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SMITH: Will Michigan's Republicans have the courage of their past leaders?

• Jan 4, 2019 at 11:00 AM

“I believe in friendly compromise. I said over in the Senate hearings that truth is the glue that holds government together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.” — Gerald Ford

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was fortunate to grow up in a time when Michigan Republican politicians understood the value of compromise and working across party lines for the overall good of all the people. I grew up under Republican leaders like William Milliken. For those of you who may not have known of or possibly forgotten, Milliken was the governor of the state from 1969-82. As stated by author Dave Dempsey, “He is remembered as a moderate governor whose willingness to cross party lines in the pursuit of cooperation and consensus among Michigan legislators earned the love and respect of citizens throughout the state.”

For the past 418 weeks, the Republican Party has held total control of legislation in Michigan (state House, Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general). They have had more than enough time to pass legislation to improve our state. Instead, they have managed to create a government that is the least transparent and least accountable in the USA. Their constant attack on public education has resulted in one of the best school systems in the country falling to the 36th best in the nation. Their refusal to address infrastructure issues has resulted in a grade of D-plus in the 2018 Michigan Infrastructure report card. On the bright side, they have managed to complete budgets on time.

Now, you might think that they would be satisfied with these “accomplishments,” but you would be wrong. When they learned they were no longer in control of the governor, secretary of state, or attorney general offices, they were quick to attack these positions with legislation which would limit the power of the newly elected officials. Not only were they willing to attack these offices with their lame-duck legislation, they chose this time to benefit themselves, deny the will of the people and continue their attack on our public schools, the middle class and the environment. One need look no further than their actions during the recent lame-duck session to understand just how far away from democracy they are willing to stray.

After waiting eight years (418 weeks), they chose the lame-duck session to introduce more than 144 measures and 66 bills to propose, discuss and push. Some examples include:

The priority of this group is taking care of themselves. Senate Bill 1022 would allow two outgoing Republican senators to pocket more than $92,000! Senate Bill 1176 would ban the Attorney General and Secretary of State offices from requiring nonprofits to disclose who paid for political ads. Said another way, when people like the DeVoses want to create a nonprofit to run political ads (which they’ve done multiple times), you and I don’t have a right to know who is behind the advertising. Senate Bill 1252 would shift oversight of campaign finance from the secretary of state to a commission appointed by the governor.

One of the most blatant failures of the past eight years has been the failure to listen to the will of the people. When government fails the people, especially in a gerrymandered state, ballot proposals are one of the few ways average citizens can be heard. With previous legislation, the Republicans made it more difficult for average citizens to be heard. When the citizens overcame the barriers and brought forth legitimate concerns via ballot proposals, the Republican legislators attacked them in any way they could.

One example is the idea that Michiganders should be paid a livable wage. In May 2018, petitions with more than 373,000 signatures sought to place a ballot proposal on the November ballot to increase minimum wages in our state to $12 by 2022. In their continued attack on the middle class, the Republicans passed legislation in August adopting the initiative (thus eliminating your and my ability to vote on it), knowing all along they would change it during the lame-duck session. Lame-duck Senate Bill 1171 moved the increase in minimum wages from 2022 to 2030, once again denying the workers of Michigan a chance to get ahead, while benefiting only the wealthiest.

The environment was not exempt from the lame-duck attack. Senate Bill 1211 would redefine wetlands, doubling the size threshold at which regulation is required, removing 70,000 wetlands statewide, totaling about a half-million acres. In most Michigan counties, it would include about half of their remaining wetlands. Once again rich corporations win!

Senate Bill 1197 is simply designed to complicate the incoming governor and attorney general’s ability to shut down Line 5. The shutdown of Line 5 is something most Michiganders are in favor of and one of the platforms the newly elected governor ran on. The Republican legislators will be held accountable by their children and grandchildren when the line fails.

We have experienced what the Michigan Republican Party has become — it is selfish, self-serving and vindictive. The real question going forward is: Will our Republican legislators (Jim Lilly and Roger Victory) have the courage to act in the ways of Gerald Ford and William Milliken and do what is right for the people of this great state? Or will they choose to take the path of Mitch McConnell and be obstructers? We will be watching!


— By Mark Smith, Tribune community columnist

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