After Snyder won and the GOP gained big majorities in both legislative chambers in November 2010, the Mackinac Center moved quickly to reprint and circulate Schimmel’s paper. Lo and behold, the governor’s LGSDFA proposal, which seemed to come out of the blue three months later, actually came out of the Koch boys’ Mackinac machine. Snyder’s bill included all four of Schimmel’s democracy-usurping components, as well as other authoritarian add-ons presumably drafted by the Center.
With a solid, lock-step majority in both the state senate and house, Snyder and Republican legislative leaders were able to railroad the full extremist pack-age into law. The GOP slapped down even the most token gestures to local governance–for example, a little amendment that merely would’ve required EFMs to hold monthly public meetings–so locals could be told what changes their czar was making– got crushed in the senate.
Respect the rule of law? Ha! For half a century, Michigan has had a constitutional rule that a new law doesn’t take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends–thus giving affected citizens time to adjust or try to repeal it. By a two-thirds vote in each house, however, a law can be declared an emergency and allowed to take effect immediately.
With a supermajority in the senate, GOP members easily rushed their EFM measure into effect, but in the house, the party is 10 votes short of the necessary two-thirds tally. No problem–they simply cheated by pulling a quick count and lying about the result. The presiding officer of the house barked out the following in one breathless, three-second sentence: “The majority leader has requested immediate effect. All those in favor, please rise. Immediate effect is ordered.”
We’re to believe that in only three seconds, he called for a vote, the members got to their feet, he was able to count two-thirds of them standing in favor, and he gaveled the law into effect. Magical!
Plutocrats in action
Let’s go to Pontiac, a once proud city boasting that one of America’s iconic cars was named after it and made there, employing 23,000 auto workers in the General Motors factory. Today, though, those jobs have been moved out-of-state or eliminated, the Pontiac brand itself has been jettisoned by GM, the city’s population has dropped, property values have plummeted, and the city government has been left in a fiscal wreck. To add to its miseries, Gov. Snyder’s cutbacks in revenue sharing mean that Pontiac’s funds have been slashed by a third.
The governor did give something to the people of Pontiac, though: An emergency manager. Appointed last September for an indefinite period (he’s still there), he promptly relieved the city council of their powers and salaries. Then he fired the city attorney, clerk, and director of public works before acting on his own to outsource the work of various departments. Next, he offered up about half of the people’s property in a fire sale of assets–including city hall, police and fire stations, the library, water-pumping stations, a golf course, and two cemeteries. More recently, he has issued five edicts undermining contracts with union workers and retirees.
Who is this guy? Louis Schimmel, the privatizer man from Mackinac!
Asked last year if the EFM law made him a dictator, Schimmel conceded with a sigh: “I guess I’m the tyrant in Pontiac.”
On to Benton Harbor, the home of Whirlpool Corporation and once the major producer of that giant’s appliances. Whirlpool’s executives, market analysts, and other top-paid employees still are based in Benton Harbor, ensconced in the corporation’s brand-new, gleaming, tax-subsidized $68 million corporate campus in this town on the shores of Lake Michigan. But, beginning in the 1980s, the bosses have steadily emptied out all of their local factories, moving Benton Harbor’s manufacturing jobs abroad to cut labor costs.
This has decimated the local economy, cutting the town’s 20,000 population in half, destroying its tax base, and leaving it with chronic unemployment. Benton Harbor is now the poorest city in Michigan, with a per capita income of about $10,000.
The town’s major asset, a public park overlooking the lake, is being absorbed into “Harbor Shores,” a $500 million Whirlpool-backed resort project that includes a sprawling, Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. Of course, impoverished locals can’t live or golf there, but the developers (who got government subsidies for the project) are hoping that Chicago weekenders will make the two-hour trek to the place.
These people are losing their park, but worse, a fellow named Joe Harrishas taken a more valuable asset from them: Their democracy.
Harris is Snyder’s EFM and literally the Dictator of Benton Harbor. A former Detroit auditor, he began by summarily stripping all power from elected officials, decreeing that city commissioners can meet, but the only action they can take is to approve minutes of their last meeting and then adjourn. When commissioners made a mild (but clever) protest by proclaiming this past spring that the city would observe Constitution Week, Harris monocratically nullified their action. What perfect symbolism! He then expressed surprise that this had upset townspeople: “All I told them was, ‘Hey, guys, you have no authority.’”
With unfettered control, Harris has kicked elected officials out of their city hall offices, fired the city manager and other administrators, dismissed the planning commission and installed his own loyalists, merged the police and fire departments, and sold the com-munity’s public radio station (which had criticized him). He also intends to privatize the water system (after raising residents’ water rates by up to 40 percent) and has jacked up annual garbage fees by about $300 per home.
Harris is proud and happy to be a commissar for the Koch-Mackinac vision of a privatized America with a neutered democracy, and he definitely likes being in charge with no fussy checks and balances on his decisions: “I don’t have to worry about whether the politicians or union leaders like what I’m doing. I love this job. I am the mayor and the commission, and I don’t need them.”
Meanwhile, Benton Harbor is still deep in debt–and absolutely nothing has been done to address its real problems of joblessness, poverty, inadequate education, inequality, and civic depression. As for an actual plan to boost the economy, Harris points excitedly to his idea of economic development: Selling “I <3 Benton Harbor” bumperstickers, t-shirts, and souvenirs to tourists.
City after city in Michigan–including Flint, Highland Park, and even Detroit–are presently under assault by this mind-numbing, right-wing, ideological stupidity. Dangerous stupidity–Detroit Mayor Dave Bing had to surrender control of his city’s finances this year to a Snyder austerity czar, who has sought to increase the number of students in each classroom to 61, and the czar’s budget cuts are so severe that the fire chief says if empty buildings catch fire, he’d have to let them burn down.
Is this America? It no longer will be if these social-engineering autocrats prevail. But, good news: Michiganders are in full rebellion! As always, though, battling the bastards is never easy, because… well, they’re bastards. And they’re very well-funded. And sneaky. Yet the people keep pushing, as we see in this chronicle of the 2012 Michigan Rebellion:
- Feb. 29–A broad grassroots coalition (ranging from union workers to tea party members) that was organized under the umbrella of “Michigan Forward” filed more than enough citizen petitions to put the repeal of Snyder’s EFM nonsense on the ballot for this November’s election.
- April 19–At the last minute, just before the repeal question would have been certified for the ballot by the state board of canvassers, a complaint by Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is filed to stop certification. Reason? “The font size of the [petition's] heading” is claimed to be too small to comply with state law. Font size!
- April 9-25–Legal jockeying takes place, and digging by journalists and coalition members reveals that (1) CFR is not a real group, but a creature of the Sterling Corporation, a GOP political consulting firm–same address, phone number, and staff; and (2) a Sterling partner, Jeff Timmer, was a chief executive of the Michigan Republican Party and now happens to be one of the four voting members of the state board of canvassers. There are widespread calls for Timmer to recuse himself from the board’s petition decision, but the secretary of state (a Republican) says no one can force him to do that.
- April 26–Decision day for the board. Timmer does not withdraw, so the board deadlocks two-to-two, which kills the repeal referendum.
- June 18–Timmer resigns from the board.
- June 29–Citizens coalition appeals the board’s rejection to Michigan’s Supreme Court.
- Aug. 3–In a four-to-three decision, the court majority (including one Republican) rules that the font size does not disqualify the petition, so the board must put the repeal question on the ballot.
This victory means that American democracy literally will be up for a vote in Michigan on Nov. 6! The Republican and Koch political networks are going all out to win–and if they do, your state/city could well be next on their Berzerkistan anti-democracy agenda.