Politics & Prejudices: Stealing our right to vote 

You've got to admire the Republicans in the Michigan Legislature. That is, if you are sort of a modern-day fascist who hates democracy and wants to stop people from voting, or at the very least, make it as hard as possible for them to cast a ballot.

And then if all that fails, and the grimy little buggers still manage to crawl into the voting booth, why, then you do whatever you can to make their vote as meaningless as you can.

That's the philosophy that animates Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, and his considerably better-educated pal, Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter.

Meekhof, who really should be required to wear a dog license listing the DeVos family as his owners, is a little more open about his contempt for people who don't think like he does. He hates unions, and has a burning desire to take a decent wage away from construction workers who toil on state projects.

I'll return to what he's been plotting there in a moment. But first, here's their latest move to take away even more of our choice in voting. They've been at this for years.

You know, of course, that the legislature has been so gerrymandered that even when most voters overwhelmingly choose Democrats, Republicans win large majorities.

Two years ago, Meekhof rammed through an amendment allowing those who give lavishly to campaigns to keep their identities secret. He also prevented allowing anyone who wants an absentee ballot from getting one, and sneered openly at the idea of making it easier for people to vote.

That, however, wasn't enough for him and his cronies, especially Meekhof's mini-me, Dave Robertson, who chairs the state Senate's elections committee.

They rammed through a bill this month that would outlaw straight-ticket voting. Now, GOP legislators did the same back in 2001, but outraged citizens collected signatures, had a statewide vote, and overwhelmingly reclaimed that right.

Meekhof and Co. couldn't care less about that. This time, not only did they again vote to take people's choice away — they stuck a phony million-dollar appropriation into the bill.

That's because the state constitution says any bill with money attached to it cannot be repealed by a vote of the people.

Like I said, these people despise democracy. Here's why they want to take away straight-ticket voting: More Democrats vote that way, especially the poor and voters of color.

When voters split their tickets, they seldom vote in all the races. Snyder was re-elected governor last year, and Republicans increased their legislative majorities.

But Democrats won eight out of nine of the statewide education board seats, for one reason: Detroiters overwhelmingly filled in the Democratic straight-party oval.

Elsewhere in Michigan, hundreds of thousands of voters chose mostly Republicans — but split their tickets to not vote for their hilariously feeble U.S. Senate candidate, Terri Lynn Land.

Those voters often completely skipped judicial contests and the education board seats, which is why Democrats won them. Meekhof wants to do all he can to make sure that doesn't happen again. The state House of Representatives should be v0ting on this early next month.

For giggles, you might want to let your own representative know what you think of this latest attempt to control how you vote.

But back to Meekhof, who has tried for years to get rid of a law that requires any workers on state construction projects to be paid the prevailing union wage, whether they are members of a union or not. He got a little setback there last month, when the committee collecting signatures to outlaw paying them the industry prevailing wage was found to have submitted a bunch of phony and fraudulent signatures. However, you can bet they will go back to the Koch brothers and Dick DeVos, get some more money to pay for signatures, and try again.

Now, you might think — "hey, that's underhanded, but democratic enough. They'll put their awful scheme on the ballot, and decent-minded people will vote it down."

Indeed they might. But that's not what Meekhof and the merchants of slime really are doing here. He has a little-known legal trick up his sleeve. Michigan's constitution says that if citizens get enough signatures to put something on the ballot, the legislature can avoid the referendum by just passing a law that would do what those behind the ballot drive want.

In this case, that would be taking union scale wages away from construction workers. But why, you might wonder, doesn't the legislature just go ahead and do that now? Don't the hard-right union-haters have the votes to do that anyway?

They probably do. But here's their problem: Gov. Rick Snyder would veto it. Don't get me wrong: Snyder is not any terrific friend of unions. But he is a rational businessman.

He's trying desperately to attract skilled trades to this state. He knows cutting their pay isn't the way to do it. He also seems to think that state office buildings constructed with substandard labor may not be a good idea.

Nor do the Republicans want a law taking away prevailing wage on the ballot. Not only would the people likely vote it down again, lots of angry workers who might otherwise have not bothered to show up will, just to vote against this.

And while they are at it, they wouldn't be inclined to vote for any Republicans. But here's what Meekhof really wants:

He wants to get enough signatures to get prevailing wage on the ballot. Then the legislature swiftly passes a law outlawing it. If they were to do that, it becomes law immediately — and no referendum happens. Most importantly — the governor in such cases loses the power to veto it. That's what the fanatics in the legislature want. By the way, none of this is about good government — it's about smashing unions.

Nor is it really about saving the state money. This has been tried before (1994-'97) and the record clearly shows it was a disaster. A story in Bridge Magazine last June showed that fewer contractors bid on jobs, which drove up prices.

Workers sometimes disappeared in the middle of a project when they got a private sector job, which paid more.

We well may end up paying more money for crappier work. But to Arlan Meekhof that doesn't really matter.

Cutting workers' pay is all that counts.

Is this a great democracy or what?

Michigan leads the nation!

In the race to the ethical bottom, that is. Earlier this month, the Center for Public Integrity, a respected nonpartisan watchdog organization, rated all 50 states in terms of integrity in government.

And we were in a class by ourselves — dead last, worst of the worst. "Conflicts of interest and potential public corruption remain buried in an honor system with no honor."

As they detail in their report, which can easily be found online, disclosure rules are a joke, scandals hushed up, and the legislature exempted itself and the governor's office from the Freedom of Information Act. The center did single out one ethical champion — state Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren).

Bieda has introduced bill after bill trying to get accountability in government, especially as regards money.

But he serves in the Age of Meekhof and not surprisingly, he's never come close to success.


More by Jack Lessenberry

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