Commentary: Ballot proposal downfall

Nov 7, 2012

You have to wonder what Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun thought, when it was clear the proposed constitutional amendment he designed to protect his monopoly was going down to a stunning defeat.

Moroun spent at least $33 million trying to get voters to say yes to his Proposal 6, which would have required a statewide vote before any new bridge or tunnel was built between Michigan and Canada. First, he paid to have the signatures collected.

Then he bombarded our airwaves and filled our mailboxes with a torrent of utterly false advertising. Moroun’s slickly produced ads claimed the new bridge would cost us billions, when it fact it won’t cost a cent. They claimed the bridge would be built of Chinese steel and assembled by foreign workers. All of which was untrue.

Those supporting the new bridge, including Gov. Rick Snyder and virtually every other Michigan corporation, raised no more than a few hundred thousand dollars to try to compete.

Nevertheless, they won. One would assume this means that work can now proceed to build the New International Trade Crossing downriver, though I am not sure we‘ve heard the last of Mr. Moroun, who has proven nothing but tenacious in his fight to keep a monopoly that now makes him hundreds of millions.

And, frankly, I am not sure that voters turned down his so-called “Let the People Decide” amendment for the reasons the governor wanted.

For many years, in many elections, it’s been clear that when voters are overwhelmed with ballot proposals, they just say no.

Last night people got into the voting booth, looked at a ballot containing six long and complicated proposals, and said no to everything.

If anybody came out a worse loser in this than Moroun, it was the state’s unions, led by United Auto Workers president Bob King. They spent millions of their members’ money trying to add an amendment to the state constitution preserving collective bargaining rights for all workers. But it lost by a humiliating 700,000 votes.

Environmentalists were strongly in favor of an amendment requiring the use of renewable energy. It lost by more than a million.

Voters also said no to requiring home health care workers to unionize, and to another ballot measure that would have made it virtually impossible to raise taxes or even change the tax system in any way.

There’s no ideological pattern to this voting, unless it is a belief constitutional amendments are a bad idea. But the strongest clue to why voters did what they did is the fact that there was a sixth proposal that would have merely upheld the tough new emergency manager law the legislature passed last year.

Governor Snyder wanted a yes vote on this one, but voters decisively rejected it, too. Just say no was the slogan of the day.

Stay no, and stay the course. Yesterday’s Michiganders were inclined to keep the status quo. No seats in congress changed hands. President Obama won here easily, but Republicans hung on to the state house of representatives.

We sent the same folks back to Lansing and Washington. Apparently we want them to work together, and get the job done. We may have an entirely different election in two years if they don’t.

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