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Do our lawmakers care about what we want?

Jul 7, 2017

Lawmakers, we were taught in school, are sometimes torn between doing the right thing – and doing what their constituents want.

John F. Kennedy wrote a Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, about that. But these days, it often seems as if those running our government are neither doing what is right nor what we want.

Here are two painful examples. I heard from a number of folks both before and after the Fourth of July about how their lives have been miserable ever since a law five years ago allowed Michiganders to buy and set off more powerful fireworks.

Karen Mouradjian, who for years has pursued her dream of getting a law degree, lives in the crowded Detroit suburb of Eastpointe.

“I lost the entire night of studying on the fourth, because I had to sit on my porch babysitting my house,” she told me. Neighbors spent all night setting fireworks off. She could hear metal hitting her awning, and she sent me pictures of the mess in her backyard.

When she complained, the neighbors jeered at her, and the police were too busy that night to respond. There’s an old saying that Republicans are in favor of local control, except when they aren’t.

Accordingly, lawmakers back in 2011 refused to let local communities set their own regulations.

Technically, you aren’t supposed to set off fireworks between midnight and 8 a.m., but anyone who was in an urban area Tuesday night knows how little people pay attention.

Pets have been traumatized, people who had to work the next day lost sleep, and the mayor of Warren said some of his constituents complained they were in a war zone.

Fireworks have caused a lot of fires in the last five years, and cost a number of people eyes, including a weatherman for one of the Detroit TV stations. Many legislators, including some Republicans, have introduced bills to modify or repeal Michigan’s out-of-control fireworks laws.

But they’ve gone nowhere.

State Representative Brandt Iden, a Republican from Oshtemo Township in Kalamazoo County, is chair of the House Regulatory Reform committee, where he has prevented any bills modifying or changing fireworks laws from getting a hearing.

He told the Detroit Free Press he wasn’t interested in rewriting the fireworks laws, and that people “down in his neck of the woods” hadn’t complained much.

Meanwhile, I had an angry email yesterday from someone else in Kalamazoo County. Gerry Hoffmann is head of the Edison Neighborhood Association in a part of the city, where residents are working hard to prevent their area from declining.

Hoffmann couldn’t believe it when he heard on Michigan Radio that Andy DeLoney, the chair of the State Liquor Control Commission, wants to get rid of the rule that stores selling hard liquor have to be at least half a mile apart.

Hoffmann wrote to him and said “my real concern is my neighborhood. We just fought yet another booze peddler who wanted to set up directly across the street from a substance abuse center.”

“Please excuse my anger,” Hoffmann added, “but you obviously don’t understand how this impacts real people.” It isn’t clear whether the lawmakers who refuse to modify the fireworks laws get it either.

But what if they do get it … and just don’t care?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior 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.