into failing towns in the same way Mitt Romney and Bain went to failing companies, stripped them of their assets, collected their big paychecks and moved on to their next victim, leaving the people worse off than they had been before. And, again, I'm sure you will not be shocked to be told that most of the entities put under the tyrannical thumbs of Emergency Managers by Governor Snyder are primarily minority and poor (and most likely to be Democratic voters - not that the Republicans would ever be swayed by that, of course - sarcasm alert here).

Mostly, our Republican elites try to pretend they are acting in the best interests of their fellow Americans. In Michigan, they have become so arrogant and confident of their power, they barely even pay lip service to that philosophy anymore.

So, take a look poor and middle class Republicans. Is this really what you mean by smaller government? Is despotic control by men hand-picked by the governor, without regard to any vote you may cast, really what you see as preferable to democracy?

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