Politics and Prejudices 

Democracy's rusting underbelly

Two weekends ago, the two major political parties held their state conventions and decided which candidates they would allow us to vote for in November.

Thought we got to select them in the primary election? Silly you! Yes, you did get to select your local candidates for the state legislature, that is, if you were among the few who voted.

Know how much real clout an individual state rep or even state senator has? Not much, and if they're Democrats, virtually none. In any event, the vast majority of those in both parties owe their true allegiance to various special-interest groups. They're the ones who fund their campaigns and often employ them after their few term-limited years are done.

Technically, you also got to pick the candidates for governor and U.S. senator. But guess what? Each party had only one candidate for each job; sort of like the Soviet Union in the bad old days. Party leaders pre-selected them for you!

When it comes to the three next most important jobs — lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state — why, guess what? You don't even get a pretend say about who's chosen. The party hacks — oops, convention delegates — are nice enough to pick them for you.

Interestingly, state Republicans and Democrats have taken to having their conventions on exactly the same weekend and follow basically the same format for choosing candidates.

How could anyone say there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the Tweedledums and Tweedledees?

Anyway, besides picking the candidates for those major jobs, the parties have boatloads of political plums to dole out.

Candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, for example. Did you think judges were elected in a strictly nonpartisan way?

Do you think partisan politics should be kept away, as far as possible, from justice? Hahaha! Poor, naive you.

The fat cats will be spending millions, most of it in secret "dark" money, to try to influence the outcomes of our three high-court races. However, the likely result is already known: The two Republican justices, David Viviano and Brian Zahra, both appointed by Gov. Snyder, will probably crush their Democratic rivals, Deborah Thomas and Bill Murphy.

The Republicans will not only have more campaign money than God or even the Kochs, they will be listed on the ballot with their titles as Justices of the Supreme Court, which make their opponents look like, well, Brand X.

Democrats are pinning their major hopes on 40-year-old Richard Bernstein, who already has accomplished amazing things despite being sightless since birth. (He's already making the "blind justice" jokes, so you don't have to.) What they especially like about him is that he is the son of the rich ambulance-chasing attorney "Sam" Bernstein of billboard fame.

They like that because he can largely self-fund his campaign. Look for Republicans to make only a half-hearted effort for their nominee, James Robert Redford. As long as both their incumbents win, they'll keep a 5-2 majority on the court.

But besides all these big paying jobs, there are lots of other prestige positions — mainly, education board seats. Oddly enough, voters across the state elect the boards of governors or regents of the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, and the state board of education.

Actually, this system has worked pretty well. This isn't a job that gets you a lot of notice, and it isn't even paid.

But most of the time, we've elected dedicated people from both parties who worked hard to master the facts and details of university and education issues.

This year, for example, Democrats nominated Marilyn Kelly for the Wayne State Board of Governors. (Full disclosure: I work there.) It would be hard to imagine a more qualified candidate. Years ago, while still in her 20s, she served on the state board of education, and concluded she needed a law degree if she was going to bring about significant change.

So she got one — and ended up becoming chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Not all the nominations were as good. Republicans nominated Macomb County's Maria Carl, a fanatic anti-abortion and anti-gay rights crusader who hates the common-sense, Common Core education standards.

Nor does she apparently think much of public education, since one of her websites says she runs, or ran, a "home based education business."

She's also a notorious anti-Semite, according to a number of sources. Her fellow Republican, Leon Drolet, says that during a GOP state convention a few years ago, Carl screamed, "She's a Jew! She's a Jew!" when Andrea Fischer Newman was nominated for a seat on the University of Michigan board.

Drolet, to be sure, has reason to loathe Carl, who once ran against him in a legislative primary. He crushed her, but not before one of her allies falsely accused Drolet of sponsoring a bill that would have allowed gays to have sex in public places.

Well, that might make sense in some jurisdictions; it could, for example, make Troy less boring. Now, in the past, even the wackiest Macomb County Republicans have not been willing to nominate Maria Carl for anything.

But she may well get elected to our state board of education if Snyder is re-elected governor. Most voters ignore the education slots. But if they vote a straight party ticket, their votes are automatically recorded for that party's nominees.

Yes, we could change this insane system with a constitutional amendment or two, but that would take work.

Why, you'd have to want a better future for yourselves or your kids to do something like that.

Nuttiest Idea of the Century!

Terri Lynn Land, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, has a unique idea how to get the money to fix the roads: Eliminate nearly all of the federal gasoline tax.

That's right. Land, the former state secretary, is seriously proposing that Washington cut the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents to 4 cents a gallon.

How would that help things in this state? Experts say Michigan needs as much as $2 billion a year to prevent the roads from collapsing? Well, actually, Terri's brain wave would make things much worse. Michigan currently gets about $1.2 billion a year in federal highway money.

That's a third of our entire transportation budget. Land's plan would wipe four-fifths of that revenue sharing out.

But not to worry! Land evidently thinks that if the federal government does that, Michigan's legislature would respond by more than doubling our gas tax to replace those revenues.

"If we reduce the federal gas tax, states like Michigan will be free to design their own transportation funding mechanisms rather than a one-size-fits-all approach," she says.

Well, I hate to break it to her, but the states already are free to design their own "transportation funding mechanism." Some have even done so. Michigan's nutty legislature, however, refuses to appropriate the money our roads need.

Even after last winter, even after the conservative Republican state senate leader said all he was hearing from voters was "just fix the damn roads," they wouldn't do it.

But Terri Lynn Land somehow believes these same lawmakers will suddenly be hot to astronomically raise the gas tax to make up for lost federal dollars. Sure they will!

If you've been paying attention to these bozos over the past few years, you know very well they'd doom everybody to riding in oxcarts with wooden wheels first. There are a lot of people who have been whispering that Land isn't bright enough to be in the U.S. Senate. I can't possibly imagine why. — mt

More by Jack Lessenberry

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