Michigan primary politics: "Why can't I quit you?"

Mar 9, 2012

On Fridays Rick Pluta and I have been taking a look at politics in the state. But, before we could really get into our main topic of the week – state ballot proposals - we had a confession to make: We’re having a hard time getting over the Michigan primary. It might even be fair to say that we’re slightly obsessed. “Oh, primary, why can’t I quit you?” Pluta asked. It’s just too tough to quit.

Remnants of a primary

Yes, we know. The primary was almost two weeks ago. But a mere ten days can’t keep us from a good news story. “We saw earlier this week a Santorum campaign organizer in the state, John Yob – the Yob name is a venerable one in Michigan Republican politics – trying to organize a rally at the state party headquarters to, figuratively, at least, pound on the doors and demand justice for an even division of the primary delegates,” Pluta explains. You can find last week’s conversation over so-called “dele-gate” here.

The rally fizzles

Pluta went to report on the rally for Michigan Radio but, “very few people showed up… very, very few people.” Nevertheless, Pluta notes, “that it does raise the prospect of a convention fight - a floor fight - that would really be kind of an intra-party referendum on the leadership of the state GOP and a fight over who sits at the table when big decisions are made.” (Just in case you can’t get enough intra-party squabbles – and, if that’s the case you get major ‘political junkie’ points – you can find another darn good intra-party fight story here).

Now onto the feature presentation: Ballot proposals

Ok, we got the Michigan presidential primary out of our systems – at least for this week – and got to talking about the topic we had initially planned: a look at the various ballot proposals that were unveiled this week at the Capital. We saw a petition drive launched to create accountability in election spending. “Basically to require corporations to disclose when they spend money on their own political communication, primarily television advertising,” Pluta explains.

Also unveiled was a labor-rights ballot proposal. This got us to thinking about the politics behind ballot proposals. Sure, the folks behind these proposals are passionate about their causes and want their laws passed but there’s also the fact that ballot proposals can get out the vote in November.

The infamous Rovian-strategy

That would be Karl Rove, the so-called mastermind behind President George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004. “A lot of people believed that a Republican strategy to put a lot of wedge issues – social questions – on statewide ballots succeeded in drawing out conservative Evangelical voters to the benefit of Republican candidates. And, what people are seeing now with these ballot proposals, especially the union-rights ballot proposal, is an effort to [replicate] that,” Pluta explains.

A double-edged sword?

But, this hypothesis that ballot proposals help get out the vote doesn’t work for just one side of an issue. Yes, if you put a ballot proposal on the November ballot you’re likely to get out the vote for people in favor of the issue. But, you’re just as likely to bring out people who are against the issue. “When you put something on the ballot that incites political fervor, you don’t just bring out people on one side. And, especially [in regards] to this labor rights issue, it also begs the question ‘what are Republicans going to do in the interim?"

"With these ballot proposals," Pluta asks, "have labor organizations, progressive groups, basically opened the political heavens that will rain down all kinds of things as Republicans enact measures to try and get stuff on the books before the ballot drive begins. And, are Democrats, union-leaders, driving Republicans to do all kinds of things that [they're] trying to stop,” Pluta says.

First, it'll be interesting to see if these petitions can get enough support to get on the November ballot and second, we'll be watching whether they do, indeed, turn out the vote. And, don't worry, we'll also be searching for more stories - historical tales  - of Michigan's 2012 presidential primary.