the GOP suspends democracy in Michigan

Posted: March 16, 2013 in politics, Republicans
Tags: , , ,

images-25In 2010 the Republicans won a bunch of governorships.  Within weeks of the election, Michigan governor Rick Snyder and the newly elected Republican legislature passed Public Act 4, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act.  This law granted unprecedented new powers to the governor, including giving him authorization to appoint emergency managers over any city, town or school district that he deems “dysfunctional.”  This means that you get taken over.  Your vote would no longer count.  The people you voted for would be stripped of power.  The governor could replace your school curiculuum, take over your pension system, break union contracts, even dissolve your town completely.  The law reads in part that the governor can “exercise any power or authority of any officer, employee, department, board, commission or other similar entity of the local government whether elected or appointed.”  It is democracy permanently suspended, at the whim of the Republicans.

The first cities to be taken over were Hamtramck, Flint and Highland Park, in order to prevent them from declaring bankruptcy.  Governor Scott then added Pontiac, Ecorse, Benton Harbor and several others.

In April the Benton Harbor emergency manager, Joe Harris, decreed:

Absent prior express written authorization and approval by the Emergency Manager”—himself—“no City Board, Commission or Authority shall take any action for or on behalf of the City whatsoever other than: i) Call a meeting to order, ii) Approve of meeting minutes, iii) Adjourn a meeting.

The move in effect abolished Benton Harbor’s elected City Commission and replaced it with an unelected bureaucrat, perhaps the first time this has happened in US history.

Here’s what happened next.  The people of Michigan began fighting back.

They gathered signatures and put this radical new law on the ballot for appeal.  (The images-23Republicans tried all sorts of ways to thwart the will of the people, including trying to get the petition declared invalid because the font used was too small!)  But guess what?  The law was repealed!  The voters said “No way!  We believe in Democracy – this is not right.”  The radical let-us-abolish-your-voting-rights-and-take-you-over law was appealed by the the people of Michigan.

That’s the good news.
Here’s the bad news.

Because the Republicans still held majorities in the legislature, just five weeks after the 2012 elections they passed a bill to replace the one that had just been repealed, only with one important difference.  THIS version could NOT be repealed by voters.  Good thinking, guys!

Which brings us to this week.  Yesterday at 2 PM Rick Snyder announced that he is taking over Detroit.  

Of Detroit’s 713,777 residents, 89 percent are African-American. The city of Inkster (population 25,369), which recently got an emergency manager, has a black population of 73 percent.  Now more than half the state’s black population have fallen into the hands of unelected officials.

images-24Here’s an important fact.  Emergency management does not appear to work.  Taking away people’s rights to save cities does not save cities.  It’s a radical policy that the Republicans say is justified by the cities and towns and school districts being in dire financial straights.  But it doesn’t work.  It’s worked out well only once, out of many attempts.  All but one of the cities who have been taken over are in the red financially.

This week Pastor David Bullock decided to do something.
Pastor David Bullock

Pastor David Bullock

Rev. Bullock, teacher, preacher and graduate student at the Untiversiy of Chicago, organized a unique form of civil disobedience to protest the stripping away of the people of Michigans’ rights.  On Tuesday, two cars – one with a big sign reading “DEMOCRACY” and the other with a sign reading “DETROIT EMERGENCY MANAGER” – began driving at 20 MPH down the freeway, creating a huge traffic jam.  And they’ve repeated this daily, causing up to two-hour delays for commuters.  They’ve received tickets for driving too slowly.  They know it’s a pain for other drivers, but they’ve received mostly positive feedback, even from the people who have been inconvenienced.  They are, in Pastor Bullock’s words, “doing a moderately wrong thing for the right reasons.”

Rosa Parks sat down in the wrong seat on the right bus and disobeyed a law because it violated her human dignity.  We are on the right freeway going the wrong speed because this law violates our dignity.  Our only recourse at this point is protest, rallies, civil disobedience…we are going to fight for our rights.

-Pastor David Bullock

Recently the NAACP wrote to the governor:

Since the beginning of your administration, communities facing or under emergency management have doubled.  We are concerned about a failure of transparency and accountability and voter disenfranchisement.

images-27Everyone agrees that something must be done to “fix” Michigan’s struggling urban centers and school districts, although news of a $457 million surplus in early February prompted the state budget director to declare, “Things have turned.” But at what cost? In 2011 Governor Snyder stripped roughly $1 billion from statewide K-12 school funding and drastically reduced revenue sharing to municipalities. Combined with poor and sometimes corrupt leadership and frequently dysfunctional governments, these elements have brought Michigan cities to the brink of bankruptcy. Residents of the hardest-hit places have fled if they are able.

Under PA 4, EMs have proven to be a divisive solution. Outsourcing services to private companies and abolishing collective bargaining takes a page right out of the right-wing playbook: a 2011 report titled “101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan,” published by the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, calls for ending “mandatory collective bargaining for government employees.”  Many are worried that EMs will hasten the gentrification of places like Benton Harbor, pushing out poor residents to make way for developers.

Despite their relatively short history, EMs have a record of abusing their powers. This past summer Arthur Blackwell II, Highland Park’s former emergency financial manager, was ordered to repay more than $250,000 he paid himself. In Pontiac EM Michael Stampfler outsourced the city’s wastewater treatment to United Water just months after the Justice Department announced a twenty-six-count indictment against the company for violating the Clean Water Act.

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