If you want to understand the Republicans who now control our state government, remember this: They don’t care what you want; they have contempt for what you think; and they most emphatically don’t care about you.
Even scarier, they aren’t especially worried about winning your votes. That’s because they don’t have to be.
Want proof? Just look at what they are doing. Seven years ago, in a statewide referendum, Michigan voters — by more than two-to-one — said they didn’t want mourning doves to be hunted.
Now, opponents have been gathering petitions to outlaw hunting wolves. Gray wolves were virtually extinct in the Upper Peninsula as recently as the 1990s. Then conservationists reintroduced them, and, for a time, they were on the endangered species list. Today, there are more than 650 of them, mostly in the extremely sparsely populated western UP.
For the last few years, however, hunters have been fantasizing about shooting wolves. As is well-known, nothing defines manhood like blasting a hole in an animal with a high-powered weapon of destruction.
Catching wind of this, conservationists began gathering signatures on petitions for a ballot referendum seeking to outlaw the hunting of gray wolves. All signs were that they would get enough signatures for the issue to be placed on the November 2014 ballot.
That’s exactly what Republicans didn’t want. Though not all are hunters, the GOP gospel of today demands that nobody should ever try to forbid anybody to have a weapon or to shoot anything — ever.
You might then expect the Republicans to argue against people signing the anti-wolf hunting petition or, if it got on the ballot, work hard encouraging people to vote against it; and the GOP would have a perfectly reasonable right to do that.
But they calculated that integrity would be too hard, take too long — and they might lose. So they won the old-fashioned way: They took the people’s right to vote away.
Their leader was state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba). Now, I used to protest whenever anyone said Tom was as dumb as a box of rocks, because I am strictly against defaming stones.
Some years ago, I interviewed him to ask why he felt it should be legal to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings. He told me something to the effect that they were on display when “the Founding Fathers went to write the Constitution in the Capitol in Washington.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Constitution was written in Philadelphia, the government was then in New York and that, back then, Washington, D.C., was essentially a dismal swamp.
But you have to give Casperson, or his keepers, some credit. They managed to pass a bill designed to prevent any further attempt by the Legislature, or you pesky citizens, to declare any species off-limits.
They transferred the right to make that decision to the Natural Resources Commission, whose members aren’t elected, but appointed.
And the guy who appoints members to the NRC? Why, it’s that noted compassionate moderate, Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the bill while muttering that “I didn’t sign a wolf bill. I signed a scientific management bill that delegates authority for hunting and fishing to the Natural Resources Commission.”
The bill was, he said, “based on sound scientific principles.” Sure it was. Bear in mind, by the way, that last year, Gov. Sound & Scientific Principles signed a bill allowing motorcyclists to drive without helmets.
Admittedly, once the bill was signed the NRC did pause to give any wolf hunt careful consideration. In fact, they waited … almost one day. Then they approved the blood sport by designating wolves a “game animal,” and announced a “limited hunt” in which we can shoot as many as 43 wolves this year.
Those pushing this bill, and wolf hunting in general, claimed that wolves were becoming more of a threat to humans and a problem to livestock. But in fact there have been no reported wolf attacks against people in Michigan.
And it already was legal to shoot a specific wolf that was a threat.
My point here is not that a limited wolf hunt is necessarily a bad thing; there may be conservationists who would make a case for it. Rather, it’s that the Legislature in this particular case — as in a number other cases too — was most interested in finding a way to prevent the will of the people.
In fact, Casperson wanted to go further. He originally stuck a token financial appropriation in the bill. Not because they needed money to get it done, but the state constitution says that bills containing appropriations can’t be overturned by referendum. (That is what they did when they made Michigan a right-to-work state.)
He also wanted to make it possible for the NRC to undo the electorate’s vote on dove hunting, but those two provisions were eventually taken out. So, theoretically, it is still possible that the group called Keep Wolves Protected — if it had a few million dollars to spend — could get this law repealed. But don’t bet on it. Albeit their leader, Jill Fritz, who is also Michigan Head of the Humane Society of the United States, said she was considering her options.
With the wolf bill signed, Gov. Snyder went back trying to push his own bill seeking to cap lifetime medical benefits for catastrophic car accident victims at $1 million.
To complement his efforts, Snyder’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature are trying hard to figure out how to further screw poor people out of health care, without admitting they are doing so.
As I’ve noted before, Washington has offered to expand Medicaid coverage to people making slightly more than the poverty level. That would mean providing health care to 320,000 people right away, and nearly a half-million more soon after.
Michigan would pay nothing until 2017, and even then the bill would only be 10 percent of the total cost. That would mean huge savings for insurance firms, hospitals and businesses. Even Snyder thinks this is a good idea. But GOP lawmakers utterly hate the thought of providing health insurance to the poor.
But turning down free money looked stupid. So last week, they came up with a brilliant idea. They introduced House Bill 4714, which would allow the Medicaid expansion … except that people could stay on it no more than 48 months.
Plus, the bill would kill the whole expansion the moment federal support falls below 100 percent, meaning 2017.
The bill is, naturally, phony. The federal government would have to agree to give Michigan a special exemption from the rules, and it is unlikely that they would.
The canard serves one purpose: Give Republicans cover and something they can point toward, pretending they care.
One notorious specimen, state Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) said this bill was “a way to reform the system and … help Michigan residents become healthier.”
Pscholka, the guy who tried to punish Wayne State and the University of Michigan for protecting their unions, knows it is nothing of the kind. But again, most legislators don’t have to care what you think. They represent one-party districts.
They only have to worry about challenges in their own primaries, mostly by candidates more extreme than they are.
After three terms in the House and/or two in the Senate, they have to leave, many to work for special interests or lobbyists who reward those who best screwed the people. It makes you wonder if there is any hope, but more on this next time — unless some lobbyist hires me first.
IN LAST WEEK’S column, I referred to the fact that a grand jury is looking into Speaker of the House Jase Bolger’s role in a vote-rigging scheme. That’s true enough, but I inadvertently said it was in connection with a 2012 legislative race in Ann Arbor; I meant to say Grand Rapids.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].