Lawful citizens in a lawless state
By Russ Bellant
When an emergency financial manager was imposed over Detroit in 2009 and he quickly assumed dictatorial powers, we did not get really angry, gather en masse and force the issue. Instead we played by the rules and filed a lawsuit without real funding and waited a year for it to wind through the courts as our district was plundered.
When we won on the lawsuit and a new right-wing governor and legislature took power and passed an even more dictatorial law and began picking off more communities of color and undermining voter accountability, we did not brandish torches, storm the Capitol or burn people in effigy or otherwise act crazy.
Instead, petitions were drawn up and sent around the state (thanks to Brandon Jessup and Michigan Forward) and we waited, patiently following the rules as we gathered nearly a quarter million signatures statewide.
The supporters of dictatorship tried for months to derail the certification of our petitions with the phony font size argument. It shortened our campaign season by months, thus impairing our ability to succeed. But we still prevailed, winning 75 of 83 counties to repeal Public Act 4 (PA 4), otherwise known as the dictator law.
Even though state law did not allow it, Public Act 72 was revived and invoked to prevent the return of voter accountability. The state could not countenance an undoing of their dictatorial control. They continued operating as if they had all the powers of PA 4, with little relief from the courts. Voters be damned.
So the supporters of selective dictatorship, Gov. Rick Snyder and the legislative Republicans, just enacted an emergency manager (EM) law with all the abusive provisions of PA 4 that was just repealed by the voters — the power to displace elected officials, total power over all local affairs, the power to dissolve local units of government, no exit timelines — all extensions of the unilateral power of the governor.
Here is how Gov. Snyder and the GOP legislators did it. To optimize secrecy, they took a four-page bill, (SB 865) that had been passed in January 2012 but did not get acted on in the House. It was posted for a hearing as a four-page bill that was rather innocuous. When arriving at the hearing, an “amended” 69-page bill was before the committee (readers on this e-mail list were sent a copy and description of a 68-page version about six hours before the hearing. Even as that was sent, it was being modified during the middle of the night by the gnomes of dictatorship).
Most of the hearing was taken up on an unrelated parks revenue bill. When the EM bill was taken up in the last 40 minutes of the hearing, 30 minutes was given to Treasury witnesses (Snyder’s people) to advocate for the bill. A more neutral speaker was given five minutes, and finally opponents of the bill (AFSCME and Brandon Jessup together) had a few minutes. Six other opponents of the bill were denied the right to speak, a vote was taken with a 9-6 party line vote and the meeting was gaveled closed. It was sent to the House on Monday morning. A check of the state Web site 24 hours later showed the bill posted as a four-page bill. No sense in letting the public have access to the semi-secret plan.
The full House voted recently, late in the evening after most observers had left, to approve the revival of SB 865 (PA 4 “plus”), along a party line vote. It was changed again without a hearing to the present 71 pages, just before the vote. Now it goes to the Senate, which never held a hearing on the rewritten bill, for expected passage.
When the so-called right to work bill was announced, labor organized to educate all of Michigan as to what is going on. There is no corresponding action in the municipal world, the education community or civic groups to mount an expression of outrage as the inviolability of voter authority, local control and principles of democracy are being undermined and the corruption of emergency management are being ignored. When the state is an agent of these abuses and the courts aid to tolerate it, what are the people to do? The rules are not working.
Russ Bellant is incoming president of the Detroit Library Commission and a local activist.