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Democracy in disarray

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Week 31 of the occupation

Election Day 2013 highlights the emptiness of what passes for democracy in Detroit. Neither candidate for mayor sparked much enthusiasm. Both shared similar priorities and each had their questionable practices and pasts. Even the prospect of replacing Black political leadership with a white man from the suburbs could not overcome the widespread feeling it really doesn’t matter who is mayor this time around.

Nor did the historic fact that Detroiters were voting by districts for City Council for the first time in nearly a century.

It seems one of the best things about this election was it was monitored by the federal government. Better late than never. We can only hope they use this as a training ground for the next election, when decisions will have a national impact.

A lot more of the same money that brought us Dave Bing, Kwame Kilpatrick and Dennis Archer brought us this election. The same corporate-foundation-media elite who have backed everyone since Coleman Young continue to dominate mayoral politics. Benny Napoleon was right: The media did not treat him fairly.

This election reveals our public sphere has diminished to little more than the occasional brief exchange between bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. News of motivation, intent, impact, collusion and possible civic corruption leaks out in provocative sentences, far from public scrutiny or any serious accountability.

Judge Rhodes has had to admonish Orr to answer the questions, to clarify his relationship with his former law firm and to define just what he meant by telling people pensions were “sacrosanct.”

We have learned Gov. Rick Snyder does not recall very much about his various decisions to push Detroit toward emergency management, and if he does, he was smart enough to have a lawyer around so he could claim lawyer-client privilege.

What we are forced to recognize is even this shallow, limited exercise of representative democracy is too much for right-wing ideologues dominating our state, and trying to dominate our country.

We have witnessed the deliberate creation of a “financial emergency” to justify setting aside basic democratic rights and processes. Elected school boards have been replaced by appointees who are in charge of lucrative contracts and public assets. The right to petition has been challenged at every turn, requiring monumental effort and judicial intervention to get referenda on the ballot. State constitutional relationships, the foundation of political life, are put on hold so the interests of banks can be determined above the security of our elders.

Those who dare to challenge this assault on public life find their reputations attacked by a corporate-led media and their security threatened by counter lawsuits, backed by the power of the state.

Now, even the court system we have called upon to enforce basic guarantees is proving too undependable for the right wing Republicans. They are proposing a bill that would give Republican-appointed judges exclusive jurisdiction over virtually every legal challenge to the governor’s authority.

The bill shifts jurisdiction over lawsuits against the state to the Court of Appeals, where Republican judges outnumber Democrats and authorizes right-wing Supreme Court Justice Robert Young, as chief justice, to pick which Republican appointees are assigned to preside over lawsuits.

These judges would take immediate control of cases already pending before various Ingham Circuit Court judges, including lawsuits in which plaintiffs have challenged the emergency manager’s right to cut retirement benefits and violations of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

Unlimited spending on elections, questionable polling practices, curtailing the right to petition, voiding constitutional obligations, looking after cronies, conducting public business behind closed doors and now rigging the courts demonstrate we, the people, need to create a new, authentic way to make decisions about our city and our lives.

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