Corruption supreme

Nov 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

Two weeks ago in this column, I praised Ingham County Circuit Judge William Colette for doing the right thing and throwing out Michigan's hastily thrown-together new presidential primary. That's not because a primary is a bad idea; indeed, we ought to be able to vote for our preferred nominees.

But the way the primary was cooked up by the party bosses and their rubber-stamp Legislature would shame a snake. They put it together in a manner that was a train wreck right from the start.

Both parties warned their Michigan captains not to have a primary before Feb. 5. Neither side listened. They wanted to be big and important players in the national process! So, they set a Jan. 15 date. The Republican National Committee promptly took half of Michigan's delegates away.

But that's nothing compared to what the national Democrats did. They were so irked at Michigan that the party effectively canceled the meaningfulness of our state primary. First, they indicated that the state might lose all of its national convention delegates.

Next, virtually all the main contenders announced that they would not campaign here, since the state is in violation of party rules. If that weren't bad enough, all of the leading candidates promptly yanked their names off the ballot. The primary had now become a farce, one that would cost our cash-poor state more than $10 million. Then Judge Colette came to the rescue.

His honor ruled that the law establishing the new Michigan primary was unconstitutional. Actually, the word he should have used is corrupt. Here's what really went down, as I noted two weeks ago: What both Democrats and Republicans want is a shakedown list of people they can solicit money from.

So what that law does is call for election workers to make lists of who votes in the Republican primary and who votes in the Democratic one — and then give those lists to the major parties — and only to the major parties. You won't get to see those lists, and neither will I, nor any other member of the media — even though taxpayer dollars paid for them.

After Judge Colette ruled that unconstitutional, a panel of appeals court judges agreed. However, the bad guys then appealed to our state's "supreme" court, and it was clear we were done for.

In some states, review panels try to come up with the most qualified judges to put on the state's highest court. Not in Michigan! Here, our judges are all too often party hacks. They are nominated by the political parties and elected statewide.

Many people think judges are nonpartisan legal experts who are above the fray: experts concerned with great constitutional principles. Not in Michigan. We have sometimes elected state supreme justices without any previous experience on the bench or in the Legislature. We now have probably the most outrageously partisan state Supreme Court in the nation, controlled by a group of four zombies who would reinstate jus prima noctis or the Dred Scott decision, if that was what the state GOP wanted.

And since the Republicans wanted an early primary, well, that meant the supremes had to overturn the appeals court. So that's what they did.

Their ruling is really a hoot. How can it be all right to have a law that is so blatantly in favor of the major parties?

"Political parties unquestionably serve a public purpose," the gang of four wrote, probably chortling.

And "the state's interest permits them to enact reasonable election regulations that may, in practice, favor the two-party system," they added, quoting some not-very-relevant ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

They had a harder time tackling the worst provision in the primary law, the one that says that the political parties have a right to the lists of people who voted, whereas journalists and ordinary citizens — you and I — do not.

So they just say that when it comes to balancing public and private interests in this case, "such terms need only be interpreted in a reasonable manner." (In other words, we said it, and so it must be reasonable.)

The four judges who stuck it to us are Clifford Taylor, Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman, the same four who always vote together. Their majority opinion provoked vigorous dissent from the court's two Democrats, Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh, and the one principled Republican, Betty Weaver. "The very idea of supplying lists of voters to private parties, when the voters must either be on the list or not vote, strikes me as an abuse of the public franchise," Justice Cavanagh correctly wrote.

So what can any of us poor wretches do about this?

First of all, I recommend sabotaging this corrupt primary. Vote in the party's primary you normally would not support, and write in Nancy Sinatra. That'll screw up their computers and make them waste time trying to solicit you for funds. Then appeal to the Democrats to nominate someone who can defeat Cliff Taylor, the only member of the gang of four up for election this year.

I suggest former Gov. Jim Blanchard, who still has far higher name recognition than Taylor. He is politically savvy and a good lawyer. Michigan has a lot of problems. We at least deserve a court whose first name is not kangaroo.


More in sorrow than contempt: Anyone who knows anything about the newspaper business knows these are difficult times for it. Circulation and ad revenue are slipping at the vast majority of papers across the country. Most are still profitable, though not enough so for the greedheads who run most of the nation's major newspaper chains.

For years, it has often been the case that great journalism in a lot of places has been done despite the bean counters. But ever since Gannett traded The Detroit News for the Detroit Free Press, the company has behaved in a way that seems clearly designed to discourage good journalism and drive off any real talent. Fine reporters have been fleeing in droves. Then last week, though few were listening, the death knell sounded for the Free Press as we have known it. Weeks before, in an attempt to get rid of older and, presumably higher-paid journalists, the Gannett-controlled "Detroit Media Partnership" announced its intention to eliminate 110 jobs by offering buyouts.

Among those who are bailing out: Jack Kresnak, whose juvenile justice beat was easily some of the best work the paper has done in decades.

The irrepressible and amusing Mike Duffy is leaving, as are a bunch of well-known longtime reporters and photographers. So are two of the very best and most respected people in Free Press management: copy desk chief Alex Cruden and Dave Robinson, who, as deputy managing editor for sports and operations, had tried to maintain quality until Gannett announced it was ending that by shooting him into a side pocket. However, the paper will still have a "Moms Editor" and a "moms blog," for those who find Metro Parent too intellectually rigorous. You have to be a trifle glad, I think, that Neal Shine did not live to see this day.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]