A ballot issue committee has been formed by opponents of the “Voters Not Politicians” (VNP) petition drive, which seeks to place before voters in the 2018 general election a proposal to change the way Michigan draws Congressional and legislative district lines.
Lansing-based attorneys Eric Doster and Bob LaBrant claim VNP is not non-partisan but a “Democratic front group” that will throw out the so-called “Apol standards” codified in state law that accentuate contiguity, compactness and adherence to traditional county, township and municipal boundaries in drawing maps. Instead, they argue, the VNP plan will substitute a vague term called “communities of interest” as a factor to be considered in reapportionment.
“What the hell is a community of interest?,” asked Doster earlier this week. “What a joke.”
Meanwhile, LaBrant has ratcheted up his war of words with new state Elections Director Sally Williams, objecting to Williams’s “rebuttal to (his) rebuttal” in a complaint LaBrant filed against her this past summer. In an Oct. 18 letter to Assistant Attorney General Margaret Nelson, who is charged with issuing a ruling on LaBrant’s complaint against Williams by early December, LaBrant excoriates Williams’s right to write a response to his rebuttal of Williams’s earlier answer to his complaint.
“Section 15 of the MCFA (Michigan Campaign Finance Act)… does not give (Williams) a right to respond,” LaBrant complained to Nelson. “What little Latin I picked up in law school was in conjunction with statutory construction. “Expressio Unius Est Exclusion Alterius” probably settles whether Mrs. Williams should have been given another bite at the apple — and not in her favor” (Editor’s note: the Latin phrase means “Express mention of one thing excludes all others.”)
Nelson hopes she has satisfied LaBrant’s objection to Williams’s second polemic by giving LaBrant himself another “bite at the apple,” which he has now done. That leaves the basic question to be resolved by Nelson in roughly six weeks: SHOULD GOVERNMENT BE NEUTRAL AND NOT A PUBLICLY-FINANCED LEGAL COUNSEL TO A PETITION DRIVE? LaBrant says “Yes,” and accuses Williams and her Elections bureaucrats guilty of violating Section 57 of the MCFA (MCL169.257) when they advised VNP on their ballot language submitted by the petitioners to the Board of State Canvassers (BOSC) last summer. LaBrant argues that the MCFA demands that Nelson endeavor to correct what he believes is Williams’s violation and prevent a further violation by using “informal methods such as conference, conciliation or persuasion” to enter into “a conciliation agreement with the Bureau of Elections and Dept. of State.”
LaBrant also blasted Williams for “practicing what some observers might label as the iron law of bureaucracy (wherein) expansion of mission leads eventually down the road to a later expansion of staff.”
“The Bureau of Elections has been acting like a Legal Zoom franchise,” charged LaBrant. “It is consulting with petitioners on areas of the Michigan Constitution that would be altered or abrogated by a proposal even though the BOSC (jurisdiction over) approval as to form does not extend to whether the petition properly characterizes those provisions as altered or abrogated.”
“The BOSC, in giving approval as to form, just wants to see, on a constitutional amendment petition, that an altered or abrogated section appears — not whether the petition properly characterized those provisions,” LaBrant added. “The key distinction between Legal Zoom and the Bureau of Elections is that the former doesn’t have to pay for their legal consultations, whereas with the latter the taxpayers of Michigan have to pick up the tab. That sounds like a classic (MCFA) Section 57 violation to me.”
Meanwhile, the VNP petitioners claim they’ve already collected upwards of 260,000 signatures on their way to meeting the approximately 315,000 John Hancocks they’ll need to get their proposal on next year’s ballot. Of course, realistically they’ll need 400,000 or maybe almost half a million signatures to guard against rejection of many autographs that would leave them short of the minimum required.
In a related move, 2010 Democratic Party Secretary of State nominee Jocelyn Benson announced this week that she’s running again, now that the Republican who beat her, Ruth Johnson, is term-limited.
Doster and LaBrant contend the VNP proposal gives the Secretary of State expanded powers to influence the drawing of Congressional and legislative maps, so if Benson is elected and the VNP proposal gets on the ballot and is approved in a statewide vote, Democrats will suddenly be in the driver’s seat on redistricting come 2021, regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the possible landmark reapportionment case, now pending, called Whitford v. Gill.