In her rush to change election rules for 2020 so that Michigan Democrats can complete their takeover of state government, has freshman Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson forgotten about term limits and its impact on the state Senate?
It sure looks that way.
Benson has moved quickly in her first few weeks in office to enter into “settlement” negotiations with the League of Women Voters regarding their federal lawsuit challenging the legislatively-enacted 2011 Congressional, state Senate and state House of Representatives redistricting plans (League of Women Voters of Michigan v Benson).
Part of the settlement discussions have focused on redrawing 10 of the 38 state Senate districts. Benson is pushing for a settlement that would provide for 2020 elections held in at least 10 state Senate districts, if not all 38 of them. Such elections would be for shortened two-year terms using 2010 census data. Then, in 2022, under a newly-redistricted map to be adopted by the Independent Redistricting Commission created by the passage of Proposal 2 last November, state Senate terms would once again be restored to four years in length.
However, Article IV, Section 54, of the Michigan Constitution provides for state legislative term limits. That section says in part:
“No person shall be elected to the office of state senate more than two times.”
It does not say anything about eight years or two four-year terms.
Such a settlement might well result in the 30 newly sworn-in freshman senators (16 Republicans and 14 Democrats) being constitutionally ineligible to run again in 2022 (presupposing they all win re-election in 2020), because they will have been elected to the Senate two times (2018 and 2020).
Furthermore, in 2020, Democrats like Minority Leader Jim Ananich and Curtis Hertel, Jr., would be ineligible to run in 2020 and for the rest of their lives along with Republicans Mike Shirkey, Jim Stamas, Ken Horn, Wayne Schmidt, Dale Zorn and Peter MacGregor because they have already been elected to the Senate two times (2014 and 2018). That presupposes that Benson has not “saved” these lawmakers in her plan by excluding them from the list of Senate districts that would have to be redrawn, if that is in fact technically and legally possible.
Benson might be able to convince a three-judge federal panel to order 10, or 38, state Senate elections in 2020 with a one-time two-year term, but that doesn’t necessarily empower that same panel to re-write the Michigan Constitution regarding state legislative term limits.
It appears that Benson, less than one month in office, is about to be introduced to the Law of Unintended Consequences once the 38 senators understand the impact her proposed lawsuit settlement will have on them individually. She may discover a bipartisan rocky reception in the state Senate for her department’s future legislative initiatives and budget.
Of course, Benson may already have clued in her Democratic colleagues in the Legislature with this reassuring message: “Hey, you’ve just got to suck it up and take one for the team.”
Things seemed to be going so well. Now, suddenly, they aren’t.
New Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has had the news media eating out of the palm of her rhetorical hand with “kumbaya” calls for bipartisan cooperation between the executive branch’s constitutional officers, all Democrats, and majority Republicans in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, however, it’s been revealed that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, three weeks on the job, has been negotiating an agreement among an all-Democrat cast of political actors to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that Michigan’s Congressional and legislative district maps have been gerrymandered since 2011. No court has ever found that to be true.
Any proposed settlement brokered by Benson, former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer (one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit), and the pro-Democratic League of Women Voters would require approval by a three-judge federal panel overseeing the case. Brewer claims that the Michigan GOP’s charges that the settlement has been negotiated “in secret” is mistaken and that, in any event, “any settlement is going to have to be approved by the court.” What Brewer doesn’t mention is that at least two of the three judges are Democratic appointees who would almost certainly side with the Benson & Co. side of any argument.
Under the revised settlement proposal put forth by Benson, new maps would have to be drawn for next year’s election for nine U.S. House seats, 10 seats in the state Senate, and 15 in the state House. The state Senate contests would be “special” because senators were elected to what were thought to be four-year terms last November. All the redrawn districts would be in play only in 2020, after which time new districts would again be drawn by an independent citizens’ commission created by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in the same general election. These new maps would then go into effect for 2022 and beyond.
It’s a hot mess. Who would draw the maps? Nobody knows. Speculation abounds. Democratic lawmakers might be imperiled as much as Republicans. For the first time under the 1963 Constitution, some senators would be running for terms of only two years in districts that will be altered two years later, when the solons must run again.
Bottom line, though, is that Benson and Brewer are striving to flip enough legislative seats to Democrats next year to put their party in control of all of state government by January of 2021.
Benson and lawyers for the League filed motions last week in U.S. District Court in Detroit to stay a trial in the case that is scheduled for Feb. 5, in part because the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered arguments on two alleged gerrymandering cases in Maryland and North Carolina, a decision on which might influence the Michigan situation. Instead, Benson argues that, if the court would allow her, she and her cohorts are “likely” to reach a settlement in the Michigan case.
Attorneys for Republican Congressional and legislative defendants have also intervened in the case, but not because they are part of any negotiations aimed at a “settlement,” from which they have been excluded. Rather, the GOP cites only the U.S. Supreme Court litigation involving the two other states.
All this puts a damper on prospects for “building bridges” between Whitmer and majority Republicans in the Legislature. In fact, there is every reason to believe Whitmer privately applauds Benson’s moves, especially since the SoS is sitting on another hot potato — whether a soft-money 527 non-profit called Build a Better Michigan (BBM) broke Michigan campaign finance law last summer by illegally engaging in “express advocacy” advertisements that coordinated with the Whitmer for Governor campaign. Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, just before leaving office late last year, ruled that BBM had indeed violated Michigan’s issue advocacy rules. Such a violation could result in massive fines for BBM, Whitmer’s campaign, and Whitmer personally. But Benson has so far said only that she does not have a “timeline” for making a decision on the case and has asked for more “documentation” that she can “review.”
And then there is the matter of a controversial new law changing the rules on how organizations must gather petition signatures for proposed constitutional amendments and initiatives. The bill was rushed through the state House and Senate with heavy Republican support (and Democratic opposition) during the Legislature’s 2018 lame duck session and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder shortly before he left office. Benson says she will rely on another gambit employed by Whitmer on the Line 5 Straits of Mackinac laws also enacted in lame duck — she will ask Attorney General Dana Nessel, a sister Democrat elected the same day as Benson, for an opinion on the petition law’s constitutionality. Benson insists she “doesn’t think (her) personal view matters in this case,” but it’s clear she hopes Nessel will cooperate with an opinion negating the new law.
All this is occurring against the backdrop of H.R. 1, a 571-page bill introduced by majority Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at centralizing elections in all 50 states in the federal Department of Justice (DOJ). Among its provisions:
* Implement mandatory voter registration. Anyone on a government list — such as welfare benefits or rent subsidies — must be automatically registered to vote.
* Require states to allow felons to vote.
* Require states to have extended early voting periods.
* Set up government control over political speech.
* Mandate same-day voter registration.
* Deny states the ability to prevent people from voting twice in the same election.
* Criminalize protected political speech.
* Require Federal DOJ “preclearance.” Whenever a state wants to make an election law change, no matter how small, it must secure approval from Washington, D.C., DOJ bureaucrats. Move a polling place, change a precinct line, or move voting from the school gym to the school library? DOJ must approve.
It would seem that Benson, a former law school dean, sees herself as the DOJ of Michigan.
JOHN ENGLER, the former Republican governor with a reputation as a tough-minded problem-solver, is stepping down under pressure from the helm of Michigan State University less than a year after being tapped to lead his alma mater out of crisis.
In a letter to board of trustees chair Dianne Byrum, Engler said Wednesday he’ll resign next week, ending a tenure filled with controversy over his handling of the fallout from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.
He sent Byrum an 11-page letter hours ahead of a board meeting Thursday morning to consider a “personnel action.” The meeting was scheduled amid growing backlash over a comment Engler made Friday to The Detroit News that some Nassar victims were “enjoying” being in the spotlight.
Engler said he was stepping down because of the new Democratic majority that took control of the board this month. “You have advised me that five Democratic members of the MSU Board, including yourself, have requested my resignation as MSU President,” he wrote.
“… in compliance with your request that I resign and in order to ensure an orderly transition to my interim successor, I hereby resign the office of President of Michigan State University effective 9:00am, Wednesday, January 23, 2019,” he concluded. “It has been an honor to serve my beloved university.”
Engler submitted his resignation on the one-year anniversary of the day more than 200 women and girls began speaking publicly about the profound impact of Nassar’s sexual abuse in two courtrooms over nine days. In the middle of their testimonies, former President Lou Anna Simon resigned, and former Athletic Director Mark Hollis stepped down.
Nassar, who worked for MSU as a sports doctor for more than two decades, subsequently began serving multiple prison terms for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. Trustees appointed Engler to lead the university through the aftermath.
But Engler made many decisions and statements that angered Nassar’s victims and their supporters.
That’s why some were glad Engler’s time at MSU is coming to an end.
“Long overdue,” said Lisa Lorincz, mother of victim Kaylee Lorincz, “and while I’m sorry it took so much hurt, I am grateful that the new board was able to accomplish what the old board didn’t think was necessary.”
Amanda Thomashow, who filed a 2014 Title IX complaint against Nassar, said: “I hope his resignation brings us closer to the comprehensive culture change my alma mater so desperately needs.”
Longtime political analyst Bill Ballenger said Engler, who was governor of Michigan from 1991 to 2003, should never have taken the interim president’s job at MSU.
“It’s a devastating end to his career,” said Ballenger, editor of the online BallengerReport.com. “It’s very sad, obviously not how he wants to be remembered by not just the state of Michigan but MSU, his alma matter, of which he has always been very proud and I think that’s one of the reasons he took this job a year ago.”
Engler’s reputation in politics was confirmed in this resignation, but in a negative way, said Ballenger.
“He was considered to be the ultimate-brass knuckle, in-your-face, confrontational-tough guy politician. For much of his career, it served him well, but obviously in the job he’s had in the past year, it backfired on him.”
Trustee Kelly Tebay said Engler’s departure is “the right move.”
“I have been saying from the beginning he shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. He was the wrong choice and it has taken too long to right this wrong. I am glad it’s finally getting taken care of and we can move forward.”
The renewed push for Enger’s resignation came as three new members joined the Board of Trustees in the past month, shifting it from an even partisan split to Democratic control.
On Wednesday, 23 MSU deans signed a letter sent to the board, urging the trustees to move on from him.
“The pattern of comments by Interim President Engler, including his most recent statement suggesting that some of the survivors of sexual abuse are ‘enjoying’ the spotlight, further harms the very people it is our responsibility to support,” the letter said. “We do not support his continued leadership and request that the board to take appropriate action.”
Earlier in the day, MSU Trustee Brianna Scott said she was “very confident” that there were five votes to terminate Engler, while Byrum said a potential successor will be at the 8 a.m. meeting.
“After he made this statement, it was pretty clear to the majority of the board that something needed to happen,” Scott told The Detroit News. “We all want this to happen, at least the majority of the board. I look forward to casting that vote.”
Two other trustees who responded to requests for comment from The News also said they would vote to remove Engler, including Byrum, who called Thursday’s meeting.
She said comments by Engler that have upset Nassar’s victims “cannot continue to happen.”
“What we have is a repetition of instances where there has been despicable comments and this has created a setback for the community and cost the trust and credibility for the university and the survivors as they continue to heal,” Byrum said.
Another trustee, Brian Mosallam, told The News that Engler’s “time is up.”
“I have watched Engler not only interact with our courageous survivors but our faculty, employees and students as well,” Mosallam said. “He’s not only a bully, he is a mean-spirited human being. His time is up.”
Byrum said that Engler’s contract, which began Feb. 5, said he could be terminated at any time and the university wouldn’t owe him anything.
“Upon the Interim President’s termination for Cause,” Engler’s contract says, “the University shall have no further obligation to the Interim President, other than accrued salary and similar accrued amounts for the period prior to termination in accordance with University policies and programs or as otherwise required by applicable law.”
Engler, whose contract stated he would earn an annual salary of $510,399, announced when he was hired that he would give his pay back to university-related charities.
Scott said Engler needs to go so the MSU community can heal.
“People need to understand we are making the changes we have been requested so long,” she said. “We need to set the university on a path toward healing … He is divisive, makes horrible choice of words … It just can’t happen again. We thank him for his service but goodbye to him.”
Asked who would succeed Engler, Mosallam declined to name names but outlined personal qualities needed for an MSU leader.
“We need somebody who has compassion, who has empathy, who understands what crossroads this institution is at and is able to pave the way for our next president who comes in,” said Mosallam, who called for Engler’s firing last year.
Scott, who came under fire for voting for Byrum as chair of the trustees last week, said Byrum has shown leadership and has done her “due diligence” in talking with the board since Engler made the comment, and began a search for Engler’s successor. She declined to name any individual who might pick up the reins.
MSU trustees have struggled with Engler’s actions and comments, some of which have drawn national media coverage.
Last year, some criticized Engler for his statements to lawmakers on the Nassar scandal and he faced accusations of secretly trying to settle a lawsuit with victim Kaylee Lorincz without her lawyer present.
Engler also ignited a backlash when he publicly provided too much private information about a victim, failed to make eye contact with activists while they spoke during public meetings and rolled a fund to cover counseling costs into the $500 million settlement for Nassar victims who sued MSU.
This is not the first time Engler has faced calls for replacement.
In June, lawmakers and others called for him to step down after private emails emerged in which he suggested that Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar, might get a “kickback” from her attorney for “manipulating” other victims.
At the next board meeting, Engler apologized.
“I was wrong. I apologize,” Engler said then. “When I started this interim position in February, it was never my intent to have an adversarial relationship with some of the survivors.”
He also directly addressed Denhollander, saying he was “truly sorry” and survived a move by some board members to fire him. Mosallam, a Democrat, called for the board to terminate Engler’s contract, but only Byrum, another Democrat, supported Mosallam’s motion.
At the time, the board was split between four Democrats and four Republicans.
But two board members didn’t run for re-election and another stepped down, and the new board is now controlled by Democrats.
During Friday’s interview with The News, he said Nassar victims “who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”
Many were outraged.
“Riiiiiigght, women get raped for attention — just another way victims are discounted,” tweeted Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of an organization advocating for women and girls in sports, Champion Women, and a civil rights lawyer. “Engler is the WRONG leader for these times.”
Byrum condemned his statement last week, saying it was “ill-advised and not helpful to the healing process, survivors, or the university.”
Michigan U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee and Elissa Slotkin, both Democrats, chimed in with support for Engler’s departure.
But Engler did have some support. As recently as Tuesday, Trustee Joel Ferguson said he disagreed that Engler needed to go. During a telephone interview, he said Engler was only at Michigan State for a few more months, with a permanent president to be chosen this summer.
“We’re better off looking for a new president right now and having less controversy and less drama as possible,” Ferguson said. “We just have to put our best face forward.”
In his resignation letter, Englerpointed to the climate at MSU when he took over.
“I sought to move with urgency and determination to initiate cultural change at MSU on issues of safety, accountability and respect through organizational changes and focused engagement on priority issues,” Engler wrote.
He also highlighted numerous changes under his tenure that included a satellite location for student mental health services at the MSU Union; new nonprofit organization of the colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine and Nursing for a multi-specialty group practice; and many steps to address relationship violence and sexual misconduct, including an advisory work group.
“The Larry Nassar trial and the national #MeToo movement empowered more women to report being sexually assaulted, with reports to MSU rising 500 percent in the years between 2014-15 and 2017-18,” Engler wrote. “That increase, together with new resources allocated to prevention and response, allowed MSU to more thoroughly address the effects of this historically underreported crime by helping more survivors seek justice and access healing resources.”
Another highlight, Engler wrote, was the historic legal settlement reached with hundreds of Nassar victims.
“Significantly, and with unusual speed to avoid traumatic and protracted legal battles with survivors, the university announced a $500 million settlement with 332 Nassar survivors on May 16, 2008,” Engler wrote. “Shortly afterward, my administration was able to present the Board of Trustees a two-year budget, including undergraduate tuition freezes to continue to attract top students and a block tuition structure to enhance affordability.”
During his interview with The News on Friday, Engler was asked how long he would be at MSU.
“I’m ready to go next week,” he said. “But I don’t think they have a president quite ready yet. But as soon as the president is hired and arrives.”
Asked during the interview with The News if he would he could go back and do anything differently, Engler joked, “Not take the job. Not be a volunteer.”
“Sure, there are always things you would do differently,” he said.
As the political chattering class well knows, freshman U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) didn’t even wait until he was sworn into office to take a swipe at Donald Trump, assailing the President’s lack of “character” in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on New Year’s Day.
Timing aside, criticizing the Republican Party’s leader isn’t anything new for the Romney family. Anyone who remembers former Michigan Gov. George Romney’s differences with 1964 GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater leading up to the latter’s rout by President Lyndon B. Johnson in that year’s general election knows that it can be hard for Romneys to bite their tongues.
For that matter, Mitt Romney’s Post comments drew approval from many in his party, particularly Trump-haters like conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, who wrote her own piece in the Post a few days earlier offering The Mittster unsolicited advice on how to conduct himself in office.
One of those who read the Rubin column was George Romney’s one-time senior policy guru when he was Michigan’s governor. He is Dr. Walt DeVries, who has co-authored a couple of highly-regarded books on ticket-splitting and who went on to create an Institute of Politics in North Carolina that has received national acclaim.
DeVries promptly sat down and wrote Mitt his own letter of advice, delivering it just before Mitt’s column appeared in the Post. Was there collusion? Did the public column follow DeVries’s letter? We may never know, but here is what the professor/political scientist wrote the new senator from Utah, published here for the first time:
The Honorable Mitt Romney
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
December 30, 2018
Several events and concerns prompt this my first letter to you as the most prominent member of George Romney’s family and legacy.
…First, an extensive interview with me by Bill Ballenger for the Michigan Political History Society in July, 2018 about your father’s campaigns and gubernatorial administrations. I was interviewed and videotaped (enclosed) as the last living senior member (others: Milliman, Harmon, Danhof, Van Dusen, Allen, Seidman, et al, have all passed) of George’s colleagues. Your brother, Scott, was also interviewed as part of this historical series.
…Second, that interview made me painfully aware that if I were going to ever tell you of my dedication to and concern for the George Romney political, governmental, business, church, and, yes, family legacies in America, I had better speak up now. George was eighty-eight when he passed, and I am now eighty-nine but he, of course, led a healthier life style life than mine.
…Third, an opinion piece in the December 27, 2018 Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin on her suggestions on how you might conduct yourself in your six-year term as the new U.S. Senator from Utah. She argues that you have the principles, sanity and gravitas to help re-elect GOP senators; work for bipartisan, stable, constitutional governing; and cleaning up—through rigorous oversight—the confirmation process of Cabinet members, judges and other presidential appointments. That is good advice, but not the only reasons for this letter. More on that later.
For over 50 years now, I have held the belief that George Romney was one of the best, most principled, program-oriented political, governmental, church, and business citizens in this country. I believe that as strongly today as I did in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Had George been elected president in 1968, this country would have been set on a moral positive course unlike that of today. I did not arrive at this conclusion hastily. I first met and worked with George in the Citizens for Michigan volunteer movement (1959-61) and when they got a Constitutional Convention for Michigan, I was elected as a Republican Delegate from Grand Rapids. I was elected Chairman of the Committee on Administration and became part of the Con-Con leadership group (your father was Vice President) that ran the convention. George made me his 1962, 1964, and 1966 gubernatorial campaign strategist. In December, 1967, I dropped out of his presidential campaign because I disagreed with its strategy. From 1963 to the end of 1967, I was also his Executive Assistant for Program Development and Agency Liaison in the Executive Office of the Governor. All of that by way of saying I worked with and for George Romney for ten years and got to know and respect him…
I used to kid George that you and your sons would be creating another political dynasty of Romneys (much like the Rockefeller and Bush families) which would follow your father’s example and career. George, of course, pooh-poohed that, but that surely was in the back of his mind. And, certainly you and Ann have speculated about your five sons’ possible entries into politics. I foresee another family legacy for the Romneys, but it will depend on you.
Now, back to Jennifer Rubin’s suggestions about your new role in the Senate. Actually, there is an historical precedent for a Romney to help rebuild the Republican party because your father, Michigan Governor George Romney, did just that in 1965-66 following the crushing national defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. George, along with President Eisenhower, Governors Rockefeller, Scranton, Rhodes, several U.S. Senators, Congressmen, and GOP party officials.), was a key player in the formation and activities of the Republican Coordinating Committee. They assessed what had gone wrong in the 1964 election, met regularly in Washington, set up task forces on programs and institutions and reshaped the Republican party which then went on to extraordinary national and state 1966 election victories. George and myself were very active in the Committee’s formation of program and campaign strategies. I believe the same role for you is in order for the next two years. It would be a unique challenge after Trump’s 2018 massive 2018 election defeat—Trump made that midterm election a referendum on himself– and another defeat certainly is in the cards again, if he runs in 2020.
Now, of course, you can argue this rebuilding of the GOP was principally done by moderate or progressive Republican officeholders. Today, they just don’t exist, or do they?
When you first ran for the Senate against Kennedy in 1994, and George was one of your principal strategists, you struck me as someone who truly believed in what your father had proposed, fought for and accomplished as Michigan’s Governor and a presidential candidate.
You took the same moderate course when you ran, won, and served as Massachusetts Governor in 2002. Like George, I thought you were a problem-solving governor. Whenever I presented a policy, budget, program or speech draft to your father he would say: “Walt, don’t tell me about the problem, I want solutions, and bipartisan ones if possible.” That was my impression of your approach to politics and government until you decided to run for president and made sharp, political, right turns that, in my hindsight, did not need to be made. I had personally supported your policies and actions until you chose to do what I believed to be the opposite of what George Romney would have advised and it was reported in the New York Times (October 15, 2002). I still feel that George would have not advised you to make that strategic decision had he been alive. That may be presumptuous of me, but I was close to his philosophy and positions on life for many years.
Surely, you recall—as I still do vividly– sitting on that 1964 GOP convention floor at the Cow Palace in San Francisco when Governor Rockefeller tried to make some sense to the Goldwater delegates. Amidst the catcalls, boos, and hatred which arose to the ceiling of that hall, you could feel the doom and despair that was about to overtake the Republican party at the approaching election. George Romney wanted no part of that movement and personally told Goldwater that on several occasions during that campaign, just as you did with Donald Trump. To me, the 2016 Trump delegates reappeared as just another generation of the Goldwater delegates in 1964. Same problem and same solution, right?
Do you see anyone in a national position (e.g., in the U.S. Senate) taking such a position today or in the future? The GOP senators are in lockstep with McConnell and Trump and will continue to march along with them. They seem unwilling or unable to change. Most of them (and some Democratic Senators as well) are utterly obsessed with hanging onto their Senate seats and will vote and support only those policies and actions they believe will ensure their re-elections. Some of your advisors are certainly advocating such a course for your life in the Senate. It would, of course, be an easy and pleasant one.
But, your father heard– and rejected– that same advice throughout 1964. George Romney knew what was right and did it. Parenthetically, as you know, we won by a large margin in a state that voted heavily for Johnson.
Well, you ask, why should I, Mitt Romney, take on such an onerous and politically dangerous task? Because, there is no one else who could and will do that for the next two years. I would also add that you owe it to the Republican party to help reshape and repopulate it with candidates who are principled and closer to the people of this country.
In short, Mitt, I don’t see anyone on the horizon who is in the position of leading and rebuilding the national Republican party for the next two years. You can be a moderating, bipartisan, sensible, moral, voice in the Senate—a statesman among politicians, if you will.
You may wonder why I—as an Independent—want to see a strong Republican party emerge once again. This country will need two vibrant and representative political parties after the destructive Trump campaigns and administration have ended. When I moved from Michigan to North Carolina, I had been a Republican for twenty-two years but, then, I met Jesse Helms and became a Democrat. Then, for another ten years was a Democrat, and finally—as many American voters have done—moved to Independent status for the past twenty-two years.
Yet, I write this to you because I want George Romney and his family to be recognized and seen as a model for what we need in our political leaders. Only you can do that.
A reprise of George Romney, his life and work? Sure. Like father, like son, why not?
Walt de Vries, Ph.D.
by Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Dec. 28, 2018
Lansing — Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder went on a veto spree Friday, rejecting 41 lame-duck bills, including a controversial measure that would have given the GOP-led Legislature greater authority to intervene in legal battles next year as Democrats take over top statewide offices.
The proposal, which generated national attention as a power play move to limit the authority of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, sought to guarantee that the Michigan House or Senate could join any court case challenging the constitutionality or validity of a state law or any action by the Legislature.
Snyder called it a “well-intentioned” plan to ensure laws passed by the Legislature are properly defended in court. But the governor is responsible for managing the “litigation position of the state as an entity,” and the legislation would “serve only to complicate the management of that litigation,” the governor wrote in his veto letter.
Michigan legislators already have options to intervene in legal battles and can ask for court permission to file briefs. That process has “seemingly worked well,” Snyder wrote. “Were this legislation in place during my term as governor, I believe it would have limited my office’s ability to coordinate and manage the defense of the state in lawsuits.”
Nessel was a vocal opponent of the legislation, which critics contend would have blurred a longstanding separation of power, and said in a Friday statement she is “grateful to Gov. Snyder for demonstrating his integrity and commitment to upholding the Michigan Constitution.”
Supporters had argued the plan would ensure the Legislature has a chance to defend its laws. On the campaign trail, Nessel suggested she may not do so for statutes she views as unconstitutional, including a 2015 law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to decline to work with gay residents. Same-sex couples have sued the state over the law, and the litigation remains in court.
The governor, who is set to leave office next week, spent his Friday deciding the fate of more than 220 of the nearly 400 bills lawmakers sent to his desk earlier this month during a busy lame-duck session. He signed a slew of bills, including a $1.3 billion supplemental spending plan and a heavily debated measure that will toughen rules for petition drives to initiate legislation and ballot proposals.
Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer in a statement released late Friday criticized Snyder’s approval of the petition drive rules, but said she was pleased to see his veto of the legislative intervention provisions “that were part of the effort to undermine” the authority of the incoming Democratic administration.
“I hope the new Republican leaders in the Legislature are ready and willing to work together to get things done in a way that positively impacts the people of Michigan,” Whitmer said.
Snyder’s veto spree took down a sweeping bipartisan package that would have legalized Internet gambling through casinos and a controversial GOP measure that would have permanently prohibited doctors from using an Internet web camera to prescribe abortion-inducing medication.
Snyder also rejected a separate measure to clarify that “memorandums of understanding” remain in effect after a governor leaves office. In his veto letter, Snyder said the proposal “appears to have a noble purpose — transparency” but argued the GOP legislation “has the potential to lead the way toward more routine legislative encroachment into regulating the activities of future governors.”
Another bill Snyder vetoed would have made it a misdemeanor for public officials to force nonprofit charities and politically active groups to disclose their donors for government review. The governor said it’s a “laudable” goal to protect nonprofit donors from political retaliation but called the GOP measure a “solution in search of a problem that does not exist in Michigan.”
Nessel also praised that veto, noting the attorney general’s office is tasked with “protecting the integrity” of charitable organizations and charitable giving. Snyder has “preserved a valuable tool in our arsenal, ensuring donor transparency and shining a light on dark money donations,” she said.
Snyder also rejected bills that would have shortened the window for criminal prosecution of campaign finance violations, changed tinting rules for car windows and prevented local units of government from banning pet shops.
In his veto of the internet gambling package, Snyder noted that months of work went into the bills but cited “unknown budget concerns” including the potential that allowing online gambling on poker and other casino games could depress Michigan Lottery revenue that supports K-12 schools.
“This legislation merits more careful study and comparisons with how other states have, or will, authorize online gaming,” Snyder wrote in his veto letter. “To be blunt, we simply don’t have the data to support the change at this time.”
Michigan would have become the fifth state in the country to legalize online gambling under the legislation, which would have authorized Detroit and tribal casinos to operate web portals. It could have also paved the way for potential sports betting in the wake of a May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supporters argued that residents are already finding ways to gamble online and that legalizing betting through casinos would keep revenues in the state. But Snyder said he was concerned the legislation would encourage more gambling by “making it much easier to do so.”
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling praised Snyder’s veto, saying the governor put “the best interests of addicts, families and schools above the special interests of the online gambling industry.”
The telemedicine abortion legislation would have extended a temporary ban that Snyder signed in 2012. In his veto letter to legislators, the governor said objective research now shows “that medical abortions are safe and that a virtual consultation with a physician is as effective as (an) in-person consultation.”
Snyder said Michigan has a “first-class” medical community that regularly makes thoughtful and deliberate determinations on the safety of health care delivery methods. Telemedicine for medical abortions should not be any different, he told legislators.
“Telemedicine gives patients, including those in rural areas of Michigan with limited access, greater access to medical care,” Snyder wrote. “Ultimately, providing patients with the ability to remotely receive safe and proper medical care, at a time-sensitive period for the patient, is significant.”
Current Michigan law set to expire Dec. 31 requires women to physically visit a doctor to obtain prescriptions for pills to induce an abortion. Right to Life of Michigan had pushed to extend the law, calling it a safety measure for medication that can have side effects.
On social media late Friday, Right to Life Michigan noted Snyder’s veto of the bill that would have made the webcam ban permanent. The current law’s expiration next week, the group wrote, will let “Planned Parenthood expand and make it so that a woman never has to meet an abortionist before taking the dangerous abortion pill.”
“Eight years ago Snyder claimed to be prolife, but that was a cynical lie,” Right to Life wrote on its Facebook page.
The federal Food and Drug Administration prohibits women from filling a prescription for mifepristone at a retail pharmacy as part of a “risk evaluation and mitigation strategy.” But groups like the American Medical Association have urged the federal agency to lift the restrictions.
Nineteen other states ban remote prescriptions for abortion pills, according to Right to Life of Michigan. But there is no obstetrician-gynecologist in nearly one-third of Michigan’s 83 counties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, whose national affiliate has challenged prescription restrictions in other states.
Lansing — Term-limited Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder does not plan to remain active in politics after leaving office Tuesday, but he’s not ruling out one last campaign. This one, for civility.
The 60-year-old Ann Arbor Republican will depart with a complicated legacy marked by statewide economic gains, signs of a sustained resurgence in Detroit, a tax overhaul that benefited business, a right-to-work law that infuriated unions and an environmental catastrophe in Flint.
Through the highs and lows, even his critics acknowledge Snyder has maintained decorum and continued to bang his drum to the beat of “relentless positive action,” an optimistic mantra he has espoused even as political rhetoric devolved around him the past eight years.
“Our country is in serious trouble because of the lack of civility at the national level,” said Snyder, who did not endorse GOP President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and has criticized explosive language from politicians on both sides of the aisle. “That’s the greatest threat to our country.”
In an extended interview with The Detroit News this month, Snyder said he intends to continue his public calls for civility after leaving office. He will initially retreat to spend time with family but may eventually reappear to teach at the collegiate level, work with startup firms or serve as a policy expert in various fields, including mobility, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
“I would say policy, not politics,” the governor said with a grin.
Snyder’s optimistic attitude — and his penchant for long-term planning — make him stand out among Michigan governors, said Bill Rustem, who served as a top aide through 2014.
“People aren’t going to remember 30 years from now whether you called somebody a name. They’re not going to remember if you lashed out at somebody. They’re going to remember what you did, and that’s what’s most important.”
Detroit, Flint loom large
Rustem called Snyder’s work in Detroit the most important of the governor’s tenure. Snyder guided the state’s largest city through a bankruptcy filing that “I’m not sure any other governor would have even understood how to do” and helped bail out Detroit’s debt-ridden public school district.
“He created an opportunity for Detroit to succeed, and they were in a position where that was nearly impossible,” Rustem said.
Snyder also orchestrated a deal to build a new international bridge over the Detroit River with Canada covering Michigan’s up-front costs, a project Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer has praised and intends to continue.
“They say President Trump can’t get Mexico to pay for a wall, but I don’t know, (Snyder) got Canada to build us a bridge,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is also term-limited, joked last week in a farewell speech as the governor looked on.
Snyder’s positive disposition has done little to quiet critics, including Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, who holds the administration responsible for the water contamination crisis in his city.
The ill-fated 2014 switch to Flint River water was approved by an emergency manager Snyder had appointed, and state regulators failed to ensure the city used proper corrosion control chemicals.
“You can be civil and you can make sure the people who work for you have integrity, and I think you can have both those things at the same time,” Ananich said.
“Civility is great, but being truthful with the public and the citizens of Michigan is much more important to me. It’s a nice tagline, but … his actions speak louder than words.”
Snyder’s most combative moment as a governor arguably occurred in 2013, when he told lawmakers to “take a vote, not a vacation.”
The state Senate had just adjourned for summer break without taking up legislation to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, which lawmakers would eventually approve in a deal considered one of Snyder’s most notable bipartisan accomplishments.
One tough nerd
Legend had it that Snyder only used a swear word on two occasions while working as an executive at the Gateway Inc. computer company in California, “but I got him close to it,” recalled former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
“There’s no question he did have that passion, and he did get angry. He got a look, a steely-eyed look like laser eyes on cartoons. You could actually sense his blood pressure rising.”
Snyder took office in 2010 without any legislative experience, and it showed, Richardville said. He occasionally rubbed lawmakers the wrong way, especially early in his tenure, when he doggedly pursued his own priorities without understanding the process.
“But he was the best problem solver that I’ve seen in a long time,” Richardville said. “He took problems that piled up on his desk and worked on them until they went away.”
Snyder’s “relentless positive action” catchphrase is more than an election slogan, those close to him say. In fact, it was a personal mantra before he ever ran for office, said John Weaver, who helped run Snyder’s 2010 campaign.
“’One tough nerd’ came from us, from me,” said Weaver, referencing Snyder’s self-description in a Super Bowl campaign ad that boosted his profile. “But relentless positive action is the way that he guides his life, and that came from him.”
Weaver said Snyder has personally chided him for going negative, “particularly in that first election campaign” eight years ago.
“We’re obviously in this momentary period where swamp fever has impacted our party particularly, and both parties to some degrees,” said Weaver, a Trump antagonist and adviser to Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has not ruled out another presidential run in 2020. “But I think Rick’s call (for civility), along with that of governors Kasich, Charlie Baker (Massachusetts) Larry Hogan (Maryland) and Brian Sandoval (Nevada) will ultimately win out.”
Calley, who was the youngest lieutenant governor in the country when Snyder picked him as his running mate eight years ago, credits the businessman governor for empowering him to expand the traditional role of the right-hand man.
“He didn’t know the rules about the things you could and could not do, and so he just did what was right,” said Calley, a former state legislator and banker. “And breaking down those kinds of barriers made all the difference.”
Instead of working on separate floors, Calley and Snyder worked in offices next to each other in the Romney Building. The lieutenant governor helped lead major initiatives to reform autism insurance, overhaul the state tax code and scrap the personal property tax on manufacturing equipment.
Calley, who is now 41 years old, hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for political office again in the future but does not regret running for governor this year despite finishing second to nominee Bill Schuette in a bruising Republican primary.
The “powers that be” in the party did not want him to run and asked him to reconsider, Calley said, “but I thought it was important to have this campaign include the story about what happened in the past eight years, and I didn’t see any other candidates that represented that.”
Failures in Flint
Snyder, who publicly apologized for the Flint water crisis during his 2016 State of the State address and testified before a congressional panel later that year, said he will never forget the city “because it was a terrible thing to have happen.”
“We had failures at all levels of government, but some of the people involved, particularly the so-called experts in water, made some bad calls in my view, and they worked for me.”
But Snyder contends the Flint water crisis spurred positive change in state government that will live on after his tenure, including adoption of the nation’s toughest drinking water standard for lead, which local governments have sued over as an unfunded mandate that will require many to replace aging pipes.
Flint will be a significant part of Snyder’s legacy, but his reputation may grow over time as voters see the results of his long-term approach to solving problems, Rustem said.
“Like (Gov. George) Romney who redid the constitution, like (Gov. Bill) Milliken who did all the environmental protection leading the nation and the world in that area, Snyder is going to be remembered for the long-term, particularly Detroit and the budget,” Rustem said.
Snyder, for his part, is hesitant to describe his own legacy.
“I’ve never viewed that as relevant,” he said. “I asked to be measured on two things: Did I do what I said I was going to do? And secondly, did I build a long-term foundation for success that has nothing to do with me? And I’m satisfied we built a strong foundation.”