Making real change

Here's what puzzles me most about the Tea Party movement, as well as everyone else who says they want serious change in this state.

This fall, they've got a tremendous opportunity to do so — right there for the taking. And yet, they show no interest. Maybe that's because they — and maybe most of us — don't understand what they've got. They won't get another chance to shake things up this much until 2026, by which time I expect to be next to Helen Thomas in some nursing home.

Here's what I am talking about: When Michigan voters go to the polls in November, they are going to be asked if they want to call a convention to write a new constitution — a "con-con." This is already automatically on the ballot. We don't have to do anything except vote yes. If a majority of us do, here's what happens. We will elect 148 delegates to the convention. Each of us would get to vote for two — one per each state House and Senate district.

We would elect those via a primary in February and a runoff election in June. Everyday citizens could easily run for delegate, and many would. Then, they'd get together in Lansing next October. They then would be free to draw up any kind of constitution they want — as long, that is, as it doesn't violate the Constitution of the United States. 

They could, for example, give us a graduated income tax like most civilized places have. That would mean Geoffrey Fieger and Dick DeVos would pay a higher rate than the single mom who works part-time at my dry cleaners. Our current constitution outlaws such fairness.

Delegates could modify term limits, or get rid of them. They could give us a part-time legislature. A one-house, unicameral legislature. Or some other model. They could come up with a way to protect public education. They could do things to help save our cities. 

What if they give us a constitution worse than the one we have? Well, then, we just say no. When they get finished, they'd have to submit the new constitution to a statewide vote.

If we say yes, it goes into effect. If we vote it down, the current one, narrowly adopted in 1963, stays in place.

However, the old constitution is fatally flawed. For one thing, it is way too easy to amend. Out-of-town groups with money behind them can easily pay to get signatures to put something on the ballot.

Term limits were the fatal flaw that did in government in this state. They assured that no lawmakers would have the power base, the knowledge or the experience to withstand the special interests. Nor did the politicians have any incentive to really solve problems; for more than a decade, they've just kicked them down the road for somebody else to deal with. As a result, two years from now, the state will be looking at a deficit that is hard to imagine.

What everybody should be doing is embracing the idea of a con-con. Then, we should plan on working like hell to elect the best possible delegates to write the best possible document.

But that's not the case at all. Instead, virtually all the special interests and all of the establishment are doing whatever they can to make sure we don't have one. They fear change.

Robert LaBrant, the senior vice president for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a virtual branch of the GOP, said that he feared "special interests" would dominate the selection process.

Yeah, as if they don't control the Legislature now. Dianne Byrum, a former leader of the Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives, said she thought it would be "too expensive." She also said she feared that a constitutional convention would paralyze any economic development in the state because nobody would know what kind of a new tax structure to expect.

That is very funny, because that's exactly how things work now. Three years ago, the clowns in the Legislature enacted a new business tax and told employers, OK, this is it.

Then on the last day of the session they slapped a 22 percent surcharge on it. Too bad, fools! What's really going on in the heads of the Byrums and LaBrants?

"The bottom line is that they just don't trust the people," said Craig Ruff, one of the few honest brokers in Lansing. Ruff is a longtime policy expert who is now with Public Sector Consultants.

John Axe, an attorney who also supports a con-con, put his finger on the real problem last week. Special interests on the left and right have carved out turf, like organized crime used to do in Chicago. They fear losing territory.

They've all helped run the state into the ground. We can do better, and we deserve to try again. If you trust the chamber of commerce and our dying labor unions more than yourself, vote no.

If you think Michigan is doing as well as we possibly can, if you have no hope that we can make things better, vote no.

Otherwise, take a chance on the future.

Vote yes on Proposal 1. Let's call a constitutional convention, and try to make things better. That's what the Founding Fathers did; that's what America has always been about.

You want to give these people control of Michigan government?
One of the few bright spots in the state's economy in recent years has been the "Pure Michigan" campaign.

As anyone who has traveled our peninsulas knows very well, this is one of the most beautiful states there is. In recent years, the Granholm administration has been running elegant TV commercials with Tim Allen's voice touting the state as a tourist destination.

These ads have not only won national awards, they've worked. Studies proved conclusively that for every buck spent on these ads, visitors who wouldn't otherwise have come contributed $3 to our economy.

Yet with the perennial budget deficit, etc., etc., the Legislature in its profound stupidity decided there was no money for more ads.

My longtime readers may remember that I haven't exactly been in love with Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But as Tim Skubick noted in Dome magazine, she came up with a pretty bright idea: Fund the commercial with a tax on rental cars — but only those rented at airports.

This wouldn't be a tax on residents. Who rents cars at airports? Mostly out-of-staters. The money would fund the Pure Michigan campaigns, still more people would come to the state and spend, and everybody would win.

But alas, that couldn't penetrate the primitive reptilian brains of the Republican senators. They saw this as a tax increase. Their controller, the odious Mike Bishop, has made them memorize the mantra: Tax always bad. Thinking bad too.

So they refused to approve Pure Michigan, and Michigan, including a lot of small businessmen, will lose millions.

The governor did make one mistake. As I indicated in last week's column, the one person the Republicans do listen to is Matty Moroun, the troll behind the Ambassador Bridge.

That's because he gives them money. More tourism might marginally help Matty too, and she should have gotten him to tell his little Senate imps that voting for this was a good thing. 

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