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Michigan's Choose Life license plate misleading with political motives

May 1, 2017

Back when I was in junior high school, one of my classmates announced one April 30th that he had decided to become a Communist. This was not a very popular political choice in the Detroit suburbs in 1964, and our shocked social studies teacher asked why.

Well, little Richard said, we had learned that May Day was an international Communist holiday, and he wanted the day off. The teacher said nice try, but as long as we were operating under our Constitution, even Communists were expected to show up for school.

Yes, political repression is a terrible thing. What is interesting about that, however, is that it was generally accepted that you had to respect the Constitution.

Today, however, that’s not always the case. Imagine this, for a minute. What if a liberal state Senator were to introduce a bill that would mandate the Secretary of State offer a license plate that would promote transgender rights?

What’s more, the bill would specify that money from selling the plate would go to groups working to get transgendered persons the rights to use any bathroom or locker room they chose.

You can imagine the conservative reaction. They would say, among other things, that the state has absolutely no business raising funds for a private pressure group.

And on that, they would be absolutely right. But guess what: Republicans in the state Senate have just passed a philosophically identical bill. No, it doesn’t involve raising money for transgender rights. They’d take a skiing holiday in Hades first.

But they have passed a bill mandating that the Secretary of State develop and issue a “Choose Life” license plate that Michigan residents could select.

The money thus raised would be put in a fund and distributed to anti-abortion groups. State Senator Rebekah Warren correctly called this “the first and most politically blatant license plate we’ve ever had in our state.”

By the way, whatever your politics, it’s important to note two things. Abortion is fully legal, according to the highest authority in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court.

And while I know a lot of people who believe the court was right and women should have the freedom to choose, I don’t know anyone who walks around saying “abortion is great. Every woman should have more of them.”

Senator Warren also noted that the best way to prevent abortions is by preventing pregnancy, something best done by educating people and increasing access to contraception – something this would raise no money for.

If there’s anything refreshing about Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof, a strong supporter of the license plate bill, it is that he made it quite clear that he couldn’t care less about violating either fairness or the state or federal constitutions.

When asked if he thought we should allow the quintessentially non-partisan business of issuing state license plates to get tangled up with political controversy he said, “Why not?”

He did say opponents could try to pass a bill mandating a different license plate, but in the same breath indicated he’d prevent it from passing. Fortunately, there’s still time for the state house, which has failed to pass similar legislation before, to save us from national disgrace.

Politics has no place on license plates, and let’s hope that sanity prevails again.

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.