December 04, 2018

And When They Can’t Win They Cheat

Michigan offers a glimpse of the struggles to come

by Chris Thomas

This is depressing so here’s a hedgehog wearing a crown. That’s a crown, right? Photo by Liudmyla Denysiuk on Unsplash

The 2018 elections were a blue wave, not just in the House of Representatives but in state-houses and governor’s races all over the country. But as the lame-duck Republicans ousted in those races prepare to make their exit, they are, in many cases, smashing the levers of power rather than turning them over to their Democratic colleagues.

In Michigan, where Democrats will control the Governorship, the office of the Attorney General, and the office of the Secretary of State for the first time in nearly 30 years, it’s particularly bad.

Attorney General

When Republicans controlled the Attorney General’s office in Michigan, they were happy to allow Bill Schuette (R) to police the political activities of the state’s 501.c.3 charities, especially when it came inspecting member and donor roles. But with Democrat Dana Nessel about to take over the Michigan Attorney General’s office, the lame-duck legislature is having second thoughts about that kind of oversight. The State Senate is trying to ram through Senate Bill 1176 which would conceal “dark money” political donors while crippling the Attorney General’s ability to investigate fraudulent charities.

Meanwhile the Michigan State House is moving to constrain the incoming Attorney General from exercising a another key aspect of her power: determining in which cases the state will intervene to defend its rights and interests. Nessel ran on a platform which included exercising that discretion to require Michigan adoption agencies to work with same sex couples.

While Republicans lost that race, under a new House bill, the legislature could direct its own legal intervention regardless of the Attorney General’s wishes and protect discrimination against same sex couples.

Secretary of State

In Michigan, as in most states the Secretary of State runs the elections and oversees the enforcement of election law, including campaign finance law. The legislature was fine with that arrangement so long as the position was held by Ruth Johnson (R), but now that position is to be filled by Jocelyn Benson (D).

Senate Bill 1176 strips Benson’s office of its ability to oversee 501.c.4 organizations which often buy “issue ads” to influence elections, but the legislature went a step further with Senate Bill 1250 and 1251, stripping the Secretary of State of nearly all campaign oversight powers.

Despite the incoming Secretary of State’s status as a nationally recognized “campaign finance law expert” the Michigan legislature has chosen the present moment to establish a commissioned panel to oversee campaign finance in the state. The commission would consist of six members: three from each party.

There is no clear provision by which the commission can take any action if it is unable to reach consensus.

Bait and Switch

As if the above were not enough, Michigan’s Republican legislature saved the best for last. Earlier in the year the legislature passed laws raising Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 per hour and requiring employers to provide paid sick time to employees.

Republicans in the legislature not only got to run on those policies but by approving them, they managed to keep them off of the 2018 ballot as voter initiatives. Now that the election is over, the lame duck session has introduced legislation to undo those changes and to further slow the growth of Michigan’s minimum wage and slash paid sick time.

Their intent is to get the minimum wage and sick time cuts — SB 1171 and 1175 respectively — to the governor’s desk before there’s a Democrat sitting behind it.

Tell Your Government What You Think

If you’re in Michigan, you can use Resistbot to tell your (outgoing) governor what you think of all of this by sending the word GOVERNOR. You can also let your Representatives and Senators know if you’d like them to weigh in on the issue. If you’re not from Michigan, you can still reach out to your own governor. In many cases (looking at you, Wisconsin and North Carolina), there’s plenty going on closer to home. You can write to your government about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.

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