Commentary: Taking back the state

Mar 25, 2013

Here’s something to think about: Michigan is pretty clearly a moderate to liberal state. We haven’t voted Republican for President for a quarter-century. Democrats won 12 out of the last 13 contests for the U.S. Senate. More people voted for Democratic than Republican candidates for Congress and the legislature last fall.

Yet guess what. We sent only five Democratic congressmen to Washington compared to nine Republicans. And the GOP still has a solid majority in the state House of Representatives. That’s because of outrageous gerrymandering two years ago by the previous legislature, which was also Republican.

You might imagine that given all this, those holding office would pursue moderate, consensus-building policies. Well, if you thought that, you were dead wrong. Not so much about the governor, who is a Republican, and who was elected by a majority of the entire state.

But the legislature is pursuing policies that can best be described as on the radical right, and is repeatedly refusing to pass common sense proposals backed by our Republican governor. As we’ve seen recently, they have refused Rick Snyder’s request to appropriate new money to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

They are so opposed to Obamacare that they refuse to create a registry where state residents can find the best private insurance plans. Instead, they are letting the federal government do it, something that will cost Michigan a net $40 million.

And they are also refusing the governor’s call to allow the federal government to add nearly half a million people without health care to Medicaid, something that would save the state, our hospitals, and those of us who are insured hundreds of millions.

There’s no indication that the voters as a whole support these policies, but the lawmakers have little incentive to care. Most come from one-party districts where the balance of power is held by right-wing national organizations, like the Americans for Prosperity, which donate heavily to primary campaigns.

You could argue that our government has been hijacked. There is a way to do something about it, and State Representative Jim Townsend of Royal Oak and six of his colleague are trying it.

They have introduced House Joint Resolution One, which asks the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would set up a bipartisan commission to handle congressional and legislative redistricting.

No lobbyists or lawmakers or anyone who has been one recently could be on it. Nobody doing the redistricting could run for office while it is in effect. Boundaries would have to be sensible; no more districts that resemble salamanders or snakes.

But there’s about as much chance that those in control of the legislature will put this on the ballot as there is of me being elected Miss Michigan. Democrats probably wouldn’t either, if they were running things. 

Yet there is a way to do this: Collect the 400,000 or so signatures needed to get this on the ballot, probably next November. This would take a lot of work and some money. But you might think it was worth it.

Right now, some votes are more equal than others, and that‘s not how it‘s supposed to be. Again, doing this wouldn’t be easy. But doing the right thing seldom is.                          

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.