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Back to the Future with the UAW and the Whigs

Sep 15, 2015

Well, if you woke up in Detroit early this morning you might have thought you were in one of those old Back to the Future movies. The lead story was the auto talks; negotiators for the company and the union had been up all night, and workers on the line were waiting to see if they would get a deal, keep talking, or send everyone out on strike.

We haven’t seen anything like an authentic, old-fashioned, drawn-out labor stoppage in the industry since about the time giant tail fins were popular. Nobody really wanted a strike, but the fact one was even being contemplated was in a way, heartening.

After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that we were all worried that the assembly lines at General Motors and Chrysler might stop and never start again. The auto industry is different and smaller, but it’s back. And the union is still here.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Modern Whig Party is asking to be recognized as an official political party in our state. I have to say I’m intrigued; after all, we haven’t had a president like Zachary Taylor or William Henry Harrison for a long time.

The modern Whigs say they are in favor of fiscal responsibility, pragmatism, and integrity in government. Their symbol is an owl, rather than a donkey or an elephant. Naturally, with common-sense positions like that, they don’t stand a chance. But I’m told they did capture a school board seat in Westfield, New Jersey last year – so you never know.

What I do find surprising is how many people are still enthusiastic about running for the state legislature. Boatloads of them, mainly Republicans, are lining up to run in November primaries for the seats just vacated by Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Most will spend many thousands to try to win a seat next March that they will immediately have to start running for again to keep after November.

Meanwhile, other candidates are already running hard for seats that will become vacant at the end of next year, for which even the primary is almost a year away.

An attorney in Clinton Township, for example, is going after the seat of term-limited Marilyn Lane of Fraser. Lane still has most of her term left, but that’s life in the world of the perpetual campaign. Occasionally people ask me if I would run for office if I wasn’t a journalist and wanted to make this a better state. The answer is no way. Thanks to gerrymandering and term limits, the game has been rigged to give one party overwhelming dominance, and to ensure that no member of the legislature can stay long enough to be truly effective.

What we need are not people running for office, but state constitutional amendments to change term limits and the redistricting process, and unless and until we get them, we’ll be doomed to more of what we have now. But if we ever fix this, and if I’m ever tempted to get into politics, I think I’ll check out the Modern Whigs.

They drew a total of fourteen people to their first National Leadership Council meeting. I have a hunch that if I wanted their nomination, I wouldn’t have to wait my turn.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.