Politics & Prejudices: Why Michigan is permanently screwed 

There's a famous old cliche, "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," meaning to waste time and energy on meaningless little fixes while ignoring major problems.

This year, progressives, unions, and good government groups had two amazing opportunities to do something that would effectively break the right-wing control that is failing our citizens, destroying our infrastructure, and ruining Michigan.

And not only did they fail — they didn't even try.

Two years from now, Democrats will spend millions on an effort to elect Michigan's next governor. Given the scandals of the Snyder administration and the unpopularity of its defective robot-in-chief, my guess is they will probably win.

Dan Kildee, the congressman from Flint, is their most likely nominee, and he is a good and impressive man.

If it is really a great Democratic year, they may even win the state House of Representatives.

But no real change will happen. Know why?

Because they have absolutely no — zippo — chance of winning a majority in the state Senate. That thing is so impossibly and fraudulently gerrymandered that it would take the equivalent of a GOP-caused Great Depression to give it to the Democrats, and it might not even happen then.

Nearly as many voters chose Democratic as Republican candidates two years ago, and the result was 27 Republican senators, only 11 Democrats, one of whom is now in jail.

Democrats might get 14 or even 15 seats in a good year, but almost certainly no more. The game is completely rigged.

This, plus the all-powerful influence of special interest is why we have right-to-work in this state, aka the right to weaken unions. This is why they outlawed your right to cast a straight ticket for the party of your choice, and went after your pensions.

This is why they pass bill after bill weakening your protections, making it harder for you to vote, harming teachers, and sticking phony appropriations onto these bills to make sure an aroused electorate can never go to the ballot and hold a referendum to repeal any of them.

They do all this and more because they've set up the system so that you can't defeat them. They also know they have nothing to gain from protecting the people's interests.

After six or eight years, they will be term-limited out of office, and if they do a good enough job representing their special interests, they may be rewarded with a lobbying job.

There is a way to fix this, however:

Turn the job of drawing districts over to an independent commission. The Michigan Supreme Court, Republican as it is, has ruled that this would be perfectly legal.

The League of Women Voters held dozens of educational forums across the state to discuss Michigan's redistricting process. Those who attended often seemed outraged.

All that was needed was for some good angel to come forward and spend the money needed to lead a drive to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Naturally, the Republicans would have fought like hell against it.

Yet it would have been worth a try — and such a fight might well have been won, if the people could have been woken up and made to see what was at stake.

But nobody would even try.

Here's how crazy that is: For years, unions and their allies blew millions on a series of fruitless ballot proposals aimed at trying to make minor fixes in a corrupt system.

Four years ago, for example, there was the one that aimed to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution, plus another that would have given bargaining rights to home health care aides. They failed.

What did pass was another referendum repealing the emergency manager law, which regularly disenfranchises minorities. Snyder and the legislature merely laughed, gave us the finger, and passed another within weeks.

That wouldn't happen if you had honest districts. Nor would awful candidates win so often if everyone voted.

Led by the state Senate's two main crypto-fascists, Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and elections committee chair Dave Robertson, this legislature has done everything it could to make it as hard as possible for working people to vote, including denying most voters the right to an absentee ballot.

You could change that in a heartbeat by going to a system of voting by mail, which is what they have in Washington, Oregon, and a growing number of Western states.

Participation rises dramatically, people cast more informed votes, and the state saves millions, since they don't have to run thousands of polling places.

A little band of ordinary citizens gallantly tried to get vote-by-mail on the ballot this year. Led by Jackie Pierce up north in Pellston, they got language approved and were rarin' to go.

But they needed a lot of help and money to get the 315,654 valid signatures needed to get it on the ballot, and more to run a campaign. She told me they met with the unions, and labor wouldn't help. Frustrated, they gave up in February.

"Much of the support we had counted on has not come through," Pierce posted on Facebook on March 2. "The union officials are more concerned about a few other things."

What could be more important than a chance to change the system that gave us right-to-work, badly crippled teachers' unions, and is next going after union wages on state construction jobs, the vulture Meekhof's favorite cause?

You might ask: Is union and progressive leadership in this state corrupt — or overwhelmingly stupid?

The answer, of course, is ... what difference does it make? They won't fight hard to help save us, or themselves.

Someone better wake up, before it's too late.

Journalistic absurdity: Curt Guyette, the reporter who did more than any other to expose the lead poisoning in Flint, ought to be a top contender for a Pulitzer Prize in at least two categories this year: Investigative and Public Service Reporting.

Guyette, who did distinguished work for Metro Times for many years, not only interviewed officials and pored over documents — he went door to door asking people to allow their water to be tested. His work was the subject of a major story in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review.

But there won't be any Pulitzer for Guyette. Last week, when Wayne State University honored him for his work, he told me he was ineligible for a Pulitzer. Even though he is one of the best investigative reporters in the nation, these days he works for the American Civil Liberties Union.

That makes him ineligible, because the ACLU is not a newspaper, magazine, or news site publishing regularly, but an "advocacy organization." Consider how stupid that is.

What does the ACLU advocate for? Our constitutional rights to civil liberties, which happen to make a free press possible. Was there anything in Guyette's reporting that didn't meet the highest journalistic standards?

Not that I saw. Past Pulitzer winners have come from openly partisan papers, and those owned by large corporations whose ultimate loyalty was to the shareholders, advertisers, and the bottom line, not the public's right to know.

Pulitzer Prizes have gone to openly ideologically biased editorial writers. But if a reporter working as a journalist for a civil liberties organization exposes the biggest scandal in America last year ... Forget it.

Journalism in this country is in mortal peril, in large part because of a business model that has failed to adapt to the swiftly changing technology of news.

Sad to see that those giving out its highest honor seem intellectually unable to grasp that the platforms and sponsorship structure of their profession is also undergoing change.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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