Question 1): The Michigan Senate last week certified the Unlock Michigan initiative petition that expunges the 1945 so-called “Riot Act” that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used last year to give herself authority to issue arbitrary executive orders locking down Michigan in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The state House of Representatives will emulate the Senate this week, and the statute will be wiped off the books. How many more GOP-fueled petition drives will we see, and on what issues?
Answer): Language has already been approved for a second initiative petition drive aimed at eliminating language in the Public Health Code that Whitmer resorted to last fall after the state Supreme Court ruled that the governor’s use of the Riot Act was unconstitutional. Unlock Michigan collected a record number of petition signatures in a record brief time. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Democratic members of the Board of state Canvassers did their best to slow walk the petitions’ path to ratification — the past week’s action came after a record interminable nine and a half nine months had elapsed since Unlock Michigan filed the signatures with the Secretary of State last fall. Finally, even the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court acknowledged the absurdity of the Democrats’ resistance and ordered the Canvassers to approve the petition immediately. Will it be harder for Unlock Michigan to collect the signatures they need on a second drive? Maybe a little, with Whitmer’s powers somewhat constrained and COVID-19 receding as a public health menace. But any Democratic obstruction will be more difficult for the public to stomach this time, despite efforts by media trained seals (MTS) to discredit Unlock Michigan at every turn. Yes, we can expect at least a few of the Republican lawmakers’ 39 bills to pass and be sent to Whitmer, but she will surely veto all of them. No matter. Expect at least one more petition drive to install in statute the core of the GOP’s 39-bill election law “reform” package, including voter ID and, in SB 310, prohibiting the Secretary of State and/or clerks from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters. The latter is what Benson did last year without statutory authority (although it withstood at least one legal challenge). That single action by Benson was the single biggest factor in producing Joe Biden’s and U.S. Senator Gary Peters’s narrow Michigan wins in the 2020 general election.
Q 2): Overlooked have been the two special elections that are being held in state Senate districts 8 and 28 to fill vacancies created by the resignations last year of the Two Petes — Lucido (because he was elected Macomb Co. Prosecuting Attorney) and MacGregor (elected Kent County Treasurer). The primary is Aug. 3 and the general election Nov. 2 in what are considered solid Republican districts. Why should we care about these races, and who will win?
A): Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delayed these elections as long as she legally could to keep the Republicans’ edge in the Senate so far this year to 20-16, yet there were no complaints from the GOP, who have managed to shepherd their agenda through the chamber even with a diminished majority. Contrast the Republicans’ reaction to the loud complaints from Michigan Democrats, amplified by the media’s clapping seals, when then-Gov. Rick Snyder did the same thing with his schedule for filling the vacancy created in the 13th Congressional District upon the resignation of U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) on Dec. 5, 2017. That vacancy went unfilled for roughly the same amount of time (11 months) as this year’ state senate vacancies, and Democrats charged that Snyder was playing partisan politics by denying Detroit representation in Congress for almost a year. However, there was a big difference between what Snyder did and why he did it, and what Whitmer has done most recently. Snyder got a REQUEST from the 13th Democratic Congressional Committee to delay filling the seat until the November, 2018, general election,and he complied. Whitmer didn’t get any such “high sign” from the Kent or Macomb Co. GOP organizations, and if she had she would have ignored it. She simply scheduled the election timetable the way she wanted to because she could, which is her inimitable style.
As for the races themselves, the 8th Senate district consists of Mt. Clemens, St. Clair Shores and Utica plus six townships and the village of Grosse Pointe Shores. That’s misleading, however, because Shelby Twp all by itself contains some 48% of the district’s vote. That’s the home base of second-term state Rep. Doug Wozniak. Nevertheless, a lot of the “smart money” is on another state rep, Pam Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp), who is the chamber’s Speaker ProTem and considered more conservative. Both have approximately the same amount of their home base territory in the 8th SD. A third candidate is strongly pro-Trump Terence Mekoski, but he’s not expected to be a factor. The race has been quiet so far, but it’s a nail-biter between the two reps.
The 28th district consists of the cities of Cedar Springs, Rockford, Grandville, Walker and Wyoming and 14 townships, all in Kent Co. The 28th also features two sitting state reps — term-limited Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), progenitor of a string of steakhouses bearing his name, and second-termer Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), who bears the same surname as the area’s Congressman, although they’re not related. A third candidate is former state Rep. Kevin Green, now the Algoma Twp supervisor. A wild card that could be a strong factor in the outcome of the 8/3 GOP primary is HB 4297, which would expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include gay rights. Brann is the ONLY Republican co-sponsor this bill, which is problematic for many of the district’s conservative Christian voters. Add to the mix the intrusion of current state Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who has urged the Grand Rapids business community to stop giving money to Huizenga because he opposes HB 4297. Whether Kent Co. GOP voters decide they don’t want a gay Democrat from Southeast Michigan telling them how to cast their ballots could be decisive.
Q 3): The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, approved by Michigan voters in 2018, appears to be in a lot of trouble, and the group that created it — Voters Not Politicians (VNP) — seems to have disappeared out of embarrassment or shame. A MIRS podcast opines that the ICRC is “spinning its wheels” and is a “train wreck waiting to happen.” Is it really that bad?
A): It could well be. This summons up the adage “Be careful what you wish for” because VNP’s idealistic hopes (and its poorly drafted ballot proposal) have produced a commission that isn’t ready for “prime time.” Members of the 13-member body, each of whom is paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 per annum, has spent some of its meetings discussing “colors” and twice in the past couple of weeks has lost the quorum it needs to do “business,” not that the business would turn out to be meaningful. A similar new panel in Colorado has already produced preliminary maps, using 2020 Census data released so far, and allowed the public to start commenting on them. By contrast, Michigan’s ICRC claims it can’t do anything until the final Census figures are published on Sept. 30 and so has asked the state Supreme Court for an extension of its constitutionally-mandated deadline of Nov. 1 for producing final Michigan maps. But the high court has rebuffed the request. The ICRC is supposed to have 45 days of public comment starting Sept. 17, but will it produce ANYTHING that could be the subject of public comment by that time? This is what might have been expected from a group of rank amateurs guided by an inept Secretary of State bureaucracy. But when critics tried to point this out in 2018 they were barked down by the clapping seals in the news media, deathly afraid that the GOP might be able to draw maps for the third straight redistricting cycle. Media trained seals (MTS) were unconcerned that the top criterion for the group’s work would be to incorporate “communities of interest” into the final work product. If everything goes as wrong as now seems likely, it will be another blot on Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s escutcheon. A longtime cheerleader for the commission and its work, Benson will have to do some ” ‘splainin’ ” along with her apologies for the performance of her Motor Vehicle branch offices. She’s in trouble.