I had breakfast the other day with Marti Robinson, who was a highly respected trial attorney in Detroit before President Obama appointed her to the Consumer Product Safety Commission four years ago, for a term that expires next month.
Democrats still have a three-to-two majority on that commission, and once she leaves, she is certain to be replaced by a Republican. And she is very, very worried about what that will mean – and not just from a conventional partisan standpoint.
“I fully appreciate that Republicans and Democrats have different views generally of regulations,” she said. But she believes what’s happening today is different. “The wholesale dismantling of agencies that have served critically important functions could undo our country as we know it,”
Robinson told me. She also shared with me remarks she had made to the American Civil Bar Roundtable earlier this month that described what we are facing as she sees it.
Robinson, by the way, is highly respected in legal circles not only nationally but internationally, has worked on a special assignment for the United Nations, and was the Democratic nominee for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2000.
She has a long history of working with both Republicans and Democrats -- and knows that most effective negotiating isn’t done in the press. But she thinks people need to know what’s going on.
“With all the chaos in Congress and the White House, too many people have been ignoring the level at which our country’s fabric is really being undone.”
What’s been happening in terms of product safety, she told me, could easily fill a book. Reporters don’t cover federal agencies much anymore, and so the public knows very little about a lot that’s been happening. Robinson told me that if we looked, we’d find that from the time the President took office, there was a huge, strong push to deregulate across the federal government.
Now, everyone who has ever covered every government knows there are always some regulations that need to be loosened or eliminated.
But there are many others that protect us, and our children, and in some cases, new rules need to be enacted. Robinson told me that many products, including children’s toys, are laced with certain types of flame retardants.
“They have several toxic effects, and young children are particularly vulnerable,” she told me. Several of the most prominent toxicologists in the country urged that they be banned altogether, noting that they can have particularly devastating effects on fetuses.
Nevertheless, the most she and her allies on the commission were able to do was create a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel of scientists to advise them.
Her fellow Republican commissioners opposed even that, but Democrats prevailed on a three to two vote. But she’s not optimistic about what will happen when she is gone.
President Trump has also issued a little-noticed executive order, requiring agencies to repeal two regulations for any new one they adopt. Marti Robinson said she fears most that if someone who is fundamentally anti-consumer “is appointed to replace me, consumers won’t have any likelihood of having safe products,” for a long time to come.
Elections have consequences. Some of the most important and long-lasting ones may never show up as a tweet – but may have devastating effects we won’t see for years.
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.