True colors in Lansing 

Amid crisis, our legislators still want to stick it to gays and the environment

Want to know what Republicans are really like — at least, the mean-spirited variety that inhabit our Legislature? They revealed their true colors in glistening slimy iridescence last week, while voting massive cuts for education.

Not, that is, just by cutting education, though that is appalling enough. The official mantra of the Snyder administration is that it doesn't really want to cut education, but it is necessary to give business as big a tax break as possible.

That, they say, will really help education in the long run, because slashing business taxes will bring new industry and jobs pouring in. The newly employed workers will pay state income taxes. As a result, state coffers will soon swell with cash. Which means Michigan will be able to devote more support to education than ever before! This is called the "rising tide lifts all boats" theory, and was last energetically believed in by some college Republicans for Reagan back in 1980, many of whom had never yet had a date. Most of them later grew up.

However, Rick Snyder still appears to believe this with the fervor of a new convert in the coming resurrection. More on this theology later, but first, back to the Legislature.

Cutting education was not enough for the lawmakers; they also made a clumsy attempt to punish gays. The instigator was, once again, the state's worst legislator, the malevolently dense David Agema, a recycled airline pilot from the west side of the state. The Granville Republican offered an amendment to further cut by 5 percent the funding of any university that offers domestic partner benefits. First, he pretended this was "a cost factor." However, it didn't take him long to reveal his true colors: This was about Agema's crackbrained idea of morality. "It provides an extremely bad example to our youth," he said, according to the Gongwer News Service.

Yes, allowing some unmarried wretch to collect state-paid benefits violates Divebomber Dave's interpretation of the Michigan Constitution, which, as he noted, says that "religion and morality ... are necessary to good government."

Ironically, what the constitution really says appears to argue against cutting schools at all: "Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education will forever be encouraged."

Some fellow legislator with intelligence and integrity ought to have read that into the record — and then noted that so-called domestic partner benefits are not limited to gays. Full personal disclosure; I've added my female partner to my benefits at Wayne. This isn't free; it costs us more than $600 a month.

Not only is this benefit not only for gays, it isn't limited to those in romantic relationships. As I read the rules covering "other eligible persons," I could have added my mommy instead, if I owned, say, a house with her, and if she didn't have the bad taste to be dead.

But beyond that, some lawmaker also ought to have noted that if you are looking for someone guilty of immorally wasting state money, you need look no further than Dave Agema. Four years ago, he was nowhere to be found during an intense state budget debate: He was off hunting wild sheep in Siberia, continuing to collect his state salary and health care benefits while in full dereliction of duty.

They eventually threw this bozo off the House Appropriations Committee for missing more votes than anyone in either chamber. Yet the voters have kept re-electing him.

Now for the shocking part: Every Legislature has idiots who are mostly ignored. Except that in this case, a majority went along with Agema. The amendment punishing the universities was added to the education budget and then adopted by the full House. Democrats unanimously voted against it, and six Republicans too.

But they have large legislative majorities — and most of them are religious and right-wing ideologues. They don't stop at trying to regulate sexual morality either. Over in the Senate, they voted to try to prevent Rick Snyder himself from helping the environment.

That's right. They did it, they claimed, "to help the business climate." They voted to forbid the state from issuing guidelines more protective of the environment than those issued by the federal government. State Sen. Mike Kowall, (R-White Lake Township) pretended that this was so the Legislature could protect nature.

This was, of course, bullshit. Rick Snyder is thought to be the most environmentally friendly governor since Bill Milliken in the 1970s. It was Milliken, in fact, who helped save Lake Erie by banning phosphate-laden detergents when the Legislature refused to act.

If the House goes along with the Senate, no governor could take action like that again. The business interests who own so many of these legislators fear Snyder, too, might put life ahead of profits. So if you thought the current crop of Republican lawmakers lacks a malevolent social agenda, welcome to the real world. The question now, however: What is Rick Snyder?

Last summer, thousands of independents and Democrats crossed over to vote for Snyder in the Republican primary, enabling him to win. Many did so because they thought he was an intelligent, pragmatic, non-ideological reformer.

By then it was clear to the savvy that whomever the GOP nominated was likely to be our next governor. Snyder seemed much better than the other options, most of them tools of various anti-abortion or hard-right economic groups.

Turns out Snyder does seem to be a true believer in the ideology of Laffer curve economics. However, he has not — so far — sold out on the social issues. To his credit, he's brushed aside attempts to limit stem cell research.

But what about these two nasty, mean-spirited legislative moves? Will he sign an education budget that penalizes universities for allowing people like me to cover people whom they love?

Will he sign on to preventing himself from saving the environment if necessary? We are likely to find out what Richard Snyder's soul and spine are really made of, very soon.


Defective Albom:
Several readers have asked why I haven't gone after Mitch Albom for using the Free Press to shamelessly promote his mawkish Ernie play. Well, mainly, I try to write about public policy issues where there is some chance of improvement.

Sometimes, I write about journalists, or people or institutions I respect. But none of those categories applies here. I knew Ernie Harwell long before Mitch Albom did, knew him very well.

However, I would have shot myself rather than have attempted to exploit him. Even if he did give some sort of play by Mitch his blessing before he died, the spectacle of Albom dragging a dying Ernie around to promote himself was deeply offensive.

What is amusing is that both the Free Press and its marketing tool are fast each becoming their own worst parody. Last week, the dying Freep ignored the most momentous Canadian election in years — and gave us Mitch's thoughts about Osama Bin Laden being dead. This was appalling, but not nearly as funny as his column about fashion a few weeks ago.

True, nobody has yet seen Mitch strolling the Cass Corridor with a mattress strapped to his back. But as Yogi Berra never told him at some game he didn't cover, it ain't over till it's over.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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