Fighting against EM law, trying to save democracy

Scores of angry people don’t usually show up to watch an attorney file paperwork with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

But then again, what’s going on right now with the attempt to have voters repeal Michigan’s emergency manager law in November is anything but normal.

Were things operating as usual, the question of repealing Public Act 4 would have already been approved and placed on the ballot by the state Board of Canvassers and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. After all, the Stand Up for Democracy coalition that’s backing the measure has collected more than 225,000 signatures — far more than the number necessary to qualify for the ballot.

But that didn’t stop conservatives — in the form of a group calling itself Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility — from challenging the measure by claiming the font used in the petition’s heading wasn’t the requisite size.

It is telling that the group, headed by a former Michigan Chamber of Commerce executive, has so little regard for the democratic process that it would attempt to use a technicality like that to prevent voters from deciding the issue.

Even more disturbing is the fact that two of the four members of the Board of Canvassers agreed. Because a 2-2 split effectively blocked the measure form moving forward, members of the coalition were forced to take the issue to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The court correctly ruled that the petition was in “substantial compliance” with the law and should be placed on the ballot. But then the three-judge panel that made that ruling, based on well-established precedent, took the unusual move of staying its own ruling so that the entire 28 judges sitting on the COA could be polled to determine if they thought the court should consider overturning that precedent.

When the judges decided they didn’t want to go there, it looked as if the path to the ballot box was cleared.

But the Board of Canvassers is scheduled to meet next week, and as of Wednesday it had not indicated that it is prepared to adhere to the COA’s order and place the measure on the ballot. The issue isn’t even on its agenda.

It is possible — perhaps even likely — that Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility will appeal the COA ruling to the state Supreme Court and ask that any action be stayed until the high court weighs in on the issue.

But it is not the duty of the Board of Canvassers to anticipate legal actions. Its duty is to follow the law.

Which is exactly what the Stand Up for Democracy folks are doing, and want others to do. So, on Wednesday, the group’s high-powered legal team showed up with about 100 supporters in tow to file a motion asking the Court of Appeals to issue an order compelling the Board of Canvassers to certify the petitions within seven days.

When the court clerk accepted the filing, the group let out a collective cheer and then began chanting: “Let the people vote — Now!”

During a press conference afterward, the absurdity of the petition challenge made by Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility was highlighted by attorney Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, who reported that an examination of 17 previously approved ballot measures revealed that all of them failed to meet the 14-point font size the law calls for.

Why was this one singled out for dispute, especially when at least three experts maintained that it in fact did meet the 14-point requirement?

In the view of the coalition members, the answer is this: The right-wing forces attempting to keep this measure from going before voters will do just about anything to interfere with the democratic process. If nothing else, every day that ballot certification is delayed represents a victory of sorts for proponents of the emergency manager law.

That’s because, from the moment that the measure is placed on the ballot, implementation of the law is suspended until voters can have their say.

“This is a great stalling tactic to give the dictator law more time to entrench itself,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

During the press conference, the Rev. Ed. Rowe of Detroit’s First United Methodist Church took pains to point out that this is an issue everyone in Michigan should be paying close attention to. It’s not about just race, he said, or just the city of Detroit. Nor is it about political partisanship.

At the core of this fight is the democratic process itself.

At this point, said Rowe, it is like looking at a coffin with the word democracy written across it. The question is, “Will that coffin be buried, or will it be resurrected?”


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