They couldn’t care less about you

Politics & Prejudices

Here's some news for you, kids: The folks running Michigan's government — the legislature, at any rate — couldn't care less about you, or what you need and want.

They don't have to. They've rigged the system so that you normally have little say in who is elected. Thanks to term limits, they can stay just long enough to find themselves a job working for a lobbying firm or some other special interest.

They do that by working hard against your interests, and those of the public in general. Take a creature named Paul Opsommer (R-DeWitt) for example. During his six years in the Michigan House of Representatives, he slimed his way into becoming head of the Transportation Committee.

While in that job, he did his not-on-the-level best to do everything he could to prevent a new bridge across the Detroit River. He got his reward as soon as his last term ended and he was out of office in 2013: a job working for the holding company that owns Matty Moroun's Ambassador Bridge.

Who needs ethics?

Thanks to gerrymandering, most seats are completely in the hands of one party or another. State Rep. Brian Banks, a Detroit Democrat, has eight felony convictions and is facing a lawsuit for allegedly sexually harassing a male staffer.

But he was cheerfully re-elected last year. Most of the benefits of corrupt redistricting are Republicans, however; they regularly win huge legislative majorities even when far more votes are cast for Democrats. None of these people has any incentive to provide good government — and they don't.

Worse, their corruption is becoming more and more brazen. Today's top specimen is state Rep. Kurt Heise, a chunky, baby-faced Republican from Plymouth.

Heise is the eager tool of the oil and gas interests. Currently, a lot of people are worried about a pipeline the giant Canadian corporation Enbridge has under the Straits of Mackinac, between Michigan's two peninsulas. If that sucker were to break, it could devastate Lakes Michigan and Huron, in what might be the worst environmental disaster in our history.

There's ample reason to worry. For one thing, that pipeline is so old it could collect Social Security if it were a person. For another, five years ago another, younger Enbridge pipeline broke, sending more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Cleaning up the mess took four years, and cost a billion dollars.

That was the biggest inland oil spill in American history. Afterward, we learned there were all sorts of warning signs that Enbridge ignored. Clearly, we need all the information about this company we can get. But that's not what Kurt Heise has in mind. Earlier this month, he introduced a bill that would basically allow oil and gas corporations to keep everything they do from the public, by exempting them from the Freedom of Information Act.

If passed, his law (House Bill 4540) would prevent us from finding out anything about the condition of any oil and gas pipeline in the state, or about their safety records.

How, you might wonder, does Heise justify this? Well, by turning to the last refuge of all scoundrels these days: He claims he is merely trying to keep us safe from terrorism.

That's right. You are familiar, of course, of the roving ISIS militia bands on Mackinac Island, just hot to attack the pipeline.

What's actually going on here is that Heise has sold us out, of course, and he didn't risk much. He can't run for re-election; he's apt to serve his final year and a half and then get some special interest (hmmm, I wonder which?) to give him a job.

Sadly, he isn't even the worst of the bunch. That would go to his leader, the morally feeble Senate majority leader, Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), who recently got his House to quietly repeal a rule requiring them to respond to public requests for information within two weeks. Now they pretty much don't have to disclose anything that they don't want voters to see.

Meekhof, one of the few legislative leaders to lack higher education, is all about preventing us from learning anything about our so-called leaders. Especially, who owns them. Two years ago, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson was about to require that groups who sometimes spend millions to fund so-called issue ads disclose who was paying for them.

That, after all, is only fair. Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court basically ruled in its infamous Citizens United decision that we don't have any right to limit how much money corporations spend to influence our elections.

However, they did say that states could require disclosure of where that money comes from. You'd think even a slave ought to get to know who owns him.

But being outed didn't please the shadowy interests of the characters who fund campaigns for people like Meekhof. He swiftly rammed a bill through the legislature that prevents us from finding out who is putting up this so-called "dark money."

Gov. Rick Snyder, who had his own set of secret contributors to his "nerd fund," then quickly signed it.

There's nothing the voters can do to punish either of them; they are term-limited, and can't run again. We have a state political system that is no longer, for most intents and purposes, capable of being swayed by the people.

You can ignore that and wonder why your lives are getting worse and worse. Or you can fight it by trying to change the state constitution, by outing these corrupt slimeballs for who they are, and trying to find leaders who want to take this state back to a society where everyone has a chance.

Doing that would be a lot of work. But if we aren't willing to take this on, what is democracy for?

A ray of hope in Flint

Last week I talked about the latest news in Flint, the town that often makes Detroit look like the model of affluence and good government.

Flint, of course, suffers from massive job loss, blight, off-and-on emergency management, and politicians so incompetent that they switched to a water source that makes people sick.

Last month, in a new wrinkle, longtime City Clerk Inez Brown proved so bad at her job, she told all the potential mayoral candidates the wrong filing date for this year's election.

That meant no one made it to the ballot, and whoever wants to become mayor will have to wage a write-in campaign. After that, Flint attorney Michael Ewing launched an effort on behalf of his pet pig. "Giggles is a sweet and intelligent animal, which is more than can be said for some candidates," Ewing said.

Giggles' candidacy has since won international attention and has been denounced by two of the leading non-edible candidates, Wantwaz Davis, a convicted murderer, and Eric Mays, once convicted of felonious assault.

Don't you wish we could all vote in this one?

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.
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