Michigan’s lame-duck session is in, and Republicans are acting like cornered animals

Dec 12, 2018 at 1:00 am
Protests at the Michigan State Capitol during the lame duck.
Protests at the Michigan State Capitol during the lame duck. Elaishia Outley

Is there a reckoning coming for Republican politicians? Apparently they believe it is, because they are behaving like cornered animals — lame ducks attacking anything they can reach. Republicans have been engaging in an "if we can't be in charge, then this house will not stand" strategy across the nation, replete with attempts to undermine democracy, the rule of law, and the will of the people.

In Michigan lately, the legislature has been trying to undo the will of voters. So far the Republican-controlled Senate has passed a bill to switch the power to enforce campaign finance law from the incoming Democrat secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, to a legislative commission. There is also a bill moving power to intervene in litigation away from the governor and attorney general and to the legislature. That's in addition to attempting to impede the governor's and secretary of state's ability to deliver on their campaign promises to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits.

The governor and attorney general are Democrats, while the legislature still maintains a Republican majority. It seems that Republicans would love to leave a big mess behind to confront the new governor when she arrives in office.

Similarly, the Senate has moved to gut laws that would raise Michigan's minimum wage to $12 per hour in 2022 and add wage protections for tipped workers — laws that the same body had already approved. This was expected because SB1171, passed just a few months ago, was a dodge to keep a minimum wage initiative off the November ballot, where it had a strong chance of winning. An initiative win at the ballot would have made it harder to change or water down after the election. So the state Senate undercut the minimum wage law by passing it, and are now set to finish the job by changing it. They are doing the same with the former paid sick-leave initiative that was undercut by SB1175.

And although the legislature allowed Proposal 1 to legalize adult use of marijuana to go to a vote — where it won — legislators are now seeking changes that would remove provisions that allow for adults and micro-businesses to grow their own. In this case, because the initiative was passed by voters, it will take an improbable 75 percent vote of legislators to make changes. The same goes for an attempt to change how to choose members of the commission called for by the anti-gerrymandering Voters Not Politicians-led Proposal 2 initiative.

It seems some of the politicians aren't understanding the voters' message.

Lame duck is when legislators who will not have to face voters again tend to cast controversial votes that the public clearly opposes. In 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder and the legislature made moves to circumvent the will of Michigan voters, who had just rejected the emergency manager law in a referendum. Instead, Snyder and Republicans rammed through a referendum-proof version of the bill by attaching it to a spending bill. Of course, the emergency manager law led to the Flint water catastrophe.

These votes obviously cast a spotlight on whose interests the politicians actually support. It's pretty clear that the initiatives the legislators put themselves in the strongest position to undercut were the minimum wage and paid sick-leave laws. Business interests and the chamber of commerce opposed those laws, although they were popular among voters.

SB1171, to undermine the minimum wage law, passed on a 26-11 Senate vote. The "yes" votes were all Republican, and the 10 Democrats were joined by one Republican in opposition.

This lame duck session is the Republican legislature's last chance to ram legislation down the throats of Democrats. Republicans lost their supermajority (allowing an override of a gubernatorial veto) and the next session will feature a 22-16 Republican majority. In the state House, Republicans move from 63-47 majority to 58-52. Democrats are still the minority party, but with partners in the executive seats, power is shifting.

It's also worth nothing Republicans will only hold a majority in 2019 because they gerrymandered the state's legislative map in 2010. Though Democrats in the state House got more votes in 2014 and 2018, the GOP held and will hold a majority of seats. Republicans only got 3,000 more votes in 2016, but held a 63-47 majority during this session. Similar situations played out in North Carolina and Wisconsin (see Jeffrey C. Billman's "Informed Dissent" column this week), indicating that the lame duck assault is partly rooted in gerrymandering.

"Republicans were not working with us as all," Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said in Lansing a couple of weeks ago at a marijuana business conferencewhile describing the general legislative atmosphere. "Now I am getting contacted by my Republican colleagues, mostly those on the libertarian side of the Republicans. Republicans will have to negotiate with Democrats in order to get things done."

That idea seems to terrorize Republicans across the land — and not only in Lansing, where Republicans have lost a trifecta of power they enjoyed for eight years. In Wisconsin, outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his legislative gang have been burning down the house on their way out the door with even more drastic curbs on power for their incoming Democrat administration than Michigan.

Who knows what more will go on in the nation's capitol as an embattled executive and an enabling legislature brace for a Democrat majority to step into Congress?

Over the past month it's become more and more obvious that the "blue wave" was real and it was huge — there were 10 million more votes cast for Democrats nationwide than for Republicans. This repeats the trend of Trump receiving 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. It's the same reason the GOP has chosen voter suppression over voter attraction. It's pretty clear there was voter fraud in Georgia and Florida in support of Republicans.

On one of the biggest issues that Americans care about — health care — Democrat policies are closer to where the American people are. This last election made it clear that the seemingly never-ending votes to repeal Obamacare are indeed over. With that done, it's become more and more clear that the Republican response is to tilt the playing field to their advantage by skewing the vote.

This raises the question to Republicans: If you are not on the side of the people, whose side are you on?

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That's what happened in Michigan with the wildly gerrymandered congressional districts which aimed to keep Republicans in power. The Voters Not Politicians anti-gerryamndering effort was an example of people in the state standing up and saying that they are tired of that. There were five voter initiatives that qualified for the ballot this year — five issues for which the people stood up and said, "This is what we want." The three that made it to the polls all passed with wide margins, while the Republican-controlled legislature passed mock laws to replace the minimum wage and paid sick-leave initiatives.

The successful Prop. 2 and Prop. 3 efforts were actual amendments to the state constitution. Michigan voters have been sketchy about amending the constitution in the past. But both of these changes passed emphatically with more than 60 percent of the vote. In this state we said no to gerrymandering and that we want to make it easy for citizens to vote — and we're willing to put it in the constitution.

This raises the question to Republicans: If you are not on the side of the people, whose side are you on? All of the initiatives had vastly more support from Democrats than from Republicans, who sought to block the will of the people.

The Democrats are not perfect, and my own preferences run more radically than they skew. However, these are extraordinary times in so many ways and I do believe in coalition politics — it's how things get done. I'd much rather cast my lot with the Democrats as we face a threat to democracy itself.

In the meantime, if you see a duck limping in your direction, prepare to defend yourself.

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