Party lines & mischief

Happy New Year, comrades. Nobody has been much in the mood for partisan politics since the great universal war against terror started. At least, that’s what we’ve been told frequently by the huge corporate media, so it naturally has to be so.

But as the old year wound down, the media were again full of stories about pervert dentists, mysterious drownings and huddled masses freezing outside of Stegosaurus Ed McNamara’s wonderful airport, the same one the Detroit papers tell us will be heaven on earth once they open their complicated new terminal.

So I thought I might be able to get away with mentioning that this year we will see the most widespread change in our elected representatives in many, many years — if not ever. The vast majority of us will live in new districts represented by new people. We’ll get a new governor, a new secretary of state, a bunch of new congressmen, and, if the present attorney general has her way, a new attorney general. Not to mention a new Wayne County wonder boy, who will inherit the airport mess. That ought to mean something. If things go the right (or wrong) way, that might mean everything.

But the fact is that most of us won’t vote. I don’t mean those who can’t; forget kids and convicts. Most eligible voters won’t vote, though most will whine afterward over what they get and what is done to them.

On New Year’s Eve, virtually unnoticed by the hordes guzzling Asti Spumanti, that bane of Western civilization, John Engler, was scheduled to slyly sign a brilliantly partisan piece of legislation outlawing straight-ticket voting. Democrats, liberals and African-Americans howled “unfair.” They figure this will hurt them, and they are probably right.

More of their voters — 80 percent in Detroit in November 2000 — just pull that ol’ party lever. Forcing them to vote for each candidate won’t hurt the party’s choice for president or governor. But they fear it means that too many of their voters will just skip the “down-ballot” contests, like board of education, maybe even state representative.

Well, too bad. I was against that law; I think people ought to have the option to vote any way they want, even for the Merovingian dynasty. But to be bluntly honest, the main reason Democrats want the straight-ticket option is that they fear that too many of their voters are too lazy to vote for all the lower offices.

This does work both ways. Phil Power, grand poobah of the Observer & Eccentric newspapers, was a well-informed, hardworking trustee of the University of Michigan. He deserved re-election in 1998, and spent a lot of money to that end. But he lost. Why? Not because of his anonymous opponent, but because John Engler won a landslide at the top of the Republican ticket, and too many voters just blindly “plunked” for unknown Republicans running for lesser offices.

Two years later, when Al Gore easily won Michigan, he swept Democratic candidates for state university boards in along with him. Now, that won’t be able to happen anymore. The guessing is that there will be a tremendous fall-off in the vote for lesser offices, and this will mainly benefit Republicans, who are better about showing up and voting.

Hopefully this will provoke a new round of voter education, and force us to examine whether in fact we should elect, say, university trustees this way. Does even the better-educated voter usually have the time or ability to figure out who ought to be on the boards of governors of our three big universities? You know the answer.

Apart from that, there will be a massive changeover in the Legislature. Every single district has been redrawn. Almost three-quarters of the state Senate — 28 out of 38 — have to quit because of term limits. Half the members of the state House are leaving too, either because of term limits or to run for something else. If you think you know the boundaries of the state or congressional district you live in, you are probably wrong. They’ve all been changed.

Incidentally, the Michigan Information and Research Service has posted the maps on the Internet (

The legislative districts are set in stone. The congressional maps are, however, under challenge in federal court, and so blatant was Republican gerrymandering the Democrats may have a case.

Downriver, for example, is a distinct region with distinct interests. Most of it has been represented in Congress by John Dingell since the Cretaceous period. Now the world’s most senior congressman has been shoved toward Ann Arbor, and Taylor, Southgate, etc. are divided between Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick and John Conyers. Tiny Woodhaven is divided in half between them.

Dearborn Heights is parceled out into three congressional districts, which makes no sense whatsoever. But odds are Republicans will get away with it. They probably wouldn’t if the voters had been paying attention. They should have been.

The wild and crazy days when you could depend on your Enron stock to double every month, and the most pressing national issue was whose butt Bill Clinton grabbed and when he grabbed it, appear over. The surplus is gone. We are in an ill-defined war against people we little understand, and we are led by a president who has neither ties to nor much love for Michigan, Detroit, labor unions, African-Americans or most of us.

We need to be choosing folks to look out for us in Washington, and to help sort out state government after a dozen years of his rotundity. This election year couldn’t be more important. Doing something about it may be a little harder than putting on that American flag pin, but the future is entirely, and only, up to you.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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