Detroit now has an emergency manager, and there’s a lot of rumbling that, as a result, government has been stolen, and democracy has died. Greg Bowens, for example, had an eloquent column arguing that in the Free Press last Sunday.
“A bloodless coup of the largest democratically elected government in our state has occurred,” he began.
Well, let’s leave aside, for now, the question of whether an emergency manager here was legal or necessary. Regardless of that, here’s the elephant we are all missing. Forget Detroit: A bloodless coup has taken place in this state, at a far higher level: state government itself.
Fanatic right-wingers first gerrymandered the Legislature to make sure that it would always elect a majority of Republicans, even if — as happened last fall — more citizens voted for Democratic candidates.
That would have been bad, but not that big a deal, back in the 1980s, say, when most Republican lawmakers were pro-business interests, but not screaming irrational yahoos.
But times have changed. The GOP itself has been almost entirely taken over by zealots whose priorities are both irrational and totally at odds with the desires and interests of Michigan citizens. And they are destroying our state.
That’s no exaggeration. Greg Bowens, by the way, made an error when he called Detroit “the largest democratically elected government in our state.” In fact, that description would apply to Michigan itself; the governor and the Legislature.
Like him or hate him, Rick Snyder was fairly elected by the people, winning a large majority (58 percent) of those who bothered to vote three years ago.
But that can’t be said for the Legislature.
Seven years ago, 54 percent of voters chose Democratic candidates for the state Senate. That was meaningless, however; thanks to the gerrymandering in effect then, Republicans won a majority of the seats, something that has ballooned to a 25-11 supermajority since. Since the last election, the gerrymandering has been rejiggered to make it even worse.
Democrats last had a majority in the Michigan Senate 30 years ago; unless there is some cataclysmic change, we may well not live long enough to see a day when they control it again.
Four months ago, when President Obama and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow were racking up landslide wins in Michigan, a majority of the people also voted for Democrats for the state House of Representatives. But that didn’t matter a bit.
When the dust settled, Republicans still had 59 seats; Democrats 51. How did that happen? Simple. Repubs drew the lines so they won a lot of races with around 55 percent of the votes, while the Dems were herded into far fewer vote pens, some of which gave them 80 percent of the vote.
If that only meant the winners got the bigger offices and fancy titles, it wouldn’t matter so much. But they are using their power to do crazy things that clearly thwart the will of the people. Take Medicaid, for example. Nobody would call Rick Snyder a liberal. But he sensibly came out in favor of signing on to a federal expansion of Medicaid that would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars and provide health insurance next year to 320,000 citizens who don’t have it.
Eventually, that number would rise to close to half a million. The federal government would initially cover all the costs. After 2020, Michigan would have to pay 10 percent, but never any more than that. That’s still a huge savings.
Even those of us who have insurance would save. Why? People without health insurance often go to emergency rooms for care, when desperate. Hospitals pass those costs on.
Actually, signing up for the Medicaid expansion would even save businesses money; if Michigan doesn’t take part in the expansion, the Associated Press reported, private employers could pay as much at $81 million in penalties every year after some of their workers buy private insurance.
You would think the lawmakers would have passed Snyder’s plan — unanimously. Everyone gets something, the state and lots of people save vast amounts of money, and people get helped.
But no. Guess what? The bizarre fanatics who control the Legislature refuse. They fear it is some big secret plot. State Rep. Robert VerHeulen (R-Walker) is typical. Saving money and helping people may look good, but, he said, “I generally don’t support expansion of government.” Just can’t let reality get in the way of theory, can we? A more sane Republican, state Rep. Matt Lori (R-Constantine), chair of the House Budget committee, puts it down to ignorance.
“People just need to be educated on the whole thing. It’s very complicated,” he told a reporter. Yes, well, if they can’t understand simple math, they ought to be in a program for the developmentally disabled, not the legislature.
The fact is that some of the legislators are Tea Party yahoos, who have no use for logic and only believe mindlessly that all taxes are bad. Others fear that if they support common sense, they’ll face a challenge in their primary next time.
They are also terrified of a well-funded nut group misnamed Americans for Prosperity, whose Michigan director, one Scott Hagerstrom, blustered: “The Medicaid expansion proposed by the Obama administration poses significant risk to the long-term fiscal health of our state.”
What makes the situation worse is the mainstream media, which, in the interest of “fairness and balance,” feels the need to treat any opinion, no matter how crazy, as being as important as any other. Well, guess what? Allowing Hitler to kill only half as many people would not have been a reasonable compromise.
Today, we’re just killing our state’s chance at any future. As I’ve noted before, the governor wants to raise the $1.2 billion a year needed to prevent our roads from crumbling into gravel.
You can argue about who should pay for this. But apparently the nuts are going to prevent the roads from being fixed at all. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe said flatly there was no support for the governor’s plan.
He is the chair of a caucus of particular idiots, one of whom, Patrick Colbeck of Canton, said we don’t need any extra money for the roads at all, because the money that will soon pour in from our new business-inspired prosperity will be enough to do the job. Well, he did study, I kid you not, at something called the International Space University in France.
There are lots more examples. Last week, these nuts cost the state $40 million and our citizens much future aggravation when they refused to design a state-run health care exchange, a way for Michiganders to compare plans when shopping for the health insurance they will now be compelled to buy.
The Republican lawmakers pretty much admitted they wouldn’t do this, simply because they hate what they call Obamacare. Oh, this doesn’t mean there won’t be an exchange.
Washington will design one for us, and charge the state $9 million. The feds would have given us $31 million to design our own. Our government has been seized by crazy people.
What’s the bottom line? Well, if you want to do something to save us all, forget marching in a futile effort to demand Detroit be handed back to Charles Pugh and JoAnn Watson.
Organize and do whatever you can to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to set up an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw legislative districts.
Again, enough about Detroit. We’ve already lost any kind of meaningful democracy in this state. The most urgent need is to liberate ourselves, and take back control of the asylum.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]